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IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE DESIGN

vishva hindu parishad and indian politics By Manjari Katju, Orient Longman, Rs 350

Precise and restrained, Manjari Katju’s story of the growth of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad from a slightly muddleheaded offspring of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to the aggressive Hindutva army of today runs into eight chapters and five illuminating appendices. Katju’s “deeper involvement” with the research for her thesis, which forms the basis of this book, was encouraged by the close association her grandfather, Shiv Nath Katju, had with the VHP from its earliest phases. So it is not surprising that some of the richest ore in the book is drawn from interviews with VHP leaders and activists, whose profiles are provided in an appendix.

The history of the VHP provides Katju with a tool to inquire into the “the spectacular expansion of the popular base of Hindu nationalist politics in the late 1980s and the early 1990s”. Out of the record and analysis of facts emerge the principles on which Hindutva is based. This is invaluable for an understanding of the India of 2003 and the immediate future, especially since the study also shows how the changing emphases in Indian politics from the Sixties to the Nineties fed substantially into the Hindu nationalist text.

The rationale behind the VHP’s formation was the relatively innocent one of social mobilization. The RSS felt the need for a body which would work close to the ground in cosy, neighbourly units, in order to bring about awareness and a feeling of unity among those who felt themselves to be Hindus. Part of the VHP’s early programme was also to integrate Hindus abroad. The VHP was expected to capture, through its socio-cultural agenda, people who would feel uncomfortable to associate with the RSS. The story of the RSS’s relationship with the VHP is in itself a fascinating one, with the parent — waiting to see if its ambitious design will be realized — guiding and nurturing the fledgling until it discovers its own, perfectly compatible, direction. This is also the story of how a reformist impulse was gradually vitiated by regressively conservative values.

Katju gently lays bare the sinister by tracing the growing need to find a focus for an apparently socio-cultural movement. The VHP’s recreation of the patient Ram as the aggressive defender of virtue — preserved in the imagined value system of the Hindu — is an excellent example of history being restructured by myth production. At the heart of the politicizing of religion lies an immensely useful paranoia, directed against the two “foreign” faiths, Islam and Christianity. The definition of the new Hindu is predicated solely upon this “other”. All the development programmes undertaken by the VHP, ranging from education to “reconversion”, are directed towards “protecting” an endangered Hinduism from the greedy onslaught of these other faiths.

What is most engaging are the extracts from interviews and articles. The hysterical spewing of venom is modulated by smooth slips in rhetoric. Out of such alternation is created a carefully balanced edifice of double standards, so that the point at which the categories of Hindu and Indian collapse into each other is barely noticeable.

This brilliant doubleness underlies the forming of the dharma sansad, the advisory body of sadhus who are supposed to have renounced the world. The privileging of a religious extra-constitutional authority is symbolic of the sangh parivar’s undermining of constitutional principles. For the parivar, democracy is the rule of the majority. Without the least fuss, Katju makes clear that this is not a difference of perception, it is a political agenda.

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