Pratap Bhanu Mehta: We are hand wringing over religion, missing the real crisis // Ashutosh Bhardwaj: Indian secularism failed in Hindi heartland first

NB: The only issue I have with P.B. Mehta's otherwise excellent analysis is with the word theology. Mehta is correct in saying that communal politics is not about theology, but why do such politics appear to be about religion at all? We need seriously to consider the concept of civil religion, something I previously discussed in a comment on Bangladesh.  Hindutva is a version of State Shinto, the official state religion that was floated in Meiji-era Japan as a means of promoting ideological homogeneity. In my view, just as Islam as state religion failed to hold Pakistan together, Hindutva will fail as an imposed state religion in India. 

However, the most crucial factor we must now address is the ideological justification of violence - the common ground of all extremist politics. The singular reason the Sangh Parivar hates Gandhi (a hatred shared by extremists of left-wing or caste-oriented persuasion) is his avowal of ahimsa. I have addressed this matter elsewhere, here all I wish to say is in the form of a query for those who are fascinated by 'the idea of India'. What is your idea of cold-blooded murder? Have we forgotten the thousands killed in communal pogroms and riots in post 47 India? The total failuure of justice after carnage of 1984? The approximately 4.500 dead in the 1990 and 1992 riots over Ayodhya? The deaths in Godhra and afterward in 2002? Wake up. What needs our attention is the airy manner in which mass murder is dismissed by police, judiciary and politicians alike. DS

.. the cultural prestige and importance of the Left in shaping Indian culture has been hugely exaggerated... The idea that Hindus have been culturally marginalised feeds into the convenient victimology of some Hindus more than it describes a reality. Yogendra is right that in North India there is a politics of resentment generated over the status of Hindi. But there is an implication here that secularists disavowed Indian languages. This is odd because it seems to map secularism onto English. Every Indian language crafted a new vernacular version of secularism. The Hindi sphere had Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Dharamvir Bharati, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Kunwar Narain and others... the sphere of religiously engaged but modernist public criticism. They were not sidelined by English but by the Hindiwallahs. The active secular, culturally nuanced Hindi public sphere was bowdlerised by the new generation of vernacular newspaper owners. The crisis is internal to Hindi and feeds on the trope the BJP uses that somehow a small cabal of metropolitan intellectuals is to blame for India’s woes...

Probing questions are being asked about the failures of secularism to get to the roots of India’s current crisis. One characteristically introspective piece in this vein was by Yogendra Yadav, 'Secularism gave up language of religion. Ayodhya bhoomipujan is a result of that
(The Print, August 5). Yogendra and I agree about several things: The plutocracy of the old order, the reductive intellectual approaches of the Left that disabled any serious understanding of Indian culture. Secularism became synonymous with the politics of opportunism, setting up a dynamic of competitive victimisation.

But Yogendra also writes, “Secularism was defeated because it disavowed our languages, because it failed to connect with the language of traditions, because it refused to learn or speak the language of our religions. Specifically, secularism was defeated because it chose to mock Hinduism instead of developing a new interpretation of Hinduism suitable for our times.” This is a fashionable claim with surface plausibility. But, on reflection, this claim is historically problematic, philosophically dubious and culturally dangerous.

The Indian republic was born in the shadow of the violent catastrophe of Partition. Virtually every nationalist leader outside of the Marxist Left was crafting an idiom of politics that was suffused with religious language. They were creatively trying to craft a distinct Indian modernity within an Indian vocabulary, trying to transcend tradition without making tradition despicable. But as Gandhi recognised, that project was, in one sense, a failure: It did not prevent India’s communalisation. Gandhi’s example could exercise a residual moral force. But whenever religious themes were brought into politics, whether in the quotidian policies that were enacted after Congress governments were elected in 1935, or in the larger ideological project or idiom, they generated conflict. So the idea that taking religion seriously as a political matter will solve the communal problem is a historically dubious proposition. Modern religious politics is born in the crucible of democracy and nationalism, not theology....

Ashutosh Bhardwaj - Indian secularism failed in Hindi heartland first
It cannot be a mere coincidence that the shrinking of the bilingual space has coincided with the surge of the Hindutva project. Secularism, however one defines it, is in crisis. But the bigger worry is the tendency to find scapegoats for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s dominance in polity. The latest target is the ‘English elite’. The proposition is that the RSS has succeeded because it communicates with people in Indian languages they understand; whereas the English-speaking liberal intellectuals have failed to connect with people.

While a contemptuous hierarchy does often exist between English and other languages, which has twisted the literary-academic discourse, the above proposition is flawed and problematic. It disproportionately grants more power to the English intelligentsia than they actually possess, and more responsibility than they should fulfill. The English-speaking elite do enjoy great clout, but if you move away from capitals and big metro cities, you would find that while English does generate awe, its influence gradually weans away and the native languages come to determine mainstream discourse.

The Op-eds written by eminent liberals in English newspapers, and acclaimed books on social sciences and history find little echo in smaller cities, towns, and villages. I lived in a state capital, Raipur, for over four years, reporting for The Indian Express. The reports of a “national newspaper” did occasionally stir the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi, but they ruffled few feathers in towns like Sukma or Surguja in Chhattisgarh. The narrative on the ground, I soon came to learn, is mostly set by local Hindi media....

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P. B. Mehta: Our rulers want an India that thrives on cruelty, fear, division and violence

Re-investigate Judge Loya’s death: Sharad Pawar // सीबीआई जज की मौत को लेकर उठे सवाल
The Broken Middle - on the 30th anniversary of 1984
Sulphur in the air: 1984 is not forgotten

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