On my way back to Allahabad, I grabbed two copies of the magazine, ‘Frontline’. Frontline has historically had the reputation of being a magazine of the ‘intellectuality elite’ and over the years, it has pioneered hardcore journalism in nearly all its issues. The former copy was dated ‘11-24 February’ and the latter one was dated ‘25 February-9 March’. The cover stories of the both the issues had a striking similarity. They were both related to the realm or ambit of the ideological philosophy of Hindutva politics.
One cover story was on how the RSS was carrying forward its Hindutva agenda on a milder basis by putting its core issues or demands of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and enactment of a uniform civil code on the backburner and instead, putting a forth a new agenda based on communalization of education and cow slaughter. The second issue was based on the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat riots which elaborated on how the riots were executed during those turbulent days and how many individuals are still trying to get the guilty behind bars. The prevalence of the poll season made me immediately suspect the timing and selection of both the cover stories. I realized that their contemporary compatibility wasn’t up to the mark. Doing a story on Gujarat riots on its tenth anniversary made sense to me but I wasn’t able to figure as to why did they do back to back stories on two similar themes which is certainly not the ideal business or journalistic practice?
I read one of the stories and came across excessive Hindutva bashing. In a few minutes I realized the pro-UPA leanings of the magazine which was evident because of its open admiration for 10 Janpath and 23 Akbar Road. It appeared as if Frontline was bent upon thwarting BJP’s campaign in the Assembly Elections by accusing them of majority communalism and by bringing to light their past faults and current communal activities. The bias was obvious but still I went ahead and read one copy which was related to the RSS’s new agenda. I had already read too much about the Gujarat riots and was no longer in a mood to take any more of it. In the cover story I found excessive Hindutva bashing as I mentioned earlier. I thought it was absurd and unreasonable.
The cover story said that the Sangh Parivar had instructed its political arm ie the BJP to make use of the anti-corruption crusade of Anna Hazare at the Union level and its State Governments to take up the cause of Hindutva by means of communal legislations. The magazine wrote on how the RSS was communalizing education by making children sing Hindu hymns, perform Surya Namaskar and by making reading of the Gita compulsory in schools run by it. I do not find this move communal at all. I am myself a product of a protestant school and for twelve years I remember repeatedly reciting the Lord’s Prayer of the Christians and also sung many carols. When one studies in an institution with religious affiliation, he must be ready to follow some of their traditions in schools and should not object to it. Another aspect that was highlighted was the Sangh Parivar’s missionary activities. This again sounded very ridiculous. The conversions were voluntary and not forced by the activists of the Sangh, so the question of indicting the Sangh did not arise. Another fact was brought to the table and that was of the various BJP State Governments trying to revive and promote Sanskrit. I did not find anything objectionable in this. Sanskrit is a dying language and if state governments belonging to the BJP are trying to resurrect and revive it by means of promotion then there is no need for anybody to be irked by it.
But yes, there were certain portions of the story which were indeed very alarming. The RSS can undertake any sort of teaching in its schools but they should not be of hateful nature. The article quoted an NCERT report which stated that the content in the books prescribed by the Sangh’s schools promoted bigotry and religious fanaticism. What was even more alarming was the fact as to how the BJP’s State Government in Madhya Pradesh was trying to communalize education in the schools of the state government. India happens to be a secular state and therefore, no government institution should make activities or practices belonging predominantly to the Hindus, compulsory in schools. For example in many government schools the Government was trying to make performing of Surya Namaskar, singing of Hindu hymns and reading the Gita compulsory as was prevalent in RSS’s schools. This is not acceptable because government institutions are not supposed to have religious bias. This sort of a curriculum can be made optional for students but they cannot afford to make it mandatory for all.
Another example which was very worrying was the one related to Gujarat. In Gujarat, government schools have introduced a chapter which traces Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s life journey to further strengthen his popularity. Government schools cannot be used as propaganda tools and this needs to be stopped. This move of the Modi Government is as shameless as Mayawati’s habit of erecting her own statues from the funds of the State Exchequer. The report said that the State Government in Madhya Pradesh was acting communally by making beef consumption a crime and by passing draconian laws to supplement their agenda. This law would empower police officers of the lower cadre to search, seize and arrest individuals on the suspicion of cow slaughter or beef consumption. This agenda of the RSS is bound to fail. It’s an open secret that the Hindus are among those set of communities who consume beef the most. Hindu scriptures also suggest that the sacrifice of cows for religious purposes and their consumption for sustenance was prevalent during ancient times. The issue has lost its relevance and would backfire. People cannot be put behind bars for consuming beef which is indeed one of the most affordable kinds of meat.
The cover story was highly critical of the Sangh, its ideology, activities and agenda but was far from being a balanced report. The magazine appeared like Congress’s mouthpiece and even though it raised many critical questions, it lost its credibility because of its over-excessive Hindutva bashing and its fanatical exaggeration of the threat posed by community-centric teaching in RSS schools but the fact that the same kind of exercise cannot be tolerated in secular government schools stands uncontested.