‘Jai Shri Ram’, Resurgent ‘Bharat Mata’ & BJP’s Identity Politics

Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dsgupta discusses Jai Shri Ram, Bharat Mata, Nationalism, Gau Rakshaks, & all that is ‘Right’

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As the newly-elected legislators take oath, the temple of Indian democracy, the Sansad Bhawan, is resounding with the chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’. A formidable, 353-MP-strong NDA is at the steering wheel of the country once again.

In the past five years, after the Narendra Modi-led BJP campaign reached a historical denouement in 2014, much ink has flown over finding the reasons for the BJP’s slow, albeit steady, rise in India. With the 2019 mandate, the party has rendered the enquiry redundant.

Rajya Sabha MP and veteran journalist Dr Swapan Dasgupta tells The Quint, “Modi hasn’t been voted in by only the unwashed masses. Why should we expect that there should be a correlation between your political preference and your knowledge of the Indian language? There’s a long history and inheritance of the conservative tradition in India. There’s a long history of Hindu nationalism in India which had the blessings of people who were equally educated, equally fluent in English.”

In his latest book, ‘Awakening Bharat Mata’, Dasgupta goes back in history to trace the origins and the evolution of the idea of Hindu nationalism.

Below is an excerpt from this exclusive interview where Dasgupta sheds light on his decision to choose a provocative title, the growing chants of Jai Shri Ram, his objection to Manmohan Singh’s iteration that Muslims have “the first claim on resources”, his brand of conservatism, and everything else ‘Right’.


Why Pick A Provocative Title, Why Pick A Provocative Idea

Dasgupta says that he chose a provocative title “willfully and deliberately”. As for the idea, he explains, “As you can see in political rallies and other sort of euphoric events, Bharat Mata ki Jai is a recurring slogan. I wanted to see where does it all stem from.” At a time when Hindutva ideology is having a field day, Dasgupta makes his intent very clear.

“One of the purposes of this book is for a person of my background to actually say, ‘Look, I’m not a liberal. I am a conservative. I am a political Hindu. And I’m very proud of it’”.
Dr Swapan Dasgupta, Rajya Sabha MP

Need For A Hindu Identity in India

When asked about the ‘us and them’ binary that Hindu nationalism relies on, Dasgupta replies, “The element of the outsider is always there in some respects. But it’s not the only thing. It would be foolish to deny that it exists. But the larger question is, how do we evolve ourselves, something which Bhandarkar and Ranade and others talked about. Social reform as a means to developing a corporate Hindu identity. And I think they were talking about the Hindu identity not so much as posited against Muslims but because they felt that this was the principal identity of India.”

He, however, states a little later that the need for the Hindutva identity came about first because of the feeling that India was losing its cultural personality. The assertion of the minority identities in the 1980s also propelled the desire for a formidable Hindu identity.

Dasgupta, however, clarifies, “This trend towards the belief that somehow it’s all going to end into one Semitic Hindu religion is an exaggerated perception and doesn’t take into account what the reality of India is. What we call the Hindu inheritance includes atheism, for heaven’s sake!”


“Jai Shri Ram”

It is very well to hail Hinduism for its inclusiveness and plurality, but the growth of Hindutva is making a lot of people quite uncomfortable. Isn’t this one brand of very militant Hindu identity subsuming all other identities?

Dasgupta refutes it with a firm no. He then goes on to explain, “After a very exhaustive and a very violent campaign in Bengal, suddenly Jai Shri Ram has become a very popular slogan, which it wasn’t in earlier years. The Bengali Bhadralok would say, ‘Oh, this is not really a part of our inheritance. Jai Shri Ram is very much a cow-belt and Hindi belt phenomenon.’ Now why has it come about? Is it a sudden expression of a rediscovery of Ram? No, it’s not. It’s actually a protest.”

“Jai Shri Ram basically epitomises a protest against what they see as a certain bias and tilt of the polity towards minorities. That’s one aspect of it. In the process they are also asserting that we are Hindus and we count as Hindus.”

At this point, the question arises whether this idea of identity being under threat is a deep-rooted idea. Do people necessarily feel it or is it a matter of political expedience?

Dasgupta suggests, “It’s both. Let’s be honest about it. It’s not always necessary that the identity is under threat but the need to assert your identity.”

When asked whether the RSS and the BJP have been able to ‘corporatise’ the Hindu identity, Dasgupta says that there is certainly a greater measure of a Hindu political identity today than was ever the case since Independence.


Modi 2.0 Aiming To Win Sabka Vishwas

Prime Minister Modi’s speech right after the elections results were out included a word. “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas”. It can be argued that this inclusion of Sabka Vishwas was an acknowledgement that some people in the past five years felt disenfranchised because they suffered.

Dasgupta is quick to refute. “No, I don’t think they have suffered. But I think there was an emotional detachment. Now this is a fact and it’s borne out by electoral data, it’s borne out by other things. You can not have a situation where 15 percent or so of the population thinks that we are disengaged from the national mood. It can not be. So, the PM has sought to incorporate them.”

He continues and tosses the ball in the opposite court. “But what is also important is for the Muslim community to realise why disengage yourself! Why do you not want to have a conversation? You can not think about India by excluding Muslims. They are part of our history.”

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