Friday, December 2, 2011

Nothing surprising about BJP’s opposition to Three Hundred Ramayanas

It’s a highly predictable pattern. And it re-asserts the fact that the core philosophy of the BJP remains Hinduism. Aggressive Hinduism. Intolerant Hinduism. The other core philosophy of course – as we have seen recently in full glory – is the party’s unrestrained and impatient desire for grabbing power. The philosophy of opportunism. The party prefers to call its first core philosophy Hindutva – not Hinduism – perhaps wanting to avoid charges of being branded unsecular. In this particular case, a very overt attempt at giving Indian History a Hindu color has been made by the party. The casualty? Academics.

As reported in the TOI, the controversial essay was penned by Ramanujan, “a historian of outstanding scholarship” as far back as in 1991. Top Historians have said that Ramanujan has dealt with the Ramayana tradition “with exemplary academic rigor”. The essay has been a part of the History curriculum in Delhi University’s 2nd year History Honors program for three years now. In 2008, the BJP’s student body ABVP figured out that the PM’s daughter was a member of the committee which had approved this essay. This triggered an act of vandalism against the History department in that year. Even though denials were issued that the PM’s daughter – an eminent historian herself – had neither edited the course nor compiled the book, the ABVP was not satisfied. It felt that this was a conspiracy that was “malicious and offensive to the beliefs of millions of Hindus”. Since I haven’t read the essay myself, I am unaware of what offends the BJP so much. But even if there is something that doesn’t agree with the party’s ideology, surely there is room for different points of views? Surely, we are not an intolerant country in which hooliganism decides what point of view will prevail?

I had written on the same subject on July 20th in my post titled: Teaching Gita in schools.....BJP up to its shenanigans again. At that time, the BJP planned to introduce compulsory education of the Holy Gita in schools in Karnataka. As usual, the rhetoric around the subject was offensive to most moderate Hindus. The BJP education minister in Karnataka apparently stated that “No Indian who has values can oppose the Bhagavad Gita. Only those who love to adopt western culture can oppose the Gita. Such persons may well quit the country". Now there is no denying that the Gita is a prominent Hindu scripture and no one is opposed to its teachings, but should it be made compulsory? Should any religious scripture be made compulsory at all? The plan cast the BJP in a very orthodox and conservative mould. It showed that the BJP never moved ahead from its two-decade old agenda of Hindutva.

The BJP of course will deny all charges of saffronisation of education. In my July 20th post, I raised a few questions for the party:

1)      Since the party continues to deny its “saffronisation of education” charge all the time, why is it that such initiatives take place only in BJP ruled states? Prior to Karnataka, it was in MP that the BJP tried to teach Gita lessons in state schools. It had also tried to make the recital of “Vande Mataram” and performance of the “Surya Namaskar” compulsory....but was held back by the courts. And as we all know, even prior to this, the NDA government at the center – under the overtly saffron leader Murli Manohar Joshi – had tried to make Sanskrit language and the recital of “Sarasvati Vandana” compulsory in schools nationally. Is it mere co-incidence that such initiative originate during BJP rule and in BJP ruled states?

2)      Why doesn’t the BJP publicly and unashamedly state that it is a pro-Hindu party? Is it worried that it will never be able to form a government at the center with a strident pro-Hindu attitude? Is it worries of not being able to attract coalition partners that makes it mute its saffron agenda rather than adopt it out with full conviction? Is the party so power-hungry that it is willing to sacrifice it core agenda only so that it can have a good chance of coming to power?

3)      Why does the BJP mix politics into every discussion? Why does a discussion on terrorism invariably ending up discounting saffron terrorism as even a possibility? Why is the color of terrorism always green for the BJP if it were not for its politics?

Supporters of BJP usually argue that such freedom of expression is not given even by Islamic countries (since the BJP’s attacks are very muslim-centric, they always compare with Islamic countries). Of course, it isn’t. But should we compare ourselves with such totalitarian regimes or with the liberal ones of the West? No one burns books written with Christianity as the underlying theme. What’s the vision we hold for India? A secular country which embraces diversity; or one defined narrowly as a Hindu country?

Repeated incidents of this nature prove that the BJP is perhaps the most illiberal of all national parties in India. This is one reason why it is unable to find stable political partners – unless they themselves hold extreme views of religion (or of course, if their first rival is the Congress). This is also the reason why a leader with similarly intolerant views as Modi is unacceptable to Nitish Kumar. This is why the Left can never align with the BJP. This is also why the party has never come to power except, when in a rare display of Hindu unity on the fall-out of the Babri Masjid issue; the Hindus voted en-masse for it. That support for extreme Hinduism has since waned. Such extreme agendas have never worked for long in most parts of the country – with the exception of maybe Gujarat. But even there, Modi is trying to underplay the Hindu image his party has (even though his is not a sincere attempt).

Again, from my post of July 20th: My own view is that religion is an extremely private subject. It should be left there. There is nothing wrong in teaching the Gita or any other Hindu scriptures but what is wrong that this be done in schools. I also don’t find merit in the proposal that all religions should be taught in school – I am sorry but in my world view, schools are for learning modern subjects and a new way of life, not religion. That job is entirely of the parents to do.” What is true for schools is true for colleges as well.

But Hindutva is the only distinguishing facet for the BJP. It’s the one thing that separates it from its main rival, the Congress. In my post of October 7th, “More common than different between BJP and Congress”, I had written that: the core difference between the two is on the plank of secularism v/s Hindutva. Congress supporters call the BJP a party of Hindu zealots; the BJP accuses the Congress of pseudo-secularism. At the core of the BJP’s support base are people who feel that Hindus in India have yielded too much ground to the minorities (Muslims in particular). Their beliefs are fuelled by stories such as the higher population growth rates in Muslims being a strategy to increase their shares. The biggest two defining moments of the BJP were the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Godhra riots. Its biggest political icon at the moment is Narendra Modi – a politician accused by the Congress of being anti-muslim. Who is the more divisive of the two – the BJP or the Congress? Take your pick, but clearly…..this is the core difference between the two parties.

The real truth is that the BJP is an intolerant and illiberal party. And it resorts to threats of violence every now and then. Even on the FDI in retail issue, the party threatened to burn down the Carrefours and Walmarts that are present in the country. The politics of the BJP is the politics of Hinduism; of intolerance; and of high-pitched rhetoric. Gives me the jitters that this is the main opposition party of the country…..

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