The dilemma of being in a situation where one is faced with two equally weighty options lies deep in the human psyche. Language as vehicle of expression amply reflects such obsessive preoccupations and there are several phrases that express this predicament. One of them is: tossing on the horns of a dilemma. As a matter of fact, it quite literally conveys the uncomfortable nature of the choice between di (i.e., two) lemmas (propositions), that is, ‘on the horns of a dilemma’.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems literally to be in this far-from-enviable situation. He is under push and pull of two seemingly irreconcilable forces, both of which were, in their own way, responsible for the Modi-led BJP’s path-breaking victory in May 2014.
One of these forces was the support of what’s commonly referred to as the Sangh Parivar – another name for the orthodox (and semi-orthodox) sections of the extended Hindu society. Some political analysts think that Modi won because this large section of society voted for a strong leader like him to break the strangle-hold of pseudo-secularism that Congress leadership indulged in. Generally, this is referred to the Hindutva agenda. In that light, it is the continuation of the Hindu right wing ideology which surfaced in the 1980’s.
The term Hindutva, it may be recalled, was coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar – that stormy petrel of our nationalist movement. He used it for the first time in his 1923 pamphlet Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? According to Savarkar, Hindutva is an inclusive term of everything Indic. He makes it clear by saying:
Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be ... but a history in full ... Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.
Similarly, the term Sangh Parivar is an all-compassing term, representing a conglomeration of organizations who champion the concept of Hindutva, or rather some particular facet thereof. Sangh Parivar comprises of organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and several other major and minor offshoots thereof.
Its political ideology came to prominence in Indian politics in the late 1980s, and has thrived since then. Three significant events attracted a large number of Hindus to the movement. The first of these events was the Rajiv Gandhi government’s use of its large Parliamentary majority to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shah Bano case. Many Muslims were angry at the court’s ruling, which they thought would fling open flood gates of divorced Muslim women claiming alimony. The second was the dispute over the 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, claimed to have been built by Babur after the destruction of a Hindu temple and claimed since then to be the birthplace of Shri Ram, the much-revered god of the Hindus whom Poet Mohd Iqbal too had referred to as Imam-e-Hind. The third was the much-discussed Gujarat communal violence of 2002.
Leaders subscribing to Hindutva have been known for their demand for a Uniform Civil Code for all the citizens of India. They believe that differential laws based on religion violate Article 44 of the Indian Constitution and have sowed the seeds of divisiveness between different religious communities.
The advocates of Hindutva often use the term pseudo-secularism to refer to policies which they believe are unduly favorable towards the Muslims and Christians. They oppose what they see as a ‘separate-but-equal’ system. Some supporters of Hindutva see it as the Indian National Congress party’s effort to woo the sizable minority vote bank at the expense of true equality. The subject of a Uniform Civil Code, which would remove special religion-based provisions for different religions (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc.) from the Indian Constitution, is thus one of the main agendas of organizations owing allegiance to Hindutva.
The Uniform Civil Code is opposed by Muslims and political parties like the Indian National Congress and The Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Followers of Hindutva have questioned differential religious laws in India which allow polygamy and triple talaq among Muslims and thereby compromise on the status of Muslim women, and ‘marginalizes’ them.
The passing of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 by the Rajiv Gandhi government, under pressure from conservative Muslims, to dilute the secular judgment of the Supreme Court, was opposed by Hindutva-endorsing organizations. The new act, in tune with the Shariat, denied even utterly destitute Muslim divorcees the right to alimony from their former husbands.
The followers of Hindutva are known for their criticism of the Indian government as too passive with regard to the carnage of Kashmiri Pundits by Kashmiri Muslim separatists. And advocates of Hindutva wish a harder stance in Jammu and Kashmir.
The votaries of Hindutva believe that the way Muslims and Hindus have treated each other in the past is a one-way compromise and they intend on making society more balanced and fair towards the majority Hindu population. The BJP has also invited Muslims to be a part of this new society and work with the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs for a better India.
Above all, almost all affiliates of the Parivar deem Modi as their own man. They spent years defending him against self-declared secularists (of the Teesta Setalvad vintage) after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Again, it was the Sangh Parivar that stood by him against the old Party guard headed by L K Advani.
Hindutva groups are also supportive of the Jewish State of Israel, including Savarkar himself, who supported Israel during its formation. The RSS is politically pro-Israel and unreservedly praised Ariel Sharon when he visited India.
The BJP victory, in this light, was an assertion of the long-suppressed Hindu identity. And Sadhavi Jyoti and Sakshi Maharaj are the outspoken spokespersons of this section of Modi supporters. The first, despite her apology, enriched the political vocabulary by the Ramzaadas and haramzaadas jibe. The second has come out in favor of each Hindu woman having at least four children as if the present 1.25 billion population isn’t enough. Both obviously are advocates of what’s dismissively called the very right Hindutva agenda.
