From firing pistol shots at Gandhi’s picture in a room to showing Goddess Durga slaying Gandhi--the demon in a public Pujo pandal by the Kolkata Hindu Mahasabha, it’s a natural progression. There is hardly anything new about what the Mahasabha stands for. Such attention-grabbing events provide it with a bit of oxygen for survival in public consciousness. Otherwise, the outfit is a pale shadow of its past having lost all relevance, leadership, cadre or a structure.
It survives only as a small, scattered bunch of empty hotheads with no toehold in any territory but a few occasional minutes on TV debates and a few centimeters in newspapers, and now in online news portals. It has nothing to offer to India or to Hindus by way of a coherent, clear vision, ideology, organisation, blueprint or a roadmap for the future.
Controversies like the Kolkata pandal are desperate acts of garnering some public and media notice. How much they deserve to be taken seriously is a moot point.
What is interesting though is that the Hindu Mahasabha of Savarkar and Madan Mohan Malaviya of yore should find itself in such socio-political penury. Nearly a century ago, it was a force of the Hindu right with some stalwarts leading it in various parts of the country.
Curiously, its dire straits prevail in an India where loud Hindu aggression has been on the ascendance for several decades topped by a regime whose powerful members had, until very recently, even stopped bothering to disguise their open hatred for Muslims and Christians.
Hindu Sabha’s Polarising Rituals
It's only claim to fame or notoriety is Nathuram Godse and to a very limited sense, Savarkar. Now that Godse has emerged as a social media trending character around every Gandhi Jayanti, the Mahasabha awakes from stupor and feels the pressure to do such idiotic things to tell people that it exists.
This pantomime is an annual ritual as meaningless and ephemeral as a bubble. It suits empty headed, hate-filled semi-literate Hindu youth as it gives them a sense of worth and significance however vacuous these may be.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) never took it seriously and never allowed the Mahasabha to share either the stage or the sole claim on the Hindu consciousness. Whatever little relevance and recall the Mahasabha was left with for a few decades after Independence or until Savarkar was alive, was lost as the RSS juggernaut continued its unstoppable growth trajectory irrespective of what party was in government in Delhi or the states.
Hindu Maha Sabha Overshadowed by RSS
The unique model of organisation and organic growth that the Sangh has mastered has ensured its unabated, sure-footed growth despite all secular opposition, resistance and efforts to tame and restrict. There was no place in it for the sometime ally, the Hindu Mahasabha. It had lost all vigour after the departure of Savarkar.
You ask anyone anywhere who the leader of the Mahasabha is, and you will be looking at blank faces. Whatever little ground it had anywhere, has been easily appropriated by the immeasurably more powerful, purposeful and organized Sangh leaving it gasping for the air of attention.
There is, therefore, nothing to get worked up about the dramatics of the Mahasabha Durga plunging the trident into the chest of a fallen Mahatma. It will fade from memory as soon as the Puja season ends in a few days.
A few years ago, Mahishasurmardini ( the ferocious Goddess of power who slays the 'half-animal half-man' demon Mahishasur) was given a radical new makeover as a a symbol of Aryan supremacy over the indigenous peoples of the land now driven into insignificance on the margins of society.
Some leftist, tribal and Ambedkarite Dalit groups took it up as a weapon to challenge the predominant Hindu mythological versions of popular consciousness.
‘Traditional Devils Are Cast From Caste Supremacy’
It will be a folly, however, to ignore the other dimensions of the controversies and narratives that have come up in the last decade around the old 'Durga-Mahishasur' Hindu legend. Around 2016-17, several dalit and tribal groups emerged who adopted 'Mahishasur' as the icon of their identity and challenged the predominant traditional ‘brahminist’ narrative of the pure Aryan Goddess killing the evil demon.
Some groups in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi also held parallel plays and displays, reversing the traditional legend. The West Bengal groups included a small, indigenous Asur community of nearly 4000 who looked upon Mahishasur as their deity. Some groups in the South also have tried to coalesce around similar themes that included Ravana as a marker of community identity challenging the prevalent narrative of godly Aryan Ram killing the Rakshasa Ravan portrayed as the personification of supreme evil.
In all these versions, the foundation is the Periyar-Ambedkar narrative of northern, Manuvadi Aryans versus the southern or tribal populations
Fanning Communal Flames in a Festival for All
Those movements and agitations seem to have died down over the past few years in the ascendance of the Savarkarite Hindutva narrative. But the faultlines exist, they haven’t died.
This newer Hindu Mahasabha version of the Durga-Mahishasur legend doesn’t look like growing into a headache for either the BJP government or the various members of the Sangh Parivar. For it is but an extreme expression of the anti-Gandhi, anti-Nehru narrative that is being almost officially driven.
The Hindu Mahasabha may be a tiny fringe of the Hindu right but it resonates with a growing number of ill-read, strugglers and stragglers who have been systematically filled with hatred for Muslims and those who in their view support them. It may motivate this amorphous motley crowd into more creative, divisive and destructive ways of venting their anger and venom. They need to be watched.
(The author is a journalist and trustee of Samyak Foundation. He tweets @rahuldev2. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)