Ruminations: A disciplined society

Like a game of treasure hunt, sometimes very important messages are hidden in obvious places that no one notices. In a series of radio ads on traffic safety, Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari talks about lane driving saying that is what members of an “anushasit samaj” or disciplined society would do. That ad, going beyond the noise and dust of election campaigns and the debate on nationalism, delivers a cold truth: that the odour of discipline, the shrill call to fall in line, single file, is overwhelming and unrelenting. And it could be longer lasting this time than the “anushasan parv” or the festival of discipline that Vinoba Bhave gleefully welcomed after the Emergency was announced in 1975.

To aspire to build a disciplined India reveals a societal split personality, that on the one hand takes pride in the existence of 33 crore gods and claims that Hindutva does not negate the rights of followers of other religions to practise their faith and on the other tries to bind everyone in one thought process that would ensure discipline. That thought process and attempt at cultural oneness has accompanied the onward march of Narendra Modi over almost all of India, and enhanced the political relevance of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with its accent on uniformity. The sight of people in uniform taking part in drills has inevitably raised visions of authoritarianism and shrill nationalism and consequently Fascism.

The anxieties that the new BJP under Modi have provoked are valid. It is important to identify this as the ‘new BJP’ because the party has taken another turn, this time placing it closer to what its founders visualised it to be. Ironically, it has assimilated what it had once rejected, taking a meandering route to where it now is.

Naturally, this has given a free hand to the larger Sangh Parivar, to which Gadkari belongs, to impose itself – a price that the BJP has to pay for the huge ground support that the RSS provides it during elections. The idea of a disciplined society is delivered in simple terms, that draw from the Indian way of life. This is in the reverence for Manusmriti and the orderly life that it suggests. Therefore, it is essential to read, for instance, Yogi Adityanath’s comment, “Castes can be fine, but casteism is not” with his other comment, “Castes play the same role in Hindu society that furrows play in farms, and help in keeping it organised and orderly.” Further evidence of this orderly life is provided in the constitution of the Hindu Vahini, which says, “The meaning of Hindu is Vedic, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Naga, and other adherents of Hindu culture...”

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister had also said when he was MP from Gorakhpur that he will not rest till a Hindu Rashtra is formed. This is not an idle expression of intent. The yearning for uniformity and discipline is expressed in the BJP’s focus on states that have sizeable Muslim population – Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal. The idea of forcing a single culture on the country is also indicated in the attacks on Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, her nationality and her accent not spared. Also her religion. This happened during the Vajpayee era as well, with Modi himself joining in -- do remember how also he made sure he always gave the full name of the former chief election commissioner: James Michael Lyngdoh. Generally, RSS culture instils discipline, which weighs in on the politics of those in its fold. It therefore speaks out against federalism as opposed to a unitary form of government -- former RSS chief MS Golwalkar had said that Indian federalism was like in the US, which is a wrong understanding of the Constitution.

The accusation of Fascist leanings against political opponents has come all too easily. It was the reason offered by Indira Gandhi to declare Emergency in 1975. According to her government’s ‘white paper’, “Some political parties with Fascist leanings had combined with a set of frustrated politicians to challenge the very basis of democratic functioning and to destroy the country’s self-confidence...”

However, the obsession with discipline is not a proprietorship of the so-called Fascist leaning Sangh Parivar. Indira Gandhi, who is once rumoured to have wept because she reportedly found India to be ungovernable, had coaxed similar sentiments on strong discipline when faced with an economic crisis and public outcry before the general elections in 1967 – she coined the slogan “one country, one team”, which helped her win the election.

Even Jawaharlal Nehru, regarded as a quintessential liberal, railed against Indian liberals, though for more substantive reasons than the ones offered today to shut up the ‘sickulars’ and ‘libtaards’. Drawing a comparison between the liberals in England who stood against the monarchy, supported political liberty and whose views, according to him, had strong economic foundations, Nehru said, “Indeed the Indian liberals are not liberal at all in any sense of the word, or at most they are liberal in spots and patches. What they exactly are it is difficult to say, for they have no firm positive basis for ideas, and, though small in numbers, differ from one another. They are strong only in negation...By criticising everything they consider extreme, they experience the feeling of being virtuous and moderate and good.”

The ‘new BJP’, with the focus on Hindu Rashtra will do well to learn from Vivekananda, one of its icons. In an interview in 1897, asked what could lead to an improvement of the masses, he said: “We have to give them secular education. We have to follow the plan laid out by our ancestors that is to bring all the ideals slowly down among the masses. Raise them slowly up, raise them to equality. Impart even secular knowledge through religion.”

Ananda Majumdar