Can Left learn from Hindu Right? Idea explored at book launch

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 25, 2015 16:52 IST
Journalist Akshaya Mukul at the launch of his book named Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India. BJP leader Chandan Mitra and CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury spoke at the event. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)

The Left and the political Hinduism movement started off almost at the same time in India - the 1920s. But today, the Hindu right-wing celebrates immense power while the Left has shrunk unprecedentedly.

So, is there anything that the Indian Left can learn from how the Hindu Right functions?

Former editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, asked CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury about it at the launch of journalist Akshaya Mukul's book Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India on Monday in New Delhi.

Gita Press, a more than 100-year-old publishing house based out of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, has played an important role in shaping the Hindu consciousness of a certain middle-class India through its religious books and magazines. It has sold more than 70 million copies of the Gita and its popular monthly Hindi magazine, Kalyan, which has extensively published conservative thoughts about women and communally polarising opinion pieces, has a circulation of over then 2 lakh now.

Mukul's book documents the history of this publication and analyses the role it has played in setting a Hindu fundamentalist agenda in the country. The book launch was followed by a panel discussion with Varadarajan, Yechury, publisher Urvashi Butalia, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar and journalist Chandan Mitra in attendance.

As the packed hall giggled at Varadarajan's question, Yechury began his answer.

The Left leader explained that not two but three political processes took birth at the same time - the political Hindu Right, the communist movement and also the Congress' vision of an independent India.

"And all three of these movements had a very different idea of what should be the character of an independent India," said Yechury.

While the Congress' vision was focussed only on a secular independent India, the Left's idea went beyond it and argued that the independent India should also mean an "economic independence". And the Hindu right said that the religious identity of the country should be that of the religious affiliation of its majority - a view shared by the Muslim League as well.

The political aim of organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) required that the various elements of the "Hindu society" be coalesced and in doing so the Gita Press played a major role, Yechury said. He explained that bringing together and cementing the "Hindu identity" required the creation of an external enemy - the other - and building a socio-political "Hindu consciousness" that the "Hindu pride" was in uniting against this enemy.

Yechury said the success of Gita Press lies in cementing this Hindu political consciousness and that is why the Indian Left has nothing to learn from it. He added the belief that the Indian Left was becoming a "Jurassic Park" was a different conversation altogether and not comparable in any way to how the RSS has coalesced varied caste and creed under the Hindu identity.

Yechury said ideology wise, the Left has nothing to learn from the Hindu Right. But, if there is something at all that the Left needs to learn from the Gita Press, it is how to achieve the kind of wide reach the publication had.

Even as Chandan Mitra, who is known for his pro-BJP stands, called the people associated with Gita Press - like its long-time editor Hanuman Prasad Poddar - "heroes", other speakers like Aiyar said that Mukul's book exposes how majoritarian communal forces have destroyed the country's secular harmony.

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