Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hindi and the many cultural agendas of BJP

Possibly the greatest embarrassment for the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] when compared to the Congress party is its inability to clearly and meaningfully place itself within the Indian freedom struggle. Having now grown into a major national force, the BJP thus has shown a desperate impulse to overcompensate for the hiatus through an extreme and monolithic form of ‘Indianness’. The context for these remarks is the tenth World Hindi Conference being held in India after three decades starting 10th September, in Bhopal ‘with a promise to expand the scope of the language which the Constitution and courts recognise as the official but not national language’. 

Celebrating the Hindi language seems a tame and innocuous matter especially when one realizes that Hindi and many other languages have grown through a natural process, through popular literature, journalism and cinema with little impact of official patronage. 

In fact a very determined form of such patronage may actually damage the prospects of a language – the plight of Hindi in the South and North East of India and the backlashes are good examples. Apropos the latest Hindi Conference in Bhopal and its background, the idea of organising Vishwa Hindi Sammelan took shape in 1973 at Wardha, and it was organised for the first time in Nagpur in 1975. Later, Delhi hosted it for the second time in 1983. The conference was also held in Mauritius in 1976 and 1993, in Trinidad and Tobago in 1996, in London (1999), Surinam (2003), New York (2007) and Johannesburg (2012). It is thus something of an established tradition already. So is the Bhopal chapter just a case of ‘gharvapasi’ [returning home]? 

But when Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said on Wednesday ‘The conference will prove to be a milestone in universalisation of Hindi language and I urge people to exhibit their fondness for Hindi at all levels,’ the ‘cultural politics’ behind the ‘universalization’ move may alarm other linguistic groups. The fact that the PM Narendra Modi will inaugurate the 3-day functions goes to prove the importance the BJP-RSS accords to the event. 

This is thus a good occasion to ponder over the cultural strategy of the BJP – the BJP may seem muddled on several vital matters of the economy and polity but its clarity on the cultural front is unambiguously lucid. It has set itself three huge tasks that may be listed as follows:

1. Dismantling of the Congress/freedom struggle tradition [not the party as such] and the heritage of the freedom movement by undermining the values of tolerance, inclusion and multiculturalism.

2. By trying to appropriate and monopolize several elements and icons from the past such as Swami Vivekanand, Sardar Patel, and Subhash Chandra Bose. The next in the queue may be Narashinha Rao, the former PM associated with the economic reforms in India in the early 1990s. 

3. Lastly, by bulldozing established academic institutions such as the Indian Council of Historical Research, Indian Council of Social Science Research, and the IITs. And this one is moving like a tide. 

What binds all these psychologically is the methodical and untiring attempt to accustom the members of the vast congeries of the Hindu traditions to think of themselves as victims of the minorities, the Christians and the Muslims who again are far from being a monolithic body in India. Clearly, to sustain such delusional sentiments requires daily doses of powerful rhetoric. It is a bit like working ceaselessly on the head of a family chief to convince him that he is really the pariah and not the boss. By any measure this is a very challenging task. It can also turn out to be an enormously thankless task. What if one day the man wakes up rid of his brain fever and chases the propagandist out of his compound. 

It is most ironically in this bizarre sense that the India of today is getting an overdose of culture on a daily basis. Of course at the expense of the economy, agriculture, industry. The question is – will the voter continue to be as silly as the propagandist assumes him to be? Is the BJP considering all these cultural moves as essential and fundamental to its staying power? In the long run, of course as Keynes said we are all dead. But in a democracy, we do end up voting quite a few times before meeting our oblivion! Does BJP have a long-term vision which may be seen as sober-headed? 

P.S. As for the little matter of the Hindi language, it is doing mighty well without the cheerleaders - so no need to go hoarse over the winner.  

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