If there is one consistent feature of the Hindutva parties that has gone unnoticed over the years, it is their ability to use proxy politics to jockey for power. Through the course of their long history, they have mastered the art of using proxies and creating elaborate networks for power.
Commentators and analysts have often categorized even the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as merely a ‘political front’ of the Rashtriya Swayamsevaka Sangh (RSS). Speaking in an interview, one prominent academician with immense scholarship on Hindutva called the RSS ‘essentially a cadre party’ that has front organizations in ‘hundreds if not thousands’. This indicates proxy and network politics of massive proportions, without any precedents in India’s political history so far.
The RSS has around 12000 schools running across India with student strength of more than three million. These schools do teach the conventional scientific syllabus but also subject the students to intense Hindutva indoctrination. The RSS therefore has an inexhaustible in-house talent pool to draw from.
However, only a select few make it to the elitist organization. It is an all-male and largely upper-caste Hindu congregation. The doors are fastened tightly against other entrants, who can however join the multiple well-networked proxy parties of the RSS. This indoctrination-driven cadre politics is thus slowly and steadily making in-roads into the depths of Indian society. Their aim is to spread the RSS tentacles far and wide, and capture power along every possible social dimension.
But what really compels the RSS to route their politics through a complex patchwork of proxies? The need to resort to proxy politics lies in the immense socio-cultural, linguistic and economic diversity of the Indian electorate. RSS strategists are aware that there can be no one-size-fits-all in a country like India. Portraying the ‘Sanatan Dharma’ as a homogeneous and monolithic culture reflects their fundamentally faulty presumptions. In fact, a vibrant heterogeneity exists in the Hindu culture that brings into question the very tenability of Hindutva as a uniform veneer on top of this diverse cultural milieu.
Nevertheless, the ideology of Hindutva that lies at the heart of the RSS agenda is peddled by all means possible. It is brought home to the diverse Indian electorate through harmless and locally palatable modifications. This is what makes the role of proxies essential and indispensable.
Cultural homogenization, fissures and fault-lines
This is not to say that it has been all smooth sailing for the Hindutva forces. The BJP has often sought to steamroll its Hindutva juggernaut and flatten out the cultural diversity of the country. Many times, this hasn’t ended well for them, and their homogenizing efforts have been met with vehement regional resistance.
One such instance is that of the Mahishasura controversy that erupted around five years back. Mahishasura is a mythological figure worshipped by aboriginal tribes of the east, but portrayed as a villain in the Brahmanical Hindu narrative. In 2016, the then Union Human Resource Minister, Smriti Irani, launched a tirade against the celebration of Mahishasura Martyrdom Day, brandishing a pamphlet in the Parliament, that was issued by Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste and Minority students of JNU. What followed was a massive controversy and angry reactions against BJP’s Brahmanical monopolization of India’s mythological history.
Similarly, in 2017, there was uproar in Bengaluru against the usage of Hindi signboards in the city’s metro stations. This was widely seen as BJP’s attempt to impose its linguistic dominance over the south. The linguistic divide between the Sanskritic North and Dravidian South has long been a source of intense friction. BJP’s attempts at promoting the Sanskritic languages (especially Hindi) in the south, stokes a perpetual undercurrent of tension in that part of the country.
Both the controversies are emblematic of the aggression with which the BJP and the RSS seek to peddle the Hindutva ideology, along with its cultural and linguistic paraphernalia.
The proxy ploy in Jammu and Kashmir
Coming back to proxies and political fronts, the BJP is trying hard to replicate their most effective strategy in Jammu and Kashmir as well. However, this has not been easy for them so far, obviously due to the Muslim majority Kashmir division, which also happens to be politically most lucrative. Wooing the Kashmiri electorate that harbors deep abhorrence for the BJP is virtually impossible, and this also explains the government’s continuous evasion of the assembly elections.
After a lot of back and forth initially, the BJP has now settled for new parties, as its political fronts in Kashmir. These parties have very little to lose in terms of legacy. They need a powerful patron in the center to establish themselves strongly in Jammu and Kashmir. It is hardly surprising therefore, that the opportunity presented by the BJP was irresistible, and has been accepted by such parties with gratitude.
On the other hand, the BJP also stands to gain from this partnership. They are aware that on their own, they can never cut ice with the Muslim electorate of Kashmir. This can however be done through their proxies. These can be used as a mellowed down political front, aimed specifically at the Muslim electorate. That taken care of, the BJP itself can focus on the Jammu region and the Kashmiri Pandit vote bank.
All in all, this seems like a mutually beneficial relationship for both ‘Patrons and Proxies’. Unbeknownst to many, the proxy politics that the Hindutva parties have mastered in the rest of the country is now playing out in Jammu and Kashmir as well. The BJP has embarked upon unchecked waters of politics beyond its comfort zone, and for the first time is trying to bring in the minorities within the web of its political hegemony. At any rate, the relentless attempts to spread Hindutva tentacles, by means fair or foul, continue in full earnest. In the rest of India quite boldly, but in Kashmir more covertly!
The author is the head of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference’s social media cell.