Hindutva's Green

Published: March 14, 2012 - 15:26 Updated: March 16, 2012 - 14:37

Book: Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics
Author: Mukul Sharma
Publisher: Permanent Black
Pages: 300
Price: 795
Year: 2011

An excellent study whereby many holy myths are exploded, especially the bogus, media-manufactured myth of Anna Hazare
Akash Bisht Delhi

Spiritual guru Bhaiyyuji Maharaj, who helped Narendra Modi break his first Sadbhavana fast and who mediated with Anna Hazare in August 2011, had then told this reporter that he has worked very hard to create environmental awareness in the rural districts of Maharashtra. "I distribute saplings as prasad. Protection of our environment is crucial to the establishing of Ram Rajya," he said. A Hindutva leader, who is fighting illegal mining on the banks of Ganga, said: "Ganga is mother and we can't let this symbol of Hindu purity be polluted."

These two illustrations may seem politically apart. However, they offer glimpses into how Hindu Rightwing organisations are using eco-politics to push their sinister agenda.

In the last decades, there have been several instances of tacit alliances between environmental conservatism and Rightwing forces. This forging was hardly ever articulated or seriously analysed in Indian media or academia. That is why journalist Mukul Sharma's strikingly original book Green and Saffron is an insightful read for all those who wish to join the dots of this uncanny twilight zone. The book explains how the Hindutva brigade has embraced "environmentalism as one of its planks to articulate its socio-political goals".

Sharma segregates these trends as "greening of saffron" and "saffronisation of green": Rightwingers integrating environ-mentalism into their ideology and agenda, and Green movements making Hindutva's cultural politics a dynamic aspect of their discourse. Sharma lays stress on the second trend and carefully studies some recent eco-movements. These include the first ever microscopic insight into Anna Hazare's watershed development programme in Ralegan Siddhi, Sunderlal Bahuguna's opposition to Tehri dam, and the WWF-backed afforestation campaign in Vrindavan.

The nuanced study of Hazare's experiments is a revelation: how a retired army jawan ushered in development in a backward district with militaristic authority. Indeed, this social transformation was coupled with force and the fear of authority, which worked to Hazare's advantage. He legitimised flogging of drunken persons, and this ritualistic terror was a daily affair. Ralegan Siddhi has a rigid list of 'dos and don'ts'; any failure would rouse Hazare's dictatorial ire. In this sanitised, totalitarian, suffocating 'sacred space', movies, songs, non-vegetarian food, large families, tobacco, alcohol and TV are banned, and villagers can only watch religious movies or listen to devotional songs.

Interestingly, 200 people from the village are employed with the army, and narratives of war, army and 'enemies' make for most of the oral discourse here. As for Dalits and other backward classes, Hazare maintains that they should follow the orthodox, hierarchical Hindu varna vyavastha wherein each village had a Chamar, a Sonar and a Kumhar, among occupational castes. "Authority has reached a kind of Hegemonic Absolute here, for coercion is no longer perceived to be coercion. Instead, it is perceived as personal desire," writes Sharma.

Ralegan Siddhi has a rigid list of 'dos and don'ts'; any failure would rouse Hazare's dictatorial ire. In this sanitised, totalitarian, suffocating 'scared space', movies, songs, non-vegetarian food, large families, tobacco, alcohol and TV are banned.

The book also substantiates how fundamentalist outfits like VHP used the Tehri anti-dam movement for political interests. Eco-groups have increasingly evoked the 'holiness' of Ganga and other religious myths, which have, in turn, fed religious conservatism. The ecological movement thus lost its paradigm of radical, secular political resistance aligned to progressive struggles such as gender justice, human rights, grassroots militant struggles etc.

The study on Vrindavan afforestation focusses on how both Green and Saffron found a common language, symbolic meanings and affinities in a single movement. How Krishna was transformed into the great god of conservation! The chapter on conservative environmentalism in Europe offers insights into how eco-issues are becoming a key concern of conservative parties, and how Hitler had used it as an important tool to evoke the paranoia of national identity.

"A large part of the panoply of environmental politics in India today reveals some political allegiances or affinities with Hindu nationalist and authoritarian forces," writes Sharma. Green and Saffron is an excellent study by a seasoned journalist whereby many holy myths are exploded, especially the bogus media-manufactured myth of Anna Hazare.

