10. Anti-intellectualism in action

 

         The two most important consequences of the anti-intellectual prejudice animating the Sangh are, firstly, an extreme ineptness at public relations, and secondly, the stunted development of the Sangh Parivar's own intellectual grip on the world.  An example of the first is the staggering failure of the Hindu campaign reclaiming Ayodhya to communicate its case to the world, as already discussed.  The worst part of it is not that the Sangh people failed to communicate the Hindu case (the biased press was indeed a formidable obstacle), but that it never took the trouble of verifying whether its message came across nor of devising ways to deal with the hostile climate in the media and among India-watchers.

 

         Another example is riot reporting.  Riots, though mostly started by Muslims (e.g. the Mumbai riots of December 1992 and of January 1993), are systematically reported in the world media as "pogroms" committed by well-prepared and well-armed Hindu death squads against poor defenceless Muslims.  In journalistic and scholarly references, Advani's peaceful 1990 Rath Yatra has become a proverbially violent "blood yatra".  Unlike Asghar Ali Engineer and other riot vultures, the Sangh does not bother to write its own reports on riots, in spite of its boast that its cadres are omnipresent.  Quite often, Sangh-related people tell me interesting and potentially explosive background stories about riots (and other controversial matters such as discrimination of Hindus, connivance at Bangladeshi infiltration etc.), but when I ask them for exact names, times, places, it usually turns out that they have not bothered to record anything: what would have become a credible-sounding propaganda story in the hands of A.A. Engineer remains a rumour headed for oblivion in the hands of Sangh people. 

 

         The lie about "pogroms" is giving a bad name not only to the organized Hindutva forces, but to Hindu society as a whole and to India as well; for that reason, the Sangh Parivar has no right to neglect the public relations job inherent in any socio-political movement.  Until a decade ago, most observers and even enemies of Hinduism were prepared to concede to it a certain harmlessness and benevolent tolerance as quintessentially Hindu qualities; today, even that little credit has been taken away.  Hindus used to take great pride in Swami Vivekananda's triumphal speech at the Parliament of Religions in 1893, but the celebration of its 100th anniversary in Washington DC was just embarrassing because the Ayodhya demolition was generally considered to have disproven Vivekananda's description of Hinduism as tolerant.  Hinduism is now never discussed without mentioning the existence of "Hindu fundamentalism", at best to disclaim this phenomenon as part of genuine Hinduism, but more often to prove that Hinduism is just as conducive to fanaticism as Islam and Christianity are.  The credit for this additional blot on the fair name of Hinduism must go to the Sangh Parivar, not because it has taken up Hindu causes like Ayodhya, but because it has handled them in such a mindless way.

 

         We may compare this with the performance of the Bosnian Serbs, as contrasted with that of the Bosnian Muslims.  Without pronouncing an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the Yugoslav conflict, we may notice a few pertinent facts about the strengths and weaknesses of the warring parties.  The Serb/Yugoslav army started in a very comfortable position, and easily established control in up to 73% of the territory; the Muslim separatist government in Sarajevo found itself defenceless after hopelessly overplaying its hand by declaring independence, but the Sarajevo underworld provided the arms and expertise to save at least the capital and turn it into a base for the reconquest of Bosnia.  From that point onwards, the bragging drunkards on the Serb side squandered their winning position step by step, while the sobre and determined Muslims made the most of their limited strength. 

 

         A crucial factor in this war (admittedly more decisive in a small country than in India) was world opinion.  The Serbs squandered any goodwill they might have enjoyed, along with a lot of their ammunition, in useless and ugly-looking actions against civilians and unimportant targets, e.g. by bombing the museum city of Dubrovnik in a part of Croatia which they had no intention to conquer.  The Muslims, by contrast, fully exploited their underdog position in winning international sympathy, and also hired the services of two American public-relations firms.  We all know the results: the American government willingly violated international agreements and its own laws by helping Iran in shipping weapons and guerrilla fighters to Bosnia, the CIA trained Bosnian soldiers, NATO air power destroyed the Serb frontline, the Bosnian army helped by the Croats reconquered one-third of the Serb-held territory, and the Dayton agreement formally restored the political unity of Bosnia, definitively refusing recognition to the Republika Srpska, all with the approval of remainder-Yugoslavia.  The Serbs lost the war exclusively by their mindlessness.      

