Purushottam Agarwal | March 2, 2015
On Valentine’s Day this year, the media had more important news to cover than the expected moral policing by self-appointed guardians of Indian culture.
Arvind Kejriwal was taking oath for the second time as chief minister of Delhi. Given the unprecedented mandate in favour of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the utter humiliation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) amid the collapse of the invincibility myth of the Modi-Shah (prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah) duo, it was to be expected that the media would be obsessed with the tumultuous event taking place in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan.
But, not very far from the venue of the oath-taking ceremony, something much more significant (culturally speaking) was taking place. Only a couple of days ago the Hindu Mahasabha (a moribund, self-confessedly fascistic organisation which has sprung to life after May 2014) had declared its plans to forcibly marry the boys and girls ‘caught’ indulging in public displays of love on Valentine’s Day. Right-wing hooliganism on this day has become a ritual over the years. The police act half-heartedly and take cues from their political masters. This year, the scene seemed to be quite favourable to the likes of the Hindu Mahasabha given the BJP-led government at the centre, and also the expectation of BJP either winning Delhi polls or at least emerging as a formidable opposition. The results on February 10 put paid to all such hopes of the Hindutva brigade. Still, the possibility of hooliganism by the moral police was very much expected, but not without some creative resistance this time. The clue had been provided by the ‘kiss of love’ protests which started in October in Kerala and spread like sprinkles of hope all over the country.
Let us here recall the anguished voice of the late K Balgopal who while commenting on the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 had asked, “Can love be propagated as easily as hatred? Why has the Left and democratic discourse failed to explore the potential of the politics of love?” I am also reminded of the launch function of my collection of critical essays, ‘Sanskriti: Varchsva and Pratiroadh’ (Culture: Hegemony and Resistance), back in 1995, where I was admonished by the leading leftist Hindi intellectual Namwar Singh for arguing for a politics of love and for ignoring the ‘historically positive role of hatred’.
Remembering all this, it was indeed heartening to see the idea of love and laughter in action once again this Valentine’s Day. The lead for this ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’ came from JNU; the idea was circulated and matured on social media and the young women and men announced their full ‘cooperation’ with the Hindu Mahasabha in its noble cause of marrying love-birds. Preparing to show their muscles, the Hindutva outfit was naturally taken aback by this declaration of intent to translate love into marriage. The fly in the Hindutva soup, however, was the presence of same-sex couples among the potential beneficiaries of its ‘we will marry you’ service. These young people reached Jantar Mantar in good numbers and in traditional wedding attire asking Hindu Mahasabha to marry them off right there and then. The response of the Hindutva brigade was surprising to many people. Instead of thrashing or abusing the playfully defiant young people, these worthies were found presenting them white roses.
But this would be surprising only if seen in isolation from the ‘tumultuous’ event taking place in Ramlila Maidan. The pitiable rout of the BJP in Delhi polls was much more than the result of mere infighting and of having one of the greatest windbags in the country as its chief ministerial face. The election result, more importantly, reflects the growing impatience with inane ideas and obnoxious practices in the name of tradition, culture and social identities.
The youth, not only in the metros but also in other parts of the country, is growing restive; it wants promises of development and security fulfilled, not nose-poking in its individual life and personal affairs. In 2014, young Indians were charmed by the PR offensive of Modi, as it touched the core of their feelings and frustrations. They had not bargained for loony characters prescribing the number of children or forced marriages. Coupled with all these absurdities, the BJP went on for a disturbingly negative campaign with the PM himself showing scant regard for the position he holds and describing his opponent as ‘luckless’ and himself being endowed with ‘good luck’.
The verdict came as the rudest shock to the BJP. Apart from a jolt to Hindutva politics, it also reflected the willingness of the people to opt for credible alternatives sooner than later; in case of Delhi, the alternative represented a new set of rulers, which in itself is important as a warning bell to all the established political players, and potentially indicative of the end of the so-called TINA syndrome, at least in some states. In the long term, the success of AAP is indicative of a shift from the politics of identity to the politics of issues and survival. Needless to add, this victory has put AAP under a very heavy burden of hope, but that is not the matter of reflection for this piece.
The matter under consideration at the moment is the connection between the electoral rout and the white roses offered by the Hindu Mahasabha. One is not sure of the long run, but on February 14, reeling under the election results, the so-called right-wing fringe seemed to have gone into temporary coma in Delhi.
Further, only a couple of days later, we heard the PM himself attending a Christian canonisation ceremony (which can hardly be described as a secular or scientific activity), and thundering that his government will not tolerate any intolerance or any infringement of the rights of religious minorities. This, if translated into real commitment, would be the greatest political, even existential lesson; BJP can draw from the rout it was subjected to, by the Delhi voter.
To me, however, the most lingering and inspiring image was one that I came across by sheer chance while travelling to Jaipur last week. It showed young girls offering red roses and wishing a happy Valentine’s Day to the ultimate symbol of human love and longing, Lord Krishna, at the famous Banke Bihari temple of Mathura.
This image of smiling girls playfully offering red roses to Krishna represents the essence of the dynamic soul of Hinduism as it is really lived in everyday practices. Hindu and other Indic traditions (including south Asian Islam and Christianity) have not merely survived, but have grown over the millennia not because of puritanical wannabes, but in spite of them and due to the characteristics like adaptation, innovation and invention, which constitute their DNA.
(The column appeared in March 1-15, 2015, issue)
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