‘Shashi Tharoor is right in saying that BJP will change our secular fabric’ 

Journalist and author Akshaya Mukul, who has researched Hindu nationalism in India, tells SouthWord that the 2019 election will be contested on a purely communal agenda 

Akshaya Mukul’s 2015 book, Gita Press And The Making of Hindu India, focused on a little known publishing house in Gorakhpur and traced its role in shaping Hindu nationalism in the country. Mukul’s extensive research provided him an in-depth understanding of how the Gita Press influenced the Hindu Nationalist Project and set the template to follow for organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu Mahasabha and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh to which the BJP traces its origin.

In an interview with Ajith Pillai, Mukul places his understanding of the Hindu Nationalism Project in the context of the communal politics being played out in India today. Excerpts:

Whenever the question of the BJP’s deep-rooted plan to create a Hindu Rashtra is raised, the party vehemently denies it. This was seen in the recent outrage that followed Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu-Pakistan” should the BJP come to power in 2019. Does your research into the evolution of the Hindutva Project indicate that the country could well be a society dominated by a majoritarian religion much like Pakistan?
We already face that situation. The last four years of the BJP rule have shown that it is possible to create a majoritarian narrative with a 31 per cent vote share. Lynching, localised riots, celebration of rape, attack on eminent persons and journalists have become commonplace. There is a vast army of online and offline trolls. Some of the most abusive ones are followed by the Prime Minister and others are garlanded and feted by Central ministers.
If the BJP comes to power again, I foresee greater attacks on our institutions and individuals. The irony is that the leading lights of the BJP make so much about Indira Gandhi’s Emergency but seem to have learnt no lesson from it.

Even an ideologue like Deendayal Upadhyaya, often quoted by BJP leaders, was all for a change in the Constitution to make it more culturally in sync with Hindu India. Do you think much is being made of Tharoor’s remark that the BJP is inclined to change the secular fabric of the Constitution?
Shashi Tharoor is absolutely right in stating that BJP will change the secular fabric of the country. Of course, his take on Hinduism may be deeply flawed but it still upsets the BJP/RSS since it challenges the RSS/BJP version of one religion, one text, one script and so on. As for the secular fabric, the BJP has successfully assaulted all that made us a secular nation. Every dissenting voice is branded anti-national and violence against minorities and marginal groups has become the new normal.

The Gita Press was the subject of your research. It was established in 1926. Through its publications, it provided intellectual sustenance to the Hindu Nationalist Project. Do you think the ideas articulated in its publications like Kalyan find an echo in Hindu right-wing politics practiced today?
Gita Press and Kalyan successfully became the sole mouthpiece of the conservative Hindu right at least in north India. Gita Press had problems with the Arya Samaj and various other sects within Hinduism, but it preferred to put a united Hindu face. The monthly Kalyan was used as a vehicle to propagate obscurantism and a highly ritualistic daily life, something we find is back in circulation.
But there were certain pet themes in Kalyan that continue to find an echo in Hindu right-wing politics. For instance, there is hardly any issue of Kalyan in which the cow is not discussed, and a fear not created about the threat to it. Kalyan was also very vocal against the Hindu Code Bill and some of its arguments are exactly what we hear from opponents of Hindu-Muslim marriages. The other important theme, though not written about regularly, was the threat to Hindu women from Muslim men. We find that articulated in Kalyan during the intense communal phase of the 1940s.
The publication helped perpetuate the deep-seated Hindu inferiority vis-a-vis Muslim men. Also, the manner in which Kalyan forgot its own motto of bhakti (devotion), gyan (knowledge), vairagya (asceticism) and dharma (religion) in times of religious turbulence reminds one of how in the current regime, people holding important office forget the Constitution and invoke religion. When was it that MPs and ministers attacked Muslims so openly and law enforcement agencies looked the other way? Kalyan and Gita Press laid the foundation of the current majoritarian mindset.

