As India heads to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it finds itself at a crossroads. Over the last five years, the idea of India as a secular and pluralistic democracy has been aggressively challenged by an authoritarian government led by Narendra Modi, and backed by the Sangh Parivar, which wields the sword of militant Hindu nationalism.
With growth stagnating and unemployment at a four-decade high, it is now becoming clear that the Modi government has failed to deliver on its promise of economic development. But whether this will weaken the majoritarian groundswell, currently buoying the Bharatiya Janata Party, remains to be seen. On the evidence of the activist-filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s latest documentary, Vivek, or Reason in English, it seems unlikely that even an electoral defeat for the BJP will halt the march of Hindutva.
Nearly half-a-decade in the making, Vivek plays out over eight chapters that document Hindutva’s ascendancy in recent times through the trail of blood that it has left in its wake. The film covers the murders of rationalists such as Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, the connection of these crimes to the militant-Hindu outfit Sanatan Sanstha, the violent attacks on Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection, the caste-based discrimination that led to the suicide of the young student leader and scholar Rohith Vemula, and numerous other outbursts of violence, large and small, connecting them to present an overview of the turmoil that India is currently witnessing.
As it traces the scars that this violence has left on India’s collective consciousness, the film reveals a citizenry and a state so deeply penetrated by Hindutva and Hindu nationalism that it is difficult to imagine its ideology being dislodged by a mere election. In late March, I spoke to Patwardhan about the film and its themes. “I am hoping that if you have even a modicum of humanity, it will move you,” Patwardhan said. “Not because the film is great, but because what it describes is both real and tragic.”
Visvak: The film plays out over eight segments that cover a lot of subjects—assassinations, cow-related violence, Hindu terror and atrocities on Dalits, among others. It even deconstructs the legacy of some icons of the Hindu Right—Shivaji and VD Savarkar. What is the thesis underlying this vast canvas of saffron?
Anand Patwardhan: Vivek traces the communal divide of today back to the “divide and rule” policy of British colonialists. After independence, imperial British power was replaced by another superpower, the United States, which created Islamic jihad in our bordering states in order to fight Soviet influence in Afghanistan. While the film just skims the surface of this, India and Pakistan, Hindus and Muslims are really playing out an agenda set elsewhere. That is not to say we are not responsible for what is happening today, so the main focus of the film is on the rise of fascism in India and its ongoing battle with humanists and rationalists.