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India: Anna is the icon of banal Hindutva

by Jyotirmaya Sharma, 20 October 2011

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Mail Today, 17 October 2011

The ethical compass of his followers is skewed

Does Anna Hazare have an ideology? Despite the surfeit of emotion that Hazare generates, this is a legitimate question that ought to be asked, understood and answered. That he is no democrat in the sense the word ‘ democracy’ is normally understood is a foregone conclusion, something that even his most vocal admirers would admit. He brings to debate and discussion the rigour and predictability of a military drill. His model of rule, governance and statecraft is that of undiluted paternalism, something even his secret admirers would admit.

That he is medieval in his outlook, one who would like people who he doesn’t like to be flogged in public, hanged in public and humiliated in public, is no great secret waiting to reveal itself. His world is a simple world that divides people into friends and foes and proceeds to pass moral strictures against his foes.

Character

Neither is he too bright: calling actions evil can be polarising, but he calls people evil which is polemical and arrogant.

He does not have the mental facility to focus on actions rather than the agents of such action. He feels he has neither the capacity for error nor the capacity for self- deception. For him, rhetoric is a substitute for explanation and not a demand for explanation.

Hazare doesn’t think twice before abusing words like ‘ evil’ and ‘ corruption’. The excessive use of the words stifles thinking rather than promoting it.

By demonising the idea of corruption, he has managed to externalise the idea altogether as something other people do. And by other people, he simply means those who do not agree with him or do not attend his rallies. The poison of his rhetoric poisons our lives; it undermines our trust in people and institutions and robs us of our freedom to debate and dissent. He is a non- violent terrorist: he does not bother about collateral damage in carrying out his mission.

Having said all this, the question still remains whether Hazare belongs to the Hindutva camp. Notwithstanding Digvijaya Singh’s relentless rhetoric on this question, or Mohan Bhagwat’s open avowal of support, or Hazare’s own disagreement with Prashant Bhushan on the Kashmir issue, the question of Hazare’s seeming affinity with the Sangh Parivar needs careful analysis. One doesn’t have to belong to the RSS or the VHP or the Bajarang Dal or the BJP to be formally part of the Sangh Parivar.

Analysts have often categorised Hindutva into ‘ hard’ and ‘ soft’ varieties. It is, therefore, important to understand that there are people who have formal allegiance to Hindutva as represented by institutions and organisations mentioned above, but there are those who might vote for the BJP not because of an ideological position that they take but because of resentment towards a particular party or dispensation.

Going beyond the categories of ‘ hard’ and ‘ soft’ Hindutva, there is a third, and as yet not discussed, category of Hindutva.

This is ‘ banal Hindutva’. Its features are a love for abstractions rather than action, self- righteousness over self- improvement, inflamed nationalism, easy judgement, moral sanctimoniousness over moral understanding and a gnawing sense of inferiority and victimhood.

Type

It manifests in the form of the person who regularly violates traffic lights, spits in public places, raves and rants about the state of education in India and then sends his children abroad, speeds in his car as if there was no tomorrow and yet complains of the fast life in the West, bribes his way through in life but gets tearful when Vande Mataram is sung.

This sort of person does not have the application or the courage to question seriously the status quo, nor does he have the tenaciousness required to join a political party and work for a cause or an ideology.

He wants a comfortable existence, dislikes disorder of any kind, finds dissent and debate in his own circles to be a waste of time, and is happy to fit several air conditioners in his own home while signing petitions to save the ozone layer.

He is a misogynist at home but a serious champion of 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament.

He relentlessly speaks of India’s great Hindu traditions but knows no more than what he gleaned from Amar Chitra Katha comics. He swears by Hindu tolerance yet makes no effort to have a Muslim or a Christian friend; more so, he secretly detests them.

Being afflicted by this moral and ethical schizophrenia, he hides behind the rhetoric of the eternal Hindu civilisation, the dream of making India, which for him means Hindu India, an economic and military superpower, being the number one side in cricket and tracing the origins of all things good and noble to India. If confronted with questions of violence, cruelty and hypocrisy in India, he blames it on Western education, Christian missionaries, the Taliban, Pakistan, America, the rise in population, democracy, the Left and the intellectuals.

Hazare is the leader of ‘ banal Hindutva’.

He has no moral centre and his scruples are his misunderstandings. He typically is the kind of person described so eloquently by Hannah Arendt in her account of Eichmann’s trial: the pathetic, selfserving individual, who attains to a position of power and influence by accident.

Fallout

He is not demonic but just spectacularly mediocre. And he attracts a sizable number of those who are either his kind, or, if they are not necessarily mediocre, are just plainly opportunists, who find a state of political and moral anarchy convenient for their own ends. He is attractive because he does not challenge anyone intellectually or morally. All he asks anyone is to bask in his moral superiority.

Like Krishna asking Arjuna to suspend everything and come unto him, Hazare too wants us to suspend judgement and follow him.

Will ‘ banal Hindutva’ replace the more formal versions of the Hindu nationalist ideology? The answer is that it is unlikely.

What Hazare is knowingly or unknowingly doing is to become the informal recruitment centre for the harder versions of Hindutva. By making ‘ banal Hindutva’ honourable, Hazare has begun the process of making the harder versions of Hindutva more acceptable and legitimate.

The collateral damage, as stated earlier, will be Indian democracy. But does he care?

The writer Jyotirmaya Sharma is a professor of politics at University of Hyderabad

P.S.

The above article from Mail Today is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use