‘Extremism and Current Politics in India’ – A Talk by Prof. Amrita Basu

SSA hosted a talk by Dr. Amrita Basu on her forthcoming book Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India forthcoming as a Cambridge University Press publication. Professor Basu is affiliated to Amherst College, Massachusetts, USA where she has been teaching Political Science since 1981. Her research interests revolve around social movements, feminism, and religious nationalism, and she has published widely in these areas.

Professor Basu explained that her upcoming publication investigates why the incidence and severity of Hindu nationalist violence have been sporadic. Her main argument is that the conjuncture of a particular set of forces – state, party, and social movement – accounts for such variations. In particular, her focus has been on the role of Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in violent outbursts of Hindu nationalism in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujrat from 2000-2002.

Professor Basu pointed out the need to reconsider viewing social movements as ‘progressive’ phenomena that challenge and even deconstruct traditional barriers. Taking India as an example she said that such movements are sometimes carried out not by the dispossessed but by the affluent in order to consolidate existing social cleavages and categories, as was evidenced in many of the sporadic outbursts of Hindu nationalist violence in the 3 states chosen for the study. Further, she held that contrary to the popular understanding of social movements as autonomous processes, many instances in India show that such movements later transform themselves into political parties and have even extended their relevant life spans as social movements with the help of political parties. This effectively disqualifies them from political neutrality.

In the ensuing discussion, Indian politics and the nationalistic turn it was taking were considered. Professor Basu explained that given the strong and consistent support given to Prime Minister Modi by such Hindu nationalist forces as the RSS, it is unlikely that such tendencies would be seriously discouraged in India. She also observed that despite the rise of Hindu nationalism, a backlash by the Muslim community has largely been absent primarily because the state has defined certain communities (including the Muslims) around their religious identities and provided constitutional safeguards to secure their religious interests.

The session ended with a note of thanks by Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy (the Chair).

Venue: Social Scientists’ Association, 12, Sulaiman Terrace, Colombo 05.

Date: 27th of February, 2015