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Learn from organisational skills of BJP-RSS, not their politics, Prof Ghanshyam Shah advises liberals

By Our Representative
In a sharp interview, well-known Gujarat-based academic, Prof Ghanshyam Shah, has said that as liberals, he and others, should learn something from the BJP and the RSS. Talking with news portal scroll.in, the veteran academic, who is also a known critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said, “We liberals have to learn a lot from the BJP and RSS – their organisation, ideological clarity, commitment to working for a cause rather than political positions.” He adds, “The BJP connects with people at an emotional level because it is seen as a movement to transform society, not a party trying to win seats in an election.”
Prof Shah underlines, “The BJP and RSS have not built this over a few years – they have been building this since long. They have infiltrated trade unions, jails, schools. Look at how they made inroads into tribal communities.” By way of example, he says, “Now we protest that the BJP is changing textbooks as if it is happening for the first time. The earlier National Democratic Alliance government changed textbooks, then the United Progressive Alliance made changes to those changes, and now we are going back.”
Considering this as failure of the liberal view, Prof Shah says, “Sixty years from now, we will say that liberals failed to develop rational thinking in society. Liberals have reiterated the same idea of nationalism. We liberals have not interrogated the nature of nationalism.” He adds, “We thought that once you have economic development, these forces will automatically be taken care of – caste, religion and others. The national pride we see in India is primarily caste pride or family pride. My nationalism, right or wrong – this was never interrogated by liberals.”
Further pointing to the failure of liberals, Prof Shah says, We have not generated a debate in society. We thought partition was a dark time and we tell ourselves we have recovered from it. But we never recovered from the partition.” Pointing out that the “BJP understands this”, he insists, “The BJP has built this organisation brick by brick”, wondering “Is there an organisation, a liberal group, that is building a movement like the BJP, that is creating a liberal idea of society at every level?”
Suggesting that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), too, is still far away from creating such a movement, Prof Shah says, “It is just new people. They have not applied their mind to this idea of building a movement.” Saying that the rise of the BJP “is less about the BJP than about the Congress”, he underlines, most of the political leaders generally “just want to win elections”, but as for the Congress, it “has lost its will to win elections”
Worse, Prof Shah says, he does not believe that the Congress party, at least in Gujarat, believes in secularism. “They maintain the dominant position here that the Hindu is superior, they believe that Muslims have harassed Hindus. We should note that some Congress politicians were also partisans in the 2002 riots. So, the Congress has not shown itself to be different than the BJP. I think it is incorrect to say that only the BJP is communal”, he adds.
Coming down heavily on Modi, and declaring he has not changed a bit, as many claim, the top academic – who was director, Centre for Social Studies, Surat, and was later at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi – says that many liberals, naively, expected that “Modi would take a stand on the lumpen elements in the BJP, the so-called fringe elements.”
Saying that Modi “did not do this in Gujarat, except checking (Praveen) Togadia and, to some extent, the RSS by refusing to agree to not to introduce English from Class V), Prof Shah explains, “He could oppose the RSS in Gujarat because he was confident about his popularity in the state.” But at this was at the state level; at the national level things are different.
Even Gujarat, he says, “Modi did not stop the Vishwa Hindu Parishad when it went after a fine arts student in Baroda in 2007. The VHP objected to one painting, which it considered insulting to a Hindu goddess. The dean tried to protect the student, but the VHP took the police and the police arrested the student. The dean is suspended till today. There were protests, and yet Modi did nothing. He washe as silent.”
According to Prof Shah, “Modi’s idea of India is still (Veer) Savarkar’s idea of India – that those people whose religion’s founders (Islam and Christianity) were from outside India are not Indian. Arguing against Prof Ashutosh Varshney, who believes that Modi has moderated himself, Prof Shah says, “This is wishful thinking. At least 30% of Modi’s victory is because of the RSS or VHP. People expect Modi to go after the lumpen elements in his party, but did he do this in Gujarat?”
As for Gujarat, even the culture of dissent has diminished, says Prof Shah says, adding, “For example, in 1985, I was one of the editors of a journal and we published an article that was critical of the Swaminarayans. The Gujarat court issued a non-bailable warrant against me and others. At that time, all the major regional newspapers wrote editorials criticising the government and supporting us. Now I cannot think that this support is possible. Today, the space to disagree in Gujarat is almost gone.”

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