The handling of the second wave of the pandemic by the ruling BJP party to say the least has been abysmal. This is due to the election campaigns and the majority appeasement that involved little to no restriction on the celebration of Hindu religious festivals. These had at its core the desperation and hunger of the BJP to make India into a Hindu Rashtra. As the pandemic worsened, infecting a million people every three days, between April 20 and May 15, discussion on the impact of the misgoverned pandemic on Modi’s consecutive victories relayed across India’s electoral soap opera. But do these conversations address the crux of the issue looming over India namely the BJP-orchestrated feeling of trauma amongst Hindu communities, the hatred and vengeful acts arising from it and the subsequent effects of these acts and emotions on the material, emotional and social lives of India’s minorities namely Muslims among others?
One of the few sentimentalities that this electoral soap opera is based on were expressed by the so-called loyalist-turned-critic, Vamsee Juluri, Professor, University of San Francisco in his article “What will the PM do with the lie of delusion? Asks dismayed Modi supporter.” While he has staunchly critiqued Modi for the misgoverned pandemic, when he was invited on NDTV’s Reality Check he said, “I hoped that this govt and Mr. Modi would be given a fair chance by the world media back in 2014 because I felt that [the victory] was a moment when the people’s aspiration was for decolonization, for indigenous, sustainable and nature respectful ways of living.” In colorful words, Vamsee’s notion of decolonization is about undoing the injustices done by the so-called Islamic colonization. BJP, the Hindu right wing and Hindu Postcolonial Studies construct the Islamic rule of Al-Hind as “colonization.” Behind the colorful words, decolonization and indigeneity, BJP hides the project “colonization of India by Hindu Rashtra.”
He continues, “in the last seven years [of Modi’s rule], what has happened is an appropriation of the grassroots energy into a copycat American right-wing model.” The grassroot energy Juluri is talking about basically is, he explains, “the disappointment, this feeling [among people, namely the Hindu middle class] of being completely neglected and unjustly treated for decades by the Urban elites.” This feeling is one that has been produced by the BJP through alter-management. BJP has managed to build its empire of Hindu Rashtra based on the myth of Hindus traumatized by oppressive “Others” namely Muslims and Christians. Here, people who identify as “Hindus” also identify themselves as the traumatized by, first, the so-called Islamic colonization and second, to a limited extent, British Colonization and third by the supposed “secular” constitution of post-independent India. This strategy of the Right undermines the agency of Hindus in deciding their own social position. However, for those people who share the sentiment of Mr Juluri, the concern for ousting BJP is not Hindu nationalism that’s exclusionary.
For those of us who see misgovernance as intrinsic to BJP owing to its Hindutva ideologies that involves extermination of India’s minorities, especially its othered Muslim, this sentiment is troubling. Ousting BJP for the misgoverned pandemic does not qualify as a practical solution to the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding against India’s minorities, let alone to the communal hatred and reconciliation concerns. While NDTV’s reality check provides ways to see the inadequacy of this emergent anti-BJP sentiment, the popular sentiment in favor of the Israeli state in India exemplifies further inadequacies in it. The 2021 escalation of Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestine serves a timely reminder to those liberals, the left and the opposition who are hopeful about BJP’s defeat and assume, irrationally, that BJP’s defeat would bring an end to the on-going colonization of India by Hindu Rashtra. The popular sentiment against Palestinian cause in India is based on Israel’s “moral capital” and holds mirror to both the moral capital and the nature of Hindu Rashtra to see themselves but in a different light.
The moral capital that is used to make the Israeli colonization of Palestine look good goes something like what Kangana Ranuat posed in her story: “Jews have had such a raw deal in the history of the world, Muslims have taken over half of the globe but Jews can’t even have one small place for themselves especially after we have seen how badly they were butchered through the history of the world.” The emphasis on “especially after [the Nazi holocaust]” is what is used to justify Israel’s colonization of Palestine; it produces an empathy that justifies the violence acts of colonization. Unlike others, I find Kangana Ranaut’s post important because it excavates and brings to light the rhetorics and discourses that make violence look good which otherwise only circulates in the deep whatsapp vacuum chambers of the Right and BJP inflicted Hindu families.
Many today hold this empathy for Israeli cause in India which allows them to justify Israel’s violence against Palestinians. Rather than a call for justice, the sentiments reflected in posts like these show an “empathy for violence”; it allows for rationalization of the violence. We have heard from Sigmund Freud, Franz Fanon, Hannah Arendt, Elizabeth Schwab among others, argument against this moral capital and that at no point should, “the oppressed becoming the oppressor” be rationalized. It’s one thing and a very key thing to question the moral capital argument in itself. Scholars have questioned it in itself to explicate its contradictions and schisms! However, it’s in this moment I want to also analyze the sentiment, response and empathy shown towards the moral capital by India’s polity. This relational approach talks of the moral capital not in terms of the Israel and Palestine but in the ways, people in India relate with Israel-Palestine. What does the empathy for the moral capital have to say about the emergent anti-BJP sentiment in India? Does it hold a mirror to our societies like the Kala Bandar in Delhi-6?
