Battleground 2019: The Hindutva State and Bhima Koregaon

Dr. N. Sukumar

A nondescript panchayat village and census town under the administrative jurisdiction of Pune in Maharashtra has unexpectedly turned into the Ground Zero for the ballot battle of 2019. On January 1st 1818, in the village of Koregaon, the army of Peshwa Baji Rao was defeated by the British forces which also comprised the untouchable Mahars. Gradually, the site was commemorated as a triumph of the lower castes against the oppressive Peshwa rule. Every year, dalits gather at the site to pay homage to the valour and sacrifice exhibited by their community.

bhima koregaon

However, in 2018 there occurred a twist in the tale. The region of Maharashtra has witnessed continuous ideological clashes between those who believe in the emancipatory discourse of the Phule-Ambedkarite-Shahuji Maharaj triumvirate and the votaries of Hindutva. The electoral triumph of the Hindu majoritarian party which seeks to construct a Hindu rashtra has emboldened all the fringe outfits to openly propagate their casteist-communal ideology.

A culture which celebrates Dronacharya, eliminates Shambuka and relegates Eklayva to the margins would not tolerate the dalits a slice of military victory. After all, the broken people cannot 'claim' any share in the nation's 'glorious past'. Two committed foot soldiers of the RSS, Sambhaji Bhide (85), known as Bhide Guruji, and Milind Ekbote (56) were accused of instigating violence during the memorial celebrations at Bhima Koregaon. They enjoy considerable clout amongst the Hindutva rank and file as revealed by the photographs of Bhide Guruji with PM Modi. Obviously, they were treated with kid gloves and no proper investigations conducted into their role in the violence.

The Hindutva Narrative

For the state driven by the Hindutva ideology, the one and only enemy is the 'Naxalite' and apparently the naxals are hiding behind every bush and tree awaiting police raids and foolhardy enough to plot against the Indian prime minister and their plotting is visible on their laptops and computers for the public to access. On Friday 24th August 2018, a seminar on "Urban Naxalism" was organized at Hansraj College, Delhi University which was for a selected few and students were barred from raising questions. Organised by the 'Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA)', (a self-proclaimed group) it had filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri as chief speaker, ABVP national organising secretary Sunil Ambedkar as chief guest and Supreme Court advocate Monika Arora as keynote speaker. Speaking at the seminar, attended by about 300 people in a packed auditorium, Sunil Ambedkar said, "Whatever happened in JNU in 2016 was problematic but one good thing happened — it exposed people with Communist ideology hidden within the film industry, journalism and universities. They had been working as sleeper cells..." For him, familism is different from feminism in the sense that it encourages women not to fight with men but rather work together1. This reflects their shallow understanding of various ideologies- whether Naxalism, Feminism or even Ambedkarism.

The bogey of urban naxalism is now disseminated successfully in the public domain and hence the current arrest of human rights activists should not come as a surprise. The channel ABP news hit the nail on the head with its title, "Kaun Jitega 2019: Bhima-Koregaon violence: Police raid activists' homes, 4 arrested"2 With the general elections a few months away and the agenda of 'vikas' slowly disintegrating, the ruling party is desperate to weave together a new narrative ably assisted by crony capitalists and paid media both print, electronic and social media.

The manufactured mandate of 2014 was premised on the agenda of development for all. Gradually, the mists of development were blown away by the gau rakshaks and lynching of minorities. The elections in Uttar Pradesh effectively silenced the Muslim minority as the RSS-BJP made it amply clear that they can win a landslide victory even without their support. Now, the minorities are marginalized socially, economically and politically. Any gesture of protest on their part and they are labeled as 'anti-national', a crime beyond redemption.

Brahmanism versus Bahujanism

In the present turbulent times, there is only one social category capable of derailing the Hindutva project. This category has its own history, ideology, cultural roots and unlike the glorified Hindutva that lives in the past, the 'Begumpura' the 'heaven' for these social groups is a futuristic project. No wonder, those who swear by Savarkar and Golwalkar are at their wits end seeking to strike a bargain with the former untouchables. A few were inducted into the power structure as ministers, members of parliament or legislatures. Their views are never sought in issues of governance. A chosen few have been accommodated in various government jobs including the academia. Even the election of the President of the Republic reflects the politics of mis-representation. However, the RSS-BJP has failed to win over ideologically committed progressive individuals whether they are Leftists, Marxists, Feminists, Ambedkarites, Periyarites or even atheists.

