Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Hidutva Vrs Jaidbynriew politics: Different side of same coin?


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By Bhogtoram Mawroh

For those who still believe in the propaganda peddled by mainstream media, dubbed ‘Godi Media’ by Ravish Kumar, and claims of high-profile experts like Prashant Kishor who used their bitterness after being rejected by the Congress to do what some experts call ‘ambush marketing’, the election results would have come as a major shock. For others who had already understood the rule of thumb, i.e., take with a pinch of salt anything the ‘Godi Media’ or the experts they invite claim, it was a pleasant surprise. Yes, it was pleasantly surprising, but not a shock. Majoritarian politics, in this case, Hindutva politics, without any visible improvement in the lives of majority of the people in the country, was always a short-lived spectacle. One wonders: if Balakot had not happened, maybe the decline would have come a little earlier. Make no mistake, Hindutva politics is not yet dead, and it will continue to live on. But unless it can divorce itself from crony capitalism, the fetish for the stock market and deal with the problems plaguing the real economy, it will always be an ephemeral phenomenon, though it will never disappear. The most heartwarming story of the election was the victory of Awadhesh Prasad, a 77-year-old nine-time Dalit MLA and now first-time MP, who won from Ayodhya, the seat of Ram Mandir politics.
Dalits are the former untouchables who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system and continue to suffer from neglect and discrimination. This year itself, in Gujarat, a Dalit groom was attacked by members of the upper castes for riding a horse during a marriage procession. Such incidents are very common, and they also include burning Dalits alive for marrying into the upper castes. Among the different caste groups, Dalits have the least amount of steppe ancestry, which proves that they were the first indigenous peoples of the subcontinent. Beginning around 3500 years ago, they were subjugated, their lands taken away from them, and then they were consigned to the lowest position in the hierarchy to serve the upper castes, or those who have a much higher percentage of steppe ancestry, i.e., the Indo-Aryans. While this election’s results are very much due to the Dalits and other backward groups voting for the INDIA bloc, it sadly is not going to atone for the historical injustice that has been perpetuated on them. But the struggle for justice will continue.
Coming to our own state, we have our own story: the rise of the VPP as an important player in state politics with their victory in the Shillong seat. Having been founded just three years ago, the rise to prominence of this party has been quite spectacular, and there is a feeling, rightly so, that they will do well in the upcoming KHADC elections as well. However, some politicians are calling this a temporary phenomenon that will die its natural death. I agree that VPP is another version of HSPDP and KHNAM (incidentally, two of the senior members have been associated with those two parties, viz., Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit and Adelbert Nongrum, respectively), but I don’t think it will disappear for two reasons: Firstly, the aforementioned two parties still exist; and, secondly, the ideology that VPP espouses and what has driven this spectacular win is the ‘jaidbynriew politics’ which is similar to Hindutva, both of which are always going to lurk around, maybe in the corner or maybe out in the open, but always ready to demand their share of the spoils when conditions are favorable to them.
Hindutva is driven by the theme of ‘Hindus are in danger’ from the minorities, Muslims in particular but all non-Hindu minorities in general. In other words, it is what can be termed as the ‘Hindu victimhood’ mentality. This is ironic considering that Hindus make up almost 80% of the country’s population, and the richest and most powerful people in the country are still mostly Hindus. Of course, this does not mean that all Hindus are rich and powerful, especially the lower castes, but in general, they are comparatively better off than the Muslims. This was strongly established by the 2006 Sachhar Committee Report which revealed that Muslims fare worse in economic terms than even the Dalits. Muslims constitute less than 15% of India’s population, but they are constantly accused of trying to change the demography of the country. Hindutva activists claim that one way this is taking place is through love jihad, where Muslim men target Hindu women for conversion to Islam by means such as seduction, feigning love, deception, kidnapping, and marriage.
Right in the middle of the parliamentary election, the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PM-EAC) released a report that tried to show that the growth of the Muslim population has been quite high while that of the Hindu population has gone down. This was done to give credence to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim in a rally that “those who have more children” will take away a large chunk of India’s resources. In other speeches, he specifically called out the Muslims, and in one place, he even mentioned the Christian community, particularly the use of Sunday as a holiday, which he claims is a Christian practice and not of the Hindus. Earlier he had declared December 25 as Good Governance Day, fully aware that it is an auspicious day for Christians. Hindutva is the politics of creating a siege mentality among the Hindus that, though they are demographically dominant and socio-economically better off, they are somehow in danger of being overwhelmed by the other communities, and therefore they should band together against the ‘others’. Does all of this remind us of something closer at home?
