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Published : Sunday, 16 February, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 255



A nuclear explosion--with its giant mushroom cloud ends life and belongings, but does not fix issues. The 'escape' from the dilemma  is purely temporary. Meteoric rise of Hindutva is indeed a mushroom cloud over India, seen from a distance in the backdrop of a dense fog. An unexpected fallout of Arvind Kejriwal's victory in the Delhi Assembly elections is the emergence of a vehement debate over the use of political Hindutva as against Hinduism emerging today through its projection of religious symbols, incarnations and gestures in the electioneering process!

A polemical dispute was set off by Kejriwal's chant of the 'Hanuman chalisa' on a TV show. The backdrop to his invocation was not religion but politics.
Kejriwal's Aam Admi Party (AAP) was mired in a controversy after his closest political aide Manish Sisodia--synonymous with the Delhi government's development initiatives and successes--was goaded into saying on another TV chat show that he supported the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh, casus belli to the BJP.
The statement of Sisodia extracted under duress after the AAP refused to commit itself on the protests, was spun excitably by the BJP and its cheerleaders on social media as unqualified backing by the AAP's 'anti-national' votaries for a 'nationalist cause' namely the CAA.
Until the episode took shape, the AAP's governance-centred campaign was on course.

Kejriwal and his associates refused to take the BJP's bait on citizenship, jingoism and Shaheen Bagh. That the hub happened to be in a Muslim-majority area fuelled the BJP's charge, although the sit-in drew a large presence of Hindus and Sikhs and used every nationalist symbol in the repertoire to avoid communal branding. The talk show host egged on Kejriwal to demonstrate his 'pro-Hindu' antecedents after which he recited the Hanuman hymn.
Not that Kejriwal had needed to prove his credentials to anyone, least of all the BJP because he never got into the scrappy area of religion, wore a 'tilak' when necessary, touched the feet of senior citizens and sought their blessings on the campaign trail and visited Delhi's best known Hanuman temple. However, he took care to segregate the kinesics from the real.

The real was embodied in the work done on the ground in education, health and public transportation. The schemes traversed the class, caste and religious divide. No wonder the women leading the Shaheen Bagh protests unequivocally pledged their support to the AAP, saying the governmental projects touched and transformed their quotidian lives.

However, when the BJP let loose a vicious tirade against Kejriwal, labelling him a "traitor" and "Pakistan collaborator", he turned a tad defensive. Ever since the late Justice JS Verma of the Supreme Court called Hindutva as a 'way of life' in 1995, the BJP flaunted his observation to validate the blatant use of religion and mythology in electioneering, signposted in the Ayodhya chariot drawn by LK Advani.

There is no gainsaying that as the BJP fused the character and life of Rama with its version of macho, ultra-nationalism, the votes came in plentifully. Its voters saw no contradiction in a campaign that distorted and rebranded Hinduism to suit political ends. It was political Hindutva pitted against Hinduism, the world's least doctrinaire faith that demands nothing of those born as Hindus.

It's okay to visit a temple and fast, but it's not an act of blasphemy, not doing it, either. Hinduism's biggest scourge is the institutionalisation of the caste order that suited the 'high'castes in the past and now politicians of every persuasion.
Hinduism is interpreted in myriad ways as the different versions of Ramayana; some deities are more venerated in certain regions and by social groupings.

There is no book, no edict and no unchangeable code. Ideally, Hinduism shouldn't have become political fodder or have lent itself to extremist expositions. Unfortunately, it has but does it have room for a middle space that asks for non-Hindus to be treated as equal citizens without entangling the religion in specious definitions of "majoritarianism" and "minorityism"?
The Congress lived in the middle space for decades but at the back of its mind, there lurked a fear that nearly 80 per cent of the population could not be taken for granted. Hence, the Congress keeled over now and then to appease the Hindus. Sardar Vallabhai Patel and KM Munshi, who was the food and civil supplies minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's first cabinet, ensured that Gujarat's Somnath temple was reconstructed by a quasi state trust.

The Somnath template has been adopted to create a trust to rebuild the Ayodhya temple. Under various Congress governments, the idols were surreptitiously placed inside the Babri mosque in 1949, the locks of the mosque were opened for worship by Hindus, the foundation for raising a Ram temple was laid and finally, the mosque was razed to the ground when PV Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister.

Were these episodes-the aberrations or part of a strategy to rise to the challenges posed by political Hindutva? Certainly, each of them cost the Congress its Muslim votes, as the community set about looking for political alternatives.

In Delhi, the AAP was perceived as the best option. Muslims had no issues in flowing with a tide that included masses of Hindus who voted Kejriwal not because he genuflected before Hanuman but because he opened up opportunities for a better future for their children through his education reforms. Of course, at times the impact of religious polarisation is hard to assess and foretell.

Sisodia had a hard time defending his seat. He won but not before sweating it out. Did his statement on Shaheen Bagh, wrung dry to the last lethal drop by the BJP, induce a rethink in the Hindus of Patparganj who had sworn only the past week- that they wouldn't look at another candidate but Sisodia!

That is life, art and the politics of India. This is how we define India. AAP victory is only the initial phase of the nuclear reaction, and much more is about to follow!

The writer is a former educator based in Chicago

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