In the national euphoria following the Government's decisive handling of the Kargil crisis and the victory of the Indian Army and the Air Force (helped considerably by the U.S. arm-twisting of Pakistan), a hitherto weak and tentative Prime Minister is being portrayed as a national hero. One is reminded of Lal Bahadur Shastri, labouring painfully to fill the shoes of Jawaharlal Nehru, being transformed overnight into a hero because of his decision to attack Pakistan across the international border in response to its massive intrusion into Kashmir using terrorists in 1965.
There is nothing like a bit of blood-letting and barbarism to bring in the votes, and Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the U.K., knew this as well as any politician in an election year. The Falkland War came in as handy for her as Kargil has for the BJP.
The present public mood should not, however, allow us to forget the essential nature of the party which leads the NDA coalition. The BJP is the parliamentary wing of the RSS and represents the beliefs of its parent organisation, which has not budged a whit from its central core. The spin doctors and marketing managers of the RSS are using techniques practised by successful companies in the great Indian marketplace to meet the organisation's objectives.
The RSS takes an overview of the electorate like any professional fast-moving consumer goods producer, segmenting the market to ensure that all consumers are covered. For the RSS/BJP, its beauty soap is Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee. Attractive personality, able parliamentarian, writer, poet and wit, excellent speaker, appealing widely to the upper market segment by projecting a liberal face for the organisation - the trusted Vajpayee promising to protect the minorities, especially Muslims, an image of gentle persuasion and trust, in rather the Nehruvian mould.
Such a man, feels the upper market segment, would never knock down a mosque - it remembers how, after the Babri Masjid was destroyed, he was seen wringing his hands in great distress and saying, ``this should never have happened.'' It chooses to forget, however, that the next day he jumped on the party's bandwagon and joined the attack on the Government for mishandling the situation.
If Mr. Vajpayee is the luxury soap, the RSS/BJP's equivalent for the mass volume middle class product is of course Mr. L. K. Advani, who offers vigour, drive and an articulate, hardline approach, especially towards the minorities. None will forget his Rath Yatra starting from Kanyakumari and traversing the length of this vast land, spewing hatred in public meeting after meeting, with the result that communal riots erupted in most places he had touched, within a few days of his leaving them. Television viewers would recall his declaring on the night of December 6, 1992, that the tearing down of the mosque was all the fault of the Government and its incorrect policies.
For the lowest segment of the market, there is the ordinary utility soap. For the RSS, this segment of the electorate is covered by its extremist wings, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, whose storm-troopers carried out dry-runs of the breaking down of the Babri Masjid months in advance and then smashed the structure on December 6. This segment forms a vast pool of support for the RSS/BJP.
With a continuous marketing barrage through all the media segments, the RSS ensures its sales are targeted at the consumers of its choice, and adjusts its strategy to changes in the mood of the electorate with great effect. Its marketing managers, aware of the current mood for a stable long-term Government, have projected the luxury toilet soap brand - Mr. Vajpayee to capture voters, specially the upper middle class intelligentsia who influence and control mass media. These controllers of public opinion in turn handle Mr. Vajpayee with kid gloves, and inadvertently - or perhaps intentionally - fall in with the RSS's phraseology! For example:
Question: Mr. Vajpayee, what do you intend to do about the mosques at Kashi and Mathura, the temple at Ayodhya, Article 370, a common civil code?
Answer: They are not on our agenda.
And the questioner passes on swiftly to the next subject.
Such kid-glove treatment of a Prime Ministerial candidate by the media is a patent disservice to the Indian voter. The media's duty is to inform, educate and only then influence the public. If a public figure tries to fudge or obfuscate, the media's duty is to ask, perhaps in this way:
Q: Sorry, Mr. Vajpayee, I am not asking you a parliamentary question. To phrase it differently, is your party going to destroy the two houses of worship of another religion? Your Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has said the Kashi and Mathura mosques are his next targets. Will you build a temple in Ayodhya where the Babri Mosque stood? The U.P. Public Works Minister has said your party is committed to its construction. Will you abrogate Article 370, and legislate a common civil code? Mr. Govindacharya has said the party is committed to these issues. The VHP has made even more threatening noises. Please answer yes or no.
This kind of questioning will not allow an evasive answer. It is not enough to say that these issues are not on the agenda, or are on the back-burner. This implies clearly that if the BJP wins enough seats in this or another election, they will be put on the front-burner.
