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Pink view 0f saffron movement

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: Swapan-dasgupta.blogspot.com
Date: October 31, 2010
URL:       http://swapan-dasgupta.blogspot.com/2010/10/

Book Review

Religion, Caste and Politics in India by Christophe Jaffrelot (Primus Books, 802 pages, Rs 2,250)

If an A-list is drawn of the most exciting writers on contemporary Indian politics, Christophe Jaffrelot, in all likelihood, will not feature in it. At the same time, the importance of the Director of Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, who also teaches South Asian history and politics at Sciences Po in Paris, cannot be brushed away. Apart from having written one of the very few comprehensive accounts of the BJP, Jaffrelot happens to be the prism through which a section of the French establishment sees India. He is France's most prominent India hand and, as such, his understanding of his specialist subject needs to be taken seriously. Jaffrelot is important because France is important.

Unfortunately, the expectation that Jaffrelot will introduce a distinctly French perspective into a discipline dominated (apart from Indians) by faculty members in American and, occasionally, British universities, is likely to be belied. In an India which he visits frequently and conducts field research, Jaffrelot hasn't been able to transcend the temptation of aligning himself with the dominant Left-liberal camp. The possible excitement of presenting alternative perspectives on live issues such as multiculturalism—a subject on which France has a unique perspective—has been blunted by his willingness to embrace conventional academic wisdom.

This voluminous collection of papers and articles written by him at various stages of his academic career is, nevertheless, not without its merits. For a start, Jaffrelot has resisted the temptation of re-editing his earlier offerings in the light of today's realities. If many of his conclusions fail to stand the test of time, Jaffrelot is generous enough to allow them to pass. Secondly, his articles are pretty exhaustively documented and footnoted with both primary and secondary sources. If nothing else, they allow the interested reader a reasonably comprehensive reading list for further perusal of the subject. Finally, Jaffrelot's range is impressive: from the historical origins of Hindu nationalism to the political complexities of parties such as the BJP, BSP and the various Lohia-ite formations. He also touches on areas such as Indian foreign policy—occupational hazards of academics who have to meet the test of 'relevance'—but these aren't his core competence.

Of the 35 essays in the collection, many of which suffer from lengthy repetitions, some themes stand out. In particular, I like his concept of "strategic syncretism" to explain why some Hindu social reformers, not least Raja Rammohan Roy and Swami Dayananda Saraswati, expediently dressed the Hindu faith in a monotheistic garb to make it fit Christian fashion. In another essay, where he draws on the recondite literature of European racial theories, Jaffrelot debunks the notion that either V.D. Savarkar or M.S. Golwalkar was driven by race nationalism. His exploration of the complexities in the relationship between the RSS and wings of the so-called Sangh Parivar leads him to the unfashionable conclusion that centralised control from Nagpur remains an elusive ideal. Never mind Golwalkar's pipedream of arriving at the stage "where the Sangh and the entire Hindu society will be completely identical", the realities of political power prevented a completely harmonious relationship between the RSS and the BJP during the NDA years.

As someone who has followed the BJP and the RSS, with varying degrees of proximity over time, I found Jaffrelot's essays on the origins of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the evolution of the BJP in Delhi quite revealing and well researched. Jaffrelot is at his strongest when he couples media reports with actual interviews with some of the players in the story. He is at his weakest when he relies excessively on media reports that, in many cases, tend to be ill-informed. Since Jaffrelot often has no access to 'insider' sources, he is often a prey to the temptation of treating media reports at face value without assessing their relative importance.

A party like the BJP which is half a political party and half a nebulously structured movement has many loudmouths and cranks whose views find place in some 'Hindu' publication or the other. Since Jaffrelot has little empathy for what the BJP stands for—in fact he is unreservedly hostile to it—he often fails to separate representative views from the cranky. To my mind, this is a big failing as is his inability to link the group dynamics of the saffron fraternity with wider shifts in society.

For example, it is curious to find that his essay on the debate over a presidential form of government makes only a passing mention of a crucial point: that the impetus for a thorough overhaul of the Constitution came from the Congress, particularly during the Emergency years. Jaffrelot says that "The Presidential system is not opposed to democracy"—being from France he can hardly say otherwise. He concedes that many of its proponents sought "the reform of the state." At the same time, he arrives at the conclusion "the form that the presidentialisation of the regime would take under the auspices of the BJP appears to be more threatening than it would under other parties, because of the BJP's ideological background and the way in which the RSS and its offshoots function." A few pages later, after conceding that democracy has sunk roots in India, he says that the BJP commitment to democracy is suspect because "the movement is still identified with the upper castes…Though the BJP is gradually promoting low caste cadres…it still does not contribute to the present-day (social) democratization of Indian (political) democracy."

This is hardly the conclusion of a detached academic studying a phenomenon. It is the language of the pamphleteer.

