New India With A Conservative Right Core? Really?
VAGISH K JHA
On the occasion of the 71st Independence Day of India, a number of articles have come out highlighting various aspects of the seventy years of India’s independence. Among these a piece by Ram Madhav is remarkable not so much for its ingenuity as for its cleverness and peddling of half truths to declare the arrival of a new epoch in India.
The article seeks to prove that a new India has emerged which is close to what Gandhi stood for as opposed to the Nehruvian vision of the nation. Indeed it is true, as Ram Madhav asserts, that it is for the first time in modern India that all the three top constitutional posts of President, Vice President and the Prime Minister are held by individuals who belong to the ‘Conservative Right’. He argues that the new President and Vice President of India represent the coming to the top of the people from ‘humble background’ which never happened in the past.
He conveniently forgets that Indian democracy, despite its many and severe distortions has been throwing up people form the lowest strata of life to the top political positions in various capacities over the last seven decades.
Giani Zail Singh and even before him Dr. Rajendra Prasad were not people from affluent backgrounds. They were ordinary people coming from the middle classes or lower middle classes. Kamraj became one of the most prominent figures of Indian political life more than 50 years back.
Even if they stand today tainted, rightly to wrongly, people like Mayawati and Lalu Prasad truly belong to the humblest of the social strata who rose to the top constitutional position in the state and occupied high positions in the government. These are only stray examples. There is no dearth of such people who prove the maturity and depth of Indian democracy. However, truth is not such a valued thing in the arsenal of people whose ideology Ram Madhav represents.
Drawing parallels with America, Madhav makes the astounding claim that India’s core is conservative right. What proves that India’s core is conservative right? He claims ideas of Swami Vivekananda, Annie Besant and Mahatma Gandhi actually represent ‘conservative right’ ideas. Since these people often spoke about Religion, Madhav concludes that they must be conservative.
This simplification of the complex ideas is a key technique of the ‘communal right’ to put a spin on the reality and cleverly prove a point which stands in sharp contrast to the values and ethos these people stood for. It is strange to see that ‘religion’ is equated to conservatism and then the additional quality is added to make it ‘right conservative’. Perhaps Ram Madhav has not heard of the ‘Liberation Theology’ of the Latin American countries which has effectively used the kernels of ‘religion’ to fight a revolutionary struggle against authoritarian and ‘right conservative government’ in the region.
If anything, Gandhi looked at religion as liberating and giving people strength to fight against injustice and oppression. It was not a tool to spread bigotry and hatred as we see happening today. Gandhi never backed out from challenging those who believe in a religion that divided people.
The life of Mahatma Gandhi and his death is a living testament to the fact that his religion was not the religion of a bigot, his religion was not the religion of a conservative fundamentalist. The prayer, Vaishnava Jana to Tene Kahiye captures the quintessence of religion that Gandhi stood for. The touch stone of religion for Gandhi was to understand and share in the pain and misery of others.
Gandhi’s religion gave him the courage to go to Noakhali and challenge the mob to kill him if they wish to kill a Hindu in the name of religion. His religion can’t be separated from the need to fight untouchability, poverty and social emancipation. It was an inclusive religion that sought to bind and unite, ideas anathema to the ideological family Ram Madhav proudly claims to belong. The outcome of this deep suspicion of Gandhi’s understanding of religion finally led to his killing by the people who also, like Madhav, claimed to belong to the religious right.
In case of Vivekananda too, Ram Madhav will do well to read his utterances on what real religion means. To quote just one statement of Vivekananda- “I do not believe in a God or religion which cannot wipe the widow's tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan's mouth. However sublime be the theories, however well-spun may be the philosophy— I do not call it religion so long as it is confined to books and dogmas.”
This is not the statement of a conservative right that Ram Madhav seeks to make Vivekananda. This is a poor attempt at appropriating the icons that represent the spirit of India and not some convoluted realm of ‘conservative right’.
