Many well-meaning commentators and analysts believed that a settlement of the Ayodhya dispute would resolve the thorny issue of “communal” tensions arising from the Hindu mobilization. We do not know what the honorable judges who rendered the ruling on the matter thought about this, as they dined at the restaurant after delivering the Ayodhya-Babri verdict. But, at least in retrospect, they might wonder whether they judicially inaugurated the Hindu state – perhaps inadvertently.
Since the 1990s, when the Ayodhya conflict raged, it was amply clear that the search for identity sparked by this turmoil was not going to end in Ayodhya. “Kashi-Mathura baaki hain” – Kashi and Mathura still stay – was the chorus. While Mathura is already facing a boiling point, the Prime Minister made it very clear to Kashi the other day that he is indeed Prime Minister of a Hindu state.
Centered exclusively on the austere and devout character of the Prime Minister, a masterclass in performative presentation of the image, the Kashi event sent multiple messages. For the internal politics of the BJP, the image was competitive – it eclipsed the yogic image of the chief minister of state. The imagery would also be deployed in an electoral arsenal for the upcoming UP elections. But beyond these limited, UP-centric messages, the Prime Minister’s screening of Kashi sent a deeper message that has been largely ignored. After all, it is one thing to see a Yogi being portrayed as a Yogi-cum-CM and quite another to see the Prime Minister hint that his identity and personality as a Hindu devotee surpasses his duty and status as a leader. of the executive of a secular administration. .
This is of course not the first time that this has happened. First, the Prime Minister was screened as a meditating yogi in Kedar Nath cave – which could be seen as a personal pursuit of the transcendent, except that the orchestrated publicity was nothing other than worldly about it. Then the Prime Minister presided over the founding ceremony of the Ayodhya temple. Now, in Kashi, the image of the Prime Minister emphasized once again, not his devotion and his faith, but the larger point that India belongs to a religious identity which forms the basis of its national being.
The Prime Minister has made it known that being Indian coincides with being Hindu. Then there is a mixture of state authority with Hindu identity. Third, wearing your religious faith on your sleeve is a mark of both religiosity and political prudence. Fourth, just like its politicization, the monetization of the monument was unmistakable. The emphasis was on expanding space and territory, on resources devoted to a Hindu place of worship and on making it more tourist-friendly.
More than all this, the message is to mix religiosity with a politics of otherness. Despite his claims about sanatan dharma and the pursuit of the Supreme, Modi’s politician could not keep Hindutva’s politics out of the ostensibly religious moment. He told the story to bring out the harshness of battles and destruction instead of reminding his audience of the tradition of seekers and seers. While the speech mentioned both Shakti and Bhakti, the latter was hijacked by the power rant. With a dig into opponents of the past having been relegated to distant black spots in history and a boast that no one will dare to become an aggressor from now on, both had contemporary connotations. They indicated a new social contract in which a similar rejuvenation of Buddhist and Sikh monuments is also undertaken – this inclusion is important for its assimilative incorporation and determined exclusion.
It is a sad commentary on the mainstream public discourse that little is being said about this new social contract. This for two reasons, misunderstanding and collusion. The folklore about the electoral and political sense of the BJP and its leadership surely has a grain of truth, but this narrative lacks the wood for the trees. He is eloquent on the details of the campaign, masterminds and politics 24/7. They cannot be denied, but the whole situation is far from them.
This is the master story that unfolds through events such as Kashi. As this writer has been saying since 2017, this is a new India. It is a question of popularizing a new public morality. It is about prioritizing citizens. It is above all a new India which distorts its founding document and its historic pledge of inclusive democracy.
The new social contract emphasizes a new consensus that India is a Hindu nation and, therefore, the Constitution is a servant of state practices consistent with this socio-cultural construct. The new social contract means forgetting what we wanted to achieve 75 years ago. But this goal of fundamental transformation is not well understood. Over the past seven years, discussions have centered on the cult of personality and megalomania, advertising, growing or slowing the economy, and, in bits and pieces, what is perceived to be excess or aberrations. One often loses sight of the fact that there is a model for these so-called aberrations and that megalomania and publicity are practical tools for the larger project.
Part of the Indian social and political establishment has felt these momentous transformations. They chose to collaborate either out of partial conviction or out of opportunism. This establishment includes our media and cultural elites as well as aspiring political actors who have found there a platform to invigorate or protect their careers. The opposition parties were distressed by these two vices of misunderstanding and collusion. Increasingly, as they realize the widespread acceptability of ideas that India is a Hindu nation, they seem to give up any semblance of joining a debate on this issue and increasingly give in to the idea that India is a Hindu nation. intellectual ground. In fact, by the time of the next general election, the opposition would be willing to pursue a policy on common ground organized by the BJP.
Even outside of the competition policy, there will be no serious challenges in the public domain where the debate does not go beyond the saffron outfit put on by the Prime Minister. When criticism is replaced by simple caricature and caricature is confined to appearances and images, it is the sure sign of the arrival of hegemony. At the risk of repeating ourselves, it must be said that the Kashi spectacle offered to us by the voluntary collaborators of the powerful is symbolic of the hegemony that Hindutva policy has carved out for itself. Certainly there would be many more such shows in the future and everyone will be a vivid reminder that the corridor to a Hindu state is lit by the sparks of political leadership and aided by our own little sparks of collusion.
This column first appeared in the print edition on December 17, 2021 under the title “Writing on Kashi corridor”. The Pune-based writer has taught political science and is currently the editor of Studies in Indian Politics.