With the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), the BJP sets out on an experiment that, if permitted to carry out, would be far, far more disastrous in scale and impact than the same government’s demonetisation exercise that continues to cripple India’s economy: an experiment of making millions stateless, an experiment of dehumanisation (for in the modern world of nation-states, a human without a state is existence-less). However, since many do not care about the human impact and only think of a strong state, whatever be the costs, let us also think of the actual consequences to the society itself. But before that, let’s discuss the RSS’ vision which few seem to understand, for without understanding that, it is difficult to understand what ails Indians today that they support and celebrate inhuman acts on a daily basis.
Colonialism: the root cause of many problems that ail the world today, from the Middle East to Japan and China, and including India. I wouldn’t include sub-Saharan Africa in this, as many problems of Africa pre-date colonialism, though of course exacerbated by the latter. Colonialism was a shock to the Eastern world, which was self-contentedly wallowing in its philosophies of ancient wisdom, forgetting how to fight the barbarous. Tribalism, and a consequent nationalism, was an instant reaction in those societies where the elites was a particular tribe and the nation as a whole was identified with those tribes: for example, China and Japan. In much of the Middle East, also very diverse but unified by Islam into one ummah, thus a tribe, the result was their brand of tribalism, which was of course Islamism, not some particular nationalism. (Islamism of course does not afflict the Middle East alone.) India’s extraordinary diversity and the absence of any political elites however meant that India remained insulated from vitriolic feelings of hate and bitterness by and large: no tribalism rose instantly as a reaction to colonialism, except very locally. However, the European efficiency of doing many things (including eradicating choleras and poxes) plus the much-admired white colour of the skin slowly instilled an inferiority complex in India’s peoples. (The inferiority complex was a universal phenomenon in most colonised societies, except some of the Middle Eastern lands, where stagnation had not yet reached its peak and the colour of the skin was not less white.) This became especially true in the later phases of colonisation, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and beyond, as Indians started getting educated and, after eating of the apple of knowledge, started to get more keenly afflicted by an inferiority complex: and wondering why did they not get there. It was a time of nationalism in colonised societies: Japan, China, India, Turkey. The question ‘how did we end up here’ is a key question, and different societies took their different approaches and framed different solutions. Japan, with its traditional ethos of hard work and emphasis on putting blame on one’s own self rather than the others, nationalised strongly, feeling much in the West to be superior, and started on its war path of imitating the West, which eventually led to the disaster of World War II but also to its today’s technological excellence and material prosperity, at the same time keeping much of its culture intact. China was humiliated not only by the concessions given to the Western powers, but even by Japan, which had always had an inferior place in Chinese people’s imaginations: the humiliation would go on to result in the acceptance of a cruel, repressive government of Mao that would destroy China’s very own culture, even the Han culture, for the sake of creating a ‘strong state’. (Contrary to Japan’s imitation of the West, Mao would rather install laypeople as the ones in power, despising and mistrusting anyone educated: the Chinese civilisation has given rise to the most profound thoughts, but those were in the hands of a few, not all, and by silencing those few could tribal devotions from the others be guaranteed, or coerced.) Only in India, while the same forces were born in the shape of RSS and others, did Gandhi prevent the immediate victory of the forces of darkness and imitation. But once the spiritual strength of Gandhi to keep himself above the forces of bitterness had been maimed, it became only a matter of time before the same vision reasserted itself, and hence here we stand today, waiting for the inevitability that already swallowed Japan and China and now waits for us. (The original mistake is Gandhi’s: his overwhelming mandate after Chauri Chaura should have been converted to self-awakening in the Indian society, something what Vidyasagar and Roy did but this time on a pan-Indian scale, rather than freedom for a country of ill-educated, easily pliable people.) For us, a populous, low-skilled, poor country with no international backing and a penchant for boasting rather than hard work (unlike both Japan and China), politics based on bitterness and imitation would sound the death knell of the very Indian civilisation. But once again, let’s focus on the RSS first of all: one should not treat disease as evil, but understand why it happens, for there is nothing good or evil in disease per se. Its consequences might very well be evil, though.
