A Plea for New Politics

Aijaz Ahmad argues that Hindutva in India today cannot be seen apart from the growing crisis of capitalism and global imperialism

The rise of fascism in contemporary India in the garb of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism has been extensively written about and hotly debated. It has brought in its wake increasing strife and violence, leaving thousands dead even as the country rapidly moves towards a situation approaching civil war, as the macabre events in Gujarat so tragically illustrate. Despite its shrill rhetoric of 'national unity' there can be no doubt that the votaries of Hindutva are determined to divide the country against itself, leaving in its wake widespread death and destruction.

This slim volume by a noted Indian left theoretician and commentator places the phenomenon of Hindutva terror in a broader theoretical framework, seeking to explore its complex economic, social and cultural roots. Ahmad sees the rise of Hindutva as part of a larger phenomenon of the growth of right-wing ethnic and religious movements in many parts of the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It thus shares much in common with similar movements elsewhere, such as white supremacist and fundamentalist Christian groups in the West and Islamist extremists in much of the Arab world. These movements, he suggests, are all impelled by a fierce hostility towards progressive, emancipatory politics.

The underlying assumptions of all forms of communalism, the author suggests, are based on a completely distorted understanding of what makes a community. Contrary to all historical and empirical evidence, ideologues of communal groups see the communities they claim to represent as monolithic wholes, devoid of caste, class, regional, linguistic, sectarian and other divisions. These reified communities are also seen as having no significant overlaps and shared features with other communities, who are presented as distinctly different and alien. Then, the relations between the different communities are depicted as having been based on a long historical record of undying hatred and conflict. This understanding of the history of inter-communal relations is deliberately promoted in order to serve very contemporary political purposes.

In the Indian context, Ahmad writes, Hindutva communalist propaganda is shaped in order to suit the political agenda of a particular constellation of caste and class groups. Ahmad sees Hindutva as representing the interests of a small 'upper' caste, principally Brahminic, elite, and as geared to preserving and promoting their entrenched hegemony. The myth of a monolith 'Hindu' community and of a well-defined 'Hindu' tradition is employed to construct an image of the Muslim, the Christian and the Communist as the menacing 'other'. In this way, the 'lower' castes/classes are sought to be incorporated into the 'Hindu' fold and, to put in simply, their wrath diverted from their actual 'upper' caste/class oppressors on to imagined enemies. As the events of Gujarat show, Dalits and tribals are routinely employed as foot-soldiers by the Hindutva brigade to wipe out Muslims, while any attempt by the 'low' castes to defy Brahminical hegemony is firmly crushed, for in the classical Hindu scheme of things the Dalits are seen as having been born simply to serve the 'higher' castes. The link between ultra-right wing communalism and violence, the author says, is not incidental. The violence promoted by the advocates of Hindutva against Muslims and Christians has a direct bearing on the rapid spread of other forms of violence in the country against other marginalized groups, such as Dalits, tribals and women.

Ahmad reflects on the complex web of economic factors that underlie the rapid rise of Hindutva in India today, arguing that the phenomenon cannot be seen apart from the growing crisis of capitalism and global imperialism. Globalization, the latest stage of capitalism and imperialism, seeks to impose a new consumerist culture over the rest of the world. Despite its rhetoric of 'swadeshi', Hindutva, Ahmad writes, is firmly in league with the ruling classes in the West, opening up the Indian economy to the depredations of western multi-national corporations. The neo-liberalist economic agenda that is promoted by agents of globalization spells doom for millions of marginalized people in India and other 'Third World' countries, but is being actively welcomed by the advocates of Hindutva, since it serves the interests of the Indian ruling classes.

Ahmad concludes the book with a plea for a new emancipatory politics that can challenge the tyranny of communalism and Western imperialism disguised as globalization at the same time. He recognizes the need to recover and re-articulate visions of the just society that are latent in the traditions of the 'low' castes and peasants of India, who represent the vast majority of the Indian population. He argues that the challenge of Hindutva must be combated not only at the political plane, but also at the level of popular culture, for it is at the level that the battle for the hearts and minds of the Indian people must first be fought.

Book: On Communalism and Globalization-Offensives of the Far Right
Author: Aijaz Ahmad
Publisher: Three Essays Press, New Delhi
Year: 2002
Pages: 120
ISBN: 81-88394-04-1