If BJP’s Hindu Nationalism seems to have met with stubborn resistance in some states, there are certain common reasons.
The resistance is particularly strong in Bengal, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, because BJP’s usual brand of Hindutva, one of its most potent poll planks, does not have much resonance in these states. The reason is the very nature of Hinduism.
Hinduism was and is not a religion but only a pact or a platform that enabled a somewhat conflict-free co-existence of many communities having their own culture, deities, customs, rules, and ethos within a federation-like framework. The Federation members are free to adopt any of the deities, customs, and beliefs of other communities. Mostly, the Brahmins created this Federation to extend their priestly domain all over India. Incidentally, the yesteryears scholar, Kosambi, thought Brahmins were not exclusively Aryan but had their origins in many pre-Aryan tribes and communities. So, they succeeded in reconciling the differences in beliefs, customs, and rituals of the many communities under their priesthood. For instance, they reduced the numerous deities of these communities to manageable numbers through mythologies as avatars or different names of far fewer deities; practised both Vedic ritual yajnas and the animist, pre-Vedic practice of idol worship including Shiva as Lingam; and revered the many post-Vedic deities as avatars of Vedic Vishnu as also of Durga, who represents numerous pre-Vedic mother goddesses.
It is as if Hinduism’s member communities are bound by some unwritten undertakings such as to respect every community and its internal rules, faith, and deities; share deities, customs, and myths of all; not take up a profession customary of another community; allow only inter-community disputes to be judged by the larger Hindu society. All this was to ensure a reasonably conflict-free society that lets every community keep its individuality and independence.
The Federation’s members contributed a mindboggling multiplicity of gods, rituals, religious symbols, scriptures, beliefs, regional variations, customs, pilgrim centres, and so on to Hinduism, all of which are treated with respect by all the communities. Hinduism thus has many avatars- the reason why it lacks a spiritual centrality and cohesiveness, unlike Christianity and Islam, which have the oneness of one ‘true’ God and one holy book.
Hinduism’s diffused nature means less unity because the member communities fiercely maintain their individualities. So, consolidation along caste lines becomes easy. And BJP’s brand of Hindutva does not adequately accommodate the multiplicity of culture, ethos, and social structure specific to Hinduism in different regions such as UP, Bengal or Tamil Nadu. For one, Hindus play favourites with their deities, some of them being: Durga in Bengal, Murugan in TN, Ayyappan in Kerala, Ganesha in Maharashtra, Jagannath in Orissa, Jhulelal among Sindhis, and so on. Hence, “Jai Durga!” might have had better resonance in Bengal than BJP’s rather strident “Jai Sri Ram!”.
BJP’s Hinduism is strong on issues such as Hindi, Ganga, cows, Varanasi- Ayodhya- Mathura and Sri Ram. Old grievances connected with Muslim invaders; continued cultural, religious, and social differences between Hindus and Muslims are other subjects that dominate BJP discourse. These have some pan-India appeal among Hindus, but many also read and hear Hindu epics and bhajans in other languages, revere rivers like Kaveri and Godavari, go on pilgrimage to Tirupati, Pandharapura, Vaishnodevi or Puri and have different Hindu-Muslim relations.
When BJP first bid for power, voter consolidation had already taken place based on regional pride, castes (reservations), and ‘secularism’ (basically, encouragement to a siege mentality among minorities against unnamed ‘Hindu menace’). It was Advani who injected a temporary centrality into the Hindu community that it notoriously lacks by taking up the issue of Ram Mandir. At one stroke, it rekindled the bitter racial memories of the Hindus, aroused religious fervour and the feeling of alienation, overcoming the caste pride and Muslim consolidation, even as other parties fiercely courted orthodox Islam. Of course, the long-neglected agenda of development, the anti-corruption plank, the promise of robust leadership, nationalism, the appeal to aspirational youth, and Modi’s charisma greatly helped. This momentum continues in the Hindi-speaking and Gangetic plain states.
But consider Kerala. The Hindu-Muslim divide is not deep because both speak, read, and take pride in Malayalam; both Hindu and Muslim men wear mundu; no foreign Muslim invaders damaged or converted temples to mosques nor ruled over Hindus; Muslims came as traders and brought riches for Kerala’s spices; both mostly share the same culture. Further, dairy farming was never big, and the cow protection issue has little traction; Hindi is least understood, and Modi’s compelling speeches are lost in translation; the popular deities like Ayyappa and many local spirits are not Hindu mainstream; the fervour of political ideologies overtakes the Hindu religious fervour (if any); Matriarchal tendency confronts the patriarchal spirit of Northern Hinduism, Malayalam movies -not Hindi ones- tug at their hearts; development agenda is not new to comparatively well-developed Kerala. Overall, Kerala’s political leanings are far away from BJP for the present.
The situation in neighbouring Tamil Nadu is mostly similar. In addition, DMK’s advantages and weapons include Dravidian pride, limitless populism, anti-Hindi and anti-Brahminical sentiments that strike at some of BJP’s core beliefs, the aura of insanely popular Tamil film’s legacy, the thunderous cadence of Tamil oratory, and an industrialised economy. In short, BJP’s Vedic-Brahminical Hinduism confronts the Dravidian, non-Brahminical Hinduism of Tamil Nadu. This is obvious from the proportions of Brahmins and upper-caste people: 13% Brahmin population of UP stares at less than 2-3% in these states. Further, the four-Verna classification is blurred in most southern states; people who otherwise qualify as Kshatriyas and Vaisyas consider themselves as just non-Brahmins.
Bengal has many commonalities with Kerala, which goes against BJP. Like in Kerala, people seem to be born leftists, its street politics is even more fierce, Muslim percentage is high. But BJP’s advantages are its proximity to BJP’s strongholds, attachment to Varanasi, Ganga and Vedic Brahminism, familiarity with Hindi, and the presence of many Hindi-speaking people and the upper caste people. All these helped BJP in its limited success here.
But the famously patient and tenacious BJP may yet manage the impossible in all these states after some serious course corrections.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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