The politics of Hindutva is rooted in the hatred for the “other”, mainly Muslims at the moment. That much is clear; what’s less clear is, why it has been attracting such massive support from the Hindus of late. Let’s examine that aspect as well.
If Hindutva politics has been repeatedly paying off rich electoral dividends in recent years, there has to be some reason for it. Yes, a lot of things that are said to push the Hindutva agenda do not make sense in the least and do not stand to any factual scrutiny at all, which is how propaganda works; but, that said, for any propaganda to work, a sizable number of people have to be willing to unquestioningly buy into it, for which the propaganda must chime with the prejudices people already harbour, which is exactly the case here, too.
The Hindu-Muslim card has been in the play for a long time and there has been a simmering dissatisfaction for a while now with the way the past governments have pandered to the demands of orthodox Muslims in the name of religious freedoms. For instance, the legislative reversal of the Shah Bano judgment (Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, AIR 1985 SC 945) on the demand mainly of orthodox Muslim clerics did not go down well with the Hindus, not because the Hindus cared much for the rights of Muslim women or any women in general, but because it made the government look like it was being arm-twisted into submission by the Muslim minority and “they” were having the government submit to their egregious demands even against the rulings of the Supreme Court. What made things worse was that the Supreme Court judgment could not be faulted on moral grounds, which made the Muslim opposition to it look like a particular religion waging war on morality and reason with the Indian government siding with the villains of the story just because the ruling party did not want to upset their “vote bank”.
The Supreme Court judgment was a progressive pronouncement, which was seen by the orthodox sections of the Muslim society as opposed to Islam itself, and those sections portrayed it as an assault on their religious freedom, demanding its reversal. The Rajiv Gandhi government acquiesced rather meekly and enacted a law to appease the orthodox Muslim minority to reverse the apex court’s secular judgment that looked at all women, including Muslim women, as equal for the purpose of maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.).
The government looked like a weak (and meek) body shirking from doing the “right thing” under the pressure of its “vote bank” on the one hand; and on the other, the Muslims, all of them, looked like an orthodox, backward-looking lot resisting progressive change on the grounds of religious freedom. The insistence on separate religious identity in the teeth of the law declared by the Supreme Court and asking for special treatment on account of religion alone did not quite endear the Muslim minority to the Hindu majority even though the orthodox outlook was probably not shared by most educated, progressive Muslims, who have always been a minority among the Muslims, most of whom were (and perhaps still are) not very educated and were led by the orthodox clerics, who did everything to insist on being “different” with a hint of superiority, which rankled the Hindus, for it does not sit very comfortably with the idea of one India and one people, which is also why the patriotism of Muslims is frequently called into question.
Muslims react by asking why, being as much Indians as anybody else, they have to prove their patriotism over and over again. And they are right in questioning the questioning of their patriotism, no matter what reason, excuse, or justification the questioners of Muslim patriotism might have. But to simply say that something is wrong and indefensible is not a satisfactory explanation of its origin and/or existence, which makes it imperative that we examine the roots of the problem, and we have been shying away from that because it entails asking unpleasant questions.
It’s easier to brand “bad”, “evil” or “stupid” all those who are sympathetic to the hate-mongering that continues in the name of Hindutva than wrangling with the real issues. The issues that are politically advertised as problems are just unfounded misperceptions that have been blown hugely out of proportion for political gains. Totalitarian governance, which is where a great deal of discretionary power is vested in the government with minimal limitations on it by way of individual rights, flourishes best in an environment of fear and insecurity, which is supplied most easily by a combination of palpable economic stress and visible alterations in demography. That’s because the blame for all ills can then be laid at the doorsteps of an identifiable group of people; the Jews, for instance, or the Muslims.
In India, however, the economic circumstances have not been as dire and the Muslim minority has not been as well off as to make the theory of a rich group of people profiting at the expense of all others — and making the economy suffer in the process — plausible. But the increasing population, for which Muslims have been unjustifiably and disproportionately blamed, combined with the impression that “they” are largely an orthodox, fanatical lot, which is not completely unfounded, made a dangerous propagandist concoction to be deployed by vested political interests at will. The solution was to empower liberal Muslims whereas the past governments did the opposite, thereby adding fuel to fire.