Vijay Prashad is a historian, author and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, an inter-movement research organisation based in Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, New Delhi and São Paulo. He is also the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books and a fellow at the Independent Media Institute. As a journalist, he writes for Frontline, the Hindu, and Turkey’s BirGün. He has been associated with Himal Southasian since its inception.

Extremist Hindutva worming its way into the minds of the Indian masses is making intolerance look like a good habit.

The leopard does not change its spots. It was a given that the Hindu Right in In dia would be the vanguard of intolerance, and at the end of one year in power that is exactly how it is.

It should, however, be kept in mind that the rulers in Delhi, are not all from within the family of the Hindu Right. Of the 13 coalition partners, most represent regional elites whose supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was based on the bjp's promise to be more moderate (in contrast to the unbridled visions of the fascistic members of its extended family).

Prominent secularists and sometime socialists like George Fernandes and Yashwant Sinha are part of the coalition bandwagon. But for all that, BJP's governance has in no way been qualitatively different from how the preceding Congress governments ruled. What sets bjp apart though is its "authoritarian symptoms", as pointed out quite rightly by Prakash Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which keeps in focus the disease of intolerance that is gnawing Indian society.

What is the disease that drives the BjP-led coalition government? At the behest of crucial sections of the dominant classes that want to see the economy recomposed to their interests, the government proceeds apace with what is so unhappily called "liberalisation For example, the Patents Bill and sale of public insurance companies seem to proceed unimpeded by the curious swadeshi being sold by some parts of the Hindu Right. How does a party so committed to territorial nationalism and to the sovereignty of the Indian (or, sotto voce, the Hindu) explain its cavalier handover of popular resources to imperial capital and to a small section of the Indian elite?

How else, but by the perversion of the idea of nationalism. What was once a partial concern for peoples' well-being, now slowly becomes a jingoistic obsession over one's "national security" (hence the bomb and the antiChina/Pakistan rhetoric), and into unwarranted attacks on internal Muslim and Christian minorities. To be a patriot, in this skewed logic, is to don the garb of a paramilitary thug. Meanwhile, the nation's resources are up for sale to the lowest bidder, whether transnational corporations or to hawala-financed firms.

This protean form of intolerance allows for a different enemy in each decade. In the 1970s, the principal enemies of the Hindu Right of Bombay were dalits, Tamil workers and the communists. A decade later, the target shifted to Muslims, particularly after the Meenakshipuram conversions and with the revival of the Ayodhya campaign. Now the ire of the Right has landed on Indian Christians. In Delhi, the BJP tried to denotify churches in a bid to increase liquor stores and bars in the city. (Since liquor cannot be sold beside religious buildings, the BJP government tried to argue that the sacrament is itself alcohol!)

The BJP greeted the entry of Sonia Gandhi into politics with jeers about her religion. Then, Ashok Singhal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) chief, said that Amartya Sen's Nobel Prize was part of a Christian conspiracy, even as VHP activists raged through Dangs district in Gujarat in what is explained by some informed quarters of the Hindu Right as acts of anti-imperialism.

Nuclear Hinduism

The purpose of this intolerance is simple: it re-focuses the troubles of the multitude and re-directs them against marginal communities who are treated as the cause of distress. With the capture of the Indian Council of Historical Research, the sectarian revisions of school text-books, and the attempted introduction of the "Saraswati Vandana" in the classroom, the Hindu Right (with its opportunist partners) is trying to worm its way into the minds of the masses and make intolerance seem a good habit.

The attack on Christian rituals in the name of anti-imperialism or the protection of Hindu rituals in the name of tradition, comes at a time when the Hinduism of the Right is faltering into the vulgarity of greed and power, avoiding the morality of justice. We now have a neo-Hindu bourgeoisie which erect temples with valet parking, conducts pilgrimages that allow the healthy (not just the infirm) to avoid the penances of the flesh (such as arduous treks to holy sites), and who follow godmen as they preach selfishness and avarice the descendants of Bhagwan Rajneesh who once said that there were enough gurus for the poor, which was why he would minister to the rich.

Consider the International Society of Krishna Consciousness' "Glory of India Vedic Cultural Centre" temple in New Delhi, inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in early April 1998. In this temple, eight robots recite the scriptures and enact scenes from mythological stories. The vulgarity emerges even more callously when the VHP promises to build a "temple of strength", a shakti peeth, at the Pokhran nuclear test site and when VHP activists pledge to carry the irradiated soil as prasad (religious offering) across the country. As military chauvinism increased in the last months of 1998, 60,000 troops led by about 6000 officers of the Indian army conducted military exercises at the India-Pakistan border (code-named "Shiv Shakti"—these exercises are the biggest since Operation Brasstacks in the mid-1980s).

Nuclear Hinduism offers a macho and arrogant ethic to Indian society, one that remains far from the heritage of social justice one might find in the heterogeneous Hindu traditions. "India was a nation ruled by a bunch of hijras [eunuchs] in the past," said vhp's Singhal, and the tests are an "emphatic assertion of Hindu pride".

The use of Buddha in the spirit of nuclear jingoism was also an act of disdain towards the dalits, for many of whom the Buddha is very special. In March 1998, the BJP Minister for Social Welfare in Uttar Pradesh, Prem Lata Katiyar, and her son sent their followers on a rampage against dalits in the town of Mahipalpur. The shadow of Ghatkopar (the site of the July 1997 massacre of dalits in Maharashtra) still lurks in all this. The desecration of Ambedkar's statue in that Bombay locality was followed by at least one similar event in Amravati (Gujarat)—a dynamic propelled by the anti-Mandal and anti-Ambedkar University movement fashioned by the Sangh Parivar.

With 'caste' to perhaps reappear as a category in the 2001 Census, there is now even talk of identity cards with one's caste represented on it. India seems to be entering the stage of yellow stars and pink triangles, the touchstones of Hitler's Germany.

It is now up to reasonable people to struggle against the authoritarian symptoms of the Hindu Right and the vitiated agenda of these treasonable people. When the Hindu Right hurls the branding reproach of secularism, communism and socialism at us, we need to acknowledge that this means that they fear the power of those ideas. But ideas themselves do not make history, organised people do.

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