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Decoding Deccan Messages || Midweek Matters 45 || Parakala Prabhakar

21-02-2022published_dt 2022-02-21T07:19:59.674Z21-02-2022 12:49:59 IST
2022-02-21T07:19:59.674Z21-02-2022 2022-02-21T07:19:59.674Z - - 04-10-2022

Hello and Welcome to Midweek Matters.

It is difficult to miss even the tiniest messages from the Aryavarta. As it is easy to miss the loudest messages from the Deccan and peninsular India. That’s the nature of our political geography and the news ecosystem. Two different messages came from the Deccan last week. One from the Prime Minister and the event he participated in with his usual sartorial flourish. The other, to the Prime Minister from the Chief Minister of Telangana. The PM's message was sent out from an Ashram on the outskirts of Hyderabad. The Chief Minister's was sent out from the state Capital. I think we need to pause and take note of these messages. Decode them. And interpret them. I have heard these messages with care and tried to understand what their implications are for the Idea of India. Today I want to share with you my reflections on them. 

The Prime Minister was in the Deccan last week. He did, what was called, the lokarpan of a gigantic statue of the eleventh century Vaishnava saint Sri Ramanujacharya, the proponent of Vishistadvaita siddhanta. The statue is called the Statue of Equality. The PM as well as the seer who spearheaded the effort to install the grand statue gave out their messages. Their messages were mutually reinforcing. The event, in its entirety, had an unmistakable symbolism and message baked into it, if only one cared to look and kept one's ear to the ground. 

A few days before that, the Telangana Chief Minister sent out a message. He gave a call for writing a new constitution for India. The call looked like an impulsive outburst to many. But the CM lent force to it by dishonouring an age old practice. He did not go to the airport to receive the Prime Minister when the latter arrived in Hyderabad to participate in the Statue of Equality function. He instead nominated a minister of his government to receive the PM and wait on him. The CM also skipped the grand Statue of Equality function. This is despite the CM's well known proximity to the organisers of the function. 


Let’s now go into the details. 

Statue of Equality is a 216 feet tall panchaloha statue of Saint Ramanuja. It sits on a 54 feet tall base. The entire complex is on a 34 acre plot of land. This is a grand and imposing project built at an enormous financial cost, about a thousand crore rupees. It is not a temple for a god, but a memorial to a saint who lived a thousand years ago. It is named Statue of Equality because the saint Ramanuja disapproved social discrimination. He was a rebel saint. He made sacred mantras accessible to even the non twice born. However, the enormity of the structure, the rich architecture and the vastness of the premises inspire more awe than a sense of devotion. It is more physical than spiritual. It displays, strength, grandeur and pride. It is muscular. Much like the design of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. One wonders if Saint Ramanuja would agree that this kind of raw assertion could serve his mission. But the message from the project is unmistakable. It is the assertion of Hindu pride. 

The Prime Minister's address is an assertion of a belief and a rejection of an idea at the same time. It is an assertion that it is enough to look up to our ancient Hindu saints to reform our society. It is a rejection of the opinion that we need to look elsewhere and to modern socio economic and political doctrines to inform our work towards social equality. He essentially advocated that it is sufficient to look to the past in order to move ahead into the future. That we should familiarise ourselves with our roots to reform our society. And we don’t have to stray from our roots. His essential pitch in the event was that there is no contradiction between tradition, pracheenata, and progress, pragatiseelata. It is a veiled attack on all those who sought inspiration from European renaissance, the French and American revolutions for building a modern India. That there is no need to do that is the Prime Minister's message from the Deccan.


The seer who spearheaded the project made significant remarks in his opening speech. He said that only after Narendra Modi came that we are all able to say with pride that we are Hindus. Even Mother India is able to raise her head and smile, her head as symbolised by Kashmir. He said Modi possessed those qualities that Maharshi Valmiki said Sri Rama had possessed. Valmiki described Sri Rama as a vrata sampanna. And the seer said, like Rama, Modi is also a vrata sampanna. And, the seer continued, the PM has done everything that made India hold its head high in the world. As you might have gathered, these remarks are much more than a host uttering customary words of praise about his chief guest. He evidently laboured to convey a message.

A few days before the Statue of Equality event, the Telangana Chief Minister gave a call that amounts to almost the state's rebellion against the centre. He said that the country is in need of a new constitution. The present constitution, in the last seven decades, did not serve the country well. He charged that the centre is stealing the powers of the states. He said 'new thinking, new direction, new constitution' will be his slogan. You will get a measure of his tone when you mark his words. Now I quote him. 

"Indians need to wake up, youth need to wake up. These fake talks and talk of religion which instigate riots might make you happy for a day or two but can’t fix our problems, can’t bring development in the country … It’s time for a big change, for a revolution in the country." 

He said there are several countries in the world that have rewritten their constitutions and thought that it is time India also should do. He announced some sort of a programme of action. The CM said that the union government failed to maintain cooperative federalism and accused the BJP government of stealing the powers of states. He termed the recent move by the centre on all india service officers's postings and one-nation-one-registration as conspiracy against the states. He said that as a democracy matured, more powers should be delegated to the states and from states to the local authorities. But in the case of centre and states the reverse is happening. The CM announced that he would call retired IAS, IPS and IFS officers to put together a new agenda for the country. 

The Chief Minister openly pitted himself and his party against the Prime Minister and the BJP.  He went on to say that unless the BJP is thrown into Bay of Bengal, these are his words, the country cannot progress. He told the press conference that he would soon go to meet several leaders in the country including the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Bengal and Odisha to work out a programme of action. In order to underline his defiant mood, he broke protocol and tradition. He did not go to receive the Prime Minister when he landed in Hyderabad. He did not meet him. Nor did he attend both the major programmes the PM participated in, in Hyderabad. It is important to note that the CM stayed away from the Statue of Equality event despite his well known proximity and special relationship to the Vaishnavaite seer who organised the function and to the prominent businessman donor to the statue project.  

Let me now bring these two strands together and see what these two events in the Deccan could possibly mean.

The Statue of Equality event - the enormity of the project, it’s architecture, and the speeches - contained a message of assertion. The assertion of Hindu identitarian and majoritarian theme.  It has an inescapable sub text that it is Prime Minister Modi who symbolised that assertion, and personified that theme. The PM by displaying every possible denominational religious mark on his person - the thirunamam, silk robes, a garland made of peacock feathers, and Tulasi Mala - explicitly identified himself with that assertion and eloquently endorsed it. The other message from the Deccan is a rejection of that assertion and a backlash to the majoritarian attempt to overwhelm the political discourse in the country.

The first one, the majoritarian and identitarian narrative, is fairly established in its course. It is now holding the strategic high ground. The challenge and the backlash are incipient, not yet surefooted. It is still unclear whether the challenge is only a passing tantrum or a well thought out refutation of the identitarian and majoritarian narrative. And whether it is capable of mass mobilisation. The fate of the challenge will be largely decided by the results of the five state elections. Particularly, if the BJP fails to return to power in Uttar Pradesh, the challenge will acquire a roar. More states and leaders of political parties will join in. If UP returns BJP to power, its majoritarian juggernaut will roll on, trampling over these disorganised challengers.


That’s all for this week, 

Will be back again next week

Wednesday, lunch time at 1:00 o’clock. 

Stay safe and take good care of yourselves and all your dear ones. 

Until then, Bye.