'It is Anna who proposes flogging and Fear...'
Excerpts from Saffron and Green: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics 

…He (Anna Hazare)holds absolute power and his wish is the village’s command. His power seems all-encompassing and has emerged from a long and dynamic process of interaction with his village, activists, bureaucracy, and the government. This process is characterized by projections and counter-projections of religion, culture, and tradition; by contestations of what it means to live; and by the deployment of natural and human resources, including persuasion, coercion, and, possibly, suppression… 

…In the process of social transformation, Anna believes, advice, persuasion, and good counsel sometimes do not work, and then one can apply force. …It is Anna who proposes flogging and fear as essential parts of a green village, but this belief seems attractive to a wide audience. Even as the authority gives legitimacy to such use of force, fear makes room for itself in the social ethos and is even put on a high pedestal… 

“…Annajee gives punishment to those who take liquor. The person is tied to the pole and flogged overnight. The gram sabha has decided to form a group of twenty-five youths of the village who can also give punishment to drunkards…” 

…History and culture become reference points in the search for the common ground of means and values. A glorified mystic past can be a powerful tool to lay the grounds for norms acceptable in the present: an environmental organization or an authority constructs a past to fulfil present needs. Cultural symbols, as given, accepted, and consensual, derive their strength not only from being a part of the dominant value system but also because of their consonance with the contemporary body politic. The mystic past, the constructed culture, and the continuing present coalesce in shaping events beyond or outside the environmental domain too… 

…Anna’s god is not only ‘supreme’, a ‘superpower’ and ‘creator’, but also a selection of earthly gods who can be called, roused, and appropriated for the needs of a village or country. According to him, Lord Rama set an example before every citizen of how to conduct everyday life. 

…A high level of adherence to many ‘dos’ and don’ts’, both in public and private life, is central to the path of rural development in Ralegan Siddhi. Here no shop can sell bidis or cigarettes. Film songs and movies are not allowed. Only religious films, like Sant Tukaram, Sant Gyaneshwar, etc, may be screened. Only religious songs are allowed via loudspeakers at the time of marriages. …The regime is martial, its nearest prototype being the ancient Greek city republic of Sparta, fabled for the discipline which won it battles against forces far greater than its own. …The hegemonic process of acquiescence and its vocabulary are deeply brahminical… 

…There is no space or legitimacy here for the formal structures of democracy. Posters and pamphlets are not allowed during the state or national elections, nor direct election campaigning. …The virtual ban on political activities inside the village goes deeper, turning into an ideology of rejection of politics of every kind. The value of elections and voting is reduced to an enforced necessity… 

…The strong personal basis of Anna’s concept of morality, which has evolved with his life experiences and personal commitments, has often been highlighted. Less observed has been his emphasis on morality as a fundamental of a pure and clean cultural and social environment, and this is the basis of a strong nation and nation-building… 

…Simultaneously, unequal possession of land and utilization of water, exploitative labour relations and low wages, besides other forms of power, do exist and continue to work against the Dalits. The notion of Dalits as ‘dirty’ prevails.  …The idea of the integration of Dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan Siddhi. The first is the assumption that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that it is this usefulness that justifies their existence today. …The other component is hegemonic, designed to persuade Dalits to accept their status within the brahminical fold. This is not only manifest in the way food or dress habits are propagated, it is clear in several direct and indirect ways too…  

…In spite of the apparent diversities that characterize the various elements that make up Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi, we find an underlying thread of unity in the ideological system of a green village. Authority and its legitimacy are the key. Not only is this authority deeply rooted in the dominant socio-political tradition of the region, it is also often blind to many basic and universal issues of rights, democracy, and justice. Personal moral authority, while contributing in harnessing water and other natural and human resources to the betterment of villagers, simultaneously raises significant questions about its relationship to the making of a democratic, critical community, free from burdens of force, punishment, coercion, obligation, patronage, charity, and piety. There are other obvious limitations as well…  

An excellent study whereby many holy myths are exploded, especially the bogus, media-manufactured myth of Anna Hazare
Akash Bisht Delhi

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