How Rajasthan’s Composite Culture Was Broken By Political Agenda

Rajasthan-based political analyst Rajan Mahan reflects on the shunning of Sufism and embracing of polarisation.

4 min read
How Rajasthan’s Composite Culture Was Broken By Political Agenda

The alluring but poisonous mix of politics and religion is usually brewed at the cost of compassion, secularism and vulnerable minority groups. Every election, these warts on Indian democracy re-appear, as religious polarisation becomes a dominant agenda for our political class. Inevitably, critical issues get sidelined.

Rising prices may be a crisis for all citizens and demonetisation may have escalated agrarian distress, but our politicians are busy pursuing divisive issues for easy votes.

No wonder, BJP Chief Amit Shah remarked in a recent speech in Jaipur, “When Akhlaq happened, we had won, we also won when awards were returned. If they do something now, then too we will win.”


From Being a Composite Culture to Cow Politics

Shah’s assertion is a part of the polarising politics that’s dominated the desert state in recent years. The composite culture nurtured for centuries by saints like Moinuddin Chishti, Meerabai and Ramdev Peer is increasingly ignored. Instead, politics in Rajasthan now revolves around the holy cow and pardoning self-styled gau rakshaks who execute cow-related lynchings.

Despite video evidence of the gross violence inflicted on dairy farmers Pehlu Khan and Rakbar Khan, the police absolved all attackers.

Instead of ensuring justice for victims, Rajasthan’s Home Minister and the Alwar Police seemed more keen to dub Pehlu and his sons as cow smugglers; a charge also leveled on Rakbar Khan who died in police custody in July. Ironically, while the alleged killers have gone scot free, Pehlu’s sons are petitioning courts for anticipatory bail. Many say the police partisanship aims to protect influential people affiliated to Hindutva groups.

Alwar may have repeatedly hit national headlines over cow lynchings but polarisation cases have erupted in several parts of Rajasthan.

Perhaps the most gruesome was in Rajsamand district last December when a Hindu fanatic Shambhu Lal Regar not only hacked and burnt a Muslim labourer from West Bengal but also videotaped the gory act for social media. He tried to justify his act by calling it a case of ‘love jihaad’, a charge often levelled by right-wing Hindutva groups. In reality, the police charge sheet says Shambhu had an illicit relationship with the woman he referred to as the “Hindu sister” in his video and he raised the “love-jihad” bogey only to cover up his jealousy-driven murder.

Where Criminals Are Hailed

Appallingly, Hindutva groups supporting Shambhu, soon unfurled a saffron flag at the district court in Udaipur, and even attacked the police there. Some fanatics even honoured Shambhu with a tableau at the Ram Navami celebrations in Jodhpur this year, and on social media platforms, they even hailed Shambhu as a ‘hero who curbed love jihad’. Recently, a political outfit has announced that it will make Shambhu their candidate for next year’s Lok Sabha elections.

The Shambhu Lal cruelty was a climax to the year that sparked a row over the film “Padmavati” which saw Karni Sena goons assaulting Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Jaipur.

The Vasundhara Raje government took no serious action even then.


Divide & Rule

The British may have evolved the “divide and rule” policy but our parties have now perfected it into a political art. Rajasthan Education Minister, Vasudev Devnani has often belittled Akbar as just a ‘foreign invader’ and says the honorific of ‘great’ is suitable only for Rana Pratap. The minister even wants to drop any mention of Isaac Newton and Pythagoras theorem from state textbooks to make way for home-grown ‘heroes’ like Veer Savarkar. Incidentally, Devnani even  claims that the cow is the only animal which inhales and exhales oxygen.

When nothing seems more critical than votes, the Congress too is pedaling a ‘Soft Hindutva’ line to woo the majority community through religious appeals. Rahul Gandhi has visited temples, gone on a Mansarovar Yatra and even become a Ram-bhakt.

By asserting their Hindu identity, Congress leaders hope to rub off the ‘anti-Hindu’ taint the BJP has given them, and lure back their original Hindu voters who shifted to the BJP. In this ‘Hindu-friendly’ avatar, Congress leaders have shied away from visiting even Sufi shrines. What impact this new image will have is, of course, an open, tantalizing question.

More Polarised than Ever, Since 1947

Given this backdrop, it’s no surprise that Prime Minister Modi did not even mention Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at the closing ceremony of Raje’s ‘Gaurav Yatra’ in Ajmer. Whether the Sufi saint, an enduring symbol of India’s composite culture, was ignored as an inadvertent slip or as a covert signal to please Hindutva hardliners is unclear.

But clearly, polarised politics has harmed the social harmony that’s existed between communities in Rajasthan for centuries.

Like much of India, Rajasthan now seems more divided than ever, since Partition. The poison of polarisation may help parties win electoral battles but as citizens, we must ensure that they do not rob us of our humanity. Every new call of hatred, creates fresh fissures in society that may take centuries to heal.

(The author is a veteran journalist, and expert on Rajasthan politics, who served as a Resident Editor at NDTV. He is currently a professor of journalism at the University of Rajasthan, and head of department of mass communication. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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