However, the most dangerous part of the project which is currently underway in India is the creation of a false dichotomy between Gandhi and Nehru. There is a two pronged strategy at work. On the one hand, the Parivar mouthpieces are trying to co-opt Gandhi by denuding his ideas of their radical content. All out effort is being made to turn Gandhi into a hollow icon to promote ideas such as ‘Swachhta’ and lip service to communal harmony etc.
His vision is sought to be reduced to promoting government schemes while the real content of his views which is radical and transformative is ignored or downplayed. Gandhi’s view of beef, communal use of religion, self-sufficiency, social inclusion and cohesion are seen as dangerous. One can easily discern the continuity in the fear felt by the ‘conservative right’ in the early years of independence that led to his murder in 1948. How cruel and laughable that today it seeks to present Gandhi as belonging to the same family to which it traces its own ideological roots.
Secondly, Nehru is being projected as representative of the ‘western’ ‘un-Indian’ values to which Gandhi was opposed. It is again a false dichotomy and clever way to demonise Nehru, whose ideas are far more difficult to assimilate by distortion or filibustering. RSS and its ideologues conveniently forget that it was Gandhi himself who chose Nehru as his heir and representative.
The political firmament of the 1940s had a galaxy of national leaders who could have been chosen by Gandhi as his successor. Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Purushottam Das Tandon and many other leaders had the stature and ability to be Gandhi’s successor. It would be foolish to assume that Gandhi did chose Nehru as his successor just like that.
There is a deep and fundamental symmetry in the Gandhian vision and the Nehruvian understanding of what kind of nation state is to be built. Nehru’s Secularism was far closer to the Gandhian understanding of secularism as Sarva Dharma Sambhav than any western notion of secularism that pits religion against the apparatus of state. Nehru sought to integrate the vision of religion and secularism that Gandhi believed in through the institutions of state by drawing a clear line that state would be equi-distant from all religions.
Gandhi talked about self-reliance. Nehru actualised this vision of self-reliance by developing a network of heavy industries, infrastructure, educational institutions and similar other initiatives in the country. In the context of the period when India was among the poorest of the countries in the world, this was an audacious gamble that Nehru took.
Nobody would deny that it created the ground on which India entered into a rapid phase of industrial development in the new phase of globalised world. Surely it would be naïve and foolish to believe that Gandhi wanted the entire country to be involved in small scale industry and spinning wheel even as a method to attain self sufficiency in economic development.
What Gandhi took up symbolically as a spinning wheel, Nehru realised through building basic and heavy industries, adopting the economic planning and so on. Indeed, Nehru was closest in spirit and action to the Gandhian vision of an inclusive society free of the communal canker.
The RSS has a special corner of hatred for Nehru because he laid the institutional foundation of a liberal, forward looking nation which it is finding so very difficult to fight and dismantle despite controlling almost the entire lever of power in the country today. Madhav is engaging in glib and self-congratulatory noise when he says that under Prime Minister Modi, the ‘reference point in India’s genius has become the dominant Idea’.
It is strange that he has found the ‘India’s genius’ while others wonder if Cow vigilantism, murder in the name of beef, spiralling web of hate-crime in the country is what he is referring to as the ‘India’s genius’ articulated today by the political dispensation ruling the country. Unfortunately, he forgets that the ruling coalition in India today represents the smallest majority over the last 70 years.
At its glorious height today, it does not command more than 40 percent of the votes in the country. Surely, the remaining sixty percent would feel slighted and betrayed to hear that the government, which according to Madhav represents the ‘right conservative’ ideology, represents them too!
Madhav concludes that the government today does not fear mobs, that it is its one defining characteristic. Quite true. It thrives on a mob, unlike Gandhi who stood in the worst of the circumstances against the mob and proclaimed that the truth of an individual, his soul force was far more potent than any howling mob that stood for barbarism, hatred and violence.
In a recent article in New York Times, Gopal Krishna Gandhi writes that Gandhi is facing his greatest challenge in India today. The challenge of neglect, of obfuscation, of cunning co-option. Nehru is facing even greater challenge of falsehood and being pitted against his mentor and spiritual guru Gandhi. It is time the bluff is called and the true meaning of such half-cooked but dangerous ideas is exposed for what they are worth.