There is no apparent reason why Dr. John Jackson (1835-1911), a 19th-century Yorkshire-born British Psychologist should be of any interest to us in the 21st India. Yet, he is important in order to understand what is happening to the BJP’s misplaced ambitions in India south of the Vindhyas.
First about Dr. Jackson. He was the first scientist to come up with the answer as to why mariners experience directional disorientation when they sail on vast seas. This navigational impairment, described by Jackson as ‘topological agnosia’ (literally, loss of knowledge about directions) was caused in his analysis by a distortion in an individual’s memory. An individual afflicted by this agnosia is found unable to remember to a destination known to him to he may be able to recall important landmarks seen a long time ago. Among the patients that Jackson studied were some women who knew where the London Bridge was, but they did not know how to go there from their homes. In their memory, the ‘little maps’ were forgotten, though the larger maps were inscribed in their brain. European colonial expansion was distinctly marked by this disorientation. When it was spreading south of Europe, the colonial powers thought of the south as ‘east’ and built a strong binary between the west and the east.
Topological Agnosia is the term that can most accurately describe the BJP’s ‘Mission South.’ In order to understand why the party that feels so much at home in the Hindi heartland in the north should feel so unsure of its direction in the south, we need to look at the context within which its foundations were laid. Obviously, one has to refer to the shaping of the core ideas of the Hindutva ideology. It is not necessary to state that at its heart is the dubious and non-scientific theory of ‘Aryans as a Master Race’. This idea was in circulation among some of the 19th century European linguists. They imagined that what was initially proposed as the name of a language (‘Indo-Aryan’) was in fact the name of a community (or a race). Some of them went to the length of proving that the Aryans resided in remote ancient times in North Europe. Karl Plenka actually gave a homeland for this imagined master race, unquestioningly assuming that the master race was the master race of the pure Aryans.
In the third decade of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler made these theories the foundation of his ‘National Socialism’ and the associated drive for ‘racial purification.’ The founders of the RSS in India were his contemporaries and shared his enthusiasm for the theory of Aryan supremacy. Though completely unscientific in terms of the history of the people of India, the RSS, and the BJP like to believe that someday in the future they will be able to establish the supremacy of the (imaginary) Aryans over the diverse peoples in the Indian subcontinent, the south included. To aid this wishful aspiration, the RSS has brought in a misconstrued idea of what constitutes being Hindu. However, the Indian sub-continent South of the Vindhyas has a long history of resistance to the domination from the north. Besides, the traditions of spirituality and worship developed in the south for the last three millennia have their own distinct and syncretic trajectories which do not easily gel with the RSS-VHP idea of Hinduism. Besides, as Basavanna, Akkamma, Periyar, Phule, Shahu, and Ambedkar so ably demonstrate, a larger majority of the people south of the Vindhyas have reason to find the exclusionary and myopic social and cultural interpretations of history entirely repugnant. It is not a surprise, therefore, that despite desperate efforts by the VHP and RSS throughout the twentieth century, their general support base in the southern states had remained nominal.
This has changed since 2014. The current regime has displayed an unmatched zeal in intimidating political leaders by using the ED, the CBI, and troll gangs. It has displayed a skill in the use of post-truth and propaganda for generating popular opinion as never before. The erosion of media and the collapse of institutions that are expected to uphold constitutional values and constitutional arrangements to safeguard democracy has apparently increased the chance of success for BJP’s south mission. Besides, the use of funds for party-swapping is a trick that the BJP has mastered well. All these factors—the use of muscle, official machinery, money, intimidation, and propaganda—have made the south more vulnerable to the divisive, exclusionary, and myopic nationalism of the BJP.
Countering the flawed ideas of nationalism and the exclusionary notion of dharma is an urgent need for the people, language-communities and the political parties south of the Vindhyas. Probably, it is them alone who are now left with the capacity to do so, since the ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ tune has overpowered the people and the northern ‘heartland-states’. Yet, it would be naïve to believe that countering the Hindutva and Pseudo-Nationalism onslaught would be possible by mouthing our worn-out phrases and analysis related to class-based or caste-based understanding of India in the third decade of the 21st century. Also, being fiercely against any geographical, linguistic or social factionalism, we have to reinvent our politics and political terminology. Remaining entirely within the framework of the Constitution, one very powerful message that the Southern States and people can give to the rest of India is that of federalism.
The Constitution describes the country as a union of states’ and its provisions are oriented towards keeping this union intact and integrated by respecting the difference and diversity. Hence, our insistence on the principle of federalism would also mean our insistence on constitutional values. It would reiterate the need for recognizing and respecting diversities and, therefore, rejecting the Hindutva agenda of the RSS-BJP. This understanding, if shared by the communities, movements, language groups, political parties, theological sects, and cultural-industries in the states south of the Vindhyas, can—together—stop the BJP where it should be stopped and reverse the fortunes of fascism in India. We all owe it to India, our sacred nation. We also owe it to the great tradition of civilization that the south has built over the past millennia.
The author is the Convener of “The South Forum”.The South Forum is a voluntary collective of citizens and activists, is working towards this end.