Why Hindutva Is Worried About “Woke People” or “Wokeism”?

How Mohan Bhagwat’s exhortation that ‘cultural marxism’ and ‘woke people’ are spoiling India’s ethos betrays Hindutva Supremacism’s real agenda vis-a-vis assertion of the subalterns and independent thinking

RSS Hindutva

Being woke means waking up to these invisible power structures that govern the social universe.

..Basically, being woke means obsessing about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Maybe climate change too. That’s the best definition I can give. Today more and more people are becoming woke, even though generations of civil rights leaders have taught us not to focus on race or gender. And now capitalism is trying to stay woke too.

( Page 12, Vivek Ramswamy, Woke, Inc : Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam)

‘A spectre haunting the Conservative world – the spectre of Wokeism’

The brainstorming by conservatives from US, Germany and other Western countries alongwith academics from India is over. ( https://indianexpress.com/article/delhi-confidential/delhi-confidential-woke-talk-9177967/) The host was BharatiyaJanataYuvaMorcha (BJYM) the youth front of the ruling dispensation here namely BJP – which loves to call itself the biggest organisation of youth in the world.

One does not whether the organisers had put any such banner regarding the ‘spectre’ or not but few of the available details of meeting tell us that the gathering did discuss ‘wokeism’ apart from other issues.

BJYM’s sudden waking up on the challenge of ‘wokeism’ is not difficult to understand.

It could be easily traced to Sangh Supremo Mohan Bhagwat’s exhortation in his Vijayadashmi Speech – few months back – wherein he had castigated ‘cultural marxists’ and ‘woke people’. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/cultural-marxists-woke-people-spoiling-indias-ethos-rss-chief/articleshow/104681467.cms) in no uncertain terms, who according to him were ‘spoiling Indian ethos’. He even accused them of undermining education and culture, promoting conflicts and disrupting social cohesion.

Close watchers of the Sangh trajectory know very well that the Supremo’s Vijayadashmi speech is normally considered a view into the future, which presents an outline about coming challenges – as per its worldview – before millions and millions of members of this hydraheaded organisation.

And a cursory glance at the journey of these ideas of ‘wokeism’ etc within Sangh Circles makes it clear that they have been very much in circulation there since sometime.

It was a year and half back that leading lights of the Hindutva fraternity – ranging from Dattatreya Hosballe, Swapan Dasgupta, Sudhanshu Trivedi – had attended a book release function penned down by an India born American Hindutva ideologue Rajiv Malhotra alongwith Vijaya Viswanathan, who is associated with  Infinity Foundation, started by him.

The book titled the book ‘Snakes in India : Breaking India 2:0. ( Blueink) discussed ‘‘intense warfare against India’s integrity is the work of a well-orchestrated global machinery driven by a new ideology’. (https://www.firstpost.com/india/snakes-in-the-ganga-rajiv-malhotra-vijaya-viswanathans-book-on-uncomfortable-truths-about-indias-vulnerabilities-11337501.html) and also talked about how “wokeism has penetrated some of the Indian government’s policies. For instance, the National Education Policy 2020 is propagating Harvard’s liberal arts.”

The book had made a concerted attack on Ashoka University – the leading liberal arts and science University – alleging how it is ‘breeding wokeism in India’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LFjtHGJN8A&list=PLGQElwzyJxtzF1yNxeRuA4gJvyPNhOy5n&index=2)

The closeness of Rajiv Malhotra to the Hindutva lobby could also be understood from the fact that he was appointed as honorary visiting Professor by JNU (2018), a man who had long history of courting controversy (https://www.firstpost.com/india/jnu-appoints-hindutva-ideologue-rajiv-malhotra-honorary-professor-us-based-author-has-history-of-courting-controversy-5479421.html)

As an aside it may be added here that the idea of being ‘woke’ -which deals with ”promotion of liberal progressive ideology and policy as an expression of sensitivity to systemic injustices and prejudices’  originated in the USA and is a  black terminology, (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/feb/25/woke-should-not-be-used-as-a-negative-warns-c-of-es-first-black-female-bishop) which speaks ‘specifically and directly to black people regarding the need to wake up and stay alert, to be consciously aware. So it is not just a mere word, it is a movement.’ ( -do-) and thanks to the movement Black Lives Matter, a growing section of progressives also has started using it.

