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In the Vocabulary of Ultra-nationalism

Saba Naqvi

By Mukul Sharma
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2011, pp.300, Rs. 795.00


Let me admit that I began reading this book from a position of considerable ignorance. As a political journalist, I have only followed environment movements from a hazy distance. What I do understand is politics, and a decade spent covering the emer-gence and consolidation of the Hindu right has convinced me that electoral success (or defeat) is just a small part of the larger project of the saffron forces. This book certainly enlightens me about how easily saffron can morph into green and vice versa. It is particularly timely as one of the three case studies is Anna Hazare's water-shed management programme in Ralegan Sidhi, Maharshtra. The other two movements Sharma examines are Sunderlal Bahugana's opposition to the Tehri Dam in Uttarakhand and the Vrin-davan forest revival project of the WWF in Mathura. The book is thoroughly researched, well-argued with meticulous local details and facts. The big intellectual argument that runs throu-gh the book that green has to watch out for the saffron, can also be countered by the view that Hindu nationalists have the ability to use almost anything from institutions to media, let alone environment movements. But it is still a fasci-nating account of the processes though which this happens. What really lifts this book is the manner in which the author examines the intellectual concepts of morality, religion, divinities, puri-ty and pollution. Sharma elaborates how tradi-tional environment concerns over pollution and encroachment tie in nicely with the Sangh Parivar's concerns over sacredness and the notion of the 'outsider' or 'other' who violates the pristine 'Hindu universe'. Chapter II on Hindu Nationalism and the Environment particularly helped give an intellectual structure to anecdotes and informa-tion I had gathered over the years. For instan-ce I have spent time with the late RSS ideolo-gue Nanaji Deshmukh in Chitrakoot and mar-velled over how much delight the collection of urine of cows from across the globe can give an individual who was seen as an intellectual power-house of the Hindu right. I remember walking with him in a state of mild shock as he took me on a tour of his huge cowshed and proudly displayed the bovine creatures letting out streams of pee. I remember too being quite alarmed when VHP leader Giriraj Kishore produced a soap and churan made from cow urine and advised me to use both products to get rid of pimples that I then unfortunately had. And ...

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