Fighting the Hegemony
Engagement with diverse ideas, acceptability of different tactics, and broader unity against the hegemony of fascist ideas are the need of the hour.
The Aam Adami Party’s epic victory in the Delhi assembly elections is a validation of the work undertaken by the Kejriwal government in this half-state. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s resounding defeat, on the other hand, is not necessarily a repudiation of the CAA, NPR, and proposed NRC. The Indian National Congress’ pathetic performance is in the continuity of an old but continuous process of the party’s decline, rather than a process of permanent decline. It is established firmly in this election that Delhi is the latest state in the country wherein the Congress has been forced out onto the margins of politics. Tamil Nadu (1967), West Bengal (1977), Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (1990), Odisha (1999), Andhra Pradesh & Telangana (2014) are the other almost Congress-free states in the country. The Congress lost power in these states, only to secede political space to other parties in those states. Interestingly, in all these states, various regional players replaced the Congress as a major political actor, except in Odisha, where the BJP is occupying all the space that was previously occupied by the grand old party. Delhi is the latest example of the Aam Adami Party’s emergence as a new refined Congress of the state.
The celebration among the left-liberal circles of BJP’s defeat in Delhi is accompanied, if not marred, by a debate on AAP playing to a soft Hindutva card. This is something that many regional players are accused of, from Nitish to Naveen to Pawar to Kejriwal, that they use religious symbolism to counter the BJP’s hard-core Hindutva. But isn’t it something that the Congress successfully performed for decades in state and national politics? The most used icon of the left-liberals, which is Gandhi, masterfully used religious symbols to keep communal forces at bay during the independence struggle. If Gandhi had not proclaimed himself to be a pious Hindu, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha would have had multiple chances of destroying the national movement in the 1940s.
The self-proclaimed agnostic, Jawaharlal Nehru, also used all the cultural symbols of India that could be identified with the Hindu religion. Anyone who read Nehru would have realised how much passion he had for Ganga maiyya, and how much he loved the characters of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, despite being non-religious in his personal life and public affairs. It was Nehru’s affection of India’s cultural symbols, which are also claimed exclusively by the Hindu chauvinists, that made the masses fall in love with the Jawahar of India. Indira Gandhi, a staunch secularist, did not hesitate to wear Rudraksha when she needed to. This should have made the left-liberals understand why the CPM was part of the Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal, which is being religiously followed by Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, and why it was so difficult for the CPM, for years, to take a position on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple.
In Maharashtra, all the Congress Chief Ministers have always performed the first Puja at the temple of Vitthala-Rakhumai at Pandharpur every year. When the Congress was isolated in the early years of the Vajpeyee regime, Sonia Gandhi undertook a pilgrimage to Maha-Kumbha to assert her cultural affinity with the land. As regional players replaced the Congress in many states, they continued the practice of religious symbolism. The minorities have never had a problem with political leaders resorting to using religious symbolism. Hindus have never had a problem with political leaders using the religious symbols of minority communities, as long as they could see that the same leaders did not have any disdain for the cultural or religious symbols of the majority community in India.
The question is when and how the BJP became successful in portraying that the entire opposition – particularly the Congress, left, and backward community leaders – have disdained Hindu symbols, and by default, Hinduism, while they appease the minorities. Unless the Congress and other opposition parties find an answer to this question, the myth of Hindu Khatare Mein Hai will dominate the mindset of a significant number of voters. The left-liberals are quite right in emphasizing against religion in public life, especially in politics and the electoral arena. However, they are wrong in lamenting it on the occasions of political celebrations. The sphere of secularism certainly needs to be continuously widened and deepened. At the same time, one must realise the limitations on secularism at a given time, particularly in a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like India. The red line is a generation of hatred and spread of threat through the use of religious or cultural symbols. Why is it that minorities don’t feel threatened by Sonia Gandhi’s Ganga-snanor and Kejriwal’s Hanuman Chalisa, while the BJP’s Jai Shri Ram heightened tensions between different religious communities? It is for the BJP to answer this question, but the hyper left-liberals need to introspect as well!
The AAP has also been criticized for not taking the BJP head-on on the core ideological issues of Ram Mandir, Article 370, and CAA-NRC. Those who expect them to challenge the BJP’s ideological hegemony are trying to pass on their own failures, onto the shoulders of AAP. The latter may or may not do it, but the fact that the BJP made its political fortunes by riding on these issues speaks volumes about the failure of left-liberals in the society. If we accept the present state of Indian politics as the hegemony of fascist ideas, it is extremely difficult to openly operate and challenge it. Under such circumstances, it could be the choice of the individuals and organisations to either directly challenge the hegemonic ideas, or merely try to create a space for oneself under a hegemonic regime. The JNU movement and the Shaheen Bagh movement fall in the first category, while AAP comes under the second category. Both are necessary and can complement each other. Exclusive from each other, each has the potential to further strengthen fascist hegemony. The AAP-like organisations would be happy to exist without being a challenger to fascist hegemony in the absence of the JNU or Shaheen Bagh movements. On the other hand, in the absence of AAP-like organisations, the state would easily use the JNU or Shaheen Bagh movements to polarize society to further strengthen the legitimacy of fascist ideas. Engagement with diverse ideas, acceptability of different tactics, and broader unity against the hegemony of fascist ideas are the need of the hour. The fight against hegemony cannot be hegemonic!