South Asia Analysis Group  


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OPPOSITION IN INDIA: In search of genuine issues-

Soon after the 13th Lok-Sabha placed the Bhartiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance to power at centre, the initial efforts of the opposition to polarise the Indian politics between the two camps of " cultural nationalists " and " so called secularists " hardly attracted attention.   Adherents to the two camps may have their own agenda for shaping the future of the country, but the sole programme of the latter appeared to be to drag the government into the controversy relating to the RSS.  By raising the slogan that secularism is in danger under BJP led government, they are trying to project themselves as the sole protector and custodian of secularism in the country.

The " cultural nationalists " on the other hand are in a hurry and are no longer willing to remain soft and docile on ideological issues, a policy that in the past that had not influenced the majority community either.  Soon after assuming power they are found to project their ideological philosophy in haste through various platforms and establish themselves in the "right place of history". They may be having their own perception in transforming the society in a democratic manner but they must be ready to face the challenge of their opponents, which has the potential to embarrass their government.  This is what is now happening in the ongoing budget session of parliament.

It is the stand of the BJP that the anti-BJP forces had been maintaining their dynastic control and hegemony over the government-funded autonomous institutions like NCERT, Indian Council Of Historical Research (ICHR), Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), Nehru Memorial Library, Nehru Yuvak Kendra and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation for the last three-four decades.  Taking advantage of the situation, the scholars in these institutions, with their subjective mind-set allegedly distorted the traditional concept of the cultural history of the country, which according to BJP was by and large against India's "glorious heritage".

When the BJP led NDA Government came to power, it initiated a move to overhaul the stagnant and saturated institutions and free them from the dynastic control and hegemony of the Congress and the Communists.  This move of the NDA Government stirred a hornet’s nest and all the anti-cultural-nationalist forces joined together with one point programme to condemn the Vajpayee -Government.

In stead of taking up the issues relating to immediate concern of the people, they preferred to launch aggressive propaganda against the so-called " hidden agenda " of the BJP led NDA Government. Accordingly, the issues like withdrawal of an old order by BJP Government in Gujarat state restricting its employees participation in RSS activities, statement of the Prime Minister Vajpayee declaring RSS as a socio-cultural organisation, Religious Places Bill passed by U.P. Assembly, protest against filming of Ms Deepa Mehta’s "Water " in Varanasi, withholding from publication of the two volumes of India’s freedom struggle by the Chairman of ICHR for a review, and protest against Valentine Day celebration by Vishva Hindu Parishad and ABVP, which are hardly having any significance for the common people- have been blown out of proportions and covered much wider space in Indian media.

The BJP, the leading constituent of the NDA Government claims itself to be the " inheritor of all the positive and patriotic trends in Indian politics".   Its " goal - to make India a resurgent nation through the noble mission of politics and governance " therefore compelled the party leadership to put on record a policy document of the party known as "Chennai Declaration " which was approved by its National Council, the highest policy making body in its meeting at Chennai on November 27-29, 1999.

The document created some controversy within the party cadres for alleged dilution of party’s ideology, the leadership remained firm on its stand to keep the contentious issues away from the agenda of governance.  However the "Chennai Declaration" created some controversy within Sangh Parivar itself.

On February 11, when a number of RSS and BJP leaders including RSS chief Prof. Rajendra Singh, Sarsahkaryavah K.S.Sudarshan, Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee and his cabinet colleagues L.K.Advani, Arun Jaitely, Ananth Kumar and others assembled in Nacheketa Award ceremony organised by RSS weekly Panchjanya, the differences in perception on the language and economic policy of the government were apparent in the speech of K.S.Sudarshan and the Prime Minister.  Mr. Sudarshan expressed his regret saying that even after more than half a century of independence Hindi was not given its due status.   He also equated the economic policy of the present government with the Nehruvian economic policy.  He said, "…. While Mahatma Gandhi felt that the city - based economic development would breed "asatya" and "hinsa", Pandit Nehru ignored his advice. What we are witnessing today is exactly what Gandhi had said"-- he added.

A.B.Vajpayee however, remained firm and said; " We have to keep in perspective what is practical today".  He added, " perhaps there would have been no controversy, had it (the change over to Hindi) been done on the very next day of independence.

