The recent article titled Once Upon a Karnataka on the political and cultural changes in Karnataka by Janaki Nair was a hard look at the growth of extreme right-wing elements in the state and the impact on Muslims and other minorities. She described how Karnataka once had a liberal, pluralistic culture where the kind of Hijab-Halal religious controversies one is seeing today would be entirely unthinkable. The argument that she made for Karnataka would ring true for all states of India. One could replace the word ‘Karnataka’ for the name of almost any other state and the question would still haunt us – how did this place which was so open and accepting of all cultures and religions become just the opposite? Nair’s article provides a hint of an answer. She writes:
How did Karnataka succumb so quickly to this corrosive masculinity? … The RSS worked hard over the last 100 years to achieve its goal of polarising people on Karnataka’s west coast, home to economically successful Muslims and Christians. (emphasis added)
This statement forces one to stop and rethink about the importance of slow time in furthering ideology. If the right-wing has spent a century for furthering its ideology in a particular place, it means that those who want to counter the right-wing should be prepared to give a hundred years to establish their way of thinking. It is also an indication that the work at the level of ideology has to be an on-going one – it cannot be that once a particular order is in place, the work is over. The secular, modern, pluralistic so-called Idea of India would need continuous work with every generation. The clash of ideologies in India then pretty much boils down to long-term commitment and continuous hard work at the very grassroots. Whichever group is able to build a cadre through sustained hard work over generations at the local levels will eventually establish itself.
Another thing that comes forth, is that taking a moral or an academic position will not work in the absence of grassroots work. When the term ‘hydra-headed’ is used for the right wing – what does it mean? It means that people of similar ideology are present in every institution – not just the street-level guys but amongst professionals, amongst bureaucrats and media, amongst teachers and professors, amongst clerks, shop keepers and businessmen. These are the people who get up every morning and do their everyday work, have families and they live their ideology as part of their daily life. More than the street level guys, an ideology becomes the norm when it becomes deep-seated in every nook and corner and society through long-term prachar by single-minded pracharaks.
In addition to the above argument, I was also struck by an obituary written by Gajanan Janbhor, a well-respected journalist after the demise of Devrao ji Dudhalkar, a senior activist of the Congress Seva Dal, who worked for the organization over several decades. Even while describing the commitment of Dudhalkar to Gandhian values and his lifelong activities to propagate the same, Janbhor makes the following observation about the state of the Congress Seva Dal:
If Congress, which became busy in the pursuit of power after independence, would have recognized the importance of the likes of Dudhalkar and Akkewar, the country would have seen a constructive side of the Congress party. The Congress Party is guilty of unforgivable neglect of the Seva Dal. Because of this neglect, the party which pursued and executed power eventually lost contact with the people. The NSUI and Youth Congress came centre-stage after 1980s, and ‘Seva Dal’ which provided the moral foundation of Congress was thrown aside. Congress leaders forgot to even pay courtesy visits to the Seva Dal office … Seva Dal was a common thread that joined rural people to Congress. But (Congress) leaders who grappled to establish themselves did not care for the Seva Dal.
The loss of the Seva Dal is in effect the loss of a grassroots organization that was historically mandated to propagate the Congress ideology. Congress too could have been ‘hydra-headed’, but by neglecting Seva Dal it destroyed one of its own ‘heads’.
As far as the civil society leaders and organisations are concerned, inspite of their hard work, they lack important characteristics that are required for effectively countering extreme right-wing –
(i) firstly, many of the NGOs have over decades lost the spirit of volunteerism that is very important part of ideological work at the grassroots.
(ii) Secondly, most of the large and well-established NGOs are located in the metropolises such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai. Far fewer are located in far-flung districts and only a handful in rural and tribal areas. The metropolitan NGOs who have comparatively a far larger share of resources than ‘peripheral’ NGOs, are better at lobbying the government or bringing out reports but not in long-term grassroots work. Sometimes the metropolitan NGOs work through peripheral NGOs but the agenda is invariably dictated by the former. The sustained physical presence of the peripheral NGO often does not bear ideological fruits as the agenda and resource allocation is guided by those who are physically located elsewhere.
(iii) Thirdly, the NGOs are fascinated with the political middle place. Their bridvakya is ‘we hold all governments accountable everywhere.’ Thus, they are not like the Seva Dal which had a clear connection with Congress. This is why the very civil society leaders who benefited immensely from Congress rule, never came out to openly campaign for Congress either in 2014 or in 2019.
For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in areas still untouched by overt violence (even though the fear may be palpable), the responsibility lies in ensuring that these areas remain free of violence and the fears are kept at bay. It is a lesson that the extreme right-wing has taught us unwittingly – be ready to work for peace and friendship for a hundred years, quietly, one step at a time, wherever you are, as part of your daily routine. If the politics of hatred has come by that way, the politics of peace too will come by that way.
– Kalyan and Paromita