Decoding the Narrative Around CAA

The CAA is a larger project of ‘numerical domination’ of Hindus, which acts as a basic premise of Hindu nationalist doctrine.

Narrative – a term loosely understood as a story or an account of events and experiences, has been the most powerful tools in shaping society throughout the history of humankind. Certain narratives are created by the elites within societies to nudge the individuals to think in a certain manner, to want certain things, to observe certain rules, to behave in accordance with certain standards. They, thereby, are used as a justification for the actions the elites.

In the Germany of 1930s, a certain narrative around Jews was told and retold to the German people in the form of state-sponsored propaganda. The Jews were painted as an inferior race and a threat to German racial supremacy. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 stripped off the citizenship rights of Jews and forbade marriages and employment of Jews in Germany with the justification of protecting German Blood and German Honour. This resulted in the Holocaust carried out by Hitler, killing millions of Jews in the concentration camps of Poland and Nazi Germany.

Narratives have the power to create and recreate histories.  At times, the narratives are created in the form of binaries of good and bad, in which the one identity is privileged and ‘the other’ is deprivileged. This further emanates into the objectification of someone as evil by providing the analogy of good, ultimately leading to the process known as ‘palingenesis’ or the recreation of the past.

Much has already been debated about the constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. This Act amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to provide citizenship for members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities, who had fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014. The Muslims, as a religious group, were excluded from the Act, with the rationale that the three mentioned countries are Muslim-majority nations. The Act has been substantiated by the ruling party as an obligation towards Pakistani Hindus as agreed upon in the Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 1950.

Protests erupted across the country in the form of a mass movement against the CAA and the pan-India implementation of the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Act is violative of the secular doctrine as enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. Moreover, the Act is much more than just an amendment to the citizenship law in the Constitution. With the introduction of CAA, the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is redefining the narrative around the identity of India, which would alter the very nature of how one perceives India.

It redefines India as a nation for the Hindus, moving away from its proclaimed secularism. Even if India retains the ‘secular’ character, the act changes the psychological perception of how one views India. It enables a consciousness that India is a holy land for all the Hindus throughout the world, and that Muslims have been benevolently sheltered within a predominately Hindu nation.

The nation-wide implementation of NRC would be detrimental to Muslims, as many of whom would not be able to produce the papers that the government intends to seek from an individual. Evoking Derrida’s notion of ‘conditional hospitality,’ the Muslims are recognised and tolerated as the guest, while also reminding them that it is not their own home.

The CAA is a larger project of ‘numerical domination’ of Hindus, which acts as a basic premise of Hindu nationalist doctrine. To the proponents of this doctrine, India can retain its Hindu character only with the preponderance of numerical Hinduism.

To Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the term ‘Hindutva’ meant the quality of being a Hindu. Hindus, according to Savarkar, are those who considered India as the land in which their ancestors lived. In his, Essentials of Hindutva (1923), Savarkar provides three distinct criteria for identifying Hinduness: ‘common-nation,’ ‘common-race’ and ‘common-civilisation,’ which became the basis for exclusion of both Indian Muslims and Indian Christians.[1]

M.S. Golwalkar, a founding member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a prominent ideologue of Hindutva, goes a step ahead and declares Muslims as the enemies of the nation. In his, Bunch of Thoughts (1966), Golwalkar dedicates a chapter titled ‘Internal Threats’ to highlight the three pertinent threats to Indian society: Muslims, Christians, and Communists. “It has been a tragic lesson of the history of many a country in the world,” Golwalkar laments “that the hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside.”[2] He never trusted the patriotism of Muslims. While referring to the Muslims, Golwalkar writes, “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan.” He goes a step ahead and declares that Masjids are the mere representation of ‘miniature Pakistans’. These thinkers provide the ideological ground for Hindu Nationalism.[3]

In the process of recreating history, the narratives get told in the form of alternative-facts. One of the pertinent arguments held by the believers of RSS and Hindu Nationalist ideologues is that the Aryans have been indigenous people and have never migrated from Central Asia to India. Much has already been talked about the historical validity of such a claim being highly erroneous, and the claim is highly political rather than historical facts.

The term ‘Hindu’ is itself not succinct. It was more of a flexible cultural identity than any religion. Millions of gods and goddesses were worshipped in the subcontinent, with each holding their own unique value. Multiple cultural identities have been blurred into the formation of what Hindutva ideologues preach as Hinduism. This process is not very alien to Indian history, the process was spearheaded by the colonial rulers in their series of ‘investigative modalities’ in their quest to understanding India.

