Milk the faith, worship the cow
AFTER intensive debate in the constituent assembly between modernists and reactionary lobbyists the new Indian state agreed to encourage citizens to move away from the slaughter of the milch cow.
The directive principle advocated by the founding fathers was a compromise of sorts between two rival political tendencies and not as forthright as, say, Mughal emperor Babar’s advice to his son to desist from cow slaughter in his kingdom lest it hurt his subjects’ feelings.
And though the members of the constituent assembly may not have conclusively legislated to halt the cow slaughter practised by various social strata and regions of India they unwittingly ended up creating and even protecting a new milch cow, one with greater utility to the political elite. This milch cow assumed the identity of obscurantism and its conjoined twin, communalism.
Hindu-Muslim communalism in India has mutated from its purpose that prevailed prior to Independence. There is neither the foreign master to stoke it for social control, nor a feudal order that leans on its survival for its own sustenance. Its new users, ironically enough, are the beacons of hope for a new shining India — the astute corporate elite that is overwhelmingly upper caste, and their downstream urban offshoots.The rural sociology continues to get succour from levers of social control forged in caste, though vestiges of religious bigotry are not entirely absent. Be it a Dalit Jatav boy daring to elope with a middle-caste Jat girl in Barsana, the unlikely village of Radha, Lord Krishna’s consort and muse, or a Muslim boy falling for a Hindu girl in Madhya Pradesh, everyone is liable to be lynched by powerful village panchayats that remain a notionally defiant adjunct of an otherwise conniving state.
In its new format, Hindu-Muslim communalism has evolved into a byproduct of political economy pursued by the country’s two main predominantly Hindu parties — Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both actively encourage blind faith and religious revivalism not only among vulnerable Hindus but also Muslims. Christians and Sikhs are not exempt from their purview.
As for the largest minority, Indira Gandhi shrewdly but again narrow-mindedly handed over the country’s Muslims to a hopelessly reactionary clergy. The move recoiled on the Congress, however, just as his brief flirtation with religious fundamentalists boomeranged hard in Pakistan on Z.A. Bhutto. Under the very canopy of the Muslim Personal Law Board she had created, Indira Gandhi suffered an unprecedented rout in 1977 and the Congress has never completely recovered from that loss of face and trust.
The Congress feels the pinch of this betrayal while the BJP naturally revels in its rival’s agony. Both need riots though — the BJP to galvanise a reticent Hindu constituency by stoking revivalism, the Congress to ensnare a frightened vote-rich minority into its aching talons.
In times of communal peace, the minorities assume the visage of swaggering kingmakers, as they recently did in Uttar Pradesh when they weighed in to reject both the national parties for a regional one. This was not liked by either of the two parties.
Logically, therefore, we should be prepared for a major communal mobilisation before the next general election, even riots, if that is what it takes to win power. The reason is not difficult to divine. Neither of the two pretenders has anything by way of policy to offer to canvass support.
They speak the same language on crucial issues, on economics, on advocating a veritable police state in the country, on military jingoism, and on foreign policy with a very subtle difference if any towards ties with China or Pakistan. On communalism, they behave as the pot calling the kettle black. But most importantly, they both know that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reforms would not have happened without the air cover of Ayodhya and its long-lingering aftershocks.A small sample of the shape the future mobilisation could take came from Hyderabad a fortnight ago. Police arrested four Hindu agents provocateurs for planting body parts of a cow in a Hindu temple. The ensuing riots were meant to help a liquor merchant and a moneylender consolidate their hold among the Hindutva hordes. False flag attacks are the easiest to stage and can be camouflaged well to make detection difficult.
Private television channels, India’s Murdochian avatar, play both sides of the street, which only boils down to playing just one side — upper caste dominance of state institutions, but in any case of the media. They serve another purpose, that of promoting and sustaining a discourse that is completely unrelated to the daily issues that people want to hear about.
In other words, the corporate media has two objectives — to make the Congress look good; if not, to give the baton to the BJP. The Narendra Modi makeover is entirely the media’s handiwork. One side promotes him as future prime minister. The other side dumps him as a communal threat thereby seeking to assist the Congress by handing it a panic-stricken constituency of Muslims, Christians, Dalits and Advisais.
The corporate elite has abiding influence with both parties. But it knows that no party can win an election by promising to privatise state assets or by putting people’s hard-earned pensions on the stock market. The mobilisation has to be a parochial one regardless of who is better placed to win.
In this suffocating climate, I was heartened to see the Supreme Court on Tuesday directing the central government to abolish the Haj subsidy for Muslims in 10 years and invest the amount — averaging over Rs6.5bn a year for last five years — in education and other measures for social development of the minority community.
The order by Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana P. Desai reflected a grudging resolve, which successive governments had failed to muster in the last 60 years.
Will the Indian state now cut the remaining subsidies of arranging and supporting other religious carnivals and pilgrimages?
Let’s hope so. However, the worry is that despite the Supreme Court’s bold initiative, the state will find a way to cultivate the religious order that has served its purposes so well. There is already a move under way to revive the old campaign to ban cow slaughter. After the disaster in Uttar Pradesh, the two pretenders that claim to own the Indian state will be smiling in anticipation.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.