One of the defining sentences in the various analyses of post-Independence Hindu revivalism, which is also original is this: Hindus have been playing the game by the rules set by their enemies. [Ed: Paraphrased] Elst wrote this in his masterful Decolonizing the Hindu Mind in 2001. More than a decade ago.
As we see, very little has changed since then. If anything, it’s gotten worse in several respects.
To get a perspective of this phenomenon, a very brief survey is essential. Needless, the participants of this survey are those who in their own way are doing their bit towards Hindu revivalism and/or its various manifestations. In which case, it makes sense to classify them into some broad categories. This isn’t to inveigh or deride their contribution but an observation of how Elst’s aforementioned conclusion applies equally to all these categories.
- The Breast-beaters: Also known as the highly vocal Hindus who will brandish their guns at both real and perceived grievances against Hindus and Hinduism.
- The Devout: The unsullied devotees of Sanatana Dharma whose affinity is not only unquestionable but comes with an admirable childish innocence.
- The Pacifists: Those Hindu who want to convince everybody that Hindu revivalism is a cause worth defending and working towards but are very guarded and diplomatic in their endeavours. These firmly believe in Satya Sai Baba’s dictum of Help all Hurt None.
- The Intellectuals: The widely travelled, well-read, and smart ones. The ones who (rightly) want to change the narrative, who point out the inherent bias in our discourse about India and Hinduism.
It is the last category that I want to explore in this post. Needless, there are sub categories among the Intellectual Hindus but it’s beyond the scope of this post. Broadly speaking, this class has tirelessly done its bit over the years in various capacities and on various forums and has rightfully earned both the admiration and respect of likeminded people, and in some cases, the respect of those holding opposing and/or differing views. Which is one of the reasons why I chose this class for deeper exploration.
One of the reasons the discourse from the Hindu side has met with repeated failure is because of its almost-zero intellectual grounding. Consider this: it took almost 50 years to conceive of something like the Ramjanmabhoomi Movement. Even there, it was a reactive than a proactive movement. It picked up steam because—speaking from the Congress party’s perspective—Rajiv Gandhi committed perhaps the costliest blunder in the post-1947 history of the party. For all the success of the movement, the BJP managed to come to power only in 1999. That’s a full 7 years after what happened in Ayodhya, and even there, not as a party that managed to get the Magic Number.
In effect, Hindu revivalism fizzled out much before BJP’s 2004 electoral loss simply because there wasn’t another Ayodhya. The Ramjanmabhoomi Movement’s success was based majorly on emotional appeal and not any ideological foundation, which is why the BJP and the Sangh couldn’t sustain what they had reaped electorally. Sure, there’s also the fact that once in power, it reneged on the promise to build the temple but that again only proves my point about a lack of solid ideological foundation. It’s this that the likes of Koenraad Elst repeatedly lament.
This lament is also another way of looking at that seminal sentence: Hindus have been playing the game by the rules set by their enemies. All the Congress party, the Left and other assorted opponents need to do is to pick a random issue, secularize it, and claim loudly that the BJP is communal. What ensues then is predictable: the BJP immediately goes on the defensive. To its credit, the Sangh and the BJP did realize this and post 2004, several pro-Hindu intellectuals and writers tried to steer the narrative towards a non-defensive position but their journey of a thousand miles hasn’t progressed even an inch. It was therefore really not a big surprise or a disappointment when these narrative-changers and/or new narrative shapers were effortlessly coopted by the wily purveyors of the age-old communal narrative shaped and peddled by the Congress party, the Left and the Islamic and Conversion mafia.
Case in point: Tehelka Blogs, the newly-minted progeny of indeterminate gender emerging out of the vile belly of the multi-headed monster named Tehelka. It began just a few months ago but the pace at which it has managed to con a whole bunch of folks is a huge testimony to its success. Some of these are highly accomplished people, the same people who worked towards changing the narrative. These are the same people who worked tirelessly and regularly to call Tehelka’s various bluffs over almost a decade. Indeed, their labours didn’t go in vain. Over time, their Tehelka-puncturing credentials were so concretely established that a “sigh” or a “groan” or a “yawn” was considered a logically sound response to every new villainous piece from that the rag spewed. Now this. Therefore, my sincere and deepest respect to the powers that be at that gutter tabloid for pulling this off.
From Day One, Tehelka had nothing going for it, even after its resuscitation—thanks to that bunch of secularist do-gooders, naïve folks, and needless, the usual bleeding heart-liberal-art types who funded it—post the NDA government’s gaffe by going after it. It’s also interesting how Tehelka went from strength to strength, established various sister outfits, foundations, and grew so enormously influential that one of its top members managed to extort goodies from the then Goa Chief Minister—all this within about 6 years after the Congress-led coalition came to power. Aside: my friend, the fantastic Barbar Indian has done some brilliant investigation into some aspects of Tehelka’s miraculous rise to power and glory. Even in the media and related circles, Tehelka doesn’t enjoy a shred of respect: being described as a “muckraking magazine” isn’t really anybody’s idea of being respected. Yet another aside: its head honcho’s really horrid novel took the bottom spot on The Guardian’s Bad Sex in Fiction list. Its circulation figures are pathetic, a factor that really doesn’t explain its disproportionate clout with the ruling party. As for its “views,” the aforementioned “sigh” or a “groan” or a “yawn” are good enough explanations. Case in point: its now-waning witch-hunt of Narendra Modi. Let’s not even use words like “credibility” in the same breath as Tehelka.
It’s not as if the top guys at Tehelka don’t realize all this. The proof of the fact that do is the launch of Tehelka Blogs. The print version has already gone to hell and efforts to salvage it—let alone turn it around—are futile. And then online media is here to stay, and Tehelka has a pretty decent web presence. Two, given the nature of the beast, Tehelka has perhaps sensed that it doesn’t make sense any longer to push its pen for the Congress party. Three, given its consistently diabolical coverage of Narendra Modi over the years, and given how Modi is now on the ascendant, they perhaps realized that amending measures were urgently required. So what do they do? Because there is already a huge bunch of established and credible bloggers and writers, they sucker them in: even the ones who make no bones about their dislike for the rag.
But what explains the fact that these anti-Tehelka bloggers, etc began blogging there in all earnest? Is it due to Tehelka’s hitherto-hidden allure that suddenly surfaced? Knowing the unsullied record of some of the bloggers who write there, I’d say no. An important reason is because they see writing on Tehelka as a way to get their voice heard on a platform that was heretofore closed to them. They do also in all sincerity believe the phony bullshit in the Editor’s Note space on Tehelka Blogs.
Except that the voice-hearing won’t happen. If it had to, it’d have already happened long ago: innumerable bloggers and others have in the past sent emails contesting at least 7772389473298473298723 pieces masquerading as investigative journalism, op-eds, and even good old reporting. Here’s the thing: Tehelka needs them because Tehelka Blogs is the rag’s desperate bid to mend its shredded credibility.
From another perspective, jumping in to blog for Tehelka is simply another facet of what Elst describes as playing the game by the rules set by the enemy. Of course, these bloggers are completely free to write for Tehelka but in doing so, they are legitimizing the numerous agenda-driven nonsense and other skullduggery that Tehelka has indulged in the past. Even in plain give-and-take terms, there’s little these bloggers will gain: they’ve earned their respect, audience, and credibility by traversing the old-fashioned, honest road and in times when these selfsame bloggers were described by this selfsame Tehelka as Hindu/Right Wing Fascists, Internet trolls, Hindutva brigade, and the rest.
I hope I’ve sufficiently pissed you off.