Mohan Bhagwat’s was a routine statement in a rhetorical context. It could have been assumed that things would be said for effect rather than import by way of public speaking. It was not. There has been a tradition of Mother-bashing.
Something of great significance is unfolding itself in our midst. History, on occasions, has a touch of destiny about it. It will work its way out, whether we take note of it or look the other way. But, looking the other way is simply not an option, especially at the present time.
Consider Mohan Bhagwat’s pronouncement on Mother Teresa and the disproportionate reactions it provoked. On the face of it, Bhagwat’s was a routine statement in a rhetorical context. It could have been assumed that things would be said for effect rather than import by way of public speaking. It was not. There has been, after all, a tradition of Mother-bashing. Feminists, especially from overseas, have said worse about Mother Teresa. Remember the BBC Channel 4 film Hell’s Angel on Mother Teresa? Mohan Bhagwat’s animus is low-grade fever in comparison.
But Bhagwat’s statement provoked a national outcry, disproportionate to its offence. This was not wholly on account of respect for the Mother. The key to the logic of this overreaction lies elsewhere and it needs to be reckoned.
Bhagwat was only apparently addressing his immediate audience in Rajasthan. He spoke in order to be heard nationally, and especially in Delhi. He has been.
It will become increasingly apparent that the BJP victory in the 2014 elections was a Pyrrhic one. Pyrrhic victories point to patterns that transcend the calculations of the players involved. They are a sort of dates with pan-historic truth. The victory of the BJP is bound to polarise the sangh parivar, like never before. This polarisation is best described, from a historical perspective, as analogous to the Catholic-Protestant split, no matter how farfetched this might seem. Bhagwat is the parivar pope. Narendra Modi is the BJP Luther. Modi and Bhagwat are similar only to the extent that they are both parivar products. But they are, in their current roles, paradigmatically dissimilar, and antagonistic, precisely because they have to cohabit in the same parivar space as preachers of counter theologies.
There is a touch of historical poignancy about Modi, not less than about Bhagwat. The Protestant Church, despite Luther’s vehemence and heroic good intentions, proved to be a transitional phenomenon. It had to step aside and make way for the emergence of the Post-Christian western culture. The Catholic-Protestant rift that convulsed Europe for centuries became anachronistic, ironically only in the Post-Christian world. Christianity, which had pretensions to preach peace and goodwill to all humankind, failed miserably in that vocation. History is merciless towards those who fail. To fail is to become redundant, if not wholly extinct. The Post-Christian Europe sprang up from the debris of historical Christianity that allowed its spiritual core to rot. It is a lesson that should not be lost on the protagonists of hindutva.
The hindutva ideology looks poignantly out of place in the globalised world, for we are no longer in a globalising world. The parivar creed of cultural globalisation―one nation, one culture, one language―stands no chance against the homogenisation of desire that globalisation has ushered in. In the days ahead, the cultural differences between members of all religious, linguistic and ethnic groups will become increasingly insignificant. Globalisation has transformed the whole world into one seamless, sprawling mall that cuts across national boundaries. Against the power of this consumerist homogenisation, no agenda based on fomenting hostilities on the basis of religious identities stands a chance to survive, much less succeed. The idea of the allergic otherness of minorities, erected on the contrived ground of the extra-territoriality of their punya bhoomis, sounds like a joke in a world where national boundaries as well as sovereignties of nation states have become notional. There is a distance of light years between Modi and Bhagwat in terms of their respective roles. Not surprisingly, the words of the RSS chief sound like pronouncements from a world that is ‘gone with the wind’.
This, Modi knows only too well. It must be said to his credit that he is literate enough in the alphabet of reality to be able to read the writings on the wall. Consequently, in the Modi-saga of the 2014 general elections, the invocation was scrupulously restricted to global and secular appetites. The hindutva idiom and ideology were conspicuous by their absence. Surely, hindutva has nothing to do with the ‘ease of doing business’. Or, with the Constitution being the national scripture. With this epochal posturing, Modi has nudged parivar irrevocably to the end of its history as parivar. Given the massive popular appeal of his globalisation rhetoric and promises, Modi cannot afford to fail to deliver. Not even the RSS would want him to do that. From here on, both parivar and Modi are free only to go forward. There is no return journey in history. That message has been sounded out, loud and clear, by the recently concluded Delhi elections.
This also means, on the positive side, that Modi could be well on course to becoming part of our shared history. He is not a mere individual. He embodies the energies of history. That is why, he evokes intuitions of being larger-than-life and popular responses that verge on religious fervour. But there is danger in this, too. The closer Modi moves to iconic status or accepts the overtones of secular divinity, the narrower will be the margin available to him to fail. A failed man may be forgiven and tolerated, not a failed god. Modi simply cannot afford to fail. And, for the sake of all of us, let us hope that he would not.
In the meanwhile, the minority communities, Christians in particular, must have patience. A period of paradigmatic transition is necessarily a period of irrationality, confusion, conflict and cruelty. It is described aptly by the English poet Matthew Arnold in his poem, Dover Beach. “We are here as on a darkling plain/ Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/ Where ignorant armies clash by night.” Such being the case, they should not insist on understanding every event of this historical pageant on familiar terms or expect that every pronouncement would conform to truth. And certainly, they should not rush to stereotypical conclusions and obfuscate the emerging patterns. They should, instead, be oracles of the times and miracles of fortitude.
The views presented are that of the writer, who is principal of St Stephen’s College, Delhi.