India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rose from the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a Hindu-Nationalist Rightwing organisation which spawned the BJP. However, even though the BJP draws its ideology from the RSS, Modis tenure as the Gujarat Chief Minister and his subsequent 2014 national election campaign gave the illusion of him being his own man. In his campaign there was no blatant mention of a Hindu agenda or the construction of a Ram Mandir which his party has worked for earlier. Modi spoke of his 56 inch chest, alluding to him being the Alpha Male. The promise was to build an India that Indians could be proud of, an India that would hark back to the ‘glory days’ of yore.
Modi led his party to a resounding victory in the 2014 national elections even though the opposition made much of the Gujarat riots during his tenure as Chief Minister. As India’s 14th Prime Minister, he hopped across the globe basking in the adulation of the Indian diaspora as his image managers built a profile of global appeal; a form of ‘Halo Effect’ on a much larger scale. During the election he portrayed himself as the THE Indian; with his foreign jaunts he gave a new face to India. The image of Modi playing the Taiko drums in Japan, bear hugging leaders of foreign lands sent a message of arrival to all at home. The RSS had been trying to create an image of a macho Hindu to deal with what they believe was its emasculation over the last hundreds of centuries caused by non-Hindus ruling this land. This need to regain their perceived lost manhood could explain their quasi martial rites and the use of violence or its threat by organisations spawned by it. Modi with his exploits brought a long absent sense of bravado and machismo, revitalising and infusing a sense of purpose into the lives of many people who felt wronged by history.
The new found post-Modi-victory-virility has percolated to the the tone and depiction of Hindu memes and religious motifs. One of the iconic images of the monkey king Hanumanji, the much loved devotee of the Hindu god Shri Ram, has been of him tearing open his chest to show the image of Shri Ram and his consort Sitaji. However, Hanuman has gotten a makeover, he has been converted into a monkey king with a dark sinister and hostile look that promises violence . The genteel beatific look that shone through in the countenance of Shri Ram and Laxmanji in their individual pictures or as they stood together has changed. Today they are ripped and look hard and determined, their long hair ruffled but contained.
The creation of these images and their oozing through society goes hand in hand with the RSS and their cohorts constant desire to undo and rectify the past, to remove the black mark on, what they believe, is an otherwise unblemished history. One outcome is patriotism morphing into rabid saffron hued nationalism. Is an environment similar to that before the ‘Kristallnacht’ being inadvertently created?
Which brings us to the choice of a nationalist Hindu priest - Yogi Adityanath - as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of Parliamentary seats (80) out of which the BJP won 71 and is also the state where the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janma Bhoomi (birthplace of Lord Ram)is located. The RSS and Hindu nationalists want to build a temple on that spot. Building a temple there has religio-nationalistic overtones. Its construction will, in one swipe, sanctify the birthplace of Shri Ram, begin to undo the destruction, and the resulting ‘psychological scars’, caused by the Muslim invaders and simultaneously cock-a-snook at fellow citizens who are Muslims.
When Adityanath was chosen as the new Chief Minister, media houses tripped over themselves to show that he was not rabidly anti-Muslim. They wrote and broadcast stories of how Muslims work as his staff without fear. Strangely these stories never came out when this very same man spewed venom on Muslims over the last many years.
With a Hindu priest as Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh, the RSS has an opportunity to make real part of their fantasy. The success of their venture in this state has the potential of galvanising other BJP led states into further action. Modi was the image for the aspirational Indian who was given reasons to begin shedding the burden of self-anointed victimhood foisted by history. In this new enterprise, Yogi Adityanath will become the face of the Indian who finally realise their India’s aspirations. Will Yogi Adityanath then become the First Priest and Prime Minister of India as a Hindu state?