Dr Koenraad Elst, a scholar from Belgium who deliberately calls himself an “Orientalist”, is the author of many publications on Indian religion and politics. Among them is the book On Modi Time (VOI 2015), evaluating how the BJP’s policies measure up to its erstwhile Hindu ideals.
He says that the BJP is assiduously following a roadmap towards massive defeat. The party’s inconsistent economic policies are chasing away several of its natural constituencies.
Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla speaks to him. Excerpts of the interview:
Q : Do you think the BJP is still in opposition, ideologically speaking? If so, what must the party do to turn the tables on the secularists?
A : On economic issues, the party has the advantage of the identification of its adversaries with mismanagement. The Congress’s return to socialism undid the high growth rate India enjoyed at the end of the previous BJP government. However, the blind adoption of American free-market policies is at odds with any Swadeshi commitment the BJP once had, and is chasing away some important constituents.
On the cultural front, the less said, the better. Even when in power — no, let me correct that: when in office, for “power” means the ability to change things according to your own designs, and the BJP shows no signs of wanting to change anything. So, even when in office, the BJP plays by enemy rules and even thinks in the categories laid down by its enemies, with Hindus as an ugly overbearing majority that needs to be kept in check, and the poor hapless minorities as needing extra favours.
Everybody could see this at the time of Barack Obama’s visit. Fed hostile stories about the BJP’s “Hindu fanaticism” by the secularists, he berated this government for injustice to the minorities. Instead of giving the arrogant US president a lecture about India as a shining example in its treatment of religious minorities and refugees, Modi swallowed the misplaced reprimand and reproduced it himself to his own countrymen the next day. That was Hindu-bashing secularism issuing from the mouth of the Hindu Hridaya Samrat. It was Nehru speaking through Modi.
Q : How will you like to describe the volatile situation in India in the wake of incidents in JNU? Is it rise of internet Hindus or that of angry India?
A : Freedom of speech does include the right to make anti-national statements. If it doesn’t mean the freedom to offend, it doesn’t mean anything. The Motherland is not above criticism, even if misguided, just as the Prophet is not above criticism. So I am sorry to break ranks with most Hindus, but I think these anti-national slogans at JNU are much ado about nothing. It is commotion over mere words illustrating a lack of action, of real steps towards more national integration. Angry India should calm down and instead do the needful to fully Indianise Kashmir.
Q : What do you think the Modi government must do for the right without offending the minority community? Especially when he has been knocked out of Delhi and Bihar?
A : Where does the minority come in? Apart from raising the Hajj subsidy, how has Modi harmed any minority? At any rate, nobody should be harmed, not Akbar, not Anthony, and not Amar either. You worry about not offending the minorities, but the majority should not be offended either. In that regard, some constitutional, legal and policy reforms are needed to undo the existing discriminations against the Hindus, especially in education and temple management — and all this without diminishing a single prerogative of the minorities. But the Modi government is not moving at all in this regard.
Moreover, it is a bit rich to call Indian Muslims and Christians “minorities”. Not only are they more numerous than the population of many countries (say, Saudi Arabia), but they are only the Indian branch of worldwide movements. They benefit from international financial and media support that the Hindus cannot even dream of.
More fundamentally, the concept of “minority” is reprehensible in itself. Every democrat can understand that the law should equally apply to all, regardless of religion. Every Indian citizen may sociologically be a member of one or more communities, but legally, he is just an Indian citizen. That is the minimum for a state to be secular. India today is not a secular state at all. An Indian political analyst or a foreign India-watcher outs himself as incompetent when he asserts or implies: “India is a secular state.” It is not.
Q : What do you think should be roadmap for the BJP to return to power in next Lok Sabha elections in 2019?
A : Right now, the BJP is assiduously following a roadmap towards massive defeat. The BJP secularists, dominant in the party’s upper layer, claim that this government was elected on a secular platform of development. But even charitably assuming this, the party’s inconsistent economic policies are chasing away several of its natural constituencies.
In reality, Narendra Modi was brought to power because the dominant hostile media had successfully portrayed him as a militant Hindu—an image which the BJP itself downplayed or denied. The often sceptical Hindu voters turned out in large numbers because here at last they saw a man whom they expected to fight for Hindu causes. Baba Ramdev spoke for millions of Hindus when he said: “I voted for Modi, not for the BJP.” But once in office, the BJP disowned the numerous volunteers who had worked for Modi’s victory and systematically let its Hindu constituents down. Millions of Hindus will not return for the next campaign nor even in the voting booth. And if they do, it will not be to support the BJP.
Two factors still work in the BJP’s favour. One is the opposition’s weakness. Its capacity to unite and defeat the BJP, as in Delhi and Bihar, is harder to repeat at the national level; and Congress remains impotent as long as it doesn’t side-line Rahul Gandhi.
Second and most important, the BJP might still develop a Hindu conscience. (A third potential factor is: winning an Indo-Pak war just before the elections, as in 1999.)
Not that these mindless time-servers will suddenly feel guilty about having betrayed the Hindu cause. But politicians care about winning elections, and it might suddenly dawn on them that the secular vikaswallahs (“development”-ists) in the government will never gain them a majority. These BJP secularists have been useful in the BJP’s bid for a pat on the shoulder from the Nehruvians (in vain, but count on the BJP not to notice this outcome), but they are not the ones who will do the campaigning for the party.