        

         The most serious consequence of the Sangh's tradition of mindless activism is the second one, the lack of a developed intellectual perspective on the Indian and world situations.  In their political analysis, Hindutva activists often use the categor­ies developed by their enemies, and are the prisoners of these categories.  E.g., first they let their enemies lay down the norm of seculari­sm, and then they try to live up to this norm and prove that they are better secularis­ts than others (hence BJP "positive secular­ism" vs. Nehruvian "pseudo-secularism").  This way, they constantly have to betray their own political identity and try to fashion themselves a new ("genuinely secular") identity which their enemies have defined but are not willing to concede to them.    

 

         Sadly, this is common Hindu practice in the modern age.  Thus, the Christian and Muslim emphasis on monotheism and condemnation of polytheism has been interio­rized by Hindu reform movements even as the latter were trying to counter Christian power in India.  Instead of defending Hindu polytheism against the missionary vilifica­tion of "idolatry", the Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj movements claimed that monotheism was indeed right and polytheism was indeed wrong, but that Hinduism, properly understood, is more monotheist that Christianity and Islam.  As the historian Shrikant Talageri has remarked, this is as if an Indian were to say: "The colonial racists were correct in assuming the superior­ity of white skins over brown skins, but Indians have whiter skins than Europeans."

 

         Such hopeless exercises in trying to defeat an opponent after first borrowing his thought categories and value judgments, are understandable as a result of the inferior position in which Hindu society has found itself for centuries, always trying to live up to standards set by their victorious enemies.  In an inertial hold-over of this psychology, today's Hindutva activists have an inferiority complex and value nothing so much as being accepted by respected people, meaning secularists.  That is why they always offer their platforms to people who despise them, people like Inder Kumar Gujral and Khushwant Singh (to name two whom I've seen scheduled as guests of honour at functions of the RSS student organization Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), at the same time spurning staunch Hindus who ought to be their allies but who have been ostracized by the secularist establishment. 

 

         This approach is, of course, totally counterproductive, and if the Hindutva strategists had it in them to learn from the feedback they get from reality, they would have given it up long ago and opted for a bolder profile.  That this would be more successful, was briefly illustrated at the height of the Ayodhya controversy.  Sensing that the public mood was in favour of the Hindu claim to the disputed temple site, and more generally of some form of affirmation of India's Hindu identity, the secular­ists temporarily borrowed the categories from their opponents and started preaching secularism in the name of Hinduism: "True Hinduism doesn't fuss about mosques", "Rama himself would not have approved of this quarrel over his temple", "Swami Vivekanan­da was a secularist too", etc.  Suddenly, the tables were turned, Hinduism had become respectable, just because in spite of themselves, the Hindu leaders had been bold and defiant for once.

 

         But the BJP leadership has definitely not learned from this experience.  During the 1996 election campaign, and during the 13-day tenure of the first-ever BJP Government, A.B. Vajpayee and other BJP leaders were crawling before the secularist opinion masters and pleading that they were the most secularist of all.  It recalls the occasion in 1771 when the Peshwa general Mahadji Sindia, militarily the most powerful man in India, prostrated before Moghul emperor Shah Alam whom he had rescued from his Pathan rivals, instead of folding up the decrepit Moghul empire and declaring Hindu Rashtra.  The Hindutva forces, instead of seizing power in their own right and setting up an avowedly Hindu dispensation, keep on crawling before people whom the Organiser bravely derides as "forces of the past".

 

         I expect Sangh spokesmen to reject this comparison with the argument that unlike Sindia's, the Vajpayee government's power position was severely restricted, as it controlled only a minority in the Lok Sabha.  Fair enough: in the circumstances, the BJP had to tread carefully, and would have done its duty by just remaining in power without rocking the boat, if only to break the hysteria about the "threat of Hindu fundamentalism".  But the point for now is that a review of past experience would have taught Vajpayee that "more secular than thou" posturing had no chance at all of making any dent in the secularist hate front against the BJP.  Hindu society would accept concessions by a BJP government, on condition that there was a realistic promise of obtaining certain real gains in return.  Only a fool could have believed that crawling before the secularists would yield any, but just any reciprocal gesture.  They are, after all, spoiled children, and the sight of beggars merely makes them laugh.[1]

 


 

             [1]  Moreover, I cannot accept the explanation frequently given by BJP men, that the BJP cannot do anything until it comes to power at the centre.  A party with a distinct ideological identity would certainly give at least a foretaste of its future achievements through its parliamentary work and through the performance of its state governments; but the record shows (cfr. infra) that the BJP has performed as at most a second Congress Party, less corrupt at best, but hardly more alert to specifically Hindu concerns.

 

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