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Hinduism, nationalism and socialism: the latest political conundrum

By T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan
March 28, 2016 13:25 IST
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Hinduism, nationalism and socialism may be okay separately, but in equal combination they yield political nonsense, says T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan.

Indians, poor fellows, have been cursed by their several gods to spend their lives trying to solve mysteries, big and small. These can be of a cosmic nature -- who am I and where am I going, for example -- or trivial, such as why Arun Jaitley cuts the interest rates on small savings.

Until about 50 years ago, politics didn't throw up any great mysteries. Everyone voted for the Congress because there wasn't anyone else to vote for.

That changed in the 1967 general election as new parties came up and provided alternatives to the Congress. Today, people only vote for these alternatives, and the Congress, in spite of its 20 per cent vote share in the 2014 election, has practically vanished from the scene.

One such alternative that the last 30 years have produced is the Bharatiya Janata Party vald Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It provides not only an electoral alternative to the Congress but also a lifestyle one.

Those who grew up thinking the Congress way was the only civilised way were derisive at first and then a little worried. Now they are visibly alarmed.

The Congress way is basically the post-second World War, western European/American way. The BJP/RSS way is the non-Western way.

The crucial difference between these worldviews lies in the place assigned to the individual. Does he or she serve the needs of society or should society serve his or her needs?

The Congress/Western way thinks it should be the latter. This has led to our grievance-cum-entitlement based society and is called liberalism.

The non-Congress, non-Western way believes it should be the other way around. This is called conservatism. In India it has led, among other things, to some bizarre notions of nationalism, etc.

The point of power

It is completely futile to debate which of these alternative views is superior. That would be like saying my god is better than yours and then finding out only by fighting each other in increasingly violent ways which, as it happens, is what is happening now.

Instead, it is better to focus on the internal contradictions of each belief system. These are many and have been pointed out by thousands of people.

For example, in 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru warned the country that its biggest threat came from "communists and communalists". Today, the Congress is in bed with the former. Indeed it has been in bed with them since 1969 when Indira Gandhi's minority government depended on them for support.

Meanwhile, the BJP -- the communalists in Nehru's description -- has been shown up to be equally opportunistic and unprincipled. For the sake of power it is willing to sup with the devil in its pantheon of evil, the latest being the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir. Likewise the Akalis.

But given the nature of power and its permutations, preoccupations and perturbations, this is only to be expected. The whole point of power is to attain it and hang on to it, never mind the confusion that arises in the pursuit of this noble goal. As the Americans say, that's the way the cookie crumbles and there's no point in constantly wringing your hands about it.

Split personalities

What is inexplicable, however, is the schizophrenia in the BJP's view of India. This schizophrenia can be captured by the single phrase "socially right, economically left".

It is as if there is no coordination between the left lobe of the BJP's brain and its right. In a way, Arun Jaitley is the synapse, which Wikipedia defines as the "structure that permits a nerve cell to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron." Come 2019, he will become very important.

The result now is utter confusion, especially in the minds of the 'liberals' who dominate the intellectual scene, at least of New Delhi. They simply can't understand how party can be left and right at the same time, even though that's exactly how the Congress has been for the last 25 years albeit with an important difference -- socially left and economically right.

If you deny this proposition, by the way, you end up denying the 1991 reforms as well which, as it happens, Rahul Gandhi has all but done. If that is a tragedy, the contradiction in the BJP's politics -- Hinduism, nationalism, socialism -- is a farce.

Basically, the BJP is trying to win all forthcoming elections on a platform that, in a combination of Hinduism, nationalism, and socialism, is utterly meaningless in the 21st century.

Individually, a convincing case can be made for each of these elements, which is what the RSS does. But in combination they yield nonsense.

Both the RSS and the BJP therefore need to review the proportions of the individual elements in the combination that they are offering the voter. Otherwise, they could come to grief.

The Congress has an equally difficult task: it needs to replace Rahul Gandhi as its leader. Else, it will come to even more grief.

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T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan
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