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 communal principle.[1]  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.[2]  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 win!

 

 


 

             [1]  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".

             [2]  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.

 

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