The RSS diagnosed (and continues to diagnose), correctly, that Indians, both before there was an India and since then, lack a sense of feeling of a tribe, a nation, a fellowship. Of course, India has a lot of tribes: its various castes and subcastes themselves makes thousands of tribes. But there is no dominant tribe or tribes, unlike most lands, though some of course may be more marginalised than others. In India, Person A doesn’t care for Person B at all, there’s no feeling in Person A’s mind that Person B is my fellow tribesman; with the chipping away of values such as tameez, this has further accentuated. The lack of respect for a fellow human being is in fact a hallmark of Indian life, especially more so in the modern times. Now this phenomenon itself is nothing surprising in a land which is a mosiac of cultures and traditions, with no tribe being dominant with respect to the other: even its varied rulers, whether they were born here or came from somewhere, did not disturb this mosiac and let things be as pleases people. (This also gives a greater liberty felt in the mind, another hallmark of an Indian life.) The chief reason for the failure of the 1857 attempt to drive out the British was that each person, each leader acted out of their own selfish interests, sometimes even greed: the Maratha and the Bundelkhandi did not, and could not, feel that they are the spokes of one wheel. Of course, there was no India back then, so they were not fighting for any country, but there could have been better coordination between them if not for their utter selfishness and egos. The Hindu thought itself does not usually admit of any supreme religious authority, which could otherwise have united the diversities into a tribe-like feeling, as happened with the various Arab tribes; there was no religion to speak of, in the Western sense of the word. While Gandhi united Indians of all hues and walks of life for a short time with his charisma and personal example (Indians have always united behind spiritual leaders), what after him? The RSS inferred that so long as there is no feeling of citizenship, so long as there is no feeling of tribalism, the fate of India’s colonisation, of feeling oneself as inferior might keep replaying. Also, the RSS’ goal was political, not remotely spiritual, so the solution had to be a political one. Stung by the sense of inferiority, like the Japanese, the RSS too looked with envy at the Western models and resolved to learn from them and practise them, which they continue to do so, Israel being their latest role model. The chief question before the RSS was: how to inculcate a feeling of tribalism in India? The best method was to turn what was the bedrock of Indian civilisation into its dog whistle: the word “Hindu”. Because sanatana dharma itself had no overarching structure and meant different things to different people, the word “Hindu” can be stripped of its sense, made into the much-needed dog whistle and then loaded with new meanings. The human mind has a great propensity for words, for labels, for at one point of time in their life, they have associated a lot of things with the word in their minds, a lot of things that had an impact on them not just intellectually, but also sensorially. Once the mind, often falling into laziness, forgets to interrogate the core behind the shell every time, the words are doubly loaded with the emotions once felt, rather than the meaning they are supposed to be carrying. Thus, many, or most, words become carriers of people’s emotions and impressions, rather than the meaning they possess. The meaning becomes not just irrelevant, but even meaningless. The word, eventually, becomes either a Trojan horse or an embellishment. The word “Hindu”, is it the beautiful Krishna statue in Guruvayoor, or is it the sacrifice of a living being for Kali, or is it the undifferentiated matter that Shiva represents, or is it the Shiva who is angry at Ganesha, or is it the sound of the bell ringing in a temple, the dhoop burning in a sandalwood and camphor-scented garbhagriha, is it the quest to seek truth always, is it destructible, or is it indestructible? Is it maybe erecting the tallest statue of some god somewhere, we being enamoured of “est” in our inferiority? It means infinitely different things, and stripped of its sense, it can be made a vehicle to reach most minds, most hearts, before the slow poison of new contents of bitterness and inferiority complex are injected into it. When someone raises the dog whistle of the word “Hindu” now, I wonder, oh, is someone going to take away my identity, my beautiful Ram, my whole world, and I am ready to resist, protect, attack, kill. And similarly the other to protect the wisdom he has been taught exists in Vedas and the Upanishads, for it fulfills his need of feeling proud in his identity, otherwise ravaged by IELTS classes and a poor, non-functional country where a government elected by him cannot even guarantee him clean water to drink. For the RSS, the dog whistle binds the Indians into a tribe, if not today, then tomorrow, and the word “Hindu” looked the most likely to be effective for that. And yet, aided by World War II and its aftermath, it was Gandhi who won, for the time being, though Pakistan’s secession was in itself an indication of the things to come. A poor electoral system (first past the post) ensured majoritarianism and minority appeasement budding and blooming at the same time, and a corrupt government (the consequence of that lack of tribalism, that lack of mutual respect, as who cares if someone is, or even a few hundred are, killed here and there?) ensured that the inferiority complexes remained alive. Nehru’s and later Indira’s pro-Soviet stance didn’t help either, for it meant that geopolitically Pakistan was the favoured one by the West in order to hedge bets, thus increasing difficulties and inferior feelings for Indians. Then came the end of the Cold War and Narasimha Rao’s great opening of the Indian economy, incomes started to increase, many started to go abroad to study and eventually became the so-called NRIs, were envied by many, the Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol films became mass earners, reflecting people’s changing aspirations, and yet no one had bothered to upskill the Indians or better the education system (even if the number of colleges increased manifold), so the inferiority complex continued, and continues. This inferiority complex is the greatest, interestingly, among the NRIs (the Indian diaspora), for not being able to make foreign traditions as their own and cut off from their own, many of them being merely economic migrants and often not interested in other cultures, they feel and are made to feel a kind of shame (by both the country they live in and their own countrymen and women) and cling on even more desperately to the running pack of hounds, to prove their belonging as much to themselves as to anybody else. Anyway, back to RSS’ dog whistle: could there have been other means, and what now?
