Journalistic 'Fictions'

 

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"Journalistic 'Fictions': A Critique of the Categories 'Fundamentalist' and 'Nazi' in Journalists' Writing on the Bharatiya Janata Party"

Matthew A. Cook
Independent Social Scientist
2133 Stockton St., C103
San Francisco, CA 94133
(e-mail: jent@sfsu.edu)

 

Abstract

"Journalistic Fictions: A Critique of the Descriptive Categories 'Fundamentalist' and 'Nazi' in Journalists' Writing on the BJP" examines the difference that exists between how journalists construct and how the BJP constructs "Hindu Nationalism." First, I analyze the journalists' construction of "Hindu Nationalism" by showing how this category is metaphorically equated to "Fundamentalism" and "Nazism." Second, I contrast this construction of "Hindu Nationalism" with those offered by BJP supporters and members. Third, using critical theory, folkloristics, and historiography (i.e., the work of Edward Said, Stuart Hall, James Clifford, William Wilson, Krista Kamensky, John Stratton Hawley, Robert Frykenberg, Ronald Inden, and Romila Thapar), I question the accuracy of representing the BJP, which espouses "Hindu Nationalism," as being "Fundamentalists" and "Nazis": I argue that these representations are based on literary practices and stereotypes associated with Orientalist constructions of the "exotic" East. Fourth, I reflexively reexamine my critique of the press' construction of "Hindu Nationalism" in light of the field experience. I then conclude by using my field experience to reflect on the role language and writing play in the contemporary social sciences.

Introduction

When someone with the authority [for example, a journalist]... describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.1
-Adrienne Rich

Journalists, both Indian and "Western," have written a storm about the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. "Writing a storm" refers both to the amount of material published and public reactions to it. From the BJP perspective much of this press is negative; party members vehemently complain that the press misrepresents them.2 The relationship between journalists and the BJP reflects, to some extent, the relationship between ethnographer / subject.

Anthropological "subjects" frequently complain that ethnographies don't represent their lives. Subjects' complaints have triggered a crisis of credibility within anthropology, and have resulted in a literary analysis which examines and emphasizes the author/subject relationship within ethnographic texts. Literary analyses have shown that "objective" or neutral discourse does not exist; writing always comes from a particular perspective. This realization has sent shocks through a discipline that once believed that scientific and objective methodologies could capture the "native's" point of view. Examining the problem between the press and the BJP reflects some of the most pressing problems in modern anthropology.

Anthropologists attempt to utilize "new" descriptive practices to alleviate problems and, thereby, create a mirror to other lifestyles less foggy than their predecessors'. One such technique gives an audible "voice" to the subject in anthropological texts (Tyler. 1986: 126-136). After all, "we" are writing about "them," and who else would know more about themselves than our subjects?

In the case of the BJP, journalists have not addressed such theoretical conflicts. Throughout my research the representation of the BJP that emerged from Indian and Western press, rarely matched with the actual voices of BJP members, or quotations from them. This paper examines this mismatch and centers on the difference that exists between the press and the BJP concerning their definition of "Hindu Nationalism." It contains five sections: the first analyses the definition found in the press, the second illustrates how members / supporters of the BJP define the concept, the third offers literary explanations for why the press' definition differs from the BJP's; the fourth, is a reexamination of my critique in light of "field experience," and the fifth concludes with general insights that emerge from the process of writing representations of the BJP.

 

I. "Hindu Nationalism": Journalism's Definition

The journalism community agrees that the BJP supports Hindu Nationalism:
The political manifestation of Hindu nationalism in the 1980's is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). (Tierney. World Press Review. January 1991)

It [the BJP] has began to stress Hindu nationalism. (The Economist. April 13, 1991)

More correctly, it [the BJP] espouses Hindu nationalism. (The Economist. June 22, 1991)

But what is "Hindu Nationalism?" The press describes the BJP as a "Fundamentalist" political party, which desires the establishment of a Hindu theocracy in India:

Lal Krishen Advani, [is the] chief of the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party. (Lane and Mazumdar. Newsweek November 12, 1990)

Over the past year India has witnessed a surge of Hindu fundamentalism, abetted and used for political gain primarily by the BJP and Fundamentalist groups. (Lawrence. The Christian Century January 30, 1991)

His party [L.K. Advani], he says, would make India a Hindu state much as Moslem-dominated Pakistan is an Islamic state. (Phillips. Maclean's June 3, 1991)

...the BJP's efforts to use religion in politics and create a theocratic state... (Joshi. Frontline. Aug. 14, 1992)

"Fundamentalist" and "theocratic" are both religious terms but refer to greatly differing concepts. By calling the BJP a Hindu Nationalist party and then describing it as a party that supports fundamentalism and theocracy, the press ostensibly equates Hindu Nationalism with fundamentalism and theocracy. In actuality while these three concepts differ greatly in meaning, they form a set of three overlapping but distinctive concepts.

