BJP has mastered the art of using symbols to its advantage. But will the mass pyres singe it? – By Ajay Gandhi
India’s spectacle of mass death – the iconography of funeral pyres – is the pandemic’s defining leitmotif…. In India, the pandemic’s mass deaths vex such meaning-making at two levels. First, there is the nation. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindu nationalist project constantly contrives its primordial origins and everlasting nature. This is why the current government assiduously builds edifices which visually conjure the nation.
Witness Prime Minister Modi’s consecration of the Ram temple’s construction on the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. Or the urgent prioritisation of the grandiose Central Vista project in New Delhi…. Both subsume the plurality and contest which mark India’s social and political life. By erasing Mughal and British traces, by dismantling their material remains, the Hindu nation becomes all there was and ever will be….
Fire transmutes that which is solid and present – our fictions and our selves – into something residual. It is in this sense that India’s mass funeral pyres might trouble authorities. The BJP’s “total” aspirations – the nation’s essence meshed with the state’s machinery – reach for perpetuity. Yet fire, more than any argument or analysis, bluntly tells us: what is will not always be.