The year 2020 will not only be remembered for the onslaught of the deadly corona virus which changed the world forever, but also for a defining shift in the modern Indian political history. Thanks to the resolution of the decades old Ram Janmabhoomi dispute followed by the foundation laying stone of a grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, on the 5th of August by the global poster boy of Hindutva politics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The rise of BJP from a 2 MP party to a massive 300 plus Lok Sabha members could never have been possible without the core Hindutva agenda driven by the promise to build Ram Mandir, which gave the party an emotional connect and political glue with the voters, for about 3 decades now.
Born to a Rajput family in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. I witnessed the euphoria post the demolition of the Babri Masjid by the Kar Sevaks. At one point of time, as a young teenager, even I was tempted to participate in “Kar Seva”, a phenomenon that gripped the imagination of most of the Hindu youth, in the early 90's. The idea of reclaiming the lost pride, was like a drug which simply got an adrenaline surge of equal intensity in young as well as old. Even the otherwise docile Hindu housewife, had a strong voice and opinion. LK Advani, Ashok Singhal and Uma Bharti became the new mascots of Hindu assertion. It was a quest for redemption, more than anything else.
Anju Gupta, the then ASP of Ayodhya in 1992, while deposing before a CBI court on the happenings of 6th December 1992 said, “Advani who led the Kar Seva looked euphoric and declared that Ram Mandir would be built at the disputed site”. There were more than 100 people on the dais including the likes of Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar and Sadhvi Ritambhara.
The politics around Ram and Ram Mandir has been a rather successful attempt to annihilate the reminiscence of the 450-year old mosque built by Babur from the collective conscience. Something which has yielded more than the deserved and desired political dividend to right wing political outfits led by BJP. In the last 28 years, this issue has given many lifelines and renewed energy to BJP, which found its full glory in 2014 under Narendra Modi.
I remember meeting former Prime Minister, Vishwanath Pratap Singh in the winter of 1993, at a Government circuit house in Varanasi. It was the first year of my college at Banaras Hindu University. Singh, was the leader of Janata Dal, which was formed by the merger of several small socialist factions like Lok Dal, Jan Morcha, Indian National Congress (Jagjivan) etc in the year 1988. It was this front that defeated Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 and V P Singh became the Prime Minister. The government lasted less than a year, before losing the vote of no-confidence in November 1990.This was because BJP which was supporting the United Front Government from outside pulled back after Lalu Yadav, who was the then Chief Minister Of Bihar, stopped the Ram Rath of BJP in Samastipur and also got LK Advani arrested.
The agenda of that interaction with V P Singh was formation of a student wing on the lines of ABVP, NSUI and SFI. It was to be called “Jan Vahini”. I asked him, how did he justify his stand on Mandal Commission? The, “Rajasaheb of Manda”, as he was addressed, politely but firmly replied, “Issko samjhane ke liye thoda history jaano, hum (upper caste), humeshe hi rajya kartey aaye hain, aur samaj ke anya vargo ka shoshan kiya hai” (We, upper caste, have always ruled over the backwards by aggression and oppression. The onus therefore, to correct it lies on us, if we want to live in a peaceful society.
I was too young to understand the nuance of the politics at that time, but Singh, with his excellent oratory skills, profound logical approach and warm outreach left a lasting impact on my political belief system. I remained active as an aggressive supporter of the Socialist outfits through my college years in BHU from 1993 to 1999.
This was the time when Banaras Hindu University had just started to settle down after the violent anti-Mandal resentment across the country. V P Singh was the Prime Minister, who took the decision to implement the Mandal Commission report in 1990, but failed. It was later implemented on the orders of the Supreme Court. Many political commentators describe it, as a watershed moment in Indian politics. The post Mandal era gave rise to many regional socialist fractions and kept them in power and relevance for more than 25 years.
As veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta aptly explains in one of his video blogs, “There can be no politics without Polity.” And in this case the backward class polarisation with the support of the Muslim minority, did the magic for the likes of Mulayam, Lalu, Mayawati and Paswan.
After the Supreme Court verdict in favour of implementing the Mandal Commission Report, V P Singh said, “for 5000 years, caste has been the basis of torture and ostracisation, now it has become the basis of justice”.
28 years later, the political realities have changed significantly. A signature of which can be seen from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from CAA to Ram Mandir. While NDA-1 was seen as more development oriented and transforming under the leadership of Narendra Modi. NDA-2, seems to be an all new outfit pushing ahead with the idea of radical Hindutva unapologetically and aggressively.
The Hindu Mahasabha, has already stated their intent right after the Supreme Court verdict on Ram Mandir, in November 2019. “Had it not been for COVID-19, the body would have started building awareness among Hindus to demand that they claim what is rightfully theirs”, said N Chakrapani Maharaj, President of Hindu Mahasabha.
The critic call it hyper-national and rhetorical, I choose to call it Neo-Hindutva, minus the fringe elements who are found across party lines and ideologies. It is a well thought out and long-term vision of RSS and BJP, to redefine the Hindutva politics, they believe this would pay political dividends for decades to come. Laying the stone for the Ram Mandir, is just the first step in the long chain of reclamation.
It is just the beginning of an Era of “Neo-Hindutva”. The Hindutva of assertion, redemption and repossession. Ayodhya will followed by Kashi, Mathura and probably more. Much like the traditional, genetically and socially multi-dimensional Hindutva, has finally made way for Linear and “Modi-fied” Hindutva.