When the press states that the BJP supports fundamentalism and theocracy, it implies that these three concepts and their religious implications, are part of the philosophy of "Hindu Nationalism" that the BJP supports. In addition, the press interprets the "Hindu" in "Hindu Nationalism" to mean a practitioner of Hinduism.

Furthermore, the descriptive technique of equating the BJP as supporting, on the one hand, fundamentalism and theocracy (with their deeply religious connotations), and on the other, supporting Hindu Nationalism, gives the term "Hindu," in the context of "Hindu Nationalism," a religious meaning. Defined in this manner, "Hindu" is exclusionary in nature. This implied meaning is reflected in press descriptions of the BJP, which describe it as being against other religions:

According to Nandy, Hindu nationalists fear not only Moslems but all [religious] minorities. (Tierney. World Press Review January 1991)

It rejects the "foreign" influences of Islam, Christianity. (Desmond. Time June 24, 1991)

The historical roots of nationalism shed light on journalists' portrayal of "Hindu Nationalism." Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) first developed the concept of nationalism in his analysis of the influences of the French Enlightenment on Germany.

Herder's writings on the concept of the "nation" (along with it's various "isms", and "alities") were a reaction to the philosophy of the French Enlightenment. According to this philosophy, the individual was "to work for the creation of a common community of nations governed by universal, rational law" (Wilson. 1973: 822). The concept of "a common community" created a cultural imperialism, which committed non-Francophile languages and customs to the grave (Wilson. 1973: 824).

As a German, Herder fiercely opposed this French influence on German culture and argued that "every [nation] carries within itself the standard of its own perfection, which can in no way be compared with that of others" (Wilson. 1973: 822). These standards of perfection were based on "the national soul" which consisted of a community's "own language, art, literature, religion, customs, and laws" (Wilson. 1973: 824). Of primary importance in the preceding list, was language. This was because the rest of the standards of perfection depended on language for their transmission. Language was such an important aspect of the "national soul," that Herder actually defines a nationality in terms of it:

A group of people who speak either the same language or closely related dialects, who cherish common historical tradition, and who constitute or think [italics mine] they constitute a distinct cultural society. (Wilson. 1973: 820)

Language was to be "unspoiled by foreign influence," therefore Herder turned to peasants, "who had kept on their lips those songs created by folk poets in the days when German culture had rested on its own foundation," to "mirror the ancient German soul" (Wilson. 1973: 820).

No matter how one cuts it, Herder's radical cultural relativism has an exclusionary aspect to it. At the root of Herder's argument is the rejection of foreign influences: namely that Enlightenment philosophy, which was deemed as a "French" invention (Wilson. 1973: 827).

Herder's arguments have not fallen on deaf ears during the past 200 years. They have inspired many nationalist movements in Europe: unarguably, the most notorious example of the political implementation of Herder's writings occurred under the Nazi Party of Germany during the 1930's and 40's. Nazi officials openly acknowledged Herder's influence by referring to him in support of their policies (Kamensky. 1972: 233-234). In particular, the policy of exclusion and persecution of "non-Aryans".

Press descriptions of the BJP, define "Hindu Nationalism" in this "Herderian" sense. It uses metaphors associated with the Nazi Party to describe the BJP:

Others, including former Press Secretary Prem Shankar Jha, see an analogy between the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and the rise of Fascism in Germany. Fascism, Jha contends, arose in Europe at a particular juncture in the region's industrialization, when small-scale entrepreneurs felt threatened by the encroachment of large industry. In his view, India is at a similar juncture. (Lawrence. The Christian Century January 30, 1991)
BJP is a Trojan horse of fascism. (The Economist. June 22, 1991)

Yet this big lie, hones through propaganda aparatchik, Josef Goebbels, has begun to acquire the force of immutable truth. Today, when confronted with evidence of their duplicity, the storm troopers of the BJP.... (Joshi. Frontline. August 14, 1992)

When discusing the relationship between the BJP and the Indian Muslim community, the Holocaust is invoked:

M.J. Akbar, a former newspaper editor and Congress supporter, said recently: "Hitler had the Jews, Advani has the Moslems". (Bierman and Bose. Maclean's July 1, 1991)

