There is always that unease that some of us feel on the 6th of December, for it is a reminder of the destruction of Babi Masjid in 1992. I was born in the early 1980s and this was the first major public event that made me realise that law and order, the constitution, the courts none of it mattered. The Hindus had asserted their willfulness against all appeals. There may have been a few thousand people in Ayodhya that day but I remember the excited chattering that I personally witnessed in the aftermath even down South. A lot of people were saying that they contributed in some way to this great adventure. Many supported it by saying that Ayodhya is the Mecca for Hindus. Every religion has one prime place of worship so Hindus should be given this place if they feel so strongly about it. As a nation, the unpleasant truth is that the destruction of the mosque was privately hailed, even celebrated by millions. The ethos of contemporary politics in India (or the lack of it) can be largely attributed to the destruction of this mosque.
Of course, a large number of temples, mosques and churches come and go routinely – destroyed and (re) built for any number of reasons. However, Babri had come to gain a symbolic importance for Hindus and in doing so, they collectively raised the stakes. For Muslims, it was no longer any ordinary mosque. It now necessarily became the very marker which represented the ability of the secular state to safeguard a minority identity. The State failed, as it often does in such instances, miserably. We now know the familiar if somewhat depressing cycle of communal violence unleashed in the coming decades, spread across the country, and subsequently wreaking visceral havoc through riots and bomb blasts.
In the early 90s, there were two key issues that probably played a crucial role in unsettling the majoritarian sense of self. The first was economic liberalization that was already in place since the late 80s, but really set in place after the oil crisis caused by the Gulf War. The second was the introduction of reservation in universities for SC/ST students as recommended by the Mandal Commission and subsequently implemented by the V.P Singh government. These global and national events invited the average Hindu to question the sense of entitlement that had settled in for upper caste Hindus. Globalisation meant a change in the very fabric of modernity as they knew it. Women could no longer be confined to the house and there was a concerted effort by the State to even out the effects of caste discrimination. Threatened by a new kind of capitalism combined with a policy effort against caste, the resentment in Hindus was reaching a boiling point. Society was getting increasingly mediatized too. Starting in the late 1980s, Doordarshan started airing Mahabharatha and Ramayana. The collective viewing of these programmes allowed for a collective assertion of a Hindu identity, and by 1992, the BJP was ready to exploit it on a militant basis. It was Advani (and many remember him nostalgically given the rise of Adityanath and Modi) who conducted a massive Rath Yatra that left no doubt about the intentions of the BJP.
Ideologically no different from the Congress, the ruse of nationalism based on Hinduism, worked wonders to massage the egos of millions of anxious Hindu men and to a large extent, women. In terms of actual policy, the BJP was a keen supporter of neoliberalism and has consistently wooed big capital- domestically and of late, globally. The only site of contestation became cultural – where the BJP could distinguish itself from the ambivalent Congress. Today, all the controversies around Bollywood are only an extension and continuation of this period. If you remove the cultural controversies, the similarities in the neoliberal policies of the BJP and Congress become only too apparent. In order to conceal this similarity, the cultural conservatism has only become louder.
Today, some secular liberals are happy to report that a renewed interest in the Ram Mandir issue seems to have little or no effect in bringing home the votes. Apparently, naked Hindutva has lost voter appeal and instead, a country of young people want economic development. This is not just a left-handed defence of the BJP, but also a misreading of the situation. The Ram Mandir issue specifically may or may not have lost steam for a variety of reasons. However, in the last two and a half decades, our political culture has deteriorated, seemingly irreversibly. The BJP’s neoliberalism is directly correlated to its cultural conservatism. In the aftermath of Babri, we have seen the decline of big public events that ‘address’ the nation as a whole. Rather, the strategy has replicated itself at a micro-level. Churches vandalized in Orissa, rumours spread in Muzaffarnagar etc. show that this kind of barbarism is well and alive, albeit strategic and at a smaller scale. An accurate reflection of the spread in Hindutva aggression is the sheer dispersion of this politics. Now even small-time politicians across the country, even leaders of small ethnic-based groups, are openly making the most brazen statements. They know that a sensationalist broadcast media, along with Facebook and WhatsApp will amplify these statements at no financial cost. Apart from the free publicity, such moves yield political dividend. Why?
To some extent, the policy of reservations has enabled many young Dalit and Adivasi students to assert their voice in the mainstream. They are now attending public universities, holding jobs and because of proliferation of mobile technologies, able to participate in the mediated public sphere as well. The number of women in universities and in the white-collar workforce has increase significantly. Although, when seen in a broader context, these changes are very limited in scope and scale, nonetheless these gradual changes have only increased the anxiety, and indeed the neurosis of the average upper caste Hindu. One can sense it in the desperate WhatsApp messages attacking reservation policies or the special hatred for students like Umar Khalid and JNU and HCU in general. The large majority of the ‘young population’ is upper caste Hindu and they feel cheated. They saw economic liberalization since the 90s but have not experienced the gains. Many caste groups have expressed this outrage directly, for example the earlier Meena and Jat riots, and more recently, the rise of Hardik Patel. Land is seized and given to the big capitalists. They are not provided the plum jobs, and suddenly they feel alienated from the State. They have been used to enjoying the fruits of caste power for centuries, and ironically, they now feel threated by neoliberal capitalism. Bollywood may show fair upper caste Hindu-named heroes and heroines serenading across the world, but it is nowhere near life as most Hindus experience it. On the other hand, Dalits are beginning to assert themselves more radically. Faced with unemployment, women rebelling against their patriarchy, assertion of Dalit identity etc. these Hindu young men have become easy prey to the Hindutva brand of politics. Thus, it is precisely those who seek development that support Hindutva when they don’t get to experience the fruits of development. This is why fake news has such power, and Hindutva supporters seem, to put it mildly, stubborn. Even if they know that news is biased, inaccurate, fake etc. they prefer to be addressed (interpellated) by fake news, rather than be ignored (as a specific constituency) by other parties and viewpoints.
Vijay Prasad recently made an interesting observation that the Arab Spring was probably motivated by young people who had middle level education but failed to get jobs after the American financial crisis. I think there is a similar trend in India where young Hindus are on the edge and itching to destroy everything – just like they destroyed the Babri Masjid on the 6th of December 1992.