Mukul Kesavan - Kumbh vs Corona The logic of Hindu nationalism / Milind Murugkar: The political project of Hindutva is up against many contradictions
The government’s willingness to hold the Kumbh Mela in the middle of the worst health emergency in a hundred years and its unwillingness to curtail it despite a tsunami of second wave Covid infections raise an interesting question. Is Narendra Modi a rational actor on his own terms? Rational, here, doesn’t mean ‘secular’ or ‘progressive’. The question is simply this: if we allow for Modi’s majoritarianism, are his policy choices based on good information and best practice? Do they try to maximize the greatest good of the greatest number, once the welfare of minorities is subtracted?
The Kumbh Mela raises this question starkly because by the end of 2020, when the akharas began to lobby for an off-year Kumbh, its potential as a super-spreader event was obvious. But Modi’s Central government and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s government in Uttarakhand chose to facilitate an unrestricted gathering of hundreds of thousands of people, risking a public health catastrophe that could endanger the lives of Hindus all over the country, because the virus, in its morbidly Nehruvian way, refuses to discriminate between Hindus and Muslims.
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Why did the prime minister choose to do this? Modi is widely seen as a modernizer. Modi’s major policy initiatives, whether you agree with them or not — demonetization, the goods and services tax, the farm bills, digitization — invoke rational goals. But justifying the Kumbh Mela in terms of rational public health policy is impossible. Uttarakhand’s chief minister, Tirath Singh Rawat, didn’t try. He declared that the “flow and blessings of Ma Ganga will ensure coronavirus doesn’t spread”. …
Milind Murugkar: The political project of Hindutva is up against many contradictions
The prime minister is the tallest political leader in the country today. The tremendous faith that the masses have in him has helped him sail through major policy failures. In fact, failures such as demonetisation seem to have strengthened the people’s faith in him. The rise in fuel prices has made no dent in this faith. Against this backdrop, one wonders why he didn’t use his political capital and oratorical skills to dissuade the devotees from coming to Kumbh this year.
Recently, the PM interacted with students and even offered tips for facing exams. Could he not have had a similar dialogue with the devotees at Kumbh? It would have certainly had some effect on the number at Haridwar. The mainstream media could have repeatedly transmitted his appeal to the devotees. The BJP’s all-powerful and efficient social media could have played its role in making the prime minister’s message reach every nook and corner of the country. Following this massive campaign, the state administration could have imposed strict restrictions. All this should have been tried as the stakes were very high. The prime minister could have drawn upon the rich tradition of the Bhakti movement in the Hindu tradition to convince devotees that there are many paths toward punya and moksha.
But the prime minister chose not to do this. This cannot be without reason, and raises many disturbing questions about the Indian state and the present state of Hindu society….
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