Fascinating Hindutva: Saffron Politics and Dalit Mobilisation


Badri Narayan

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    This book is dedicated to the radical, emancipatory forces in society engaged in the struggle for social change

    A Folk Tale

    There once lived a bird in a forest which was part of a kingdom. The name of the bird was Lalmuni Chiriya. When Lalmuni Chiriya sang, the whole kingdom sang along. When she cried, all the people cried with her. Seeing her influence on the people, a thought struck the king—why should he waste time and money constructing roads and digging wells for the people to keep them happy when he could put Lalmuni under his power and gain control over them? So he summoned the court priests, the ministers and all his courtiers, and asked them to work out how the bird that was ruling the hearts of the people could be controlled.

    Unfortunately all the plans suggested by them—like laying a net, setting a trap and hiring a bird catcher—failed to bring Lalmuni under the king's control. The king was greatly perturbed. One day, when he was riding in the forest pondering over the problem, a yogi (roving saint) appeared before him. Seeing his troubled look, the yogi asked him, ‘O king, what makes you so worried?’ The king replied, ‘O Respected Swamiji, it is my intense desire to bring a bird under my control. All my politicians, soldiers and money have failed to ensnare her. What should I do?

    After thinking for some time the yogi came up with an idea. He said, ‘Listen O King, you cannot gain control over a bird in this way. I suggest that you try to arouse within her the memories of being a bird. These memories should emphasise that the forest where she lives is within the kingdom of the king and in the king's welfare lies her welfare. However, for this you will have to seek the help of other birds who will tell her stories that will make Lalmuni Chiriya believe that her entire life is connected with the king's.

    Latching on to the yogi's advice, the king created a group of storytelling birds whose job was to narrate stories to Lalmuni centred on her own past in such a way that her identity and existence both became interlaced with the king, and the king's power became her power.

    But when Lalmuni Chiriya started to listen to the stories that were being narrated to her by the king's storytellers, she saw through them and the stories failed to impact her. The storytellers did not lose hope, but continued to narrate stories to her in the same form as the king had told them to do. This process is still continuing and even today the struggle between the king's storytellers and the Lalmuni birds is going on in the forests.

    A folktale from Shahabpur village, Uttar Pradesh

    List of Abbreviations

    BJPBharatiya Janata Party
    BSPBahujan Samaj Party
    MPMember of Parliament
    NDANational Democratic Alliance
    OBCOther Backward Castes
    RSSRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
    SPSamajwadi Party
    UPUttar Pradesh
    VHPVishwa Hindu Parishad


    A story is often narrated in villages about a trickster who could prise the gold nose stud of a newly married woman without her having the slightest inkling of what was happening. In the same way, politically motivated communal forces are silently but ingeniously working among the common people to break up the harmony existing in society. They are doing this by communalising the identity construction of different communities and positing them against other communities who are being projected as their enemies. The feeling of pride that communities have in their own identities is being slowly converted into a feeling of hatred for other communities, and their narratives of self-respect are being replaced by narratives of violence against other communities.

    This book is an attempt to study the designs of one such set of communal forces operating in Indian society, that is, the Hindutva forces, who are trying their hardest to bring more and more communities under their influence, both for their political gain and for fulfilling their ideological objective of building up a unified Hindu cultural nation. Initially, these forces used Lord Rama, the hero of the popular Hindu epic Ramayana, who is revered by all upper-caste Hindus, as the symbol to draw together Hindus in all parts of the country.

    Today, with a large number of Dalit communities, mainly confined to the rural areas, having entered the political arena, the Hindutva forces have shifted their focus and are devising strategies to bring these diverse Dalit castes, each with their own heroes and histories, under their fold.

    Intellectuals in the think tanks of these forces are digging out the myths and legends of each of these Dalit castes that are popular at the local level and re-interpreting them in a Hinduised way by either projecting the heroes of these myths as brave Indian warriors who protected Hindu religion and culture from the Muslim invaders of the medieval period or portraying their heroes as reincarnations of Lord Rama so as to link the myths of these Dalit castes with the unified Hindu meta-narrative represented by Lord Rama. Hindutva workers at the grass roots are doing this by erecting communal walls, slowly but steadily, between the various castes that form the composite local culture of the villages. While the folk traditions of many of these castes have communal elements, portraying other communities including Muslims as enemies, Dalits and Muslims have been living together harmoniously in a network of mutual interdependence for the last many centuries. Today, the communal forces are using these communal elements, both for instilling among Dalits a hatred of Muslims and for linking them to a consolidated Hindu identity, and are well on their way to fragmenting the grass-roots society. There is great danger that these forces will ultimately succeed in achieving their objective like the trickster in the folk story mentioned earlier, unless they are prevented from doing so by radical, emancipatory forces aware of their evil designs.

    In this book my attempt is to bring to the notice of the readers the cultural narratives of the politics of hate of the Hindutva forces at the grass-roots level that are slowly corroding the social fabric of the country. In this endeavour I was greatly facilitated by the insights of scholars like Ashish Nandy, Christophe Jaffrelot, Rajen Harshe, Gyan Pandey, Sudha Pai, Simon Charsley and Jyotirmay Sharma, who helped me to understand the subtler elements of the drama being staged at the grass roots of north India. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Ravi Srivastava, Bhaskar Majumder, Bishnu Mohapatra and Susan Legene who have constantly given me moral support in my adverse times. A major portion of this book was written in Cambridge University when I was there as a Smuts Fellow. My stay there enabled me to consult the libraries of Cambridge University and other libraries in London and also to interact with a number of scholars, which greatly enhanced my scholarship. I am grateful to Kathy White and to the staff of Wolfson College, Cambridge, for providing me all the infrastructure to make my stay there a smooth and pleasant one. One chapter of this book is based on an article published in the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) and one on a chapter in the book Political Process in Uttar Pradesh: Identity, Economic Reforms and Governance, Pearson, New Delhi, edited by Sudha Pai. I would like to express my gratitude to the editor of EPW and to Sudha Pai for accepting them for publication. Lastly I would like to thank my wife, my father and my daughters for their unwavering encouragement throughout the study.

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    About the Author

    Badri Narayan teaches Social History and Cultural Anthropology at the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Jhusi, Allahabad. He is also the In-Charge of the Dalit Resource Centre placed within the Institute's Centre for Power, Culture and Change. He has been Smuts Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Research Fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Lieden, MSH, Paris; Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. He is also a recipient of Fulbright Senior fellowship. He writes in both Hindi and English on issues related to history, literature and other varied aspects of social sciences. His recent publication is Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India (2006).

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