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Hindutva 2.0 as information ecology

Anustup Basu


This essay is part of a wider inquiry into the long terrain of Hindu nationalist publicity and the quest for an axiomatic Hindu nation. Let me begin by identifying some basic themes that have been central to the Hindutva (Hinduness) project of extra-parliamentary organisations like the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS, or National Volunteer Service) or Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP. or World Hindu Council) and political parties like Jan Sangh or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The traditional figuration of the Hindu nation in this terrain has generally been along the Orientalist lines of an organismic late 18th-century tradition of German idealism. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that the Hindu nationalist discourse has always been dogged by the fact that a one people, one culture, one language romance has been difficult to replicate in the evidently pluralistic Indian scenario. Secondly, it is quite well known that what has been historically identified as a denominational "Hinduism” by a 19th-century colonial religious anthropology has always been a mélange of castes and eclectic traditions that could be variously described as theistic, polytheistic, henotheistic, pantheistic, kathenotheistic or atheistic. It has thus been a difficult matter to imagine one Hindu people with a common eschatology and providential destinying. Finally, Hinduism, because of the caste system, perpetually lacked a universal church and congregation that could be transposed into a political fraternity.

These factors of course come into play only when one is committed - such as Hindutva proponents are - to imagining India as an organic, ethno-religious whole, rather than an associational or Völkerbund entity. I have suggested elsewhere, drawing from the work of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, that from a narrow, exacting perspective of conservative nation-thinking of a certain kind, the diagnosis inevitably would be that in order for there to be a Hindu nation, there had to be a jealous “Hindu Monotheism” (see Basu 2012). that is, one that was always alert to distinguishing a core peopleness from apostates and "infidels” and had the institutions to organise a flock in terms of a common purpose and destination. In theological terms, it would mean absorbing a million subcontinental gods and traditions of piety into a single edifice of faith, cast along Abrahamic lines.

Hindutva 2.0 as information ecology’ 177

In political or cultural transposition, the imperative would be to put in place a singular monotheme of selfhood as a secular derivative of Hinduness.

The broader history of Hindu nation-thinking has featured both these tendencies; that is, it has had a theo-philosophical impulse to invent a "Semitic” Hinduism with Krishna or Rama taking the place of Christ. It has also featured ethno-cultural projects to sidestep thorny theological matters and build a template of Hindu cultural nationalism as substituting for an Indian political theology.1 In a concomitant manner, this nationalism has telescoped the many-armed, eclectic flows of subcontinental Islam to identify it as competing political monotheism. It was an original polarisation that, in the fullness of time, would birth a nation or two. As such, Hindu nationalism - of which organised Hindutva has been a major part, but not the whole - was a classic modernising project under the auspices of print capitalism. The mode of publicity was based on the novel or the essay form; it featured the newspaper, the journal or the pamphlet as classic organs of publicity; and it tried to devolve pastoral organisations like the RSS shakha with common eating areas and uniforms to settle the matter of caste. This was a literary undertaking within a modern disciplinary order of power/knowledge, as Foucault would put it, fielding the Vedas or the Bhagavad Gita against religious anthropology, the Manushastra against modern jurisprudence or Hindu mythology against modern history. It would be fair to say that the agonistic construction of this Hindu India has largely been incomplete. It has, for instance, struggled to square caste ethics with modern democratic tempers, a Vedic cosmology with enlightenment reason or the colonial image of the ascetic and otherworldly Hindu with the so-called Protestant ethos of capitalism.

It must be remembered that organised Hindu nationalism of the 20th century, birthed by the Hindu Mahasabha (1906) or the RSS (1925), largely avoided the theological debates and proposed Hindutva as a template for ethno-religious cultural nationalism with Islam as the common enemy. Yet even in the realm of a purported national culture, the ideology has always been troubled by the question of whether the national "way of life” they advocate is just a pan-Indian amplification of North Indian, Brahminical, Hindi-speaking and vegetarian elite interests and customs. In the sphere of literary modernisation, it has, for example, failed to provide a compelling answer as to why caste Bengalis should emulate Chitpavan or Karhade Brahmins and give up meat and alcohol, or why traditionally ostracised and exploited Dalits (depressed castes) should join their diurnal oppressors in a national Hindu fold. These and other antinomies between an "Aryan India” and a "Dravidian India,” between an austere Vedanta and the many-armed flows of Bhakti, between Sanskritisation and vernacular nationalisms in the south or the east, have been central to the long gestation of the Hindu nation. Intricate caste politics aside, the broader family of Hindutva itself has been marked by contemporary tensions between a technocratic urban elite committed to neoliberal development and agrarian conservatives against westernisation. The alliance contains provincial outfits like the Shiv Sena that, while being generally supportive of the Sangh Parivar cause, seem to inevitably turn towards weighing their Maratha and