In such a scenario, the only option left is 'dandniti', use force when the crumbs of office do not sway your opponents. The RSS ideology is well versed in demonizing its rivals and we witnessed these phenomena during the Kerala floods where the victims were shamed for their dietary habits or religious beliefs. In 2017, 150 Hindu outfits met in Goa to draw up a programme to establish a 'Hindu Rashtra' in India by 2023, the BJP, the RSS and the VHP had distanced themselves from this event. The conclave was organised by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), the sister outfit of Sanatan Sanstha some of whose activists were accused of the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013.3 The agenda comprised the following: how to create an "awakening" of dharma (duty), which includes lessons on how to worship, dress, comb one's hair "as per Hindu culture" and the "futility of Bharatiya democracy"; how to counter "love jihad", the notion that Muslim men want to marry and convert Hindu women as part of a conspiracy to Islamise India; conversions by Christians and other acts by "anti-Hindu sects"; how to defend yourself – "trainers" are available – with sticks, catapults, nanchakus (to mention anything deadlier may invite unwanted attention, but members of the Samiti's sister organisation, the shadowy Sanatan Sanstha, have dabbled with improvised explosive devices, and on which the Maharashtra government, in 2016, sought a ban); how to oppose "symbols of slavery", from trying to stop Valentine's Day to changing the names of some cities, such as Aurangabad and Osmanabad; how to protect temples; and of course, cows4. Though the RSS, BJP and the VHP did not participate in the conclave 'formally', their anti-constitutional strategy is explicit wherein public lynching is the new 'normal', the orchestrated hate campaigns against people who support different ideologies and practices, attacks on Swami Agnivesh and Umar Khalid and the current arrests on human rights and dalit activists.

As Marx observed, "History repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce". Unfortunately, this is true of our times. The violence committed by the naxalites is seen as anti-democracy but the Hindutva groups who burnt the constitution in Delhi are considered as patriots. The defenders of varna5 are glorified and the anti-caste intellectuals are vilified. Not surprisingly, individuals who sought to uphold the constitutional values- Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonzalves, Susan Abraham, Fr. Stan Swamy are put behind bars and the government ministers openly felicitate culprits accused of lynching.

This begs the question as to why sections of PoA were not applied on Bhide and Ekbote. Rather the Act itself was sought to be diluted which lead to large scale protests. Similarly, the Sanatan Sanstha is also under the scanner for its criminal conspiracies to eliminate public intellectuals. Hence, to equate Ambedkarites with Maoism is a fig leaf to conceal the state's own politics of omission and commission6. Apparently, a sinister design is unfolding. The strategy is to keep the people guessing about the plot to kill the prime minister, the opposition busy fighting the arrests of the Human Rights activists and no questions asked on the real fruits of 'development'. This will generate enough sympathy wave for 2019 and 'Hindustan' will be sanitized of all unwanted elements- Ambedkarites, leftists, feminists and minorities. However, the Hindutva forces will have to exorcise the specter of Rohith, Akhlaq, Una, Kathua, Unnao .... The list of victims of Hindutva terror is expanding.

The Hindutva project does not believe in an equitable society. Dalits, women, tribals or minorities can only be accorded the status of second class citizens. The binaries are evident- a world view based on the varna dharma and its opposite – envisioning an egalitarian society. No marginalized group would willingly surrender their constitutional rights and docilely accept degraded positions. The past few years have revealed that dalits will not accept quietly any infringement of their rights. Their protests will be constitutional but if necessary, they will also resort to violence to safeguard their rights. The need of the hour is to erase the ideological chasms among the liberal progressive groups and forge a united front ahead of 2019.



1. https://indianexpress.com/article/education/in-hansraj-a-seminar-on-urban-naxalism/ August 28th 2018, 10 pm
2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRQY-c2F40U, accessed August 28th 2018, 9.30 pm
3. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/150-hindu-outfits-to-meet-in-goa-to-discuss-possibility-of-hindu-rashtra-by-2023/story-R8HWIzIvoUdHytWeZZguRI.html, accessed 28th August 2018, 10.49 pm
4. https://scroll.in/article/840275/the-battle-for-hindu-rashtra-is-raging-inside-the-hindu-mind-and-it-is-no-longer-a-fringe-fantasy, accessed 28th August 2018, 10.52 pm
5. For details, refer https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/caste-dalits-savarna-system-deendayal-upadhyay-arya-samaj-mahatma-gandhi4781293/
6. For details, refer http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9391:assertion-is-growing-let-s-brand-them-as-maoists-then-where-is-shambaji-bhide&catid=119:feature&Itemid=132



 Dr. N. Sukumar teaches Political Science at Delhi University.

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