What can easily be a monument to communal and religious enmity is the flintstone for a holocaust. (Vishwanathan. Times of India (TOI). July 25, 1992)

Metaphors associated with the Nazi Party occur in discussions on BJP policies:

Education: BJP Adopts The Nazi Model. (Tripathi. TOI Aug. 20, 1992)

The uncanny resemblance between the argument forwarded by the UP government [run by the BJP] for rewriting history and reshaping math in high schools from this academic session and the theory propounded by Hitler for the remodeling the educational system which existed in Germany after WW I, are too close for comfort. (Tripathi. TOI Aug. 20, 1992)

These metaphors clearly allude to "Hindu Nationalism" as being "Herderian," or more specifically, Herderian in the Nazi or fascist sense.

 

II. Critique of Journalism's Definition of "Hindu Nationalism"

According to historian John Stratton Hawley: Hinduism--the word, and perhaps the reality too--was born in the 19th century, a notoriously illegitimate child. The father was middle class and British, and the mother, of course, was Indian. The circumstances of the conception are not altogether clear. (Hawley. 1991: 20)

Hawley argues that "Hinduism originated as a European term, not an Indian one," and traces the term's usage by western authors (Hawley. 1991: 24). At the heart of Hawley's argument lies the observation by historian Monier Monier-Williams that Hinduism [and Brahmanism] originally "are not names recognized by the natives [the Hindus]" (Monier-Williams in Hawley. 1991: 22). This fact should not be surprising considering the term "Hindu," prior to India's colonization by Great Britain, did not have a religious connotation:

Originally, "Hindu" defined not a religion but a geographical attribute of all non-Muslim peoples south and east of the Indus River: that is, in "Hindustan". Smith argues that Hinduism as a distinct religion was a 19th-century construct, as were most other "Eastern" religions or "isms". (Smith in Hitlebeitel. 1991: 26)

When discussing the concept of "Hindu Nationalism" the press misinterprets the term Hindu by confusing its older geographic meaning with that of its newer religious meaning. Govindacharya, BJP General Secretary, and Jagdish Shettigar, a member of the BJP's national executive, define the term in a geo-cultural sense:

Everybody [referring to members of the BJP] knows that when the BJP speaks of Hindutva [Hindu nationalism in Hindi], it means land of the culture and not religion [emphasis mine]. (Govindacharya and Shettigar. 1991: 30)

In concurrence, Mani Shankar Aiyar, in "Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan," rightly observes one central principle of the BJP philosophy:

Everyone that lives in Hindustan [a.k.a. India], is, by definition, a Hindu....The argument is that the word "Hindu" does not appertain to a religion, the correct name of the religion being "Sanatanna Dharma," but to a cultural identity, the specific identity of the inhabitants of Hindustan. (Aiyar. Sunday Sept. 13 1992).

Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, former President of the BJP stated, "Our approach is to emphasize the bonds of unity in India that are sustained by its glorious heritage" (Tierney. World Press Review January 1991). This "glorious heritage" is that of the inhabitants of Hindustan and includes all cultural groups, not just Hindus. For example, the BJP and it supporters talk highly of the contributions of Muslims to Indian culture:

Muslims have immensely influenced Indian cuisine and dress. They gave also contributed to Urdu literature and aided the development of Hindi. Their rich contributions to Hindustani classical music also cannot be denied. (Chaterjee. TOI Sept. 20, 1992)

-Padmanabhan RSS worker and BJP supporter.

M.J.P. Nadda, president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha [a pro-BJP organization], cited the couplets of Rahim as a glowing example of Islams' gift to India. (Chaterjee. TIO Sept. 20, 1992).

My favorite music is classical and light, which include ghazal and qawwalis. I remember many a shear (Urdu couplet) and often quote them in Parliament. (Chaterjee. TOI Sept. 20, 1992)

-K.L. Sharma, BJP Vice-President and spokesperson

Irrespective of your religion, our culture is the same, our heritage is the same. Akbar is part of our culture and Ram is also part of our culture, the Taj Mahal is part of our culture and the Great Narada is also part of our culture.3

-L.K. Advani, BJP President
The geo-cultural definition of the term "Hindu" also helps explain why there are "non-Hindus" (individuals who practice religions besides Hinduism) in the BJP, for example Afir Beg (a BJP general secretary) (Madhok. 1986: 105) and Sikander Bakht (leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha) (Anderson. 1987: 227). In addition, it explains why the BJP has always fielded Muslim candidates during elections (The Economist. June 22, 1991). It's highly unlikely that the BJP would have Muslim members, and run them for public office, if it were the religious fundamentalist political party that the press leads readers to believe.

