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Mark of ultra-right politics - The Indian Express

Amulya Ganguli ()
14 November 1996

Title : Mark of ultra-right politics
Author : Amulya Ganguli
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : November 14, 1996

A defining characteristic of ultra-right organisations of
the sangh parivar, and of members of the extended parivar
like the Shiv Sena, is a typical petty-minded attitude
which fosters intolerance and combativeness. So it is
that an allied outfit, the Hindu Munnani, has held back
the immersion of Ganapati images in Chennai unless it is
allowed to take them in a procession through a route
which has been declared out of bounds for them by the

Anyone familiar with the Indian scene will immediately
recognise the plot. The Chennai organisation obviously
wants to take the procession through what is traditional-
ly described as a sensitive area inhabited mainly by
Muslims. It is the old "music before the mosque" formula
which is a nightmare for the local authorities lest there
be an outbreak of communal violence. In all cities and
towns in India, therefore, the police usually do not
allow the religious processions of one community to pass
through areas where its members are not in an overwhelm-
ing majority.

This ground rule is generally observed. If Hindu Munnani
is intent on breaking it, the reason is evident - in the
words of an Elvis Presley song, it is looking for trou-
ble. Why it is doing so is also obvious. Dissatisfied
with being a peripheral outfit, it believes that a pro-
vocative stand against the Muslims can strengthen its
nationalist-patriotic credentials and boost its pros-
pects. Since its inception in the early eighties in the
wake of the Meenakshipuram conversion of Harijans, the
Hindu Munnani has failed to grow in a State where the
secular creed of the Kazaghams has held sway form any

As an avowedly sectarian organisation, the Hindu Munnani
has to pursue a policy where the deterioration of rela-
tions with Muslims and other minorities helps its cause.
In 1994, it tried to create an Ayodhya-type controversy
in Pondicherry when it claimed that a church had been
built on the site of a destroyed Shiva temple, but it
fizzled out. For the Hindu Munnani, the Ganapati festi-
val is less a religious than a political occasion, and
the immersion ceremony is not a ritual but an event which
can be used to create tension between the two communi-

It is not alone in favouring such an agenda. The Shiv
Sena, for instance, started the practice of celebrating
maha arti in front of temples in Mumbai as a riposte to
the Muslim habit of observing the namaz on the roads
because of limited space inside mosques. Again, the
objective behind the Shiv Sena venture was less religious
than political. Similarly, the BJP insisted on the Mus-
lims raising the national flag at the Hubli Idgah in
Karnataka to prove that they Were not traitors, a chal-

lenge any self-respecting individual would consider
offensive. The party's evident intention was to provoke
a fight rather than underline the patriotism of all

This combative majoritarian attitude is in marked con-
trast to the remarkable broad-mindedness which character-
ised the freedom movement. Indeed, the Independence
struggle stands out in this respect as a unique experi-
ment in strengthening the bonds within a multi-cultural
society. India must be grateful that it had leaders like
Gandhi and Nehru, who were totally free of bigotry and
narrow-mindedness, at the helm then. As Nehru wrote:
"Long ago, at the commencement of non-cooperation or even
earlier, Gandhiji had laid down his formula for solving
the communal problem. According to him, it could only be
solved by goodwill and the generosity of the majority
group, and so he was prepared to agree to everything that
the Muslims might demand. He wanted to win them over,
not to bargain with them.

"With foresight and true sense of values, he grasped at
the reality that was worthwhile; but others who thought
they knew the market price of everything, and were igno-
rant of the true value of anything, stuck to the methods
of the market-place."

Clearly, this constitutes the basis of "minority appease-
ment" which so angers the ultra-right. Indeed, Gandhi
paid the maximum price for harbouring such generous
sentiments. But what his acceptance of the "reality that
was worthwhile" meant was that India has not gone Pakis-
tan's way. It has remained democratic, secular, pluralis-
tic, unattached to any power bloc, an example without
parallel in sustaining a polity comprising 2,794 communi-
ties and 321 "living languages and dialects".

Had the freedom movement been led by a less enlightened
leadership, a break-up much worse than what happened in
1947 would have been inevitable. Even now the danger is
not past, for there has been an unfortunate resurgence of
ultra-right politics. What is distressing about this
development is the unabashed display of small-minded
attitudes in which relations between communities are
seen, as by street fighters, as an endless series of tits
for tats in which the spirit of accommodation is singu-
larly absent. No one explained this eye-for-an-eye
politics of revenge better than Shiv Sena MP Madhukar
Sarpotdar before the Srikrishna Commission in Mumbai

But intolerance and vendetta are not the only attributes
of the ultra-right. Had it been so, the innate good sense
of the people might ultimately be expected to undermine
an appeal directed at the baser instincts. But coupled
with the spirit of revenge is an equally dangerous intel-
lectual cretinism which is the hallmark of all fundamen-
talist forces. Needless to say, art is a major victim of
their retrograde outlook, as the controversy over M. F.
Husain showed, as is science.

In seeking to lower the society's mental level to its
own, the ultra-right routinely tends to extol the common
man's supposed sensitivity to any artistic innovation or
scientific discovery which does not subscribe to what it
believes are the correct norms. But acceptance of their

stand would have meant that Lady Chatterley's Lover and
Ulysses would have remained banned to this day along with
Darwin's and Copernicus's claims. Throughout history,
such retrogressive forces have exerted a demeaning in-
fluence on the human spirit, burning books and reaching
for the gun on hearing the word art. That they should be
present in such numbers in India today is a matter of

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