Implanting of an Ideology: Television, Politics, and the Making of the Hindu Right in Contemporary India
Hindu Right , Tradition and Modernity , Indian Politics , Ramayan , Television serial
Similar to developments in many parts of the world, in India, right-wing Hindu nationalists have appeared as a powerful group, shaping the ideological discourse and successfully capturing state power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. This dissertation delineates the emergence of the Hindu Right in contemporary India in conversation with the Hindu epic Ramayan. The study’s central focus is the television adaptation of the Ramayan (TVR) that was broadcast on the state-run national television network in 1987 and 1988. This is seen as a marker event following which there was a right-wing drift towards the ideology of the Hindu Right. I argue that the TVR was a formidable instrument in making the ideology of the Hindu Right palatable among a large segment of the Indian population. Following a close textual reading of the epic, this study demonstrates how the televised Ramayan reorganised and repackaged the epic in such a way that it became foundational in redefining the contours of the Indian nation along the lines of Hindu nationalism. To explain the appeal of Ramayan, I undertake a historical investigation to show that at previous moments of crisis in the Indian caste/class society, the epic was deployed by the ruling classes to regain their slipping hegemonic control. I argue that the TVR is a modern-day rearticulation of the same phenomenon, where claims to tradition are maneuvered to project forward to a future utopian society: a utopian society that contains a critique of the existing order, as well as an appeal to rebuild using wisdom contained within Indian (read upper-caste Brahmanical) tradition. This project makes a wide theoretical intervention by contending that the fundamental flaw in our understanding of the growth of the Hindu Right lies in how scholarship has conceptualised the relationship between tradition and modernity. I suggest that instead of considering departing from tradition as a radical rupture, understanding modernity as an ongoing modernisation of tradition provides a more nuanced insight into the phenomena.