If "Hindu" is an inclusive term, referring to the entire cultural mosaic of modern-day India, then the correlation between the BJP and the Nazi Party of Germany, which revolves around the exclusion and persecution of minority groups (be they Jews or Muslims), is particularly misleading. After all, how many Jews were members of the Nazi Party, or members of the party's general secretary.

The description of the BJP as the Nazi Party of India becomes even more questionable when you examine the political philosophy of the two groups. The Nazi political philosophy was what could be called "unity without diversity." Fascists historically desire cultural uniformity (Anderson. 1983: 129-140). Uniformity is promoted through propaganda designed to homogenize peoples. For example, Franco's attempts to suppress regional languages and culture, such as Basque and Catalan, in Spain, and Stalin's "Russification" of minorities in the former Soviet Union (Anderson. 1983: 82-83). The Nazi Party used the symbol of the "Aryan" to homogenize the people of Germany. This concept is an example of a unifying technique that does not stress common bonds, but simply makes them up. The concept of the "Aryan" was a complete fiction,4 but it allowed the Nazis, who realized the unifying attributes of language, to give their Aryan "ancestors" a common language: German. Language was thus used by the Nazis extensively as a unifying technique. For example, a common language bond was behind Hitler's demand for Anschluss with Austria, as well as the acquisition of Czechoslovakia's Studattenland. Finally, the Nazis promoted homogenization by strengthening the centralized government. This strengthening was done through political oppression of the competition: i.e. the Church, other political parties, etc.

India, like pre-20th century Germany, is linguistically and ethnically heterogeneous. As a result there is much regional conflict within India: consider the separatist movements in Assam, Kashmir, and Punjab. The BJP, similarly to the Nazis, attempts to promote feelings of unity through the use of a symbol: the term "Hindu" in Hindu Nationalism. This symbol however varies from that of the "Aryan" in two very important ways. First, the concept of "Hindu" is a cultural composite (see previous section), the concept "Aryan" on the other hand was a "fiction." Second, the BJP's symbolism does not promote uniformity through a common language bond. The BJP does not actively seek the establishment of a pan-Indian language. For example, this is reflected in the BJP's political support for such groups such as the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), which actively seeks the establishment of a local language as Assam's official language.

The BJP / Nazi correlation also fails to make sense when one examines the BJP's philosophy concerning the relationship between the Centre (or federal) and state governments. The BJP, unlike the Fascist, does not support the centralization of government power (Agha. 1991: 21). This stand reflects its support for regional political groups such as the AGP, and the Jarkhand Murkti Morcha's desire for the formation of a Jarkhand state (Ahmed. 1992: 26).

 

III. Fundamentalist and Nazis: Journalistic Orientalism

How can "objective" journalists produce such skewed and misinformed accounts. How is it possible for them not to "tell it like it is?" Journalists write with some of the same preconceptions of the "East" that both historians and anthropologists have had in the past.
It's Those Fundamentalist, Theocratic Easterners Again!

Writers of social phenomena have historically "described" by the juxtaposition of categories: for example, we talk of Tonnies' theory of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, Durkheim's Mechanical and Organic Solidarity, and Sapier's Genuine and Spurious Culture. These theories, which juxtapose the concepts homogeneous/heterogeneous, traditional/modern, agrarian/industrial, static/dynamic, produce binaries that give the impression that phenomena can only be associated with one of two opposing sides of an issue: either "Us," or "Them."

The terms "fundamentalist" and "theocratic" fit this descriptive practice. Notice that these terms derive meaning only when juxtaposed with their binary opposites: "rationalist" and "secularist." The binaries of rationalist/fundamentalist and secularist/theocratic propose neatly labeled compartments, which, like Tonnie's Durkheim's, and Sapier's binaries, give the impression that each category is "fixed" and mutually exclusive (Thapar. 1968: 320). The West ("Us"), the home of rational and secular democracy, does not in the context of politics associate itself with the categories "fundamentalist" nor "theocratic" (despite the fact that both these terms developed out of the experience of Christians in the West (Frykenberg. 1988: 20-39)). These categories describe non-Westerners ("Them").