It is our duty as responsible citizens to vote in elections only after being aware of, and considering carefully, the serious issues at stake. We have to cut through emotions and media hype to focus on the core. For the educated Indians, especially of the upper middle class, the responsibility is commensurately greater.
We must remain aware, and the point cannot be repeated often enough, that the common goal of the RSS, its parliamentary wing, the BJP, its unparliamentary wings, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, and its many other front organisations, is to set up a Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu theocratic state. This would be a mirror image of the Islamic State of Pakistan.
The RSS's philosophy is that ``Hindus alone constitute the Indian nation since they are India's original inhabitants and sole creators of its tolerant society and culture, that this tolerance has been mistaken as weakness by other, later, religions'' (``Khaki Shorts and saffron Flags'', Orient Longman, 1993); and that those religions are dependent on their future well-being on the Hindus, who must not be trifled with. This attitude is summed up in its formulation ``Pitri Bhumi, Punya Bhumi'' or ``Fatherland, Holy Land'', which asserts that for Hindus, India is the holy land, while for Muslims and Christians it is Mecca and Jerusalem respectively. The loyalties of Muslims and Christians are therefore suspect by definition. All Indians will have to abide by the rules laid down by the Hindus, and these will be directed by the RSS, which is authoritarian like other cadre-based fascist parties, such as the Nazis in Germany.
Hitler had strongly influenced M. S. Golwalkar, the RSS chief, who wrote approvingly in 1938 of the purging of the Jews as a consequence of the near impossibility of different races and cultures being assimilated into one united whole, "a good lesson in Hindustan to learn and profit by.''
This obnoxious muscular Hinduism, otherwise known as Hindutva, propagated by the RSS and its front organisations, negates the basis of the Indian Constitution carefully crafted after almost three years of debate by the Constituent Assembly, that India is a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual state, with the rights of all citizens protected under the rule of law. These principles of pluralism and secularism, however imperfectly administered, have formed the bedrock of India for the half- century since Independence.
Just after Independence when Gandhiji was shot dead by Godse, who had been nurtured in the environment of hatred fostered by the RSS (although Godse was not a member at the time), the Government banned the RSS and imprisoned Golwalker. The ban was lifted after a year on certain conditions, one of which was that the RSS adopt a written constitution and work in the cultural field only.
The RSS, thus created a political party in 1951, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (later the BJP), and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha was asked to lead it. It also drafted its most promising pracharaks to assist the new organisation. The three best known were Vajpayee, Advani and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. The first two are now Prime Minister and Home Minister respectively after almost 50 years of devoted service to the RSS ideals.
It is difficult to believe that they are anything but the dedicated pracharaks they have demonstrated themselves to be, and that the aim of the RSS/BJP is anything but what it has always been - to establish a Hindu Rashtra.
For those Indians occupying the middle ground, and the majority of us do so, there is no reason to accept the theoretical framework set out by the RSS/BJP. Such narrow-minded, bigoted intolerance, which clearly discriminates between Indian and Indian on the basis of religion, and by extension envisions second-class rights for non-Hindus, can in no way be dignified with the name of Hinduism or any name similar to it. The RSS ideology is a total distortion of the hugely, perhaps even excessively tolerant, view of life of the majority of the population of India. With no uniformity of worship, no common doctrines, no church, and with multiple co-existing beliefs and philosophies, Hinduism's pluralism is self-evident to the most casual observer. This tolerant and pluralistic ethos and tradition welcomed the persecuted refugees of all faiths through its long history.
Sections of the media and industrialists have done the RSS/BJP the great service of making this fascist party look respectable. The greatest favour has been done by the once-respected socialist hope, George Fernandes, whose conversion from an anti-fascist crusader to the articulate BJP supporter unnerved his secular following in India, and whose silence after the murder of the Christian missionaries in Orissa and the burning of churches in Gujarat besmirched his reputation.
A concluding thought: if, and it is still a big if, the RSS/BJP are voted to power... Mr. Vajpayee is a mere mortal; when he goes, or is made to go by party hardliners, who will the RSS offer as Prime Minister of India... Advani? Joshi? Pramod Mahajan? Govindacharya? Singhal? This galaxy of stars makes secular, middle-of-the-road India shudder, and even keener to ensure that we do not usher in a fascist future.
Three Essays Press for books on history, education, culture, media, society and politics with a South Asian accent and a contemporary slant.