The Ramdev phenomenon and, to some extent, the Anna Hazare campaign are part of India’s right-wing nationalist revolution. It is right-wing because it is based on national pride and individual entitlement. It is a movement of the middle and lower middle class buoyed up by 9% growth that now seeks a responsive, overtly honest government and a hard State.
This revolution is closely linked to a Hindu consolidation spreading through society. Perhaps as a backlash to globalisation, urban religiosity and Bharatiya sanskriti have become fashionable; faith in gurus is growing and it cuts across classes. Ramdev jumps from colas to homosexuality to black money in his choice of enemies, yet his devotees’ faith remains constant.
Notwithstanding the BJP’s crushing electoral defeats, the Hindu nationalist consolidation is gathering tremendous cultural momentum, much of which feeds into the anti-corruption campaigns. The Ram janmabhoomi movement is back, in a new sophisticated avatar.
The revolution has its virtues and dangers. Its virtues are, first, that it is based on an engaged sense of ‘desi’ cultural pride. Second, it is forcing a debate where none existed on issues like corruption and black money.
But the danger of the Hindu revolution is that it may overthrow liberal constitutional values and revive street justice, of which Ramdev’s prescription of death penalty for economic offences is one example and shoe throwing is another.
It is also a revolution that is being played outside formal politics, at least for now. Govindacharya, one of the organisers of Ramdev’s movement, has been openly critical of the BJP leadership. Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj are fighting a battle in Parliament, not at the Ramlila Maidan.
But just as the Ram mandir agitation was begun by the VHP and later used by the BJP to come to power, there are those within the Sangh who are eyeing a similar opportunity to piggyback on an anti-corruption movement being built at the grassroots by Hindu outfits.
Next year’s elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand will be a test of whether the BJP can convert Hindu consolidation into electoral victory.
‘War against corruption’ is led by people of many hues, but it is also the Hindu revolution’s catch-all device to rally new support to the cause.
Many protests are contained within the umbrella: protest against an overly westernised ‘elite class’, protest against ‘anti-national intellectuals’ embodied in the persona of Binayak Sen and protest, at its very root, against rule by the ‘foreign-born’ Sonia Gandhi.
No surprise therefore that Ramdev brought up Gandhi’s foreign-ness again.
Hatred of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress dynasty is the leitmotif and spur of the Hindu revolution, the reason why large numbers of middle class folk are lining up behind the Hindu revolution. Analysts have pointed to right-wing consolidation in the lower judiciary, gauged from the judgements on the Babri masjid title suit as well as from judgements on Binayak Sen, both criticised by the apex court.
The saffron think tank Vivekananda Foundation consists of many public figures. Already, the BJP is asking why Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s seminar did not get the same treatment as Ramdev’s protest.
A court in Muzaffarpur has registered a case of ‘sedition’ against Digvijaya Singh for his views on the yoga guru.
The first Hindu revolution begun in the 1980s by the VHP, based on a desire to restore Hindu pride by building a Ram mandir in Ayodhya. ‘Hindu rage’ at the Rajiv Gandhi government’s ‘minority appeasement’ in the Shah Bano case added to the momentum. The movement acquired a mass character through LK Advani’s rath yatras.
Critics were described as ‘pseudo-secularists’ or ‘Macaulay’s children’.
Shocked by the electoral reversals of 2004 and 2009, Sangh activists are angry with the BJP for letting the temple movement down, for straying towards the path of ‘Shining India’. A desperate search for a cause and a new rallying cry has led them to the ‘war on corruption’.
It has replaced ‘Hindu pride’ just as ‘corrupt’ has replaced the earlier ‘pseudo-secularist’.
Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal may be genuinely driven by nation-building sentiments. Yet, their voices are in danger of being drowned by those with more supporters on the street.
Will the Hindu right-wing revolution spell the death-knell of the UPA? Rajiv Gandhi created his party’s nemesis by allowing the shilanyas at Ayodhya in 1989. Manmohan Singh, too ,could prove unequal to right-wing consolidation.
The UPA’s handling of Ramdev — first kow-towing and then arresting him at midnight — showed how politically weak the government is.
India’s Hindu consolidation today has a benign face, focused on forcing governments to deliver on corruption. But the Hindu revolution could start to devour liberal values if met with governmental paralysis. ‘Hang the corrupt’, ‘Jail anti-nationals’ or ‘Bomb Pakistan’ cannot become mantras of a modern rational India.
UPA 2 needs to recognise the society it is confronting, start delivering on its anti-corruption campaign promises and look and act like a 24 x 7 government. Else, bit by bit its, authority will be chipped away.
Today, it’s Ramdev and Anna. Tomorrow, a new people’s messiah might emerge from the wings.
(Sagarika Ghose is deputy editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal)