Joining the Dots is a weekly column by author and journalist Samrat in which he connects events to ideas, often through analysis, but occasionally through satire
In a few days, India will complete 73 years of its existence since Independence and Partition in August 1947. It has been a year of momentous events. On 5 August last year, Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act in the Rajya Sabha. It was passed by Parliament, and the map of Jammu and Kashmir changed. On 31 August, Assam published the final list of its National Register of Citizens that excluded 19 lakh residents of the state, mainly Hindu and Muslim Bengalis. On 9 December, Shah introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act in the Lok Sabha. It was passed the following day. The ensuing protests had descended into rioting in the streets of Delhi when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
It is safe to say that all's not well with India. The months since the start of the pandemic have seen a clueless government substituting performative drama for considered policy at every step, with the result that the country now has over 1.7 million cases of the disease, and numbers are mounting at a rate exceeding 50,000 new cases a day. The GDP is expected to contract this financial year; ratings agencies differ only in whether the contraction will be closer to five percent or 10. The job losses across sectors run into crores. Meanwhile China has successfully occupied, and is refusing to vacate, a slice of Indian territory in Ladakh, which our government and most of our "nationalist" media tried right from the beginning to hide from us " their primary concern being not the nation, but the image of a couple of politicians from a particular party.
The false bravado, loud bluster and bullying in TV studios has now found other, softer targets, such as recently deceased actors and their girlfriends. By the time this column is published, those vultures will no doubt have pivoted to singing paeans of praise for the present government for its role in fulfilling their "dream". The BJP and RSS leaders, minus those afflicted by the coronavirus and those not invited, are scheduled to be in Ayodhya to inaugurate the process of building a grand Ram temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid.
The 73rd year in the life of free India will thus conclude in the same vein as it began, with a contentious act.
When the project to build a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya started under the leadership of LK Advani in 1990, it was pitched as a movement for restoration of Hindu pride after centuries of subjugation and neglect. It came as a counter to the politics of caste unleashed by Prime Minister VP Singh's August 1990 decision to implement the hitherto neglected recommendations of the Mandal Commission on reservations in jobs. That itself may have had something to do with an earlier attempt at mobilising Hindu communal politics from Ayodhya. VP Singh's National Front coalition government was propped up with support from both the BJP and the CPI(M), while Rajiv Gandhi had launched the Congress party's 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya with a promise to restore Ram Rajya.
The vision of a Hindu India, or rather, a Hindi-Hindu Bharat " Hindu nationalists would like the country's name changed too " is based on notions of restoration of an imagined past. Such imaginations of ancient Hindu glory contrast with the fallen state of many of today's Hindus, and of India in general. For this fall, they blame the Muslim invaders of a thousand years ago, the Muslim rulers since, the colonial British, and indeed, everyone but themselves. The construction of the Ayodhya Ram Temple is a symbol of the return of Hindu power in the direction of restoring that imagined Bharat of yore. It is a Bharat that never actually existed. From the time of the Ramayana until the advent of Islamic rule, there was never a political unity throughout the lands that today comprise India. Nor was there any unity among the many Hindu kings. Indeed, even the tale of the Ramayana itself is a tale of war between Lord Rama and the asura Ravana, a Brahmin Hindu king who was a devotee of Shiva.
The creation of India as a politically unified territory is an achievement of the British colonial rulers. So, to a significant degree, is the imagination of Hindus as a single, unified community.
The internal diversity within any great world religion is immense. This is especially so in the case of Hinduism. The term "Hinduism" itself is of fairly recent provenance, dating back only to the early 1800s. The much older term "Hindu" was the Persian name for the many peoples who lived east of the river Sindhu or Indus " it is not a word that exists in the Vedas, Bhagwad Gita, or Ramayan. The equivalent name derived from Greek roots for the residents of these lands would be Indian. Within these lands, a very great diversity of social, cultural, spiritual and religious traditions existed. There was a vast multiplicity of communities.
The consolidation of many of these diverse groups under umbrella terms owes much to the colonial censuses that tried to impose order upon what the orderly western mind viewed as chaos. When the first censuses of India were put together, the people were enumerated on the basis of caste and religion. The boundaries of the Hindu identity, though, were far from clear. Census enumerators had to grapple with questions such as whether tribal animists were Hindus, and if outcastes from the Hindu fold should still be considered Hindus.
The Hindu nationalist project is an ongoing task of assimilation and consolidation that attempts to complete the work started, perhaps inadvertently, by the British Raj. Ideas of Hindus and Muslims as distinct 'nations' subsuming a variety of other identities culminated in Partition in 1947. The resentments and injuries of Partition on the minds of Hindu refugees and their descendants have contributed in the rise of the BJP in the 30 years since a Sindhi refugee from Karachi, LK Advani, began touring India on his Toyota 'rath'. The temple at Ayodhya marks the end of that journey. It also marks a symbolic end of the road for secular India. The separation between the Hindu and Muslim 'nations' of the subcontinent that began with the movement for Pakistan is now complete.
Only territorial disputes remain.
" Featured image via PTI