"Hindu” priorities whenever there is a BJP government at the centre. In terms of European parallels, the assemblage of Hindu chauvinism has indeed contained right-wing energies mobilised on the lines of Italian fascism as well as German Nazism. But it has also housed conservative powers akin to the Spanish Carlists during the Civil War or the Catholic corporatism of Salazar in Portugal's Estado Novo after 1933.

Old disputes and lamentations about a historically fragmented Hindu identity remain to this day. That was perhaps the primary reason that the Sangh Parivar failed to kill Gandhi and Nehru - the primal fathers standing in their way - and for a long time, till the mid-1980s at least, hardcore Hindu nationalist politics was marginal in the Indian scenario. I want to suggest that in the last three decades, a new metropolitan template has emerged for the Hindu axiomatic as ethnoreligious political monotheism, that is, one which is comfortable with the works of planetary financialisation and Anglophone technocratic development, unlike the Swadeshi ethos and a Gandhian agrarian socialism that marked the BJP economic vision of the 1980s. This is a novel ecology of media sensations and urban religio-political experience. It is a form of advertised modernisation that I will call Hindutva 2.0. "Modernisation,” in the sense I am using it here, does not signify modernity triumphing "tradition.” Rather, it is a perpetually mutating arrangement that Rajni Kothari has described in the following manner:

A modernizing society is neither modern nor traditional. It simply moves from one threshold of integration and performance to another, in the process transforming both the indigenous structures and attitudes and the newly introduced institutions and ideas.

(Kothari 1997: 58)

I thus want to mark a new phase of electronic urban religiosity that has shifted away from the dominance of print capitalism. It has done so in its own terms, setting its own rules of engagement between universes of cognition and belief. With the intense spread of information culture in India, this ecology has created a virtual metropolitan network of intermingling desires, anxieties and pieties that tends to besiege and induct the countryside into a virtual web of ethno-religious feeling; that is, it does not necessarily end sectarian conflicts within the Hindu order but in a sense localises them in relation to a national monotheme that increasingly provides the bedrock of a Jealous Islamophobia that may be weaponised from time to time.

This form of publicity orchestrates arguments, tensions and embattled desires to precipitate a new metropolitan Hindu normal. Hindutva 2.0 is a resonance machine (rather than an enclosed echo chamber) whose affective powers and flows increasingly redefine the state of Indian secularism and compel even enemies to participate in a normative that it creates like the eye of a storm; that is, a situation in which even ideological opponents of Hindutva are increasingly compelled to respond to issues in the terms set by an informational Hinduness,

Hindutva 2.0 as information ecology’ 179 whether they are talking about Pakistan, militarisation and human rights abuse in Kashmir, the economy, affirmative action, the rights of women and minorities, KFC or the game of cricket. Opposing left and liberal discourses face a crisis not necessarily due to some lack of rigour, innovation or logical consistency in their arguments, but because they discover their categories themselves to be drained of affectional power. In other words, classic ideas, references and universals of political liberalism - indeed ones on which the Indian constitutional revolution itself was founded, like secularism, social justice, equity, rights or citizenship - seem to affect contemporary metropolitan masses less and less unless they are submitted to a populist "Hindu minimum” of memory, interest and belief. The thought of Hindutva 2.0 is thus of an informational scene that tends to reinvent the entire political spectrum itself into gradations of soft and hard Hinduness. This ecology of the Hindu normative - a new dynamic regime of signs and references - pertains to that paradigm shift that the BJP leader L. K. Advani perhaps had in mind when he declared in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992: "Now all parties have to respond to us" (cited in Rajagopal 2001: 117).

