The Sangh Parivar critiques Indian historiography for focussing unduly on the conquests and achievements of Muslim rulers. This is because, they claim, such a perspective underplays, even ignores, the resistance Hindu rulers mounted against Muslim conquerors whose place of origin was outside India.

Defeated though Hindu rulers were, the Parivar ideologues want Indian citizens to celebrate and emulate some of them who preferred to fight and die than to submit to the foreign conquerors. Thus, for instance, Sangh leaders claim that if Akbar was great, so was Maharana Pratap, who, unlike neighbouring Rajput (or Hindu) rulers, refused to become a Mughal vassal.

Given the Sangh Parivar’s perspective on history, might we not take the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi completing three years in office to celebrate the opposition that has intermittently surfaced to challenge his and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda of bringing to reality their imagining of India?

In their imagination, India must become Hindu, its pluralistic culture homogenised, its nationalism muscular and militarised, and the argumentative Indian turned into a quiescent citizen programmed, robot-like, to obey.

Yet their imagination of new India has provoked resistance in different pockets of the country, each transmitting this subliminal message: The BJP may have acquired a substantial degree of political dominance, but its quest for hegemony – defined as the power to persuade and seduce people to its ideas – will not go uncontested.

Continuous resistance

From students of the Film and Television Institute of India grabbing headlines through their 2015 agitation, to protests over the suicide of Rohith Vemula in 2016; from Dalit students shouting slogans against Modi at a convocation ceremony, to Jawaharlal Nehru University becoming a hotbed for debating nationalism; from writers returning Akademi awards, to April’s three-day dharna in Jaipur against cow-vigilantes; from a Dalit colony in Meerut booing Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, to Tamil Nadu’s pushback against the backdoor imposition of Hindi on the country – all these are not only intimations of a bitterly contested future, but also reassurances that electoral domination will not silence people into submission.

The Opposition should this find heartening because its leaders have undoubtedly been demoralised by the BJP’s astonishing performance in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections earlier this year. Given that Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the BJP’s sweep of the state underlines the tough task it would be for the Opposition to dislodge Modi from power in the 2019 national elections.

Yet, within just two months of Adityanath becoming Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh has already started to stir. Just how Hindutva triggers resistance, at times instinctively, can be gleaned from Adityanath’s visit, in early May, to Shergarhi, a Dalit colony in Meerut, which was a site of Dalit assertion in the 1990s.

When BJP footsoldiers accompanying the chief minister chanted the slogan of “Jai Shri Ram,” they were stunned to hear the colony’s residents shout back, “Jai Bhim.” It emboldened the women residents of the colony to ask Adityanath to pay obeisance to Ambedkar whose statue stands in Shergarhi park.

As the chief minister walked from one lane to another, reluctant to do the women’s bidding, the crowd took to shouting slogans against Adityanath. The police thought it prudent to whisk him away.

(Photo credit: PTI).

Despite the expansion of the BJP’s support base in recent times, a large segment of Dalits perceives the party to represent upper caste interests. Dalits believe that the BJP deploys Hindutva to paper over simmering caste antagonisms and preserve the domination of upper castes.

Indeed, Modi’s concerted efforts over three years to lure Dalits into the BJP’s fold have elicited a pushback from unexpected quarters. Of this, the most eloquent examples are the recent clashes between Dalits and Rajputs in Saharanpur, and the overnight emergence of Chadrashekhar Azad, the founder of the Bhim Army.

It is an irony that the Saharanpur clashes were triggered because the Dalits complained against the Rajputs for playing music loudly during a procession they took in honour of Maharana Rana Pratap. It suggests that different social groups are partial to their own reading and version of the past, and have their own icons whom they wish to remember and respect.

New leaders emerge

Last year, Jignesh Mevani was overnight propelled into the limelight for leading a march to protest against the flogging of Dalits in Una for skinning a dead cow. His rise is indicative of the reluctance of Dalits to accept the ideas of purity and pollution, sacred and profane, that is at heart of the dominant Brahmanical thought.

Both Azad and Mevani came together in Delhi recently, and drew, much to the surprise of many, large crowds. This illustrates India’s propensity to throw up replacements for established leaders who fail to represent the interests of their supporters, or who do not take up cudgels on their behalf.

It is indeed debatable whether Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati would have rushed to Saharanpur had Azad not pulled thousands of Dalits to his protest rally in Delhi last week. She would not have because she has – in her attempt to woo the upper caste to cobble an electoral majority for herself – largely abandoned the politics of confrontation that was once her hallmark.

Mayawati ultimately visited Saharanpur because of what Azad’s sudden rise signified – that her style of politics does not enthuse Dalits who are willing to regroup even behind a callow leader articulating their angst. Saharanpur tells us that there exists “pressure from below” on leaders to craft creative methods of countering the BJP’s dominance.

A key organisational man in the Bahujan Samaj Party told this writer that he senses a growing desire among Dalits and Muslims to see the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party enter into an electoral alliance. If both these social groups seek to counter the BJP, it is because they have felt the sharper edge of the axe the BJP has wielded over the last three years.

No less bruised by the BJP’s axe has been the world of academia, increasingly being straitjacketed to subscribe to Hindutva. Largely autonomous of political parties, the universities – students and teachers alike – have risen to fight for their corner.

Such opposition has risen not only in Jawaharlal Nehru University, known for its culture of protests, but also on campuses in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Even in universities under the Sangh’s sway, as for instance Delhi University, students have sought to resist the circumscribing of their rights to engage with ideas the ruling dispensation disapproves of.

Middle-Class opposition

Among the ideas the Sangh Parivar has little tolerance for are those that question the BJP’s hyper-nationalism. Yet the BJP has encountered opposition even on this count.

Recall the video of Gurmehar Kaur, the daughter of an Army captain who was killed during the Kargil war, telling hyper-nationalists that “war, not Pakistan, killed my father.” Or, more recently, the outcry in social media against the actor Paresh Rawal’s tweet against the writer Arundhati Roy. Or, before them, the many meanings Jawaharlal Nehru University students imbued in the word azaadi.

Their insistence on “speaking truth to power” is particularly remarkable because they all belong to the middle class, which is said to be in thrall to Modi, mesmerised by his ability to weave dreams of hope.

But the romance between the middle class and Modi might have already been strained – his government has been unable to create jobs at the rate at which its predecessor did. Nor would it please the moralistic middle class to know that the yoga guru Baba Ramdev has received, according to the news agency Reuters, discounts worth lakhs of rupees in land acquisition in states the BJP controls.

The popular opposition to the BJP might have been as fierce, polarising and exclusivist as the party’s politics is, but for the media’s palpable reluctance to be critical of Modi and his dispensation. Perhaps the BJP has no qualms in using the levers of power to control the media. It is also true that journalists, like other members of the middle class, see the BJP as a party of their own, representing ideas they favour and promoting their material interests.

Nevertheless, the mainstream media’s failure to perform the role of the watchdog has been offset by the spunk independent news portals have shown as well as the difficult-to-control social media. Every individual is potentially a dissenter boasting of his own platform and following.

No doubt, the BJP and its followers might pooh-pooh the trends of resistance as these have not ended Modi’s winning spree. It was also why articles critical of three years of Modi as prime minister were despondent and full of dark forebodings. All of them should know that India still bustles with Maharana Prataps – the people willing to wage their battles for the ideas they believe in – and are waiting for the Opposition parties to take a cue from them.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.