Identity is key: without it, the rudderless human invents one, affiliates him or herself to whatever appeals to his or her unsatiated emotions. The model of nation-states, whether they be democratic or dictatorships, has failed in most cases when it comes to demanding tribal fealty (one cannot count those instances when people are chanting the names of ‘India, India’ when watching a cricket match, for in that case a UK-based Indian should shout for the English team rather, and some of the Indian Muslims should not be shouting for Pakistan?), except in rare cases like the hyper-nationalistic Norway or Israel, where tribalism has welded successfully with nationalism. In Israel’s case, the religion of Judaism acts as a pre-existing tribal element, whereas in Norway’s case it is the economic incentive of participating in a welfare state, fuelled by oil and gas revenues, that keeps the tribe hunting in a pack. On the other hand, any Muslim nation-state is bound to fail, unless the overlap between that nation-state and the ummah is almost complete (as is the case with Israel and the Jews). Do you feel tribal for Pakistan or for the ummah? You end up in a schizophrenia. (So does the cricket match viewer.) Of course, there are powerful tribes, like the Sauds, but they do not have the supreme, moral religious authority even if they have tried for it, notably because of their own convenient friendship with the Americans, and a rival religious authority in Iran. In Europe, attempts have been made for people to feel a tribal affiliation to the EU, which have all failed: a Polish feels Polish, not EU’ite, which has no claims to any affections. And what does one from Alsace feel? Nationalist sentiments keep surfacing often dangerously in many European countries, for again, with a massive immigration into all European countries (especially from within Europe: for example, on the day of elections in the UK, what better example to give than the recent immigrations of many Poles in the UK?), people are confused about their tribal identities. The only successful example of a land that has retained a degree of tribalism and not gone overboard with it is the U.S. – though the whites there may be confused who they are. But, overall, the worship of achievements, of success means that people in the U.S. do not seek tribal identities: they, rather, seek achievements of their own. That is, after all, the American Dream. (The problem with that though is that it is the worldly success that is considered as achievement, and not what one him or herself feels it to be, but that’s a problem of another hue. The American Dream itself, though, seems to be changing now, with Elizabeth Warren’s relative popularity showing that leftism, the politics of jealousy, is finally making a headway there.) But uniting people behind not tribal identities, but rather dreams, achievements, hard work is in itself very hard work: some European countries, notably Germany, have been trying to do it, with not complete success though. One has to create well-functioning systems to which people can aspire to and be ready to do hard work for, rather than ask them to anchor themselves to readily available tribal identities. One has to create robust infrastructures and equal access to them, and then people will themselves excited to fulfill their dreams, complementing their identities in their thoughts and actions. But that’s hard work, not what the BJP-RSS feel themselves up to: one must remember that a coward, a bully finds an easy way out, not a tough way out (can one forget Savarkar here?). For it’s easier to govern and lead a host of beasts than a group of thinking, dreaming humans; it’s easier to destroy and pick the remains and possess them, than to create and let it evolve.
Coming finally to the CAB itself, the bill immediately trashes all Hindu thought, its immense diversity, into meaninglessness, for it converts the Hindu into a tribe: a Hindu ummah! Till now, Hindutva and Hindu were completely different things, with the freedom to choose, but now it forces the Hindutva face to sit on every single Hindu, whether it fits or not. It is seeking to replicate the Israeli experiment, by wanting to project India as the haven for the “Hindus” of the world, asking them to join the India project, like Israel asked the Jews. (Or Pakistan did the sharia-loving Muslims, if one can talk of a failed effort.) The result, undoubtedly, will not even be Israel, but it will be all-round chaos and devastation, and future secessionist movements: India is not Israel, it’s too big and diverse, it’s not backed by a U.S., and it does not even have basic amenities in place for its own existing Hindus (even if one discounts the “others”, as the BJP hopes to do so). But that devastation is not necessarily a problem for the BJP’s own political aspirations: it will only inject more poison into the system and help in loading the now-empty words with new meanings of bitterness. The mother organisation, the RSS, will itself argue that this is but the short-term necessary evil, and then a contract will be surely in place: you affiliate tribally to me, I will ensure you are well to do and safe. Of course, given that, like in Mao’s China, the wisdom is the preserve of a few, it would be necessary to eliminate those few, while elevating the laypeople, all in the name of something nice. This kind of contract is not uncommon: Mao made the same contract with the Chinese, and the results, though economically stunning today with Deng Xiaoping’s timely remedial action and partly also because of the hard-working abilities of the Chinese, are there to see: a people constantly in competition, bereft of any exposure to affection, a constant prey to surveillance and marketing and divorced from the richness of their own thought and traditions. The biggest impact is always on human wisdom: the Daoist thought, and now soon the Hindu thought, will have become obsolete, depriving many of an insight into life, for which only life is worth living. Such contracts also inevitably make their wielders into bullies: witness Israel and China. Economic well-being can never replace that most basic of human needs, even more basic than food, water or air: identity. But instead of a fake all-consuming identity such as unasking devotion to a tribe, man must seek and fight for their identity grounded in themselves.