Hindutva 2.0 is a diagram of informational power that brings together a Hindu sense of being and a neoliberal credo of development. It gives that assemblage itself a form of religiosity and destination. In order to do that, it conjoins matters that were once incommensurable into a new state of concert: squaring the desire for a steadfast Brahminical ordering of society with the irreverent creativedestructive energies of finance capital, wedding paternalism with techno-financial management or doxa with science. I will argue that it tends to accomplish such unities by orchestrating opposing propositions on a pure plane of the advertised, that is, without resolving these binaries in terms of dialectics, narration or realism. Hindutva 2.0 thus refers to a plane of consistency, a mythic informational continuum of Indian thought and feeling amidst the welter of the profane. It presumes a neuropolis of populations rather than a historical city of peoples when it comes to ideas of representation, self-determination or thymos. It is centred upon what Andrew Murphie (2007) has called the “ontogenetic politics of cognition.” Hindutva 2.0 is an ecology of monothematic "nation-effects” rather than an always deconstructable national narrative. The Hindu nation tends to become a spectral sublimation in this environment, drawing disparate particulars of feeling and neurosis ranging from nuclear pride, to double-digit growth or hauteur toward Pakistan.

There have been many important scholarly works on this assemblage of finance capital, urban Hindutva and new media in the Indian context.21 will not rehearse them here, but provide a few glimpses of the transformational landscape that came into being after the liberalisation of the Indian economy after 1991. This was a new form of urban development - a diagram of techno-financialisation, information networks, post-Fordist manufacturing and, more importantly, the industrialisation of agriculture. Such transformations created Fortune 500 hubs like Gurgaon out of sleepy feudal hamlets like Gurgram.3 It led traditional Kannadigas of Bangalore or Marathas of Mumbai to feel differentially excluded by a new cosmopolitan gentrification that tended to erase historical striations of the city - the caste enclaves, the refugee colonies, the slums of Mumbai built on land claimed from the sea or the informal nooks of immigrant survival - into smooth and secure spaces of prime real estate (see Nair 2005; Prakash 2011). Multiplex and shopping mall cultures penetrated small towns and mid-sized cities along with cell phones and the internet. By May 2007. India, at 9.4 per cent, was posting its highest growth figures in more than two decades. Meanwhile Indian television would go from a handful of state-owned channels at the eve of 1995 to around 308 by 2008, with more than 50 24-hour news portals operating in 11 languages (see Kohli-Kandhekar 2010: 64). The increasingly corporatised Indian media and entertainment industry would grow from 9 billion U.S. dollars in 2005 to S22.3 billion in 2018, across a wide spectrum, from FM radio to cell phones to IT or animation.4

It is quite well known that the rise of late 20th-century political Hindutva happened in synergy with this landscape of media and techno-financial transformations. The process that began in the early 1990s reached its high point in the 2014 Indian elections, in which the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, won a resounding victory in what was the first high-finance, tech-driven. U.S. presidential-style campaign in subcontinental history. It was an undertaking that borrowed its central promise of "Achche Din” (Good Days) from a cola advertisement and involved 437 mass rallies for which Modi was flown across a total distance equalling seven times the circumference of the planet. The rallies were complemented by endeavours like 200 "Namo Raths” (vehicles equipped with 54” LCD screens) visiting 19,000 villages in Uttar Pradesh to show recorded speeches and Modi interacting with commoners in 4,000 tea stalls across 24 states through video conferencing technologies (see Jaffrelot 2015; Chhibber and Ostermann 2014). Two studios were set up in Delhi and Gandhinagar for a massive "shock and awe” campaign, as journalist Rajdeep Sardesai described it. A 3-D hologram technology was procured from the British company Musion. If the sheer number of rallies Modi spoke at was impressive, what was more impressive was the fact that millions in more than a thousand other locations were "touched” by the magical projection of his three-dimensional image, like the coming down to earth of distant gods (see Sardesai 2014; Price 2015).

The massive populist mobilisations and grand symbolic gestures were complimented by policing, trolling, propagandising and myth-marketing in social media and the Twitterverse by the BJP's IT Cell. This was an electronic mobilisation that, in terms of critical width and penetration, would not have been possible in the general elections of 2009. In the Indian media landscape of 2009, there were 584.32 million cellular phones with 192.88 million in rural areas; there were 16.8 million internet subscribers. By 2014-2015, there were almost a billion mobile phone users, 377.73 million of them in villages; the number of internet subscribers had grown exponentially to 251.9 million.5 A significant chunk of the Indian population - urban elites as well as the mid-town, mid-caste, mid-trade quarters - had taken to social media with passionate intensity. Among a million mutations of a novel form of sociability, the electronic commons birthed new