Only Hindu volunteers, including many RSS militants, will do that. I have plenty of criticism of the RSS, but I acknowledge that its rank-and-file has its heart in the right place and is willing to put in real work for the Hindu cause. However, if they don’t get to feel that this has been a really Hindu government, they will fail to show up in 2019. And without them, the BJP has no chance.
An insider to the BJP’s core group told me that the A. B. Vajpayee government erred in not doing anything visibly pro-Hindu at all. He admitted that this had been a major cause of the BJP’s surprise defeat in the 2004 elections. The proper lesson would be to implement pro-Hindu policies this time around.
Abolishing the anti-Hindu discriminations in education and temple management would not ruffle feathers among the minorities, all while being very consequential for the future of Hinduism; so a pro-Hindu government should not waste time in taking these issues up. (By contrast, enacting a Common Civil Code, while fully a demand of secularism, would arouse a revolt among the Muslims.)
However, that is not what the BJP has in mind. All they want to do is to “keep the pot boiling”: whip up some Hindu emotions, but without doing anything. So, when visiting Dhaka or Kathmandu, BJP dignitaries make sure to be filmed while visiting a local temple in order to suggest a difference with the previous, secular government. That costs them nothing and yields Hindu society nothing, but it looks Hindu. The cow slaughter issue also came in handy, it arouses real feelings among the Hindu masses. But in the long run, this is not going to save the BJP. You can’t run after the approval of your enemies (who will never vote for you anyway) while spitting on your core constituency.
Q : How do you look at serious negationism (historical revisionism) in India when one talks about Islam?
A : The issue should not be dramatized. It is only history. And of course contemporary Muslims should be left free to distance themselves from the crimes of Ghaznavi or Aurangzeb. But the true story must be told. However, after Murli Manohar Joshi’s failed attempt to rewrite the history textbooks ca. 2002 (a horror show of incompetence), there is not even an attempt in this direction.
On this front, the mendacious secularists have been gaining a lot of ground, in spite of eating humble pie in the Ayodhya controversy. The attempt by the Eminent Historians (and their Indian and foreign dupes) to deny the existence of temple foundations under the Babri mosque has been completely discredited. Yet, their underlying message that there never was an Islamic policy of temple destruction, and that it emulated a similar pre-existent Hindu policy, has won the day.
Thus, when I speak about the Ayodhya affair, there is always someone in the audience who asks whether that temple destruction wasn’t but an imitation of what Hindus had done. That belief wasn’t around twenty years ago.
This shows the systematicity of secularist propaganda. While the Eminent Historians thought they could simply enforce their denial of Islamic iconoclasm, their American sympathizer Richard Eaton understood that at least some iconoclasm had to be admitted, but that the blame for it could be passed on to the Hindus.
So he spun the story that a few cases of “idol abduction” by Hindu warlords, who re-installed captured icons in their own temples to continue their worship, amounted to the same thing as the thousandfold Islamic cases of destruction of icons.
Immediately the secularists seized upon this story and propagated it through all channels. By contrast, my paper refuting this story was completely ignored by the Hindu militants, too smug and lazy to even take notice. The result in a sizable anti-Hindu switch in public opinion, even among common Hindus.
Q : The Hindus are more individualistic. They lack collectiveness. Is it a death instinct?
A : To some extent it is a healthy attitude. The Indian Republic is very correct in giving only a negative definition of “Hindu”: any Indian who is not a Muslim, Christian or Parsi. That is also the historical definition applied by the Islamic invaders who imported the word “Hindu”. A Hindu is just a normal person who happens to live in India, whereas Christians and Muslims are defined by their adherence to a superstitious belief. But yes, this common belief unites and mobilizes them, whereas the Hindus have to do without this standard to rally around.
Q : Must the Hindus in India have a media house exclusive to the community? Kindly elaborate.
A : “A media house exclusive to the community” is the kind of refuge that a minority would seek comfort in. Hindus should be more ambitious, and wrest the leading media houses back from the secularist stranglehold. They don’t need to be exclusively Hindu. Just fair to Hindu positions, open to Hindu contributions, free from their present Hindu-bashing, that is good enough. Exclusive media support to one religion, like state support to religion, is a bad thing.
Long ago, I lived in Varanasi, and my landlord was Prof. Veer Bhadra Mishra, the head priest of the famous Sankat Mochan Temple. When, some ten years ago, Islamic terrorists killed many worshippers at his temple, he gained a lot of applause with his plea for self-control and against Hindu revenge. He made a very important point on the need to keep religion and state separate: “A religion that is supported by the state, will become weak.”
When I see the religious landscape in Belgium, with a once-dominant Catholic Church completely crumbling in spite of plenty of state support, I can confirm the wisdom of Mishra’s words. So, Hinduism does not need media houses of its own, it simply needs a level playing field. And that is an achievable goal: the anti-Hindu discriminations in the Constitution, the laws, policies and media, should go. – Swarajya, 16 April 2016
» Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla is a senior journalist and columnist.