The rise of Narendra Modi and the events of the last five years have fundamentally changed the nature of our body politic. We have irreversibly changed from a nation in which secularism was the norm and religious fundamentalism a fringe idea to a nation where religious fundamentalism is the norm and secularism and pluralism are fringe ideas.
The latest in the statue/temple one-upmanship contest currently underway in India is that Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is going to build 100 sun temples in West Bengal for the Bihari votebank. This, of course, is after the 181 m Patel Statue, which has already been built; the 221 m Ram statue in Ayodhya, which has been announced; the 212 m statue of Shivaji Maharaj in Maharashtra, which is in the planning stages; a statue of Buddha in Bihar that has just been inaugurated; and a statue of Mother Cauvery that the Congress government in Karnataka recently announced.
Do you realize what has been happening?
No? Let me tell you.
One, the entire sociocultural environment in India has been changed by Modi and the BJP. It is no longer acceptable for any mainstream political party to say they are not religious.
Every political party has seen the writing on the wall. As I have often said, politicians only reflect the will of the people in a democracy. The reason Modi stormed to power in 2014 is that Hindutva is now part and parcel of Hindu society today. 20 years ago, it was unacceptable, untouchable; fringe at best. Today it is indispensable, mainstream. It is social liberalism and secularism that have become fringe.
That's why you have a Rahul Gandhi pretending to be a Janeudhari Shivbhakt Brahmin. That's why Shashi Tharoor came up with a wishy-washy excuse of an argument to justify banishing menstruating women from Sabarimala.
The reality is that whether the BJP wins or loses in 2019, it has already won. Not the party, but its philosophy. That's because, as I will show below, the BJP's philosophy represents the views of the majority of the Hindus today.
Nobody understands the mood of the people better than professional politicians. So it behooves us to pay close attention to what they are saying and doing.
Simply put, all political parties in India have realized that secularism will not sell. They have realized that they must move to the social right, to openly embrace Hindutva.
Now that the process has started, a red line has been crossed. The entire country is inexorably moving towards the right. If the BJP wins in 2019, that process will be very fast; but even if they lose, they will be a formidable opposition and exert huge pressure on the government of the day to ensure that the government delivers on the Hindutva agenda.
That's because the BJP has fundamentally changed the debate because of its powerful showing at the polls in 2014 and in subsequent assembly elections (as well as in the assembly elections in 2013). The debate is no longer whether you belong to the Hindu right or whether you are “secular.”
No, the debate today is how far along on the Hindutva axis you are. And clearly, today a party does not feel the need to apologize for taking a stand favouring one particular religion. In effect, the BJP has achieved what Advani started saying, 30 years ago, in 1988: “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain.” (“Say proudly that we are Hindus.”) That's why Rahul Gandhi isn't the least bit abashed about going on a temple yatra. Wearing your religion on your sleeve is no longer something to be ashamed of; if you are a politician in India today, it is mandatory. The fact that someone like Rahul Gandhi is today saying with pride that he is a Hindu is an affirmation that the BJP has already won the war, irrespective of whether it wins or loses battles such as elections. The Sangh Parivar has won the war for the soul of India … whether India should be a secular country or a Hindu country. The actual legal position is now irrelevant. Even if India is not officially called a Hindu country, it clearly is and will be for the foreseeable future an upper-caste Hindu-dominated country in which other communities exist at the pleasure of the majority community. I doubt that even Savarkar could have foreseen the extent of the Hindu right's victory today.
So whoever is in power, you can be sure that there will be a “grand Ram temple” at the Ram Janmabhoomi/ Babri Masjid site within the next 5 (BJP) or 10 (Congress) years at the most. Politicians will stop worrying about the hurt sentiments of Muslim voters - they cannot afford to care. The majority has spoken, and it has spoken with one voice; and no political party that is serious about its survival can afford to ignore its voice. The only difference is that the BJP will do it rapidly and in your face, whereas the Congress will do it gently. But, in effect, there will be no difference as far as the average Muslim is concerned. It might just be that, if the BJP were to be in power, a few Muslims will be killed once in a while to show the minority community who is boss, and this will be greeted with loud boasts by elected representatives of the BJP to that effect; if the Congress were to be in power, their leaders will not actively attack the Muslim community, but if someone were to attack and kill a Muslim, there will be little action to stop such things from happening or to put the perpetrators behind bars, even if a few sympathetic noises are made. The biggest losers will be religious minorities and the concept of pluralism. But they will not be the only losers. Even those belonging to the majority will lose, because now there will be no room for multiple interpretations of their own religion — there will be room for only one version of Hinduism — the version that the powers-that-be deem fit to allow. Every other interpretation will be deemed insulting and derogatory to Hinduism and hence outlawed. And by doing this, we will be sliding headlong down the same slippery slope that every religious fundamentalist state anywhere in the world has slid, whether it be Catholic, Sunni, Shia, or any other religious sect that is in the majority. (Our own neighbor to the west reminds us of the serious consequences of such a slide.)
That's because the Hindu public, by and large, have been sold on the Hindu grievance industry peddled since the time of Advani and Vajpayee in the 1980s — the idea that independent India since 1947 had been “bending backwards” to please the Muslims (even as surveys of the Muslim community such as the Sachar committee report tell a completely different story — that of a terribly impoverished and disenfranchised Indian Muslim community) — and as a result a large percentage of the Hindu population believe that a “correction” is overdue.
If the Congress does come to power instead of the BJP, it will have come to power only after half aping the BJP, as the Madhya Pradesh (MP) election campaign of the Congress showed. There is very little difference between the Congress and BJP positions in MP — both of them want to promote gomutra, cow shelters, and the like. As time goes on, the line separating the Congress and BJP positions will become more and more blurred.
The end result will be an India in which all religions are (nominally) equal, but Hinduism will be more equal than others. Criticism of Hinduism, Hindu icons and gods/goddesses will be met with fierce reprisals by fundamentalist vigilante groups, and the government of the day, whether Congress or BJP, will turn a blind eye to the violence. Any work of art that mocks or criticizes Hinduism or its scriptures, and even the discriminatory caste system of Hinduism, will be promptly banned by the government under the guise of not wishing to “inflame passions” — while criticisms of non-Hindu religions will be encouraged as “healthy scepticism.”
Be ready for that day. It is not far away.
The second point to note is that Hindutva, and more generally religious and cultural pride, is clearly more important for most people than their basic needs. Just think of what terrible economic shape a state like Uttar Pradesh is. Children die like flies in its public hospitals, young people have no jobs to look forward to, and corruption is rampant. One would think that the announcement of a statue that will cost thousands of crores of rupees in this context would evoke widespread anger from its people — but we have hardly heard a peep. Similarly, one would have expected a widespread outcry against a wasteful, Rs. 3600 crore Shivaji statue in Maharashtra, but apart from a few social activists and concerned citizens, people have generally accepted this wasteful monument. Similarly, relatively few people protested about the nearly Rs. 3000 crore Patel statue in Gujarat. It is almost as if people have given up on seeing any real improvement in their lives and are hanging on to pride as the only thing to look forward to.