Journalists descriptions of the BJP and their "followers" underline the definition of the categories "fundamentalist" and "theocratic," as terms opposed to rationalism and secularism. Here are some reports found in the Press:

Along the way, Advani presided over rituals in which 101 zealots offered a pot of their blood to his cause, and another supporter pierced his arm with a trident and put a blood mark on Advani's forehead. (Lane and Mazumdar. Newsweek November 12, 1990)

Last week hundreds of thousands of Advani's followers converged on Ayodhya- bent on tearing down the mosque at the precise moment astrologers [italics mine] had determined it would be most auspicious to do so. (Lane and Mazumdar. Newsweek November 12, 1990)

An increasing number of people are willing to kill in the name of causes which they find holier than the discredited law of the land. Hence the burgeoning popularity of the Bharatiya Janata Party: a fringe party of Hindu extremists. (The Economist. May 25, 1991)

A meeting of 6,000 Hindu religious leaders endorsed the BJP's campaign. (The Economist. April 13, 1991)

These passages construct the BJP as both irrational and unsecular. This type of portrayal of the "East" by the "West" has a history. Edward Said in the book Orientalism notes:

The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of...exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences. (Said. 1978: 1)

The portrayal of the BJP in journalism can be described as full of "exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences." After all, the party's leader accepts blood sacrifices from his followers, who themselves depend on astrology to guide their actions.

Nazi Metaphors and Orientalism

Romila Thapar argues, in "Interpretations of Ancient History," that history texts have in the past conceptualized the Indian political system as being despotic: "The static character of Indian society with its concomitant despotic rulers became and accepted truth of Indian history. The concept of Oriental Despotism began to take shape" (Thapar. 1968: 322). Used in this context "Oriental" refers geographically to the "East," and "Despotism" to a totalitarian ruler. Historian/Anthropologist Ronald Inden, in Imagining India, comes to a similar definition: "Despotism, the arbitrary or capricious rule by fear of an all-powerful autocrat over a docile and servile populace, is the normal and distinctive political institution of the East" (Inden. 1990: 53).

Both Thapar and Inden argue that "despotism" forms a leit motif in discourses on the "East." This leit motif occurs in journalistic accounts of the BJP, and is expressed through metaphors that invoke Hitler and the actions of the Nazi Party, despite both phenomena being associated with Western, not Indian, political concepts. By correlating the BJP with Nazism the press, not so subtly, hints that the former is despotic in nature. In this manner, the BJP becomes a contemporary incarnation of the old theme of "Oriental Despotism."

 

IV. Field Realizations

Before conducting "fieldwork" in India I imagined the representations of the BJP as just another example of descriptive practices not uncommon in "Western" portrayals of the "East." However, when I arrived in India I found that the Indo-Anglo press was saying the same things as the accounts I read back home: equally simplistic. There was a period of time during which I seriously questioned my skepticism about representations of the BJP. Were they really fundamentalist Hindu "Nazis" who wanted to "exterminate" other religious communities of India? After critically reading many news accounts of the BJP, both Western and Indian, and talking to Indians I actually met about the BJP, I came to believe that my original skepticism about the simplicity of press representations of the party were well founded. Two realizations helped me understand why Indian and "Western" journalistic accounts of the BJP were similar: (a) the BJP is not a homogeneous political organization; and (b) the two portions of the binary descriptive that supposedly separates "East" from "West," in the context of English language journalists, actually overlaps.

The BJP: A Schizoid Organization

Over the past eight years the BJP has blossomed in power. In 1984 the party controlled two of the five hundred plus seats in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament). As of 1992, the BJP controls 119 seats and is the second largest political party in India. This rapid increase in its support base, which has resulted in "new" blood, has caused some very important inter-party difficulties. This following section explores some of the intra-BJP fissures which help explain, once again, why journalism's representation of the BJP differs from the one I saw during my fieldwork.

The BJP prides itself on being both a well organized, and disciplined political party. As a result, there has been little intra-BJP political fighting. So much so, that the term parivar, or family in Hindi, is popularly used to describe it and its political allies. With the BJP's increased popularity, "new blood" has been introduced into the BJP. Much of this "new blood" comes from groups, such as the VHP and Bajrang Dal, that support the building of the Ram Jamnabhoomi Mandir in Ayodhya. Many members of these groups are also members of the BJP. These new members have brought with them to the BJP an ideology that has strong religious overtones. The influence of these BJP members has increased to such an extent that L.K. Advani states, "Our workers forget we are a political party and not a religious organization" (India Today. Year of Destiny 1991: 42). Nowhere was L.K. Advani's statement more evident than during the flair-up over the building of the Ram Jamnabhoomi Mandir, or temple, in the city of Ayodhya during July of 1992.