In Meghalaya, especially in the Khasi region (which includes East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills, Eastern West Khasi Hills, West Jaintia Hills, East Jaintia Hills, and Ri Bhoi), ‘jaidbynriew politics’ has held strong sway over the state for a very long time and has similar features to Hindutva. There has been a long-standing demand for ILP in the state, driven by fear of a demographic change. As a small community, the threat of becoming a Tripura is always a haunting specter, but the demographic trends in the state paint a very different picture. Since statehood, the share of the non-indigenous population has been going down from 19.52% in 1971 to 13.85% in 2011. The 2021 Census was not conducted because of COVID-19, but it is highly unlikely that the trend has changed, especially considering the fact that opportunities for the indigenous population have themselves become highly limited. Opportunities are already quite limited for the non-indigenous population, and this creates more pressure on them to go out in search of better options. So, it will be very surprising if the trend established for the last 50 years somehow changes. Those that remain behind face additional difficulties when they want to do business, whether in the form of trading licenses or extortions/donations.
Last year, the police caught many gangs that were extorting money from non-indigenous business establishments. Are we sure that the threat of extortion has been completely removed? I will leave that for the readers to find out by talking to, if they know any, non-indigenous business persons. Then there is this ‘Khasi victimhood’ where there is a perception that the government is swift in taking action if a crime has been committed by the Khasi but lax when it is committed by a non-Khasi or non-indigenous person. The reality is that, if one were to collect data on the violent incidents in the state, it would reveal that the non-indigenous population has been disproportionately affected, rather than the other way around. And then there’s the eternal angst of outsiders marrying Khasi women ostensibly for land and property. That is frowned upon because it is believed that such marriages will dilute the ‘Khasi blood’, which is an unscientific claim because there is nothing called ‘Khasi blood’ but there are ‘Khasi people’ whose genetic history (which I will discuss in a future submission) tells the story of a high degree of admixture with non-Khasi groups over many generations. Just for a peek, I would suggest that those who want to know what I am going to write first read the free extract of Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s book ‘Funeral Nights’ from the internet on the origin of Hima Sohra. The rest I will share later.
After VPP won four seats in the last Assembly election, they added another dimension to ‘jaidbynriew politics’, where it is not just the non-indigenous community that is a threat to the Khasi, but the danger is from a fellow indigenous community, the Garo. The whole reservation protest demanded the reworking of the reservation formula in the state to give Khasi a greater share based on their population. At the same time, Khasi were also adamant that the future roster system that was being implemented after the High Court’s order should not be retrospective because that would lead to the majority of future posts being reserved for the Garo, who until now have been underrepresented. So, a very paradoxical situation developed: the Khasi were but at the same time, they didn’t want the Garo to get back their share, from which they were deprived in violation of the reservation quota. This is a classic example of the ‘Khasi victimhood’ mentality, which was fueling the demand for a review of the reservation policy.
So, ‘jaidbynriew politics’ and Hindutva are just mirror images of each other. No wonder Albert Thyrniang termed the VPP the Khasi BJP, which is very accurate. Of course, this will offend the supporters of the VPP just as it will offend the supporters of the BJP to suggest that they are similar. But looked at without bias, the similarity is there. The BJP is a much bigger party, and since it has ruled the country quite a few times, it is difficult to see them changing their ideology. VPP, on the other hand, is a new party and can still chart its own course where it can rise above ‘jaidbynriew politics’. That’s the only way it can grow as a party and have a long-term future in the state because there will be those who promise more and will be more zealous than them in pursuit of ‘jaidbynriew politics’. In a multi-ethnic state like Meghalaya, that is not sustainable in the long run.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect in any way his affiliation to any organisation or institution)


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