A month ago, on January 18, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi said in Nagpur: “When the temple will get constructed on Ram Janmabhoomi in 2025, this progress (of India) will gather further momentum… Once the Ayodhya temple is built, the country will gain the capital required for the next 150 years.”
The idea that the construction of a controversial temple at the site of a demolished mosque can lead to the formation of capital in the country could be intriguing for the uninitiated. For the proponents of Hindutva, however, this notion is integral to their idea of development and progress. The proposition is that an aggressive assertion of the collective Hindu identity is an essential precondition for India’s development. This is a point that pro-market supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi self-deceptively overlooked ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, though he himself had made his position clear. Asked whether he was “pro-business” or a “Hindu nationalist,” he said in 2013: “There’s no contradiction between the two. It’s one and the same image.”
While this has been a core component of Hindutva thought for decades, it was Mr. Modi’s reign in Gujarat that made it acceptable, and popular. If enough people still thought Mr. Modi’s 2014 campaign was jettisoning Hindutva for development, it was convenient for him.
Hindutva politics over the years had suffered from three inherent contradictions that stunted its growth: friction between pro-market segments and Hindu traditionalists in the Indian right wing; contradictory requirements of the centralised, disciplinarian, ideologically rigid core of the RSS and building a mass mobilisation through a political wing; and consolidating a Hindu vote bank among a people hierarchically and oppressively divided by the caste system.
Mr. Modi’s innovation to Hindutva politics since 2002 has been in reconciling these three contradictions in a sufficient measure, initially in Gujarat and then in other parts of the country to win a Lok Sabha majority in 2014. That is Hindutva 2.0 — where material progress is married to a religious social agenda; disciplined organisation and mass mobilisation are balanced; and the lower rungs in the caste hierarchy are enlisted as part of an omnibus Hindu identity in which they are offered social acceptance and political representation. All these factors that worked in Mr. Modi’s favour are now unravelling, and Hindutva 2.0 is in crisis.
The circle that admiringly described Mr. Modi as pro-market has shrunk very fast, and most of those who still call him so do it derisively, often accusing him of having promoted crony capitalism, and failing to deliver on job creation. Those who spoke of his managerial skills, many as a cover to mask their own bigotry, are now disappointed over the government’s handling of the economy, especially demonetisation and poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). They may not be cheering for anyone else, but they are no longer saying Mr. Modi is the saviour.
On the other hand, the religious right is happy. They have pushed the temple agenda to the back-burner with a new deadline of 2025, giving Mr. Modi breathing space, and have begun to rally forces behind his 2019 campaign. Yet, the marriage of material prosperity and religious nationalism is not exactly made in heaven, and is teetering.
Enrolment of a critical mass of Dalits and backward caste populations into the Hindutva politics that is widely perceived as a project for the nourishment of upper caste dominance was Hindutva 2.0’s second success. Mr. Modi presented himself as a lower caste leader and sought to appropriate Dalit and backward caste figures ranging from B.R. Ambedkar, Sree Narayana Guru to Ayyankali and even Mata Amritanandamayi into his politics. The idea of Hindutva is based on the premise that there is a collective interest for the community common to all caste groups. Given the social, economic, linguistic, cultural diversities within Hindus, a common thread that could unite them all is the image of a common enemy. Cow protection has been the convenient tool here. In the 2015 Bihar elections, Mr. Modi urged Yadavs to not vote for Lalu Prasad, who he said was insulting the cow-worshipping community by supporting beef eating. In his home State of Gujarat it was ‘white revolution,’ and cow protection, while in Bihar it was pink revolution, or a proliferation of slaughter houses, he said.
But the same cow protection that helped Hindu unity soon enough fractured it as Dalits became targets of vigilantes. “If you want to attack, attack me, not the Dalits. If you want to shoot, shoot me, not the Dalits,” Mr. Modi said in August 2016, as instances of cow vigilante attacks on Dalits increased. Moreover, the gravest impact of the collapse of livestock economy is in States where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did well in 2014, and within them, on backward castes and Dalits.
While Hindutva 2.0 offered a lot of rousing rhetoric for Dalits and backwards as quoted above, it also demonstrated an unprecedented hostility towards autonomous lower caste mobilisations. Brazenly partisan police action and the continuing police oppression of Dalit groups which organised protests, such as at Bhima Koregaon in January 2018, are signs of this intolerance of lower caste mobilisation against the Hindu right. The BJP governments in power also emboldened sections of the upper castes to seek to recapture the space lost to lower caste politics in earlier years.
The policy impact of the Modi government, ranging from the overall underperformance of welfare schemes for the Dalits, and the recently announced reservation for economically backward upper castes, is yet another source of friction. Pursuit of unity without questioning caste hierarchy is vintage RSS, but is not very attractive to the majority among the Hindus. These contradictions are showing in regions where the BJP did well in 2014.
The iron grip of the RSS on the BJP, and the former’s search for ideological purity have not only contributed to constant friction between the two, but historically also limited the electoral successes of Hindutva. For instance, while the RSS did not entirely trust Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was often accused of being a closet Nehruvian, the more ideologically pure BJP leaders did not have any significant mass appeal. With Mr. Modi at the helm, Hindutva 2.0 overcame this dilemma, combining mass appeal and uncompromising Hindutva credentials in his persona. The synergy between the RSS and the BJP has never been stronger than it is today. But this disciplined march towards the goal of a Hindu Rashtra under the command of a ‘strong leader’ has created a new friction within. BJP legislators, Ministers and leaders who feel suffocated and powerless, despite being technically part of the ruling dispensation, now have a limited stake in Mr. Modi’s continuation in power. A large number of sitting members of the Lok Sabha are likely to be denied tickets in 2019, if Mr. Modi continues on the ‘Gujarat model’ for beating anti-incumbency.
None of this is hidden from Mr. Modi and his tactician, BJP president Amit Shah, and they are bound to seek measures to reverse these trends. The extent of their success remains an open question. What is, however, clear is that the three critical components of Hindutva 2.0 are under severe stress.