The BJP came to power in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya is located, by supporting the construction of a Hindu temple where currently a mosque exists. After two years in power, the BJP government had still not built the mandir. Consequently, supporters of the Ram Jamnabhoomi issue lost their patience and began building a section of the mandir. What ensued was infighting between BJP moderates and religious hardliners. For example, some headlines from July 1992 state:

This man [Ashok Singal leader of the VHP] wants that the country goes totally to pieces. I am totally against such extreme posturing on the temple issue and I am trying to speak to other party leaders not to get carried away by the statement of this man... a BJP chief minister told an informal gathering of partymen this week. (TOI. July 22, 1992)

Some of us had reservations about giving BJP [election] tickets to saints. (Sonwalkar. TOI July 23, 1992a)

Headline: Moderate BJP men unhappy with VHP. (TOI. July 22, 1992)

Party [BJP] sources today admitted that quite a few leaders were unhappy with the overly confrontationalist approach adopted by the VHP- Bajrang Dal leadership. (TOI. July 22, 1992)

Further examples of conflict between the moderates and religious hardliners of the BJP come from the activities of the current BJP President Murli Manohar (or M.M.) Joshi.

M.M. Joshi, a hard-liner with ties to the VHP, succeeded L.K. Advani as President of the BJP in 1990. It was under the popular leadership of Advani that the BJP went from 2 seats to 119 in the Lok Sabha. Consequently, Joshi has engaged in political "mudslinging" in an attempt to countermand the popularity of his predecessor. This mudslinging has been indirect. It has not been aimed at Advani, but his more moderate allies within the BJP. For example, Joshi in 1991 accused Govindacharya (the BJP's All India General Secretary) and Uma Bharati (an MP), both Advani loyalists, of a love affair. Joshi then demoted Govindacharya by sending him to "punishment posting" in Tamil Nadu. The Times of India observed that this act was "an effort by Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, to cut him [Govindacharya] down to size" (Sehgal. TOI July 25, 1992).

Joshi has also indirectly attacked the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Kalyan Singh, another known Advani sympathizer. This was done through Bhanu Pratap Shukla, a Joshi aid who encouraged the pro-BJP publication Panchjanya to publish an article claiming Singh's personal secretary Nripendra Mishra was a CIA agent (Sonwalkar. TOI Sept. 16, 1992b).

M.M. Joshi's attacks on Advani clearly illustrate that different "voices" within the BJP do not see eye-to-eye. One of the issues they do not see eye-to-eye on concerns "Hindu Nationalism." Members from the different factions of the BJP give the concept different twists: some define the term "Hindu" as a geo-cultural term, others define it as a purely religious one. If one looks at the way in which hard-liners use the latter definition of "Hindu" it becomes easier to understand the press portrayal of the BJP as fascist and fundamentalist.

When hard-line BJP members and their allies use the term "Hindu" as a religious descriptive category it implies cultural uniformity. This is because it does not refer to the practitioner of a variety of diverse and multifaceted traditions, but to what John Stratton Hawley calls Pan-Indian or syndicated "Hinduism" (Hawley. 1991: 33). Hindu in this context refers to a member of a "world religion" (Frykenberg in Hitlebeitel. 1991: 26), like Christianity or Islam. This definition is relatively new according to historian Wilfred Cantwell Smith (Smith in Hitlebeitel. 1991: 26). Robert Frykenberg, in Hinduism Reconsidered, echoes Smith by arguing that the treatment of the "Hindu religion" as a single entity gave birth to a definition of Hinduism that had not existed before the 19th century, and in fact, it created "an entirely new religion (Frykenberg in Hawley. 1991: 34)." Frykenberg goes on to state that attributing to Hinduism the character of a "world religion" is intellectually erroneous (Frykenberg in Hitlebeitel. 1991: 26).

Pan-Indian or syndicated "Hinduism," as used by hard-line BJP members, also homogenizes other religious communities who have their roots in India into the greater "Hindu community." Ashok Singal recently stated that a VHP sponsored program would include all "major sects of the Hindu community--Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Arya Samajis and so on" (Frontline July 31,1992).

When hard-line BJP members and their allies use the term "Hindu" as a religious descriptive category, they use it, like the fascist Nazi Party used "Aryan"-- to transcend cultural diversity and promote feelings of unity among the myriad of different Indian communities. In this sense the term Hindu creates not only an "ingroup" (consisting of Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, and the entire gamut of "Hindu" sects), but also an "outgroup"-- the Indian Muslim community. Furthermore, the fact that the "ingroups" and "outgroups" are being drawn in terms of religion adds a "fundamentalist" flavor which brings to mind the policies of the Ayatolla Khommeini, who wants to impose a theocratic state with no room for unbelievers.