“The cultural effects of colonialism,” Dirks in Caste of Minds (2001) notes, “have until recently been too often ignored or displaced into the inevitable logic of modernization and world capitalism; and this only because it has not been sufficiently recognized that colonialism was itself a cultural project of control.”[4] So much so that they privileged a certain identity while deprivileging the other.

In the Census of 1911, in parts of present-day Gujarat, some 200,000 people described themselves as ‘Mohammedan Hindus’.  However, this did not fit into the narrative of what the Britishers claimed as an identity. As a result, they either boxed them into Hindus or Muslims. These colonial experimentations created a new knowledge of India and its inhabitants. This knowledge also became a treasure to the Hindu nationalists towards pushing their Hindutva agenda.

The Hindu nationalists, first, reinstated their ideologues as heroes. And then, they elaborated on the Hindutva ideas as alternate facts. And finally, they are on their path to establish a Hindu nation. The ‘idealisation project’ of the Hindutva ideologues began with reinstating of Savarkar as a freedom fighter and a revolutionary. In 2006, on the occasion of Savarkar Jayanti, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee would go on to declare, “Savarkar meant Tatva (elements), Tark (arguments), Tarunya (youth), Tej (brilliance), Tyag (sacrifice) and Tap (penance).”[5] BJP, on several occasions, has declared its intention of awarding Bharata Ratna to Savarkar.

After the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014, the recreation of alternate facts began into two forms: reasserting religion and reclaiming science. The reassertion of religion project began with ‘love-jihad,’ ‘lynching-in-the-name-of-cow,’ ‘renaming-cities,’ and ‘Ram-at-Ayodhya’. Several BJP leaders have been making provocative statements ever since. In 2015, Sakshi Maharaj would go on to urge “Hindu women to produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion.” In another instance, he would go on to declare himself a true Muslim and that “Prophet Mohammed was a great yogi.”[6]

In as early as 2005, Yogi Adityanath had envisioned, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu Rashtra.” Today, Yogi Adityanath is the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and he clearly seems to be in the direction of what he had once envisioned. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, in the Parliament, declared the killer of Mahatma Gandhi as a ‘desh-bhakt’ (patriot). These statements are often made by the insignificant members of the organisation as they could easily be dismissed off but still enable a public discourse.

The BJP’s recreation of alternative facts in a deliberate attempt to reclaim science has been in the form of narratives derived from the mythologies and epics. One of the BJP MPs would go on to state: “cow-dung and urine can cure cancer.”[7] Another added, “cows exhale oxygen.” Another Member of Parliament declared Darwin’s theory as scientifically wrong. In his defence, the Member stated, “nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they ever saw an ape turning to a human being.”

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had, once, made a comment that there must have been some plastic surgery at the time of Lord Ganesh, who was affixed with an elephant’s head. These narratives in the form of speeches and declarations are intended to recreate alternate histories and reclaim science. Through these narratives, an individual is created and produced as the subject of that ideology, often referred to as ‘interpellation’.

With the implementation of CAA, the BJP is in its final phase of altering the character of India into a Hindu nation. Hinduism has been an inclusive religion. All through its history, the religion has coexisted with other religions in the subcontinent. It has welcomed and incorporated a variety of outside influences within its hold. There is no one definition of Hinduism. It is personal. Hinduism is a compilation of many traditions, cultures and philosophies. However, with the introduction of CAA, we have been told, who qualifies as a Hindu, what it means to be a Hindu, and who qualifies as a Hindu. It is in this context the Orwellian quote, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past” become pertinent.

The narrative of Hinduism has been reinvented to suit the needs of Hindutva ideology, which aims at establishing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. However, the young and the old alike have risen to protect the democratic values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In the suburbs of Delhi’s Shahin Bagh, the Muslim women have been protesting against the Government’s policies for more than a month now. There is widespread civil society movement all across India, with people taking to streets against the CAA and NRC. The dream of Hindu nationalists still seems far-fetched. And the hope lives on…


Picture Credits:  C.R. Sasikumar

References

[1] Savarkar, V. (1923). Essentials of Hindutva. 1st ed. pp.41-43. Retrieved from: http://savarkar.org/en/encyc/2017/5/23/2_12_12_04_essentials_of_hindutva.v001.pdf_1.pdf

[2] Golwalkar, M. (1996). Bunch of thoughts. 3rd ed. Sahitya Sindhu Prakashan, pp.148-154. Retrieved from: https://www.thehinducentre.com/multimedia/archive/02486/Bunch_of_Thoughts_2486072a.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dirks, N. (2001). Castes of Mind: Colonialism and making of Modern India, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.9.