Sangh’s growing anxieties vis-a-vis ‘Woke People’ or ‘Wokeism’ raise two broad questions.

The ease with which it is ready to peddle a concept in the Western World.

Why does RSS and the larger Hindutva fraternity – which keeps celebrating its native roots and its celebration of India’s age old culture , civilisation  and  which never looses any opportunity to castigate the liberals, lefts for import of  ‘Western Ideas’ finds the idea of ‘Wokeism’ attractive, which is of very recent origin.

Does it feel confident enough that the way it uncritically accepted colonial understanding of India’ history presented by the likes of James Mill, without even acknowledging it – whose problematic periodisation of India’s history as ‘Hindu Period’, Muslim Period and British Period is still being debated- and packaged and peddled it for furthering its own agenda of Hindu Rashtra, this idea of ‘wokeism’ can serve its purpose in today’ times. Doe it feel that it presents before it an opportunity to package its agenda of Hindu Unity in a more sanitised form before the new generation ?  We should not forget that it has never acknowledged the internal asymmetries of Hindu society and has always blamed this lack of unity on ‘others’ and has consciously tried to exteriorise genesis of its problems.

Secondly, does not this idea of wokeism – which as per dictionary is a ‘usually disparaging term’ – which effectively denies that all the talk of systemic insults, humiliations and prejudices by the blacks or the other oppressed is humbug, sits contrary to what RSS itself had been talking about in recent times- like end of caste discrimination or stopping environmental degradation ?

One thing is certain that the Sangh ideologues would never address these obvious contradictions in their worldview or would never elaborate how in practice they are very much engaged in blurring all such distinctions between historical insults and humiliations and general grievances of people  – the way rightwingers in US, especially belonging to the Republican Party – are engaged in. 

Instances galore – especially since around a decade old ascent of HindutvaSupremacism at the Centre and many states, and the idea of Hindutva fascinating a large section of society, where there have been conscious attempt to deny caste discrimination or conflating / mixing it with other discriminations ? (https://www.newsclick.in/how-make-caste-discrimination-disappear-universities) Instances where there is growing talk of ‘dereservation’ (https://countercurrents.org/2024/02/dereservation-whether-the-genie-is-out-of-the-bottle-finally/) or legal manouvering even to provide benefits of reservation to the upper castes – denying the Constitutional principles and values that they had their genesis in the historical injustices and discriminations faced by the dalits, tribals and other oppressed castes.

The attack of ‘wokeism’ on independent thinking and progressive politics also very much gels with the overall modus operandi of RSS, BJP and other affiliated organisations. Organisations whose longtime project is carving out a Hindu Rashtra out of a formal secular, democratic, socialist and sovereign India.

The manner in which routinely such liberal spaces or intellectuals are castigaged as ‘Khan Market gang’ or the way Hindutva has unleashed an organised, systematic and conscious attack on educational institutions – who still valued independent thinking – can be considered  a mere detail in this overall pattern of domesticating the thinking people of the country.

One can also say that with growing discrediting of the whole idea of ‘tukdetukde gang’ or ‘urban naxals’ (https://www.newsclick.in/in-search-tukde-tukde-gang) invented and popularised by the Hindutva cheerleaders – which was conveniently used against all dissenting voices, perhaps the idea of ‘wokeism’ or ‘woke people’ can serve them similar purpose for them.

No doubt the ambience at Taj Ambassadors must have facilitated the brainstorming of Conservatives in a good way. 

And this brainstorming also presents before all liberal and progressive voices an interesting challenge,  how prepared we are to understand the dynamics of HindutvaSupremacism and present an effective alternative in the field of ideas and actions. How is it that despite its essentially inegalitarian, exclusivist agenda based on hate and otherings – Hindutva is ready to package its worldview in a more sanitised and more cool form and more creative ways but we are still far away from it.

Subhash Gatade is a left  activist associated with New Socialist Initiative

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