In this sense the journalistic representations of the BJP are not total fiction. However, such representations are far from revealing the entire picture: The BJP is a complex, multidimensional party. So once again my question arises: why have journalists repeatedly insisted on reducing the BJP simply to a fascist and fundamentalist group?

Professional Writers: Where "East" is "West"

My thesis that the binary constructs that supposedly separate the "East" from the "West" actually overlap, was inspired by Julie Stephens' "Feminist Fictions: A Critique of the Category 'Non-Western Women' in Feminist Writings on India." Stephens points out that western feminist writers used many of the same descriptive practices as their male counterparts. Women writing about other women, did not free feminists from descriptive practices resulting from their western (essentially male-dominated) educational training. Similarly, one should not assume that because Indian journalists are Indian, their writing on the BJP would tell it anymore "like it is," or anymore accurately, than their "western" counterparts. If one looks at the educational system in India, which has no doubt produced many journalists, one finds it curiously "western"--in fact greatly influenced--by English public school values.

The Indian educational system's roots are in western Europe. In 1813, when the East India Company's charter was up for renewal, the English parliament mandated 100,000 rupees for the promotion of "native" education. Supposedly, "a thoroughly English education system was to be introduced which...would create 'a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect' (Anderson. 1983: 86)." Benedict Anderson, in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, notes that the creation of "Englishmen" out of "natives," through the apparatus of education, was a general English colonial policy. He calls this process "Anglicization" (Anderson. 1983: 8).

Literary evidence indicates "Anglicization" was not a failed policy. Bipin Chandra Pal wrote that pre-Independence Indian Magistrates, ...had not only passed a very rigid test on the same terms as British members of the service, but had spent the very best years of the formative period of their youth in England. Upon their return to their homeland, they practically lived in the same style as their brother Civilians, and almost religiously followed the social conventions and the ethical standards of the latter. In those days, the Indian-born Civilian practically cut himself off from his parent society, and lived and moved and had his being in the atmosphere so beloved of his British colleges. In mind and manners he was as much an Englishman as any Englishman. It was no small sacrifice for him, because in this way he completely estranged himself from the society of his own people and became socially and morally a pariah among them .... He was as much a stranger in him own native land as the Europeans residents in the country. (Pal in Anderson. 1983: 88)

The process of "Anglicization" continued after India's independence from Britain. V.S. Naipaul, in An Area of Darkness, dedicates an entire chapter to various Indians he met in 1964 who had higher levels of education, that culturally identified more with the "West" than India (Naipaul.1964: 44-67). Naipaul's following observation seems to further indicate "Anglicization" was at work in post-independence India:

The Indian Army Officer is at a first meeting a complete English army officer. He even manages to look English; his gait and bearing are English; his mannerisms, his tastes in drink are English; his slang is English. (Naipaul. 1964: 57)

"Anglicization" of Indians is still occurring today, not only through education in western (and western styled) educational institutions, but also through the mass media. Upon arriving in India, and entering my host's house, I found them lounging around their big-screen T.V. watching CNN, BBC, and reading The Economist. It can be argued that this sort of infusion of western discourse doesn't apply to the masses of poverty-stricken Indians. I would underline this argument and point out, in addition, that the masses of poverty-stricken Indians do not own publishing houses, nor do they usually have the opportunity to become writers for the Times of India.

Stuart Hall, in the essay "Cultural Identity and Diaspora," states the following about the process of writing:

We all write and speak from a particular place and time...What we always say is...positioned. (Hall. 1990: 222)

I contend that the position from which Indian and "western" journalists write overlap. This overlap is a result of "Anglicazation" and is exemplified in press accounts of the BJP. The Indian English language journalist, exposed to common literary themes through education in similar (if not identical, educational institutions) as well as western mass media, portray the BJP from a similar intellectual position as their western colleagues. It is because of their interaction and training in "western" institutions that Indian journalists describe the BJP with language associated with the general themes of "Orientalism" and "Oriental Despotism" traditionally found in western discourse.