[5] https://www.opindia.com/2018/08/12-things-vajpayee-talked-about-in-his-speech-on-savarkar-that-hold-relevance-even-today/

[6] https://www.indiatoday.in/fyi/story/5-times-bjp-mp-sakshi-maharaj-made-controversial-statements-266628-2015-10-06

[7] https://www.scoopwhoop.com/unscientific-comments-by-indian-politicians/

5 thoughts on “Decoding the Narrative Around CAA

  1. A very well-crafted essay and I must commend you on your knowledge of Althusser but I have quite a few quibbles about the arguments produced in the essay. Regardless of my own views about the matter as detailed here (https://qr.ae/TJrh1A), I’ll get to the meat of the matter
    1. “The term ‘Hindu’ is itself not succinct. It was more of a flexible cultural identity than any religion. Millions of gods and goddesses were worshipped in the subcontinent, with each holding their own unique value. Multiple cultural identities have been blurred into the formation of what Hindutva ideologues preach as Hinduism ”
    The issue with this statement is that it echoes the argument made by K S Sudarshan in Why Hindu
    Nationalism as quoted below
    “Anyone who is the national of this country, irrespective of being a Shaiva, Shakta, Vaishnava, Sikh, Jain, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Buddist or Jew by way of his creed or mode of worship, is a Hindu.”
    http://www.archivesofrss.org/Why-Hindu-Rashtra.aspx
    Doesn’t this argument in itself contribute to an excessively rosy view of Hinduism resulting in clearing the ground for full-throated Hindu apologia as argued by the historian DN Jha?
    2. There is also a significant problem with the unilateral model of influence emanating from the elite to the masses since as Robert Dahl notes in his Modern Political Analysis control is a reciprocal phenomenon; the narrative is also constantly actively reified by the masses and in this active reification the narrative becomes popular
    3. I think it would be more fruitful to look at the phenomena of alternative facts in the context of what has been called liberal Hindu political thought by Ashay Naik.
    “While the Indian liberals remonstrated against Hinduism, the energies of the liberal Hindu intellectuals were spent rather in demonstrating that Hinduism was perfectly compatible with the wonderful ideals of Western liberalism, whatever form it may take – classical, socialist or neo – and that the former need not be abandoned in the pursuit of the latter. Thus, for example, the principle of egalitarianism itself was never questioned, its merits or lack thereof were never examined. The impetus was only on showing that the Hindu ‘way of life’ did not require a compromise on this principle. And so with the other values. Hindu sarva-dharma samabhava was the best expression of pluralism and secularism. Respect for women was ensured by the worship of the divine feminine. Homosexuality was tolerated as a third gender. Most importantly, there was no conflict between science and religion in Hinduism.”
    https://satyanrtam.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/hindu-political-thought/
    This phenomenon of claiming modern virtues in the past definitely suggests the tendency mentioned above and not a radical rejection of modernity as seen in Julius Evola.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Satyajit,

    Thank you very much for taking your time in reading my article and providing your views about the article. I do have my own reservations with your views.

    1. With respect to your observation about K. Sudharshan echoing a similar statement in his ‘Why Hindu Nationalism’,

    “Anyone who is the national of this country, irrespective of being a Shaiva, Shakta, Vaishnava, Sikh, Jain, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Buddist or Jew by way of his creed or mode of worship, is a Hindu.”

    This statement is in no manner related to my statement on inclusiveness. If you look at the genesis of the above-mentioned statement, one would derive that Savarkar was the first to provide this political connotation of Hinduism. I am in no manner justifying the above make statement in the statement I have made. One thing is in stating something, and another is meaning it, another is doing something about it.

    “The term ‘Hindu’ is itself not succinct. It was more of a flexible cultural identity than any religion. Millions of gods and goddesses were worshipped in the subcontinent, with each holding their own unique value. Multiple cultural identities have been blurred into the formation of what Hindutva ideologues preach as Hinduism ”

    2. “There is also a significant problem with the unilateral model of influence emanating from the elite to the masses since as Robert Dahl notes in his Modern Political Analysis control is a reciprocal phenomenon; the narrative is also constantly actively reified by the masses and in this active reification the narrative becomes popular.’

