Narratives of such history and masculine piety are given everyday expression in the changing visual culture in India’s urban areas. Since visual impositions play an important role in modern-day politics, the enforcement of new visuals can be located in their attempts to erase India’s plural past. The ever increasing presence of both Puranic and historical characters — from Ram to Shivaji — in various forms can silence the presence of the ‘others’ from the past and the present. A glance at Delhi or any town in north India will reveal that a new ‘visual colonisation’ by Hindutva is changing the political atmosphere. Erasing ‘Aurangzeb’ from a road sign post and replacing it with ‘APJ Abdul Kalam’ not only gives an example of this but also presents Hindutva’s idea of a desirable Muslim — a docile, politically unexpressive believer in Hindu piety, traits which can be associated with Kalam. Thus, the new strategy of mixing narratives with visuals indents overshadows a plural past and a secular present.
The invention of new narratives also seeks to create an image of a singular monolithic Hindu community devoid of any conflicts and internal demarcations. This attempt aims to appropriate lower caste groups in north India who would be more invested in resisting casteism rather than locating themselves in an imagined Hindu past.
Like many modern religious movements, Hindutva can also subdue the agency of individuals by enforcing a collective moral framework which is functionally patriarchal and in the context of India, casteist. Such a framework allows the resurgence of outdated arguments like those of RSS ideologue Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya. For Upadhyaya, the caste system and gender inequality were necessary for social sustenance and ‘integrated Humanism’.
In this context, Prime Minister Modi’s latest remark, ‘Castes represent the beauty and plurality of India’, is not far removed from attempts to present the graded social structure as ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’. It effaces a long history of anti-oppression and women’s rights movements in India.
In short, one might argue that the kaleidoscope of Hindutva’s engagement with history, masculinity and, piety shows that it aims to generate a system where neo-liberal economy, feudal nostalgia, graded hierarchy and communalism can all be rolled into one.
One can also conclude that Hindutva wants to communicate with the liberal western world as a ‘piety super power’ and Narendra Modi’s recurring engagements with the diaspora are not out of context. The present government also realises that piety based observance and a muscular solidarity is only possible through the negation of multiple realties and the multiple histories of India.