21 February 2020 05:45 PM



The Demolition of Vidyasagar’s Statue: What it Means for India


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadre's destruction of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar's statue on Tuesday at Calcutta University was not an isolated incident. It is part of the greater, widespread systematic attempt to destroy and dismantle the multicultural fabric of the country in order to impose the religious-cultural narrative built around Sri Ram, because that is what has been, historically, their signature political calling card.

Let us for a moment put aside the oft repeated question of what the BJP means for the Muslim population of this country, and instead consider what they bring to the table for the Hindus. Their politics being religion-driven and Ram-centric, it is the BJP's political compulsion to engage in cultural appropriation to step-by-step erase the local differences in Hindu religious-cultural-social life & practise, and establish a homogenized, Ram-centric religio-cultural narrative. The strategy is quite clear. Once the populace embraces that shift, they will start to identify and associate the BJP with their way of life, leading to ease in future electoral battles.

The BJP has nothing against Vidyasagar. But if the Hindu-majority electorate of India remain true to their allegiance to different regional and local religious, cultural, educational, and intellectual icons, then it becomes difficult to unify them into a singular vote bank, based on their religion. Because then, they will start to focus on diverse and individual issues while taking a call on which way to vote. Thus, unification of the Hindu electorate is crucial to the BJP's electoral strategy of dividing the nation based on religion and riding to power on the back of the brand of muscular, religion-driven nationalism which conjures the image of the BJP in the electorate's collective conscience.

Naturally, local and iconic symbols of tolerance and inclusiveness must be demolished, if they are in any way part of the upbringing of any sizeable chunk of the Hindu electorate. Vidyasagar, Ambedkar and Ramaswamy were just collateral damage.

If you are a razor minded Tamil Brahmin, or a poetry loving Bangali Kayastha, or a fiercely independent Marathi, you likely do not fall within the cohort that will readily identify with the 'Ram-mandir Nationalism' of the BJP. If you worship at the Guruvayur temple, or get emotional during Bisorjon on Bijoya Dashami, it is unlikely you will get charged up at the spectacle of trishul carrying rightist electoral processions, which has now become symbolic of The Party. Thus, it is not good enough for you to be merely a Hindu anymore...you must identify with the brand of ultra-Hinduism, also known as 'Hindutva', that is championed by the BJP. And if you resist, then Big Brother is watching. And ready to pack you off to Pakistan.

This is how cultural appropriation has taken place throughout history, since time immemorial. Whether with the native American population in North America, Hitler in Germany, before disintegration of the USSR, or in South American Banana Republics- cultural whitewashing and intellectual invasion to induce an amnesia-like state must necessarily precede political invasion in the modern world. Always. Whether by means of doctoring NCERT history textbooks or building/demolishing statues.

The Modi-Shah combine understands this reality, and to them, Bengal truly represents, to quote Steve Waugh, 'The Final Frontier'. Home to a historically proud and politically educated hive-mind, the land of reformers, and the soil which gave birth to not only the National Anthem, but also the National Song as well as the ubiquitous electoral slogan 'Jai Hind'; this state presents the ultimate challenge in the face of the socio-cultural ethos bulldozing juggernaut that is the BJP.

Thus, the unbelievable focus on Bengal by the party top brass, beyond the mere numbers game centred around the 3rd highest seat share in the country. The disproportionate unrest and conflict in Bengal during these elections is no accident. It is a necessary tool, designed to generate a perception of lawlessness which is such a useful backdrop if one wishes to involve the school Headmaster in order to discipline the most stubborn kid in class!

The greater, unfortunate 'side effect' of such 'BJP medication' is the danger of gradual erasure of the multitude of unique regional identities and flavours which go into creating the "Idea of India", a pluralistic land of more variety than any other, steadfast and strong in its Unity in Diversity.

It is this "Idea of India" which is being challenged by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duopoly. It is this soul of India which was safeguarded from erosion by previous veterans like the Late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who maintained a subtle balance between party compulsions, and classic Statesmanship. It is this "Idea of India" which is at stake when you cast your vote in the last phase of polling on the 19th of May.

Whoever you pick on the 19th, whether the Congress, the Trinamul, the Left, the BJP, or someone else- pick India first.

Because I'm sure that if Sri Ramchandra were alive today and witnessed how his name was being used to erase the diverse socio-cultural-intellectual fabric of Hinduism in India, as well as create a divide between religions, he too would say, #NotInMyName

(Dr. Biswanath Ghosh Dastidar is a consultant IVF specialist, former Felix Scholar at the University of Oxford, and gold medallist in Obstetrics and Gynecology from Mumbai. He is about to join the University of Cambridge later this year)