While today’s Hindutvawadis emphathise with the Israeli cause and rationalize their settler colonialism, ideologues of Hindutva drew inspiration for their cause from the violent acts against Jews under Nazism. In contrast to the liberal smearing of the ideologues of Hindutva as mere proponents of Nazism and Hitler, they had different approaches to interpreting and “learning from” Nazi violence on Jews and the Israeli nationhood. While Hedgewar called for the introduction of “youth movements of Germany” in India as a strategy to avenge conversion practices under Islamic rule and by Christian missionaries, Sarvarkar legitimized the killing and extermination of Jews in the German Empire as they were the minorities. He believed that minorities in any nation should be face the same fate. Gowalkar praised the idea of nationhood and nation-state in Nazism that is based on racial purity while at the same time, claimed that Jews only faced the horrific historical violence as they had no nation for their “race” and religion.
Collectively, the ideologues argue for a nation and land for Hindus by scaremongering the Hindu community using the plight of a nationless Jewish community in Islamic countries and during the Crusades. In this way, the empathy for the moral capital allows Hindutva to manage Muslims and Christians as others/aliens to not India but Hindu Rashtra. In Hannah Arendt’s words, the “loss of national rights in all instances entail[ed] the loss of human rights” and “the restoration of human rights, as the recent example of the State of Israel proves, has been achieved so far only through… the establishment of national rights.” Hedgewar, Saravarkar and Gowalkar seem to agree with the brutal logic that Jews were “nothing but human” (in Arendt’s words) so didn’t qualify for any special treatment in Europe, without a nation for themselves.
This becomes clearer as Gowalkar explains, “the foreign races in Hindusthan… may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt.” According to these ideologues, without a national identity, a Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian is “nothing sacred” in their “abstract nakedness of being human” (in Arendt’s words)—a logic that forfeits us from our inalienable human rights. So, amongst the ideologues of Hindutva, making a nation is a civilizing mission that turns “savages” into citizens and thereby, human beings worthy of human rights, be they Hindu, Jew or Muslim. In this way, Hindutva ideologues rationalize the treatment of Jews under Nazism owing to their statelessness and leave behind any concern for their humanity in interpreting Nazi violence against them. In so doing, they also rationalize those imagined horrific crimes against Hindus in India as they were “nothing but human” without a nation in the past. Thereby, the attempts to make India into a Hindu Rashtra ironically invalidates even Hindus’ claim to human rights.
Given this logic, Hindutva is a civilizing mission that turns the “naked human” unworthy of human rights into “citizens” worthy of it. This, the Sangh has chosen to do, by colonizing the land of India and making it into a Hindu Rashtra. Hindu Rashtra, at its crux, involves colonialization of India by the Sangh’s patrons be they Hindu, Muslim or Christian, and more brutally colonization of Kashmir and other ethnic nations that were annexed to the Union of India post-independence. This is similar to the colonization of Palestine and its people following various religions namely Islam, Christianity and Judaism by Israel’s settlers. Both in the above logic of national rights in Hindutva and by empathizing with the violence of the settler colonial state, Israel, via the moral capital argument, Hindu Rashtra emerges as the settler colonial state encroaching the Union of India’s lands and its name-sake federal structure.
The unfettered and irrational construction of Central Vista too pronounces and presses on the colonization of India by Hindu Rashtra. And that’s the answer to why the BJP-government sanctioned INR 200,000,000,000 for a project that’s more symbolic than materially important for the people of India who are muffled by the virus and the misgoverned pandemic at once. A dismayed Arihan Pawariya, a-restoration-of-Hindu-culture in India proponent, complains in Swarajya Magazine that there is nothing symbolically Hindu about the Central Vista project as it doesn’t revive Hindu Architecture. On the other hand, A.G. Krishnan Menon, delves into the words and rhetoric of the Central Vista project bid document to show the readers its symbolism—representation of “New India” and the museums (former North and South Block) that’d “exhibit artefacts of ‘Indian civilisation’.” Drawing from his experience of working on making Mughal monuments into UNESCO World heritage sites in India, Mr. Menon notes, “[n]o Mughal or British complex could represent India or its culture on [Modi’s] watch.”
Even if, on the surface, the Central vista project is not Hindu enough, the construction of it inscribes a tale of decolonization. This tale of decolonization tells a new truth that Hindus of New India ought to believe in—not only the British but the Muslim “emperors” are colonizers too and, Hindutva is here to “decolonize.” This tale of decolonization, ironically, is done through settler colonialist project of Hindutva. By making the Mughal oppositional to India’s culture, Hindutva’s tale of decolonization alters or others India’s own notion of time and memory. In Central Vista Consultant Bimal Patel words, through the Central Vista architecture, we “untether ourselves from the past… [to] more fully embrace the future.” This settler colonialist’s decolonization project of Hindutva colonizes the mind, memory and time of India and its peoples. In so doing, it undermines other postcolonial countries’ decolonization effort that focuses on healing, reconciling and listening.