'Hindu Rashtra' and secularism

Political imagination in India has come to a standstill, aiding and abetting the construction of a homogenised cultural and political sphere.

Secular sectarianism of the feminists, Dalits, left and religious minorities has, over a period, ghettoised communities and advanced a sectarian political imagination, leading to a political dead-end that they now find difficult to negotiate with.

Feminist politics in India was silenced with the demand for Uniform Civil Code being made by the rightwing forces, unable to negotiate the competing demands between women’s rights and that of the religious minorities, after the Shah Bano Case.

It is a puzzle as to why they did not proceed along the lines of equating gendered practices in all the religions, whether against the Hadith or the Manusmrithi or the Bible, all of which, for instance, consider women to be impure during the menstrual cycle, along with many other very similar practices that are sanctioned which place women as less than equal to men.

In fact, it was Ambedkar who argued that it is only dalits and women who face untouchability, due to religious sanctions.

Similarly, the dalit politics in India moved from Ambedkar as a philosopher, who was the chief architect of the Constitution, to a claim that he belongs to dalits alone.

In the 1970s, the demand was Ambedkar and Phule be introduced in university syllabi and taught by all in order to understand caste, now the demand is nobody other than Dalits have the right to write and talk of Ambedkar.

Similarly, the idea earlier was all dispossessed social groups are dalits, irrespective of their caste.

This shift to a narrower interpretation of anti-caste imagery led to social justice shrinking to (political) representation, where even if it is the rightwing political organisations such as the BJP or RSS that provide for an opportunity, it should be taken as an opportunity for mobility that was otherwise denied to the dalits for centuries.

Today, the case for this has grown stronger with RSS advancing a more de-Brahminised mode of Hinduisation, in the sense of providing for leadership for individuals from the Dalit-Bahujan communities.

Here it is being argued that for Dalits, the difference between left, right and centre make no sense.

If mobility with dignity is the true meaning of the struggle against Brahminical hegemony, it can be accrued only in questioning sectarianism in all its manifold forms.

Similar has been the case with the secular discourse regarding minority rights in India.

It not only assumed Muslims and other religious minorities to be homogeneous but also articulated their concerns disconnected from other political discourses in a democracy, mentally and spatially ghettoising them into a segregated social group.

For instance, Muslim political organisations could have talked not only about the witch-hunt against the Muslims from Azamgarh and alleged encounter killings in Batla House but also about the same kind of exceptionalism being practiced against tribals in Chattisgarh and racial profiling of citizens from the Northeast.

In the same breath, it would be incumbent to speak of the plight of Hindus in Baluchistan and Bangladesh, as much as the rights of Kashmiri pundits who lost their homes.

It is important to conjoin the rights of Muslims with questioning the views of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani on Hindu religious minorities and women in Kashmir.

Citizenship as a political practice is instantiated in the right to speak for others, not in speaking just for one’s own self.

This becomes important also in a context where neo-liberalism has in a very substantive sense undermined empathy for others, and fraternity and solidarity of all kinds.

Success story

Indian democracy that is otherwise considered to be a success story within the postcolonial nations of the world, built its foundations on secular sectarianism of various kinds.

This was previously typified as the `Congress system`, where different and conflicting social groups were accommodated within the same political party.

This accommodation however, retained the social status of the groups as they stood into an umbrella formation.

It is this politics of forming a coalition of social groups without any sustained attempt to forge inter-sectional dialogue that is now visibly unworkable and has led to a sharp decline in the electoral prospects of the Congress.

This strategy of maintaining a centrist polity that has gradually shifted rightwards through replicating the same strategy of forging a statusquoist coalition but for a different purpose – of realising a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ - by the rightwing political formations.

This decline of the Congress is made even more pronounced by the simultaneous decline of the left parties that have found themselves in a political landscape that can best be typified as a no man’s land.

The ‘classism’ in the left too failed to instill a culture of social groups speaking for each other.

The way forward really seems to be in opening up of internal dialogue within the communities as across them.

These will have to necessarily go together. This will include raising difficult questions such as masculinity within anti-caste movements that time and again attract them towards far-right groups like the Shiv Sena.

Also included are communal sentiments, inward looking philosophy in the ideas of jihad, self-righteous tendencies in the left that refuse to listen and learn that social change cannot be programmed.

These are carried with a load of uncertainties that need to be incessantly made sense of and find the possibilities within them to break the condensation of the polity into a majoritarian construct.

(The writer is with the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi; Currently he is visiting professor, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Gottingen University, Germany)

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