The recent attack on Swami Agnivesh by a mob of Bhartiya Janta Party Yuva Morcha members in Jharkhand ought to strike us with the core tenet of political Hindutva. That it is not only framed in opposition to other religions but also to the multiple strands and schools within the Hinduism. While this deep revulsion of anything but fundamentalist-majoritarian Hinduism may appear to us as new, we only need to look closely to find out how it has become entrenched in our political, social and cultural ethos. If we want to deconstruct Hindutva, we need to look at is regional avatars – its many regional Hindutvas. Uttarakhand is a case in point.
Uttarakhand is iconically Hindu – home to the char dham – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamnotri and Gangotri; the sacred landscape from where emerge the Ganga and Yamuna; site for pilgrim-tourism to Haridwar and Rishikesh; part of the pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar – it is a poster child for its description of devbhoomi. If that didn’t make it credible enough, the spread of ashrams, new age and old, increasing construction of temples across towns and villages and the high value attached to the gatherings of bhagvad katha and corresponding gurus has solidified a physical and cultural landscape that is supportive of the kind of political Hinduism that believes itself endangered and isolated.
The demand for Uttarakhand was based on the claims to a peculiar regional geography and society which could not be governed from Lucknow, its erstwhile capital. However, the final straw for the culmination of the demand was the Mandal recommendation for reservation in public employment for the OBCs. Since OBCs constituted 5 percent of the population of the hill districts of UP, there was widespread anxiety of a disproportionate share of jobs being reserved for people from outside the hill districts. Protests in the immediate aftermath of the announcement targeted Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati for their alleged caste re-engineering of the hill demography. As recently as 2016, upper caste residents of a village in the Garhwal region publically attacked BJP’s MP, Tarun Vijay for accompanying Dalits on their entry to the village temple, which they have been hitherto denied. In the same year, a Dalit resident in a village in the Pithoragarh district was beheaded by an upper caste man for polluting a flour mill by using it. If these seem like ‘stray’ incidents of caste violence which may seem to have surfaced more recently, it is difficult to deny the tragedy of the Dalit massacre in Kafalta in 1980 when 14 members of a wedding party were torched and killed by the upper caste residents of Kafalta village in Almora district.
Public gatherings during the Uttarakhand state movement; Amar Ujala File Photo
While electoral politics in the Hindi heartland has been compelled to acknowledge the caste constituencies and coalitions emerging from the backward castes and Dalit sub-castes, Uttarakhand retains the status –quo of its Brahmin-Thakur dominance. It holds the unique position of the highest proportion of Brahmins (25%) and a rather high percentage of Thakurs (35%) to the total population of the state in India. Majority Hindu (85% of the total population) and majority forward caste Hindu (60% of the total population) demography lend to Uttarakhand the kind of political, social and cultural conservatism that allows little or no room for the strengthening of any politics challenging such entrenched authority. It is no surprise that among the 8 chief ministers that have held power in the 18 year long political career of the state, 5 are Brahmin and 3 Thakur.