Footnote: The publisher should note that pages 132 to 144 are either missing or wrongly placed in a book priced at Rs 2,250!
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Author: Alka Dhupkar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 2, 2022
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/loudspeaker-lessons-for-india-from-a-maharashtra-village/articleshow/91259002.cms

The villagers of Barad have passed a resolution to stop the use of loudspeakers

Barad shows that strong-arm tactics are not needed to curb noise pollution; a simple matter of sitting across a table and discussing can do wonders

Barad is a biggish village in Nanded district of Maharashtra with a population of around 15,000. It is roughly 20km from Nanded city. Over time, the village has prospered and places of worship, among other buildings, have been renovated.

The village has 15 religious places — 12 Hindu temples and a place of worship each for Buddhist, Jain and Muslim communities. In some neighbourhoods, these religious places are in close proximity. No problem there.

It was only when these places started using loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, aartis and bhajans that the problem started. It became a veritable Tower of Babel — all noise and confusion.

“Since five in the morning, we used to play songs. In some places, one couldn’t hear the other’s songs or for that matter what was played in our temple,” says Suresh Deshmukh, a trustee of the local Hanuman temple.

For days on end, farmer Sharad Kawle’s 80-year-old grandmother couldn’t get a peaceful night’s sleep because of the rampant use of loudspeakers in the village.

But all this is in the past now. In charged times like these, Barad stands out as a model of communal harmony. Back in 2018, the villagers unanimously decided to remove loudspeakers from all religious places.

So, what happened in 2018?

According to deputy sarpanch Balasaheb Shankarao Deshmukh, sometime in December 2017, a Ganesh temple was using loudspeakers to broadcast maha aarti and a Buddha vihar nearby was playing religious songs. This went on till late at night.

“Groups from both sides started raising voices against each other, asking that the volume be lowered. Harmony in the village was completely disturbed,” he says. “Somehow we managed to cool tempers, but the tension simmered.”

But this wasn’t the only incident. A local school kept complaining about noise pollution to the Shiva temple trust and others in their area. The students couldn’t concentrate on studies because there was a kind of competition in using loudspeakers till late night and early mornings among all the religions.

The villagers were fed up. Some of them met after the tension escalated between Buddha and Ganpati followers. During a meeting with the local police, they discussed the proposal of removing all loudspeakers.

Thereafter, the villagers held a meeting with all the religious groups separately. Everybody accepted that the use of loudspeakers was a cause for concern and social discord. The religious trusts said if it was mandatory for all religious groups then they would also stop using loudspeakers.

After the consultations, a special gram sabha was called and a unanimous resolution was passed.

The villagers agreed to use sound boxes instead of loudspeakers. The only caveat: the volume of the sound box should be maintained at a pre-mandated level so the sound does not go beyond the walls of the holy place.

The gram panchayat has already installed around 40 small sound boxes for local announcements such as deaths, vaccination or other government programmes.

After the noise, peace

Yogesh Ratnparakhi, who runs Om Sai Coaching Classes in Barad, says, “In my centre, there are around 100 students and I can’t tell you how happy we all are that the loudspeakers have finally stopped. Earlier, students would use unending noise as an excuse not to study. Now, they properly focus on studies.”

Kiran Mahajan, a trustee of Chandra Prabhu Digambar Jain temple, says, “Ours is a private temple that is open to the public. We too had installed a loudspeaker because others installed it too. But after the removal of loudspeakers, we didn’t lose any devotees. Loudspeakers actually don’t matter.”

Sharad Kawle, the farmer, says, “Many of us in this village are followers of the Varkari bhakti movement. I believe that your religious activity should not disturb others. Keep it personal, so we all supported this proposal.”

His views are echoed by Sardar Sattar Khan Pathan of Jama Masjid in Barad. “We respect festivals of all communities. The kind of communal harmony we have maintained would not have been possible with loudspeakers at each religious place in the village.”

According to Vasant Lalme, a trustee of the Shiva temple, loudspeakers are not essential for singing bhajans or kirtans. “Devotion is a very personal feeling. It can be attained without loudspeakers. We have proved it.”

Model village

Deputy sarpanch Deshmukh, however, is disappointed that his village has not been given due recognition for the innovative solution to the menace of unchecked loudspeakers. The village doesn’t encourage the use of loudspeakers even for political rallies, weddings or other celebrations.

In other ways, too, Barad can be touted as a model village. It has received state awards for cleanliness and drinking water distribution management, open defecation-free status, success of ‘tanta mukti’ yojana (a scheme to clear local disputes at the village level) and other achievements.

The village has 20 CCTV cameras, which have helped curb theft, sexual harassment and other crimes. The village has developed a proper watershed system; a dormitory near a rural hospital is a unique feature of the village. It has also built a hostel for girl students, it has a zilla parishad school, multiple anganwadis, among other facilities.

As the noise over the use of loudspeakers at religious places grows louder and various state governments are using strong-arm tactics, perhaps it is Barad’s use of consultation that stands out more than its other achievements.