The second propellant force that helped BJP get a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha after the long ago 1971 Indira Gandhi victory was Modi’s own platform of economic development-cum-good governance, which is commonly referred to as the Gujarat model. (I’m discounting the much-touted 1986 Rajiv Gandhi’s overwhelming majority which was simply a sympathy vote and cannot be attributed to any political force.)
Most Indian were plain sick of the candy floss Prime Ministership of Manmohan Singh and its litany of stinking scandals. To a large extent the Modi victory was a vote against the corruption-ridden UPA presided over by its wily Machiavellian Chairperson and her thoroughly incompetent heir, Rahul Gandhi.
There is an unending debate as to which of the above two was more powerful and thus primarily responsible for Modi victory. Perhaps one way to determine this is to thoroughly examine the composition of Modi Cabinet which reflects how each of the support flanks was rewarded for services rendered. The key portfolios − Finance, Home, Defense and External Affairs − were allotted to the representatives of the second group. This, in turn, adds up to the general impression that what won Modi the hearts and minds of the electorate was the promise of development-cum-clean governance and not to implement the strict Hindutva agenda.
However several months after assuming office the conflict between the agendas of these two flanks is out in the open and that too pretty brazenly. Most unfortunately both for the Government and the ruling party, the deep and intractable differences in their priorities seem to serve as a divisive force in the polity. The Hindutva lobby is pushing ahead with its Ghar Wapsi re-conversion agenda which is bound to have a communal backlash. And downright stupid is the deification of Godse by the lunatic fringe of the Parivar.
Modi today faces the same dilemma he faced after 2002. He must choose his own trajectory if he has to redeem the promise of good governance rather than openly align himself with the Parivar lobby.
Can these two conflicting loyalties be reconciled to ensure that the two horses driving the chariot of BJP Government ride in tandem or has Modi to choose one over the other?
Modi’s dilemma is not dissimilar to that of Karna, indisputably, one of the most fascinating characters in Mahabharata. A victim of circumstances, he was nonetheless, endowed with sterling character. His skills as a warrior were unmatched. Above all his loyalty to his friend, Duryodhana was unflinching. But a combination of fate and shrewd battle strategy of Krishna ensured that he was stymied.
Karna was a victim of dual loyalty. Krishna knew that Karna is more than a match for Arjuna in his skills as a warrior. Pitted against him in the battlefield, Arjuna wasn’t at all sure of winning. And Karna nursed a deep wound in his psyche from the day he was insulted in public. He had Arjuna as his target and was focusing all his energies for the ultimate battle.
Krishna realized that it was important to mentally break him down before the Mahabharata war started. So he broached to him his real parentage. Knowing the Pandavas were his younger brothers that he was pitted against in the battle, weighed heavily on Karna’s mind when he took on any Pandava in battle.
Krishna also persuaded Kunti to visit Karna with a request to defect to the Pandava side. It was well known that Karna considered his loyalty to Duryodhana over everything else. He would never leave the Kauravas. Duryodhana, in fact, started the war with the confidence of having Karna on his side. Karna, however, gave his mother the promise that he would not kill any Pandava other than Arjuna even if he gets the opportunity. However, Krishna and Kunti didn’t let the Pandavas know about this secret. So Arjuna could freely fight the battle seeing only the enemy in Karna. But Karna had the burden of seeing a brother in his enemy.
Modi surely would have faced the same dilemma when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He had strong personal loyalty to Sangh Parivar. Don’t forget he was a RSS Pracharak for several years before being drafted into BJP, the political wing of the Sangh Parivar. He must have realized that to administer the State of Gujarat with a history of communal violence he had to break the straitjacket of the orthodox Sangh ideology. After all, if you put aside for a while all the historical grievances of the Hindus – all of them eminently legitimate − the concept of Raj Dharma in Hinduism is in no way a hindrance to all-inclusive philosophy of governance.
The above view was validated in an historic 1995 judgment of the Supreme Court of India when it ruled that
Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism ... it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on (that) assumption ... that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practicing any religion other than the Hindu religion ... It may well be that these words are used in a speech to promote secularism or to emphasize the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos, or to criticize the policy of any political party as discriminatory or intolerant.
Hence, Modi’s choice of good governance and rapid economic growth. It is the same model that he wants to adopt for India if he can shake off the influence of Sangh Parivar.
Ultimately, in the overall interests of the polity, the Sangh Parivar constituents have to evolve the political model of Western vintage. Take the Labour Party − a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom. It grew out of the trade union movement and socialist political parties of the nineteenth century and has been described as a broad church; the party contains a diversity of ideological trends from strongly socialist, to more moderately social democratic. The Parliamentary Labour Party has a free say in implementing the party manifesto adopted by the Labour Party.
Similarly, the Sangh Parivar has to sort out it priorities, rein in its over-enthusiastic lunatic fringe and leave it to its political wing, i.e., the BJP to implement in its own way without losing the broad spectrum of liberal political support.