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Nation versus civilisation

 

 
 
 

Dear reader,

 

In the backdrop of the polarising campaign by Hindutva groups around the Gyanvapi masjid in Varanasi, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat's remarks are, according to the Express editorial ('Don't go looking', June 4), "significant". Addressing a gathering of RSS workers in Nagpur, Bhagwat asked why create a daily conflict ("roz ek jhagda kyun badhana hai") and advised against "hunts in mosques for 'shivlings'". If a solution could not be found through negotiation, people must accept the decision of the courts on contested religious sites such as Gyanvapi. The editorial said: "To be sure, past experience of the playing out of Hindu-Muslim disputes over places of worship and the RSS's own shadowy politics in them, serve as a health warning against over-reading what Bhagwat said, and what he meant. And yet, his attempt to prise away, even if just a bit, the Hindu-Muslim present from its past resentments, his underlining of the authority of the courts, and most of all, his caution, in nearly so many words, against an overzealous Hindu assertion and triumphalism raking up old disputes and creating new confrontations, is heartening. In the current climate, in which the BJP's top leadership maintains a strategic silence even as shrill voices rise on Gyanvapi, the RSS has spoken up, taken a step forward."

 

Bhagwat has, in the past too, tried to nuance the RSS position on religious minorities, even going to the extent of rejecting views expressed by M S Golwalkar in Bunch of Thoughts. However, it did not influence the political conversation even within the extended Sangh Parivar. So, the editorial had a piece of advice for the BJP leadership in the party and government: "If what was said in Nagpur on Thursday has to travel outside, and to the ground, the party will need to own and amplify the message - with minimal loss in translation."

 

Sanjib Baruah's essay ('The new civilisationism', June 4) is a valuable addition to the debate on civilisation-state. Baruah describes civilisationism as the "new intellectual fad" sweeping across the power corridors in various national capitals. According to him, "the civilisational rhetoric of today is mostly an exercise in rebranding nations - and effort to expand or narrow an imagined "we" against an equally imagined "they". In his essay, Baruah puts the ongoing "rebranding" exercise in context and teases out the contradictions within it. He punctures the pompous claims that champions of this idea make to paint their nationalism as exceptional. He writes: "But if civilisations are utilised in the service of nationalism, what happens to the promise of the civilisational idea as a higher order principle for judging the nation-state as a political form? Some reflections by philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, made nearly a century ago, relate to this question. In Kalki or the Future of Civilisation, Radhakrishnan wrote, 'Before we can build a stable civilisation worthy of humanity as a whole it is necessary that each historical civilisation should become conscious of its limitations and its unworthiness to become the ideal civilisation of the world'."

 

The Union government has begun a month-long celebration of eight years of BJP rule. Ministers Smriti Irani, Rajiv Chandrasekhar, Arjun Ram Meghwal, former minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad were among those who wrote on the achievements of the NDA government. Randeep Surjewala, spokesperson of the Congress, dismissed the claims as empty boast.

 

Christophe Jaffrelot's remembrance of Paul Brass ('A student of India', June 4) is a fine tribute to the late political scientist, who was prescient in flagging the rise of communal politics in India and insightful in exposing the institutional mechanisms that create riots.

 

Santoor maestro Bhajan Sopori and popular Bollywood singer KK  passed away last week. The Express editorials ('A melancholy music', June 4, and 'Singing with KK', June 2 respectively) remember their contributions. Avijit Pathak ('When a teacher is killed', June 4) and Ameeta Mulla Wattal ('Why did you shoot my teacher', June 2) grieve over the shocking murder of a teacher by terrorists outside a school in Kulgam, Jammu and Kashmir. The Express editorial on the subject ('Writ in Kulgam', June 2) speaks about the need for political outreach to bring normalcy in the Valley.

 

Pratap Bhanu Mehta's take on the current debate over what is history and who gets to write it ('History isn't fun', June 3), Paromita Chakrabarti on the misogyny that has polluted the conversation on the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp case ('The trial of Amber Heard', June 3), Arvind P Datar on a recent Supreme Court ruling that spelt out the states' powers in the context of GST ('Tax by persuasion', June 3), Fali Nariman on why the sedition law must go ('A dispiriting law', June 1), Vikram Patel on the murder of an elderly person in Madhya Pradesh due to mistaken identity and how it reveals the sick nature of our society ('I am Bhanwarlal', May 31) are must-reads we published in the past few days.

 

Till next week,

 

Amrith

 

Amrith Lal is Senior Associate Editor with the Opinion team

 
 
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