Updated: August 05, 2021 12:34 PM GMT
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) with other dignitaries performing rituals to launch the construction of the controversial Ram temple in Ayodhya in August 2020. (Photo: AFP)
August 5 marks the second anniversary of the constitutional amendment initiated by the Narendra Modi government to take away the functional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
A year later, on the same day in 2020, the prime minister laid the foundation stone for a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya on a plot of land where once stood the Babri mosque before its demolition by frenzied mobs of Hindus in 1992.
The two events aren’t mere sociopolitical developments in the recent history of the country but can be seen as symbols of the latent but strong cultural transformation India has undergone ever since Modi became prime minister in 2014.
This transformation has pitchforked a new elite who are basically provincial, pro-Hindu and pro-Hindi. They detest English and prefer the Hindi language, and proclaim their Hindu identity.
The end result has been the rise of an unapologetic fanatic.
“This is the new social order now. We may not see major upheaval or social destabilization. But in the name of anti-elitism what we have got is anti-intellectualism. More precisely it is anti-liberalism,” West Bengal-based social analyst Ramakanto Shanyal said.
They won’t employ Muslims. This was unthinkable in communist-ruled Bengal till the nineties
“The new generation has changed a lot. They think communal,” Shanyal said while narrating how his cousins and their children were now touchy about mundane things like employing laborers to work in their garden.
“They won’t employ Muslims. This was unthinkable in communist-ruled Bengal till the nineties,” Shanyal added.
The new ruling political class, under the patronage of its century-old Hindu fountainhead called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has no regard for India’s progress as a secular and pluralistic nation since it gained independence in 1947.
The gradual transition perhaps started under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first prime minister to lead a federal government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It was Vajpayee who conducted India’s nuclear tests on May 11, 1998, triggering jingoistic celebrations across the country that are being carried forward now under Modi.
The bureaucracy and governance system under Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first PM, was generally believed to “think in English” as part of India’s place in the world community.
That has begun to change slowly. So, South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement or the Vietnam War are no more part of intellectual debates among students and media persons in Delhi or Kolkata. The debates now are veering towards provincialism guided by the Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan ideology.
Thus, the recently held state elections in West Bengal became an open contest between native Bengali culture versus the "Hindi and Hindu only" approach of the BJP.
“The media and political opponents of Modi are also responsible for this scenario. The entire focus in the past six-seven years has been on the communalization of India,” observed Tushar Bhadra, a political observer from Modi’s constituency in Varanasi.
He said this phenomenon is not being grasped properly and hence a battle between Bharat (India's traditional Hindi name) and modern India could ensue in the coming years.
Many top officials in the national capital Delhi or in the Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh have not studied abroad or at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, unlike their predecessors, Bhadra pointed out.
Thus, the real challenge could be the undoing or fall of modern India built over the past seven decades with the emergence of the Hindu intellectual in the past seven years or so.
These changes in the national attitude are telling. They cannot be ignored
“In Tripura, once a left-wing bastion, the BJP is in power today. In West Bengal, not a single communist legislator or parliamentarian has been elected since 2019. Indian youth is turning neo-nationalist and discarding the leftists,” says Tuton Biswas, a 25-year-old student from northeast India.
Others agree that the diminishing communist influence in Indian politics could have led to the rise of fundamentalism.
Popular English and Hindi news channels openly portray it as a decaying ideology that was also anti-India.
Recently, they even castigated leftist leaders for attending a webinar organized by the Chinese embassy to mark 100 years of the Communist Party of China.
These changes in the national attitude are telling. They cannot be ignored.
Prime Minister Modi and his BJP have legitimized the Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan political metaphor to such an extent that even a seasoned politician like Himanta Biswa Sarma, after becoming chief minister of Assam recently, announced restrictions on cow slaughter and cattle movement.
Sarma, a former Congressman, perhaps wanted to prove himself more Hindu than those originally from the pro-Hindu BJP.
Everything that is not popular among Hindus is scorned and opposed tooth and nail
Even Rahul Gandhi, the Congress MP and scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, makes it a point now to visit temples during elections.
One also knows of Christian tribal leaders from the northeastern states joining the BJP and suddenly turning vegetarians, or at least giving up beef and pork eating — of course citing health grounds or the age factor.
Some communists are turning pro-Hindu in their lone stronghold of Kerala.
There is no denying that Modi has changed the political discourse in India by successfully polarizing the electorate on the basis of religion. Every political discussion is now viewed from the prism of the Hindu religion.
Everything that is not popular among Hindus is scorned and opposed tooth and nail. Citizens have come to associate themselves and others more and more with religion and language.
A silent social transformation is underway in contemporary India.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.