Drawing up an ideal Hindi-centric Constitution for the new India was part of the resolution passed by the Hindu Mahasabha in its 1946 Gorakhpur meet. Isn’t that broadly the same agenda that the RSS/BJP still covertly subscribes to? In fact, Tripura Governor, Tathagata Roy, a former Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP, and Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde have stated that the BJP has come to power to change the Constitution. Is that a distinct possibility?
Well, it is an old aspiration of the RSS/BJP. We know a big Constitution Review Commission was set up under Justice MN Venkatachaliah during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time. It did not yield anything. Maybe it is my optimism, but I do not think the BJP will venture into it even if they come back to power. Even without changing the Constitution, this government has easily undermined many constitutional bodies. Look at the state of the Central Vigilance Committee, the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation and several other institutions. Indira Gandhi managed to do the same (undermining) during the Emergency.

What was the Constitution for Free India as drawn up by the Hindu right before Independence and articulated in Kalyan?
The Constitution for Free India, articulated by Kalyan, was to a large extent based on the Hindu Mahasabha template. Some of the highlights were: India should be called Hindusthan or Aryavrata; It should be purely a Hindu nation and entirely organised on the basis of Hindu culture; the national flag should be saffron and Vande Mataram should be the national anthem; cow slaughter should be banned; the official language should be pure Hindi (not the corrupt Hindustani) and the script Devanagari; military training should be made compulsory and the Arms Act should be amended; the Indian army should only consist of Hindus; Muslims should not be appointed to any high post; in government jobs, Muslims should be appointed based on their percentage in the population; laws should not be made for any religion in the name of social reform. These were some of the highlights of their demand to be included in the Constitution.

Why are senior BJP leaders often in denial when it comes to acknowledging the fact that they are closely following the pre-1947 Hindutva Project?
The possible reason could be their zero contribution in the national movement. While the Congress and (Mahatma) Gandhi were engaged in the freedom struggle, the RSS and its affiliates were too busy stoking communal passion and their leading lights were writing apology letters to the British government. This is one aspect that hurts the RSS the most.

Much of what is politically incorrect is often attributed to the fringe. But aren’t concepts like a Hindu nation and cow protection part of the main agenda drawn up under the Hindutva Project?
I agree these concepts are central to the Hindutva Project. Till Vajpayee’s time, these were articulated at regular intervals by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), RSS and other such organisations. Perhaps the media was right in describing them as fringe elements then, but now they have taken center stage. Ministers are asking dissenting voices to go to Pakistan, some of them are garlanding alleged killers, others are part of procession to save alleged Hindu rapists. There is a whole army of haters out there, completely autonomous, spewing violence and abuse. It is the failure of the so-called mainstream media that it still refers to them as the fringe. Thankfully, many news websites are calling a spade a spade.

Do you think that sections of the mainstream media are making a mistake by looking at the fringe as a separate entity from the BJP? Is it akin to seeing the RSS as a cultural organisation distinct from the BJP?
This is a deliberate act of the mainstream media. What is called the fringe has now taken the center stage. It is much more dangerous than seeing RSS as a cultural organisation distinct from the BJP. What media still calls fringe has become the voice and the face of the ruling establishment, abusing and killing at will. They are not ideological but filled with hate against minorities, Dalits and independent women. Some of their trolls are followed by the PM, some others by top BJP leaders. Recently, we saw how (BJP national general secretary and senior RSS functionary) Ram Madhav asked trolls not to abuse External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Instead, he asked them to question maulvis.

Is the average citizen aware of the implications of the Hindutva Project? Or do they only see the BJP as any other political party without a hidden agenda?
Unfortunately, the average citizen does not make the fine distinction. Those who thought BJP is like any other political party voted for it in large numbers in 2014. Many are regretting it. But Modi remains popular. Despite some push back from secular forces, at least on social media, BJP supporters still dominate. The communal atmosphere has been so badly vitiated by the BJP that their agenda is no longer hidden. Those who were looking for employment and investment have now internalised the BJP/RSS narrative of ‘Hindus in danger’ and are busy targeting Muslims, Dalits, women and liberals. The next election will be fought entirely on a communal basis. A firm ground has been laid.

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