    With respect to this statement of yours, this is a debate that is going on with the Cultural Historians and the Revisionist school of Historians. Even though the process is dualistic, it is the elites that hold the power to interpret what the masses state, act, believe or mean to believe. The popular democratic interpellation is something I have mentioned with regards to your argument. People are made to believe in a certain narrative in a manner they are also made to not believe certain ideas. And the act of doing something rests on the idea of also not choosing to do something. The elites within society always have the power to interpret what you believe and not believe. For more, you could read Foucauldian idea of power and knowledge, and panopticism. Also, you could read Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s notion of micro-fascism.

    3. “Hindu sarva-dharma samabhava was the best expression of pluralism and secularism. Respect for women was ensured by the worship of the divine feminine. Homosexuality was tolerated as a third gender. Most importantly, there was no conflict between science and religion in Hinduism.”

    WIth respect to the idea of looking at Hinduism in isolation of western ideas seems a little too far fetched. Firstly, as has been argued: Hinduism was a cultural identity and personal to the individual. with the analysis, as mentioned above: it tends to look at the religion of Hinduism as free from problems. “One’s culture can be an abomination to the other,” as Chinua Achebe would state. Even the evaluation of Hinduism would be problematic exercise as it would be first to accept one rigid Hinduism and then look at it and evaluate it. Women and Dalits were the most heinously treated in the Hindu patriarchal society. Even though there are sculptures to support that there was a practice of Homosexuality, it doesn’t in a manner address if it was specific to a particular region or to the whole of India.

    Even the statement that “there was no conflict between science and religion in Hinduism” is highly problematic. I wouldn’t want to dwell over that thought now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll preface this by stating that I have no animus towards you as a person at all and that this is mostly evaluation of the ideas expressed in your post.
      1. “This statement is in no manner related to my statement on inclusiveness.”
      So I will state what I understand from your argument; that Hinduism was primarily a cultural identity as opposed to a rigid religion? Then, this definition is analogous to the implications of Sudarshan’s argument is that an Indian is essentially one who is culturally Hindu.
      In this case, I’m more interested in ideas and not in the actions following the ideas since that would be a morass.
      2. I will check out Deleuze and Guattari, and revisit Foucault again. That being said the problem with arguing that the elite (in the singular) are capable of this flies against (a) the existence of more than one group of elites who may be competing with each other (see Pareto’s elitist theories) and (b) the limitations of the elite’s ability to get their desired outcomes.
      3. Note that the quotation is from an essay from a Hindutva-leaning writer delineating typologies for the various varieties of Hinduism’s political responses to colonialism, modernity and globalisation. The argument is not that the author endorses this view, but that he attacks it for its weaknesses; it becomes a moral justification for liberalism as endorsed by Jurgen Habermas in his article “Religious Tolerance: The Pacemaker for Cultural Rights” as opposed to a radical critique desired by the author himself. My intention in quoting this section was to understand that this constant past-justification in anachronistic terms is a manifestation of liberal political Hinduism as opposed to the more radical iterations. Do give the whole essay a read.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Satyajit,
        1. I suppose you haven’t understood what I have been meaning to say when I refer to Hinduism as a cultural concept. If you believe Hinduism is a rigid religion, do provide me with your arguments to substantiate the same. To every follower of Hinduism, there exists a different meaning of the same. There might be several similarities that might have emerged out as culture or tradition. But, by far, there is no one definition to refer to Hinduism. When I say Hinduism is personal. I do stand by the statement that I have made. The essence of a statement is not in what gets said, what gets interpreted and what is meant when it is said.
        2. Pareto and Mosca, both the elite theorists talk about elites from different viewpoints. Even when there are multiple competing elites within the societies, there emerges one elite and that elite fades into another elite. This argument in no manner debunks my argument at all. There do exist multiple elites, but one elite always stands out at a particular point of time in the society even with competition. And this could be derived out of a close reading of Mosca’s ideas on elites.
        3. Well, I will read the article pertaining to the Habermasian idea of Religious tolerance and the article that you have quoted above. But in my argument, I have already substantiated as to why I have written what I have. It would be futile to analyse a non-academic text intended for general reading by cherrypicking statements from the text out of context would lead to dilettantism.

        Liked by 2 people

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