If the anti-Muslim violence since Ram Navami , particularly in Bihar and West Bengal, and open incitement by Union ministers such Giriraj Singh and Babul Supriyo are any indication, the country appears to be in for troubled times until the 2019 general election.
The BJP, of course, has good reason to be shocked at its defeat in the parliamentary by-elections in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The aura of invincibility the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah team had acquired after their big victory in the 2014 general election followed by a string of victories in state after state, including the Northeast, seems to have started to wane just when it was at its brightest.
The Sangh Parivar was confident that the BJP would retain the Gorakhpur parliamentary constituency, which was vacated by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath on becoming UP chief minister. This is the first time since 1989 that the writ of Gorakhnath Math Mahant (head priest) has been rejected by the constituency and that too in favour of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine that enjoys the backing of subaltern castes and Dalits.
The town housing the math of the ancient saint, Mahayogi Gorakhnath, of the Nath sect (snake-worshipping devotees of Lord Shiva), mostly belonging to non-Brahmin subaltern castes, has gone back to the people to whom it really belonged.
The Sangh Parivar's hope that their "Hindu hyper-nationalism" would strengthen their grip, particularly in the cow belt, appears to have suffered a serious setback but neither the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) nor its front organisations seem to have drawn the right lessons from it.
They still seem to be nurturing the hope that another round of Ram Mandir agitation, or some such event, could lead to communal polarisation, turn the tide and carry them to power atop an unassailable religious rath.
The RSS claims to be working for "Akhand Bharat" (undivided India) as a "Hindu Rashtra". Explaining the concept, the RSS chief says that Hinduism, as maintained by the Supreme Court, is not a religion but a way of life and "everybody born in India is a Hindu". If that indeed is the case, every Indian would, by definition, be a Hindu and there would be no problem. Stands to reason, too, for Hindu is not a Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit or Tamil word but a word coined by the Arabs and Iranians for the area lying to the east of the Sindh (Indus) river and its people, just as the name of India was given to this land by the Greeks.
As for their way of life, they are essentially pluralist for they belong to different religions, have different food habits, speak different regional dialects and have even different ethnic identities.
In peace time, there is social interaction among various religious communities though not between upper castes and Dalits. Defying all logic, neither development nor the country's rise as a technological/industrial power has affected this horizontal divide in the Indian - that is Hindu - society, though as Ernest Gellner explains, "Contrary to what Marxism has led people to expect, it is pre-industrial society which is addicted to horizontal differentiation within societies, whereas industrial society strengthens the boundaries between nations rather than those between classes."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi loses no opportunity to remind world leaders that ancient Indian rishis were among the first to talk of globalisation, that is, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family). True, but is there one district in the country which can claim to be one family? Doesn't casteist and communal violence in the country underline the fragility of the Indian society and show that even the people of one state, town or village do not constitute one family. Tall claims to its working democracy notwithstanding, people's freedom of choice is under a lot of stress. Nobody is free to eat what she likes, marry whom she loves, or walk out in the street when she wants to.
Mobsters and hoodlums, posing as gau rakshaks (cow-saviours), love jihad opponents or anti-Romeo squads, carrying saffron flags, brandishing weapons and shouting slogans about who can live in India and who must get out to Pakistan, are free to attack, even kill, anybody if his name includes an Arabic or Persian word.
It is dangerous for a Dalit girl to walk alone across a field. Despite tall talk of India's unity and past greatness, the society is divided both horizontally and vertically in every village, town, city and state, not only between economic classes or Hindus and non-Hindus, but also between upper and lower castes and among Brahmins, Thakurs, OBCs, and Dalits, who are still treated as untouchables and subjected to casteist violence and intimidation. Their villages are burnt and many of them killed for "crimes" such as "riding a horse" or even wearing a "sehra" during marriage.
Whatever the RSS chief says, therefore, appears to be only for the record. For, in practice, his followers restrict on gun or dagger-point the right to live in Hindustan to only those Hindus who say "Jai Shri Ram", sing "Vande Mataram" and worship "mother cow". This freedom is denied to those who wear skull caps or sport "beards sans moustache".
They forget that only about 100 years ago there was no love lost between the followers of the Arya Samaj, owing allegiance to the Vedic religion believing in Nirakar (shapeless) God and the Sanatan Dharma (believing in idolatry). Not only that they kill Muslims for transporting cows even to rear them in dairy farms, or on suspicion that they are carrying or keeping beef in their kitchens. The front organisations of the RSS not only prescribe such strange conditions as to restrict Hinduism to a small minority but also indulge in activities that are aimed at dividing the people along communal, casteist and ethnic lines.
One wonders if the ruling party will ever realise the damage they are causing to the country's body politic and society by permitting and tolerating, if not supporting, this so-called "hyper-nationalism", which, in fact, is causing widespread divisive violence and social and communal polarisation. The nation surely remembers that these have been the principal factors that have been responsible for the failure of this sub-continent to develop as a nation or even a single political community like, say, an empire or a commonwealth or union of nations.
There was a time, of course, when nationalism developed in the medieval Europe as a revolt against the Roman Empire for the formation of smaller units on ethnic grounds and got divided among nation-states as sovereign political units. The nation was then defined by theorists as a state comprising people of only one ethnic unit or nationality who had a common language, culture, traditions and history.
That's no longer the case. Even European nations now realise that there is no escape from cultural, ethnic and religious pluralism if the world is to prosper in the emerging age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and knowledge and information technology. Our global leadership will have to realise that they shall have to live together in this age. Any irresponsible action from any one power could cause a nuclear conflagration and get our planet sucked into a black hole.
One should hope that the wise RSS leaders would realise that the only way for India to rise as a great nation is to work for harmony, peace and progress in this country's tradition of synergetic pluralism bequeathed to us by both the Vedic and non-Vedic Shraman traditions of Gautam Buddha, Mahavir and Lokayats, the Tamil Sangam saints and the more recent saints and sufis like Baba Nanak, Bulley Shah, Sant Kabir and poets Raskhan and Nazir Akbarabadi. Any attempt at ethnic cleansing, sought by people like Giriraj Singh, could turn into a civil war-like situation and further divide of the country, ending up in a Khandit - not Akhand - Bharat, a ripe plum for any new imperialist power to colonise.
The political leadership of the country as well as the civil society owe it to the past generations of freedom fighters to pull the nation out of this disaster course and safeguard its pluralist, secular and syncretic traditions.