Green and Saffron
Rs. 795 pp 300
Elbert Hubbard described a conservative as a man too cowardly to fight and too fat to run. But he said that a century ago, much before todays conservative avatars gained respectability as neo-liberals and born-again fanatics. Mukul Sharmas book is about a Hindu conservative reinvention of environmental politics in the age of globalisation. And to spice things up there is Anna Hazare, in the idyllic surroundings of Ralegan Siddhi.
The book evokes a serious question: What is wrong if the right-wingers adopt environmentalism as a doctrine? After all, with enemies like corporate giants and nuclear hawks, the cause of environment could do with some friends in high places. That is where the authors field work comes in handy. He shows why there is a problem when a singular, Brahminical notion of tradition meets a sectarian social order, and when ecology is couched as anti-minority to anti-Dalit discourse.
The book has three meticulous case studies: Ralegan Siddhis watershed programme in Maharashtra, Sundarlal Bahugunas opposition to Tehri dam in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, and Vrindavans forest revival project in Uttar Pradesh. A bit of textual analysis, some ecological perspectives and some scrutiny of cultural keystones bring out an insightful story and an exploration of political meanings.
Sharma puts the spotlight on right-wing rhetoric, where the fight for purity is invariably transformed from temporal to cosmic. Images and metaphors undergo creative remixes in ways that end up in the triumph of Hindu ideas and symbols over their perceived enemies. The adversary assumes a crucial significance.
Nothing wrong with Lord Krishna purifying our environment or with sacred rivers or mountains personifying our consciousness, but the meanings change when the enemies or the polluters enter the frame as a Communist China, a Muslim Pakistan or a wily West.
History itself, Sharma argues, becomes a casualty as new myths are invented and national interests narrowly redefined. A freshly minted environmentalism works on the principles of unity, loyalty and morality in an authoritarian, Brahminical sense.
The book is a must for anyone withan interest in the changing forms of political Hinduism and environmental politics. Sharmas approach is more cultural than Statist, never mind a calculated nostalgia that his characters invoke through the glorious past.
The Hindu nationalists situate their political claim in the pollution that vitiates a continuum of purity. It is precisely in this binary of pollution and purity that the book unravels Anna Hazares Ralegan Siddhi. Beneath the veneer of water conservation and village development are his societal prescriptions for Dalits; they have to dip into our glorious past to gather clues for their future. The ideal village needs legitimacy and moral authority for enforcing a superior social code beyond the rights of citizenship. The author is naturally sceptical about the future of democracy in such green villages.
Hazare is not alone here. He has for company the Independent Ecologists of Germany (UOD) whose founder Herbert Gruhl, and a prominent leader Tilman Ziegler, have called for a return of basic German values, perhaps to co-exist with a more authoritarian but ecologically sound State.
Vipul Mudgal is a Delhi-based writer