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Communal Politics and National Discourse


Sucheta Mahajan

RELIGIOUS DIVISION AND SOCIAL CONFLICT: THE EMERGENCE OF HINDU NATIONALISM IN RURAL INDIA
By Peggy Froerer
Social Science Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. xx 295, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 4 April 2008

When on fieldwork in Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh last winter, I was introduced to the local MLA, an extremely articulate RSS activist and ideologue. He was clearly the most dynamic of the local activists engaged in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the area and ran a boarding school at his own expense where poor girls and boys could both study and stay. As I was coming away from the meeting, he handed me a roughly printed flyer provocatively titled ‘Who are they?’I read it on the way back to the guest house at Jhabua. The refrain was: ‘Why do they not celebrate our Diwali? Why do they sacrifice our holy animal? Will they never learn?’ The ominous unstated ‘they’ was of course Muslims. Looking out of the window I saw that the town was deserted and on enquiring of my escort, found out that there was curfew because of a riot the day before. And the man I had admired only a while ago for his dedication to the cause of education was an agent provocateur! Was I was up against the fabled double face of the RSS, its pernicious communalism masked by social work?   It is this complex relationship between the particularity of the social reform agenda of the RSS and the wider national discourse of Hindutva that is explored by Froerer in this book. At the very outset the author makes it clear that her work is different from most other works on the subject which focus on ideology or high politics in that it seeks to bring out how Hindu communalism has penetrated the lives of ordinary people. While she distances herself from the historical and political approaches to the subject, she places her ethnographic study alongside the work of Jean-Klein on nationalist production in everyday life in Palestine during the Intifada or Billig’s work on banal nationalism, which examines the everyday aspects of nationalism.   Given that some of us became sanguine that the danger from Hindu communal forces had passed since the electoral defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA government at the national level, Froerer rightly reminds us that the real danger lies in the inroads such forces have made at the grassroots level. While overt attacks on Christian missionaries continue to grab media space and keep the spotlight focused on Hindu communal groups, the more long lasting threat is the ...


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