 

V. Conclusion

This paper represents an "alternative" view of the BJP. I conceptualize the relationship between this representation and that of the press using Clifford Geertz's "elephant metaphor." Geertz, when commenting on the conflicting representations of the Topotzlan by anthropologists Robert Redfield and Oscar Lewis, states:

the tendency... is to regard the problem as stemming for different sorts of minds taking hold of different parts of an elephant... (Geertz. 1989: 5-6)

My "mind," from which my representation was conjured, has been greatly influenced by the "current traffic... between cultural studies and anthropology" (Marcus 1992: vii). This "traffic," which has revolved around analysis of anthropological texts and discourse, teaches me to question "the usual" ("hegemonic") representations of the "subject" in writing, especially in regard to writings on the "East," to look for alternative representations, and to employ different descriptive methods in my writing.5 Furthermore, this "traffic" illustrates the impossibility of writing representations that objectively "tells it like it is." I recognize that my representation of the BJP is only a part of the "elephant;" and I will not attempt to con the reader into believing it is the entire animal.

If you can not objectively "tell it like it is" then what is the goal of writing? The goal is to make original and mature insights and to create convincing arguments based on these insights. Writing is a political act, in which one always maintains a certain partiality (Clifford and Marcus. 1986: 1-2). If writing must "be partial," than the methodologies guiding how one writes must also "be partial." In this sense, no one methodology can be proven more accurate than another. Rather than utilizing any particular "orthodox methodology," the writer uses a variety of different methodologies to explore phenomena. She or he can then expand his or her knowledge of other fields' methodologies, appropriate them, or aspects of them, and use them in conjunction or disjuction with ones already known to create more convincing representations. My analysis comes from my own experience talking to Indians in India and the United States, and results from my suspicions about ascribing to what one reads in the news as being "the truth."

The incomplete nature of literary representations has a further implication. Partiality means that certain points are always being left out. Therefore, representations by necessity remain incomplete (Clifford and Marcus. 1986: 7). My representation of the BJP proves no exception. The hole that screams out in my mind most concerns the relationship between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP. Many BJP politicians have also been members of the RSS. Not surprisingly the RSS has also been described as both "fundamentalist" (Frykenberg. 1988: 27) and "fascist" (Anderson. 1987: 82-83).

Yet, I am leery about using these terms. The term "fundamentalist" carries religious overtones. While it is correct to state that RSS philosophy contains religious themes, it is also true that its leader, in 1964, encouraged the establishment of the VHP: A group through which the RSS was supposed to establish closer ties to the Hindu ecclesiastical community (Anderson. 1987: 133-139). If the RSS were already an religious organization, why encourage the formation of the VHP? As for calling the RSS "fascist," certain elements of the organization's belief system (i.e. the concepts of the nation as an organic unit, of collective consciousness, and of a national soul) seem to justify this label (Anderson. 1987: 82).

I find myself in agreement with Walter K. Anderson, who in the book The Brotherhood in Saffron states: "there are significant differences with the European expressions of fascism that should caution one to handle the comparison carefully" (Anderson. 1987: 82). Anderson notes that the fascist concept of the national will embodies one leader. The RSS rejects this view. Unlike fascist leaders, for example Hitler and Musolini, RSS leaders were not particularly charismatic before assuming office. Furthermore, the RSS does not seek "to destroy or to seize control of all existing centers of socio-political and economic power" like fascists do (Anderson. 1987: 83). The accusation that the RSS is "fundamentalist" and "fascist" becomes more complicated because in some senses it seems to apply, while in others it does not. A detailed analysis of the RSS remains another project that will shed further light on the complex nature of the BJP.

Does incompleteness bother me? Not particularly. Social phenomena, be they cultures or political parties, are not natural objects that can be neatly dissected, labeled, and recorded in a lab report. Social phenomena are multidimensional, and change over time (Rosaldo. 1989: 92; Inden. 1990: 22-29). Therefore, it is not possible to produce a "complete" document about them. If the writer accepts this, he or she can then focus on a particular aspect of a social phenomena. In doing this he or she frees "energy" from the impossible task of "completeness." This "energy" can then be redirected into producing a document original in both its content and form.

 

Notes

1 Rich in Rosaldo. 1989: p. ix.
2 L.K. Advani, during the t.v. interview entitled Vision of Asia: An exclusive interview with L.K. Advani, criticizes a BBC journalist who labeled the BJP "fundamentalist."
3 L.K. Advani quoted from documentary Ayodhya: City Under Siege.
4 For an analysis of this point, refer to Franz Boaz's essay "The Aryans" in Race and Democratic Society and Christa Kamensky's "Folklore as a Political Tool in Nazi Germany" in this paper's References Cited section.
5 On this point, Clifford and Marcus' Writing Culture, and Ranato Rosaldo's Culture and Truth have been particularly influencial.
 

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Last updated: October 29, 2000 .