Post-partition, the Congress remained the only dominant political force and in power for long years, while parties espousing only the Hindu cause were confined to the fringes.
It would not be an overstatement to say that Swapan Dasgupta’s Awakening Bharat Mata – The Political Beliefs of the Indian Right is a timely book. In India’s Left-liberal dominated discourse in matters relating to social and political issues, distaste for the BJP and Hindutva politics is a given in academic and intellectual circles. Whatever be the scale of victory of the BJP in the general elections, the hearts and minds of the intelligentsia remain impregnable for it. In such a background, Dasgupta’s book will be welcomed by Hindutva supporters, as it attempts to bring to fore the serious thought underlying the core of Hindutva politics. Besides tracing its rise and success, the book also examines its faultlines.
Usually, it is felt that the Right is just a grouping of elements who lack any coherent thought, and their actions are mostly knee-jerk. Going by classic definitions of the Left and Right, the former is seen as progressive because in history it stood for change, while the Right was seen as conservative who preferred status quo and was rooted in tradition and culture that they want to preserve. However, in the history of the 20th and 21st centuries, such definitions and demarcations have got blurred and cannot be relied upon.
The Left can no longer be said to be progressive, considering that it advocates status quo on labour issues and opposes reforms which promise jobs to a larger workforce compared to the entrenched labour unions whose interest Left parties espouse. Similarly, to call the Right as conservatives entrenched in tradition and customs doesn’t quite gel with the history of social reforms in Hindu society brought about by the likes of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar or Swami Vivekanand.
In three introductory chapters — The Political Context; Motherland, Religion and Community; and Politics and the Hindu Narrative, Dasgupta has explained the rise of BJP in Indian politics and related this to the idea of nationhood, which can be traced back to the early days of the national movement against the British.
This period had leaders, ideas and ideologies rooted in traditional culture and religious practices, which were inclusive without harping on secularism. It was with the coming of Gandhi that another form of inclusive movement started that tried to bring Muslims into the struggle. It was not that leaders before Gandhi had ignored Muslims. On the contrary, the Muslims were sulking after losing power to the British, and hoped to regain power after independence.
The chances of any such prospect waned when the British played their own divide and rule politics, and Hindu leaders who studied in England started talking about democracy and self rule. The Muslims then started talking of a separate nation, fearing that in a democratic set-up they would get dominated by the Hindus. Gandhi tried to neutralise this by taking up their cause, which is known as the Khilafat movement, but with limited success.
Post-partition, the Congress remained the only dominant political force and in power for long years, while parties espousing only the Hindu cause were confined to the fringes. This was largely due to the presence of Hindu leaders and Hindu thought within the Congress. All this was, however, slowly lost as the Congress increasingly started relying on Muslim, as well as Dalit votes, and abandoned the larger Hindu causes. As it vacated this space, gradually the influence of BJP and RSS grew, and the Shah Bano case and Ram Janmabhoomi issue accelerated it.
Despite a comprehensive narration of the rise of the BJP, intertwined with the Hindu thought, the book is a tad disappointing because despite analysing the issues in a historical perspective, the author’s own assessment and critique forms a very small portion, with the bulk being dominated by excerpted writings of some major voices of what can be termed as India’s Right-wing thinkers.
While the selected essays certainly provide for good reading, especially as access to them is difficult because of the influence of the Left-dominated academia, it would have been much more interesting had those writings been analysed by the author in today’s context and how they can shape a coherent Rightist ideology.
In a book spanning 400 pages, Dasgupta’s own writing runs into only 120. Though it has provided a contextual setting, and an introduction to the readings of the scholars whose essays follow, for the not so well-versed in history and philosophy, joining the dots can be a Herculean task. Barring this limitation, the exercise needs to be lauded as it brings forth a subject that has been brushed under the carpet since the rise of the Left academia on the campus, under the tutelage of Indira Gandhi, who made Leftist historian S Nurul Hasan her education minister in the early Seventies when the Communist Party of India joined hands with her.
The arrangement was that while Indira focused on politics and hard issues, Hasan concentrated on packing all institutions related to social sciences with people of Leftist hue. While political power changed hands after Indira, no party, not even the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, tinkered with the status quo on the academia front. It was only the Narendra Modi government that made a frontal attack on this capture of power, and the battle continues.
One of the redeeming aspects of Dasgupta’s book is, therefore, the essays of historians RC Majumdar and Jadunath Sarkar, both of whom have long been banished from the university curriculum. Even works of noted journalist Girilal Jain, Right wing scholar Sita Ram Goel, conservative writer Nirad C Chaudhuri and social and economic activist S Gurumurthi find place in the collection, and which are a treat to read.
The big takeaway from the book is that the Right wing thought and scholars are very much there, but one will have to look for both. They are not writ large everywhere, as the Left-liberal variety are. So when next time liberal historian Ramachandra Guha rues about the absence of India’s conservative intellectuals, he should be presented with a copy of this book!