The Figure of Bulldozer
Like my ideologue, John Berger, I keep looking for a figurative image to understand the art and ideology of the times. For a while now, I have been searching for a complex definition of Hindutva: Its possible grey areas; its coated meanings; its teeth hidden in the tongue and belly like a bulldozer itself. I was looking for a figurative image that captures its dynamitic power; its unbridled emotions; its automobility. I was looking for a body and machine that captures its muscle and movement: Its muscular politics.
I was trying to understand the electric power of Hindutva that makes the words viral and put the body in trance. Perhaps an installation work of Hindutva that instils the fear of aligning aesthetics and anaesthesia together. I was looking for an artefact. An object that has cultic and exhibitory values but can equally cut the body like the swords of the Ramanavami procession. I was looking for an image that brings artillery and artefact together. Music and terror together. Slogan and silence together. Fun and violence together. I was looking for a toy of Hindutva that steals the love and instils the violence in children’s minds like the toy gun culture of the US Empire. I was looking for the object that rolls all these things together, in one bundle like a bulldozer itself.
The figurative image for the Hindutva that I have found is that of a bulldozer. Moving and bulldozing. It was open out there, in body and spirit, in politics and procession, in sign and sensation, in mobs and automobility, in manhood and machine-hood. It is a device that becomes biopolitical as well as geopolitical in its domination. It moves to demolish; it moves to displace; it moves to dominate. It moves to decimate. It moves to dismiss any prospect of dialogue. It moves to move the earth where one stands. It moves to create a new site for the settlers at the expense of the livelihood of the others.
In India, bulldozer does not remain a machine. It has become an artefact now. It has entered into the popular psyche. There is a massive demand for bulldozers. People are offering it as a part of wedding and birthday gifts. There is a massive demand for bulldozer toys. A report says that bulldozer pichkari sold like a cake in the city of Banaras during the Holi. There are popular songs and music tracks dedicated to the device. The media is full of the news and views on it. Leaders are trying to name themselves after it—bulldozer baba, bulldozer mama, bulldozer bhai and so on. Bulldozer is the new bull of Indian politics. In a medicine shop in Bihar, a young man was asking for a bulldozer (a condom). I checked it. In fact, there is a JCB condom. Its promotion says, “it restores the confidence and relieves you of the inferiority complex”. Clearly, the bulldozer is a sign of the insecurities of Hindutva masculinity.
Flatness of Hindutva
I soon realised that Hindutva doesn’t hold complexity. It simply cannot hold. It is not interested in complex seeing. Perhaps we do not need a complex definition for Hindutva. Bulldozer is a sign that Hindutva is flat. It wants to excavate everything. The soil that nurtures the soul, the food that nourishes the body, and the home that gives us a sense of belonging. It wants to dig out everything. It plans to smoothen out the history. It wants to cut down the raising hands. It wants to roll down the raising heads. It wants to make everything flat and transparent going with the agenda of neoliberal politics. For Hindutva, everything is an exhibition — from faith to religion to nationalism, everything. How we will know unless you don’t show. It is a remarkable show of politics on a spectacular level. It is a neoliberal formation of Hinduism in a destructive form. Some say that bulldozer brings development.
Of course, there is a difference between Hinduism and Hindutva. But not in the way the liberals want to show us. That is Hinduism is good, Hindutva is bad. The differences lie in the ways they disclose themselves. Hinduism maintains pretensions, Hindutva is flat. One is ceremonial, the other is a show. When it comes to caste hierarchy, let’s be brute, if Hinduism is cunning, Hindutva is crude. What Hinduism does with its “accommodating ideology”, Hindutva does it by othering! What lower castes were to Hinduism, Muslims are to the Hindutva. One maintains its ideology through hegemony, the other wants to maintain it by brute force symbolised by the bulldozer. Hate remains the common factor and thus the hierarchy.
One cannot hide by saying that Hindutva is dangerous for Hinduism. In fact, Hindutva has given a new lease of life to Hinduism which was facing a crisis from its lower castes. Check the geography. Hinduism has expanded its territory. The expansion becomes only possible through the ideology of Hindutva. Hindutva of today is the Hinduism of tomorrow. What we are facing is the normalisation of Hindutva ideology as Hinduism. Hindutva is a general manifestation of Hinduism in a neoliberal regime. We can say that Hindutva is not an aberration. It is the religion in its true sanatani sense.
