By Sushil Kutty
On Wednesday, pictures of hundreds of youth protesting in a college campus in Cochin, Kerala filled television screens. The young protestors were angry at being served ‘beef cutlet’ at a college get-together. They were apparently “fooled” into eating beef by the college administration. Somewhere in the commentary it was heard that those leading the protest were ‘north Indian students’. Even if that was not the truth, the fact of the matter is that the protest lends credence to the talk that Hindutva was bent on conquering the final frontier – the South.
The hard truth is: time is running out for the Hindutva brigade. Already, three and a half years have gone by, and with the Hindu nationalist BJP in power at the Centre and two-thirds of the states under ‘saffron’ governments, Modi has been only talking of Vikas and more Vikas, at home and abroad, giving none of his time to forwarding the Hindutva agenda, paint the country saffron.
And to top that, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi has been making a strong pitch to appear more Hindu than Hindutva. Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat doing a temple-run and Siddaramaiah in Karnataka affirming he was Hindu cowherd sworn to protect the cow were danger signals. Even the Left in Kerala is proclaiming its Hindu roots. Like one commentator said, “Across southern India, a strange politics is impelling political parties and politicians to publicly affirm Hinduism.”
Even the godless Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has been inflicted with the ‘visit temple, greet Hindu priests’ flu. And Rajinikanth was talking of spiritual politics. The Karnataka chief minister has dumped his secular credentials as the BJP goes after him with cow-belt tactics, slaying his politics for being sympathetic to cow-killers and beef-eaters. Parades and programmes to celebrate Hindu ‘days’ have become the order of the day in south India with Left parties in Kerala turning avid devotees.
This affirmation of Hinduism is not just a political ploy, it is a larger mission to ‘convert’ Hinduism into an ‘organized religion’ to match the intolerance of monotheistic Islam and Christianity. Already, the first signs of success are there for everybody to see: Among the first converts are the so-called secular political parties, from the Congress to the Trinamool Congress of ‘Muslim-lover’ Mamata Bannerjee, and the communists who wouldn’t have been spotted dead in a temple till not long ago now gorging on temple Prasad!
That said, the ‘bhakts and desbhakts, but not your kind of bhakts’ reasoning does not hold because Hindus all over India are more similar in their belief of who is a Hindu and who is not, than is often taken as. Hindu customs and traditions north and south are important for both, Hindus of the north and south.
And the pan-Indian Hindu identity has no cracks, doesn’t matter if you are a Hindu of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu or Punjab or Haryana, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, everybody Hindu is a Hindu; regional differences do not make a dent on their Hindu religious identity.
Besides, linguistic nationalism is not a foil. Speaking Kannada, Kodava, Konkani, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu or Tulu doesn’t make a chit of a difference to the pan-India Hindu identity. Both pray to idols, both share religious rituals and religious symbols. Both travel to mutts north and south and both share a uniquely ‘Hindu fatalism’. Hindu women of north and south wear the sindoor as proof of marriage and the male Hindu up north and down south do not circumcise.
But where they differ is how Hindus, north or south, view other religions, especially Islam. Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are tests for the Hindutva proponents. Three states where Hindus and Muslims (and Christians) have been living like a loose federation of equals, sharing space and cultural ties, leaving religion out of the equation as much as possible. This is the final frontier the ‘RSS family of Hindutva’ wants to conquer: The majority of south Indians, irrespective of which religion they belong to, do not mistrust other religions.
So the “Hindutva assault” on these three states; the increasing number of visits by BJP and RSS leaders to these states, from Yogi Adityanath to Amit Shah to sundry swamis and religious leaders. The killer confrontations between ‘Hindutva and secular’ foot soldiers, the blood-letting, the blood-soaked bodies, the scythe and the trident; the love jihad and the conversions with ‘friendly national television channels’ devoting time to TV shows on these issues with a south Indian angle to boot.
The goal: Break the “accepting, open and tolerant” trait in the South Indian Hindu. Extend the frontiers of the cow-belt to South India. Make the beef-eating Kerala Hindu pay for his crime of eating beef for centuries and sacrificing a calf on a busy road more recently.
Again, Islam is not hated by the Hindus of South India. It was not a Ghazni or a Ghouri who descended on Kerala to plunder and rape and pillage but peaceful groups of Muslims who found acceptance there. And compared to the north there is only a miniscule number of Hindu victims of Partition in the south who carry within them hatred for everything Islam.
The Hindus and Muslims of Kerala have been keeping their religious distance and cultural proximity with each other intact for centuries. A large body of Christians in the population has been a bridge of sort even if only a bridge in the mind.
The Hindutva campaign to break this mould is a test for everyone. The ‘beef cutlet’ served at the college in Cochin, and which is at the centre of the student protest, should be exported to every state in India as a symbol of a unified India. The principal of the college should be saved from being lynched by the north Indian cow vigilante booking tickets on the Kerala Express. The college campus stays shut as of today.(IPA Service)