11. "I am a Hindu communalist"
A symptom of the ideological
power equation is the Sangh Parivar's permanent checkmate in the "war of the
words". The Sangh is at the mercy of the meanings which its enemies allot
to important terms, such as "communalism".
Originally (at least in Indian
politics), "communal" was the term by which the British labelled political
arrangements, such as separate electorates and quota-based recruitment,
which took the religious community as the operative unit rather than the
individual or the family or the region or the nation. The term was never
hurled at people who rejected these arrangements, but was quite sincerely
accepted by the people who proposed the "communalization" of the polity: the
British and the Muslim League advocated it openly, the Congress started
defending it after becoming a party to it through the Lucknow Pact (1916).
When the British proposed the Communal Award, its beneficiaries never
thought of treating "communal" as a dirty word and throwing it at the
Communal Award's opponents. Today, by contrast, the mores of discourse have
sunk to the level where politicans and journalists and scholars
systematically apply the term to a movement which never used it as a
description of its own positions.
Though Gandhi opposed the
extension of the communal principle to the relations between caste Hindus
and untouchable Hindus, for the rest his whole negotiation policy with the
League and the British was situated within the framework of communalism.
The main opposition to this unapologetic communalism came not from the
Congress, but from the Hindu Mahasabha with, in its shadow, the fledgling
Sangh. If you read speeches by HMS leaders in the 1930s and 40s, they turn
out to be full of unselfconscious attacks on "communal" politics. The
Hindutva movement was born in the struggle against communalism, that was its
very raison d'être. The HMS's stated programme was to abolish
communalism and make India a secular democracy without separate electorates
and recruitment by communal quota. Congress, with its bad conscience about
its complicity in the communalization of the polity, tried to cloud the
debate by misapplying the term "communal" to the HMS on the analogy of the
Muslim League. It falsely posited a symmetry between the Muslim League and
the Hindu Mahasabha, smuggling out of the public's perception the
antisymmetry between the League's adherence and the HMS's opposition to the
Very quickly, accurate usage was eclipsed by muddled usage.
Today, the label "communal" is
like a millstone around the Hindutva movement's neck. If the Nehruvians who
installed and still support a separate Personal Law for Muslims, a
"communal" arrangement par excellence, can get away with labelling their
very opponents "communalists", we have to admit that they have proven
themselves past masters in the war of the words; it is no use opposing
them. The Sangh has lost this battle decades ago, but has never mustered
the energy and the brain power to even face its defeat squarely, much less
to think up a way to turn the tables on the Nehruvian Newspeak brigade. It
merely tries to run away from the label with ridiculous disclaimers ("Hindus
can never be communal") which themselves presuppose the distorted meaning
imposed on this innocent word by the Nehruvians.
The best way out of this
impasse is to accept the label and give it a new meaning. And I am not
proposing yet another distortion to counter the Nehruvian distortion, no,
the new meaning should simply be the word's true and original meaning.
Before the British introduced "communal" electorates and "communal"
recruiting, the term had an entirely positive meaning. It has to do with
living together, with mutual support, with transcending petty divisions,
with strengthening community life, beautiful.
The Oxford Dictionary (1986 reprint) defines communal as "of
or for the or a community, for the common use". It also has an entry
communalism, defined as "principle of communal organization of society",
and calls the Paris Commune a "communalistic government in Paris in
1871". Indian journalists going abroad find to their initial disbelief that
no one in the West or anywhere else ever uses or even understands this
swearword "communalist"; if asked for a guess, few non-Indians would opine
that the word might have a pejorative meaning. The magic charm
"communalism" which puts the whole Indian political scene in a mood of
graveness and militancy, and which can paralyze all normal thought processes
in BJP circles, is nothing but a provincial and distorted usage exclusive to
India's English-speaking elite.
The Sangh people, after having
been battered and beaten for decades on the words front, should finally
accept the challenge and hit back. Instead of swallowing this distorted
meaning of the word "communal" and trying to prove that it doesn't apply to
themselves, they ought to accept the word and reject the distortion. They
should restore to the word its true meaning and then allot it to those who
are already stuck with it anyway -- themselves. The only way to stop being
chased around with salvos of "communalists!" is to rename the BJP as
Communalist Party. Every Hindu leader should make it a point to tell
interviewers: "I am a Hindu communalist." Wage the war of the words, and
This false symmetry is still propagated by the likes of Mani Shankar
Aiyar, who once called the BJP the "Hindu chapter of the Muslim League".
Karl Marx tapped from the same source when he associated his own
ideology of self-righteousness and mass-murder with this string of
community-related ideas through the term communism. We should
redeem the much-abused word family of community by reintroducing
it through a new derivative with a genuinely positive meaning.