Having failed to discredit the NDA Government on issues of immediate concern to people, its opponents are now trying to create a wedge within the NDA by raising RSS controversy in respect of Gujarat Government circular dated January 3, 2000 lifting the ban on government employees participation in RSS activities.  By accusing the government for "RSSisation" of public servants, the anti-BJP forces are trying to raise the same issue of dual membership as happened during Janata Party Government led by Morarji Desai.

Whether RSS is a political organisation or it is pursuing any activity, prejudicial to the society should no more debatable as over a dozen judicial verdicts by different High Courts in the country have exonerated it on this issue.   One quote from Mysore High Court’s verdict in 1966 may substantiate the statement of the Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee that RSS is not a political organisation.   In that judgement it said " The RSS is a non-political organisation without any hatred or ill will towards non-Hindus; many eminent and respected persons in the country have not hesitated to preside over its functions or appreciate its volunteers."

The RSS has attracted a sizeable section of intelligentsia as well as middle class population of the country. Its labour front Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh has the largest membership.  Its volunteers were invited by the Congress Government to participate in Republic Day function after Indo-China war in 1962.  The role of the RSS in fighting emergency promulgated by Indira Gandhi and her "dynastic as well as authoritarian politics" are well known to the people.  There are number of retired army generals and bureaucrats who are presently involved in various constituents of Sangh Parivar.  They could not have become RSS converts overnight.

The ICHR controversy is another attempt of politicisation of the academic institutions of the country. There could be no end to the arguments in favour or against the decision of the ICHR regarding withholding from publication of two volumes in the "Towards Freedom " series edited by "eminent historians" Professor Suniti Sarkar and Professor K.N.Pannikkar.  Since there are instances that previous chairmen of ICHR enjoyed discretion to get such academic projects reviewed, there should not have any wrangling on the issue if the writers are not preoccupied with subjectivity.   Ajit Jogi alleged that " this was one more instance of cultural policing by the RSS, which was trying to rewrite the country’s history and create a fundamentalist India" not realising that is the prerogative of ICHR to review all manuscripts and publications as mentioned by the Union HRD Minister Dr. M.M.Joshi (Lucknow dated January 20).

Thus, it appears that even an academic issue that should have been left to the academicians for honest discussions is dragged into political controversy when it serves the interest s of the opposition.

The next important issue that has been aggressively highlighted in the media is the protest against filming of Ms Deepa Mehta’s "Water " in Varanasi, a most holy city for the Hindus.  The theme of the film is known to be the fate of Hindu widows who take shelter in this holy city for their spiritual pursuit.   It is a known fact that the plight of the young widows in Hindu society particularly if they are young is one of the social evils.  It is also a fact that no religious or ethnic group anywhere in the world is completely free from one or more social evils.  But in India a section of "intellectuals " with a particular bent of mind are found determined to play with the religious sentiments of Hindu community for vested interest.  If some section of the community express their protest against marketing of such social evils in the name of artistic expression, they are branded as communalists.

The outburst of cultural nationalists against filming of Water in Varanasi is the fallout of the systematic campaign of a group of pseudo intellectuals, who have compelled them to become intolerant even though it is against their culture.  It is unethical if someone tries to commercialise social evils in the name of the freedom of artistic expression.  In fact religious sentiments are sensitive issues that people hardly accept any logic or reasoning to justify them.  Rajiv Gandhi was compelled to amend the constitution in Shahbano case since the issue offended the religious sentiments of Muslims.  The Government of India had to impose a ban on Salman Rushdie's book as it is supposed to hurt the sentiments of the followers of Islam.

Unfortunately this issue is also being politicised.  Now Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh have invited Ms Deepa Mehta for filming of Water in their respective states.  It would have been better if these leaders   initiated some reformist move to rehabilitate these widows for better social and religious life than helping Ms Deepa Mehta in getting some international award by commercialising the plight of Hindu widows in India.

What we see today is that the opposition for lack of "bread and butter" issues to oppose the government, is resorting to controversial subjects that can wait.

R.Upadhyay                                                               26.2.2000

(Regional Adviser, South Asia Analysis Group E-mail ramashray6o @







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