One cannot hide by saying that Hindutva is inspired by western ideology; it has its Indian root too. Did we forget its history: how dissenters were punished, how women were burnt, and how Buddhism was crushed in its own land? What we are witnessing is new but not so much. Do we believe that the hatred that we are seeing today is the making of 7-10 years? It has been accumulating for years. It is outpouring now. It has found its opportune time and moment.
Bulldozer is a sign that Hindutva is flat! Made of iron, its heart is flattened, its eyes are flattening. It sees nothing. It hears nothing. It wants to make everything flat. It believes in uniformity of all. The most insidious thing Hindutva does with life and culture is it makes everything flat. It sees things in black and white. You are a Hindu or a Muslim. You are nationals or anti-nationals. You are with us or against us. Its art, rhetoric, epics and sculptures typically follow and fall in this line. It makes everything flat. Have you seen the Bollywood movie, Kashmir Files? In the movies, the politics fall flat and so do the differences without addressing the gaps. See the sheer flatness of the Statue of Unity, the world’s tallest monument standing in front of Narmada; it is a spectacle. It asks for the gaze but does not unveil. It does not gape. It remains straight. To represent this art of Hindutva, nothing is better than a bulldozer. A flat, brute, massive, spectacular machine. It neither hides anything, nor does it reveal. Flatness becomes its clarion call. The art of bulldozer has a flatness of aesthetics. It reminds us of the futurism—the art of the fascists.
If Hinduism is represented by the figure of a Brahmin with a ponytail, Hindutva reminds me of the figure of Brahmarakshas. In many folk narratives, the figure is shown as a huge but mean figure. It is a scary figure with horns and tentacles on its head with a ponytail. He keeps hanging upside down on a tree. Like a bulldozer, the figure has swishing tails, carnivorous teeth and sharp nails. Despite their differences, Brahmins, Brahmarakshas and bulldozers keep looking for their sacrifices. Sometimes they capture the mind. Sometimes they rip apart the body. And sometimes they rip apart the land.
Bulldozer too has a history!
The deployment of bulldozers against minorities might be new in India but it has a long genocidal history. Before the bulldozer machines came into the world, the term “bulldozer” was deployed to intimidate Black people in parts of the United States. Bulldozing was used to describe intimidation “by violent and unlawful means.” The lawlessness of the bulldozer is not new, nor is the violence inscribed in the term. In the United States in the 1870s, the term “bulldoze” was used for administrating a large and efficient dose of any sort of medicine or punishment.
Ahead of the US presidential election of 1876, Black American voters were at the receiving end of a severe beating and lashing for participating in their rights in the form of a “bulldoze — a dose fit for a bull”. They would be thrashed, whipped and often lynched. “Many were bulldozed into silence,” writes Andy Hollandbeck in the Racist Origins of Bulldozer. He also writes that bulldozing got a clear meaning “to coerce or restrain by use of force.” The invention of the massive machine made the term more concrete. Bulldozer brought the figurative image of its powerful meaning. It has been using brute force to push…
The arrival of the Bulldozer in India is not a coincidence, it symbolises the ideology of the time. Bulldozer does not move that much but it marks the genocidal connection beyond geographical boundaries. It was there against the Blacks in the United States. It is there in China against the minorities. It is used in Palestine by the Israeli authorities. It has been at the centre of indigenous and ethnic displacement across the world.
In this regard, Pranay Samajula writes, “The fact that bulldozers have cropped up in both India and Israel as a chilling symbol of state repression itself is common to both cases: in both India and Israel, the far-right regimes that govern the two countries share a common vision of an ethnic-majoritarian apartheid state, and are willing to go to extreme lengths to realise that vision.”
Much before the demolition and displacement were taken out in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, Israeli authorities deployed it against Palestinians in massive ways. The machine came with a legacy and meaning, with chilling memories. What is this connection between unknown territories? We are not sure if Indian authorities have learnt from its White or Jewish supremacist but their genocidal connection is clear. Their bulldozing connection is clear, its brutality of power and the flatness of aesthetics is clear.