Let’s start off with a couple of screenshots from Twitter to set the context for this post. 1st is from the account of a person closely associated with Mumbai BJP. I think he was a spokesperson at some point, but I am not clear about that. According to this person, if you are someone who espouses equal rights for Hindus, you can’t be taken seriously unless you disrupt public life and have a few cases to show for it (probably after burning down a few public transport buses)
The next screenshot is from the account of the CEO of Swarajya Magazine which claims to be a publication representing Right-of-Centre ideology. Swarajya has published many articles, even dedicated issues, about RTE act, government control of Hindu temples, etc. which are at the heart of the #Core agenda. In all my interactions on Twitter, I am yet to come across a single person who espouses core agenda and also thinks Rahul Gandhi is “good”.
These are just a couple of examples. You will come across numerous such BJP/Modi supporters on twitter and other social media platforms who claim labels like Hindutva-wadis, Right wing, etc. (though I don’t think they really understand what Right wing means) and also mock, deride, ridicule, pull down, troll, threaten, try to silence those who advocate equal constitutional rights for the Hindus in India and support the Core Right Agenda. I can easily understand a backlash coming from the leftists but it is a little bewildering coming from the supporters of a supposedly Hindu party. What is more puzzling is that this negative reaction doesn’t seem to be based on some serious ideological disagreement but because the issues related to equal rights for Hindu community do not seem to be on the agenda of the current Central government and BJP dispensation. No serious criticism has been offered by these opponents if there are deficiencies in the core agenda. So, it is not even possible to address their fears or concerns.
There are two particular put-downs that are constantly thrown around by anti-core BJP supporters – that nobody outside twitter cares for the core agenda and that those espousing core agenda do not work on the ‘ground’ and only rant on social media. Frankly, I think both these criticisms (if you can call them that) are fair to a certain extent. It is true that there is no groundswell demanding that Hindus should have the same article 30 rights as other religious groups. There aren’t any mobs disrupting the public life to demand repeal of discriminatory provisions in the RTE act or for fair and timely reimbursement of RTE dues to Hindu schools. No one has immolated self or others or transport buses to demand release of Hindu temples from government control. Not yet at least.
But that does not, however, mean there is no public interest in these issues concerning the Hindu faith and rights. It is only that the agitation has been simmering below the surface, the protests have been local and have not yet coalesced into a movement. Particularly in the recent past, there have been several instances of Hindus coming together to resist (not always successfully) the attempts of secular Indian state to take over the local temple. Be it in Mamallapuram, or Madurai in Tamizh Nadu or Guruvayoor, Kerala or Hyderabad, Telangana or Shani Shinganapur or Shiridi in Maharashtra. These are just a few examples. Probably the most prominent example of such public upraising against government’s meddling in the affairs of a Hindu temple was in Sabarimala. The public interest in the issue was strong enough to impact the results of Lok Sabha election from Kerala. And it can just not be ignored that after singing ‘vikaas, vikaas aur sirf vikaas’ tune for 4.5 years, Modi and BJP had to pull out the ‘mandir wahin banayenge’ and ‘jai Shri Ram’ tunes right ahead of elections. So it is a tad bit disingenuous for BJP supporters to claim that issues of temples and religious rights of Hindus do not resonate with the public at large.
Let’s now look at the ‘no work on ground’ criticism. I have often wondered what the anti-core BJP supporters mean by ground work. What is the ‘ground’ in today’s age of all pervasive technology? Is this ground the same as it was during the days of anti-emergency protests or Rama Janmabhoomi movement? Are we still counting only dharnas, rasta-rokos and destruction of private and public property as real political ground work? And who decides what the ground is and how big it should be? By all accounts the most potent weapon BJP employed in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections was the smart phone and the WhatsApp messenger. While there was a time when you had to go door to door or hold street corner meetings to campaign for your cause, things have changed drastically now. In 2014 elections, Modi did not even physically visit many places to hold public meetings there. Instead, he used holographic projections to get the job done. That’s the utility of technology in a smart person’s hands. Today internet and the social media are by any rational measure fertile grounds to work on.
And who decides what is legitimate ground work and how broad-based that should be? Any one who espouses a cause will choose the medium that best suits their ability and resources to spread the message. Certain causes attract people who prefer to travel around the country in a ‘rath’. Some other causes attract people who are more comfortable debating in a seminar hall. Neither of the methods is less legitimate or the cause any less supportable. I would think a person’s support for a cause shouldn’t be based on how popular it is but on how just it is. So, ask yourself this. Is it a just demand to seek the same rights for Hindus that are available to other religious groups in India with respect to religious, cultural and educational affairs. This is the crux of the core Right agenda. If you agree with this, support it. It doesn’t matter which party is in power. It doesn’t matter what methods are being employed to spread it. If you agree with the principle but think the current methods are inadequate, take the lead and show the way. If you don’t agree with the principle, it should really not matter to you if it’s supporters do ground work or not.
Of course this is not to say the core agenda does not require popular support. or that an issue limited to social media debates or seminar halls should become the priority for the political class. Far from that. The core right movement is really only in it’s infancy. The two blogs I gave at the beginning as background reading are from 2016, hardly 3 years old. The Hindu Charter came about sometime in the last year. Any movement necessarily goes through a period of incubation before it captures the popular attention. Our freedom struggle did not become a mass movement till Gandhi assumed the leadership. Same with the Ayodhya movement. Not many people would have even heard of it till Advani took out the Ratha Yathra. It is during this incubation period that the movement needs to be nurtured and refined and supported. Like a parent does with a child. That is where the Core Right movement currently is. It requires all our support, all our minds. It will need to go through many debates, a lot more outreach and infusion of energy before it reaches the mainstream of our national discourse. Till then it needs the village to stand by it.