By Rev. Immanuel Nehemiah
‘Jai Shri Ram’ echoed continuously in the vacuum of the Rajya Sabha while the BJP and allied parties’ MPs took their places in the parliament and the Kashmir decision was announced. A state that never considered itself part of this country was yoked to it and Ambani announced a ‘taskforce’ to bring industry to it. Kashmir is one of the most developed states in the Indian union. But never mind small things like facts. Big-balled rhetoric is all that matters. Likewise, shouts of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ again soon after the Pehlu Khan case verdict. A Muslim was beaten to death and all the accused were acquitted. It seems no one killed Pehlu Khan. He killed himself for kicks.
Patriotism is announced through this slogan for a while in this country now. Which Ram are these fanatics speaking about? India is home to over hundred narratives of Ram. Famous versions are the Valmiki Ramayana, the Kamba Ramayana (Tamil), the Ranganatha Ramayana (Telugu), the Dasarathajataka (Buddhist). Likewise there are versions that hail from Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka, Assam. Some are from other neighbouring countries like Cambodia, Philippines. Adding to this list is the prevalence of several oral traditions across caste and region, as scholars like Paula Richman have shown us. Ram as person, deity, avatar is varied and in some versions not a hero at all but the focus is, for the BJP, unilateral and unidirectional. Ram is all of us and it is a marauding Ram. Anyone who is not Ram is a terrorist, a seditionist, an anti-national. As the prime minister kept repeating in his Independence Day speech, ‘One nation’ and ‘One country,’ so is the slogan of the RSS and its rhetoric and Kashmir and Pehlu Khan do not belong to this nation except as fodder. Fodder to be beaten into submission and to death.
The force of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is not solo; rather it is a choir, a choir that is in unison. A multilayered, rhetorical unity across class and caste, nothing but a bloodthirsty mob in search of the lonely, vulnerable, weak and the destitute in the country. The blacked out Kashmir is testimony to that. The strewn corpses of lynching victims bear testimony to that. But there is no protest in Kashmir and nobody killed Pehlu Khan.
The slogan raised in the parliament this year is a sign of governmental authorisation for authoritarian and splenetic rage against dissenting voices, politics, cultures, languages and ideologies Yet ‘Jai Shri Ram’ at the parliament was a declaration of fascism as the pattern of governance that is hybrid in nature.
One cannot deny the hybrid nature of fascism in this country. This fascism is backed by the dominant one language, one religion, one ideal grounded in the demonic varnashramadharma and savarna way of life, highly patriarchal and drenched in the violent weaponry of caste. But the people behind it are diverse in language, religion, caste, class and affiliation of all kinds. What unites them behind this slogan?
It is the very modern political economy behind it that is the uniting factor. One must not forget that Hindutva is a very modern project in India – and it had very many understandings before the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha took it over completely – and was always tied up with a capitalist notion of ‘progress.’ Left-Liberal historians like Sumit Sarkar are simply wrong when they call Hindutva ‘traditionalist’ or figures like Savarkar ‘traditionalist.’ Savarkar was anything but a traditionalist. He was very modern, wrote against caste and was radical in many ways. And so was Hindutva.
Modi models himself on Savarkar well and knows him better than the Left-Liberal historians and ideologues. He speaks the language of modernity very well. He is no anti-technology and anti-Western civilisation Gandhian. He is no radical Sanskrit pandit re-interpreting the Vedas in progressive ways as some thinkers and movements did in nineteenth century Maharashtra in the first imaginings of Hindutvaness. He mixes bloody fascism with financial ambition beautifully. Hence the middle class, aspirational, money-hungry hordes love him as much as the RSS hotheads.
Hindutva’s ‘Jai Shri Ram’ ties up beautifully with Zionism and Trump and neoliberal capital everywhere. Is it, as Left-Liberal political scientists will tell you, proof that modernity or development is not a solution to people’s senses of identity? No. They, like the Left-Liberal historians, are wrong too. Identity is nothing but a smokescreen for the genocidal modernity that politicians like Modi are really enamoured by. Bullet trains are more important than bulls, bullocks, cows and calves that Hindus have been fighting for since before Independence; rupees are more important than Ram and nothing can come in the way of the greed for money.
That there is a mythological story in which a pusillanimous, sexist man kills an asura to get this modernity mojo going is only good fortune. So Ram comes in. Kill all the tribals (asuras) and cleanse the land for more MoUs and ‘development.’ The fair, heterosexual, uppercaste Hindu man – the imagined Ram – can take over. India belongs only to him.
It is time we asuras go back to the power of our stories and fight this dangerous modern rhetoric of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. We are on the brink of ecological suicide. If we do not get up now and reclaim those versions of the Ramayana where Raavan is the hero, it will be too late. There will be nothing to reclaim and only money to eat.
Rev. Immanuel Nehemiah is a Dalit Tamil pastor in a CSI church in Jayanagar, Bangalore. He is a feminist, anti-caste and Rastafarian warrior.
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