The assault by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has roots in India’s pre-Partition intra-Hindu battle lines. While the most cited example of this bitter rivalry is Mahatma Gandhi’s murder by Nathuram Godse, the pre-Independence standoff continues to stalk Indian society just as menacingly.
The murders of Gauri Lankesh and her rationalist colleagues — allegedly by members of a Brahminical group suspected in Gandhi’s assassination — confirms this narrative. Theatre icon Girish Karnad who died of a prolonged illness on Monday was on the hit list of the group. Banerjee is a Bengali Brahmin of a secular hue and the RSS is a Brahmin-led body of the Hindu right with origins in the intense intra-Brahmin rivalry that goes back to pre-Independence Poona, now Pune. It was here that nationalist leader B.G. Tilak took a violently hostile stance against M.G. Ranade’s social reformist interventions at annual Congress sessions. Tilak’s men would raid Ranade’s camps with sticks and stones, not dissimilar to the hooligans unleashed by the Hindu right today.
Given the spurious but all-pervasive critique of Indian liberalism under way, blaming them for the Opposition’s rout by Narendra Modi, this equation between Brahmins and Brahmins (or Hindus and Hindus) needs to be clearly borne in mind. In today’s context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is vocal about a Congress-free India, which in the Hindutva echo chamber may sound like Muslim-free India. But the real targets are reformist and secular Hindus. Tilak wanted a Ranade-free India. W.C. Bonnerjee, the socially regressive president of the Indian National Congress, would have preferred a Brahmo Samaj-free India. The Samaj was the progenitor of reformist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, whose bust was razed by Hindutva hooligans in their anti-Mamata melee recently.
Gleaning from several recent reviews of the landslide Modi win, it appears to have become fashionable to accuse an imagined airy-fairy, unintelligent intellectual class, supposedly unconnected with the masses and allegedly confined to the upmarket Khan Market and British-built Lutyens’ Delhi, for the political debacle of the Congress and the left. The truth is that barring the excellent Bahri bookshop that still holds true to its intellectual purpose, Khan Market was transformed into a hub of flashy consumerism bereft of any thinking capacity from the 1990s, offering a fertile ground for the arriving right-wing menace to grow and prosper. As for Lutyens’ Delhi, that is where Hindutva leaders reside, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mostly in quarters vacated by assorted architects of Nehru’s India.
Tilak represented British India’s reactionary impulses laced in narrow nationalism, which were to be co-opted by Hindutva forces. Many of his heirs have lurked on in the Congress. They include those who bear hostility towards dalit reformist Ambedkar and other progressive groups. Ranade, the reformist stalwart, embodied the best in India’s quest for social equality, an amalgam of progressive forces set into motion in Bengal by Ram Mohan Roy, and in Maharashtra by Jyotiba Phule and several others.
Detractors of the Nehruvian worldview gained enormously from the rise of the Hindu right, which was spurred unwittingly by Manmohan Singh’s economic reforms, although he claims to be an ardent devotee of the first Prime Minister. Singh helped create a nouveau-riche middle class with definitive regressive and feudal social features. This new urban populace can hardly qualify as a liberal vanguard of anything. Rather, it has swamped the main Opposition Congress as much as it has spurred the consolidation of the RSS and its many arms, including the BJP.
The left’s innate sectarianism does not allow for a pause to see that if Mamata Banerjee goes, the Hindutva sway over Bengal would be complete. Rather than holding her alliance with Muslims responsible for the BJP’s victory in Bengal — a dishonest assessment — the left should make an existential accord with Mamata to stave off its own and ultimately India’s disastrous denouement.
By arrangement with Dawn...