Hindutva 2.0 as information ecology’ 181 interactive networks along the lines of religion, caste, trade, region, kinship or ethnicity. It was an electronic abstraction that rose above traditional barriers and set up new avenues of religious and affectional commerce between the Anglophone world and the vernaculars, and between town and country. It was a new congregational plane animated by instantaneous and wide disseminations beyond stigmas of touch, food, liquor, vocation, custom, law, cohabitation, the veil or vice. It was audible and imagistic beyond the literary protocols and institutions of the lettered city. Marked by speedy information flows and feedback loops independent of traditional instimtions of news and veracity, here one could freely disperse affectations and fantasies without traditional mediating entities like the news agency. It was, in a sense, a great liquidation of the hardened pathways for stories and statements, by which the historical city as well as its hinterland had been redrawn by virtual lanes of data and information flow. This dispensation of capital as faith and emotion industry was preceded by necessary shifts in the linguistic map and demographic distributions between town and country. The liberalisation era had witnessed unprecedented growth of urbanisation in India and a telescoping of the country’s much-vaunted historical pluralism. Robin Jeffrey (2006), for instance, has observed that it was the age of cable television that made Hindi more acceptable to other parts of the country. A recent survey by the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, under the leadership of G. N. Devy, has concluded that about 220 Indian languages have disappeared in the last 50 years; another 150 could become extinct in the next half a century (see Devy 2014).

It must be remembered that Hinduism, as a marketable religion, had also long since acquired new powers of augmented, transnational presence in this media environment. Today, it offers online darshana of idols, virtual pilgrimages including a VR experience of the Kumbh Mela, remotely purchased rituals in Varanasi for the souls of ancestors or atonement of sins, desktop deities and a plethora of other activities hitherto hierarchically mediated by the priest and caste society (see Mallapragada 2010). The "postmodern" Hindu assemblage markets a variety of goods and services pertaining to scriptural knowledge, “new religious” or motivational therapy, feel-good nostrums, pop-philosophy, yoga, Ayurveda medicine, lifestyle products, food, ritualistic paraphernalia including bottled Ganges water, Vaastii, gemstones or astrology across the world.6 It features a bevy of jet-setting star godmen with multimillion dollar incomes and global spiritual empires and includes designer real estate, interior decoration, education, hospitality and tourism industries. Marketable Hindu religiosity has percolated all avenues of culture, from techno-music to animation, advertising or graphic novels. It has readily adopted many modes of American televangelism and product marketing through 24/7 channels like Aastha TV or Sanskar TV.

What is advertised modernisation?

The acute sense of a swiftly changing here and now, an overwhelming sea of information, immigrant crises and nativist reactions to Islamicised and ethnicised labour has, in our times, birthed many media polities of rage and charismatic authoritarianisms across the world. Contemporary Hindu revivalism, in that sense, bears a family resemblance to untimely chauvinistic revivalisms and revanchist desires across the world, like monarchism in Bolsonaro's Brazil or neo-Ottomanism in Erdogan's Turkey. It belongs to an informational order marked by what Bernard Stiegler (2008) has called an industrial temporalisation of consciousness and the compression of memory to consolidate an absolute vision of the past. This ecology often delivers "lumped" massifications of majoritarian "gut feeling” and perception. It promotes a culture of neuropolitics in which multi-directional stimulations, attention spans, diversions, ennui or boredom become potent political factors. This pertains to an early realisation about the culture industry that the anti-fascist generation of Benjamin and Adorno insightfully registered: that it can lead to a form of herd mentality by which the masses become masses only when they can experience both politics and philosophy only as forms of faith.

It is against this backdrop that I want to argue that a contemporary Hindu majoritarian nationalism has fomented what can be called an electronic political monotheism that is no longer weighed down by the pedagogies of print capitalism. The doctrinaire or propagandist expressions of Hindutva are essential parts of that overall sphere, but not the whole of it. I want to explore some cultural and existential facets of an overall Hindu-normative India that has emerged in the last quarter century or so, a general majoritarianism that is greater and deeper than just the electoral fortunes of BJP, Modi or institutional Hindutva. This Hindu-ness seeks to publicise a techno-financially upgraded, upper-caste existence as the only desired form of life in the modern metropolis; that is, it desires to merge a new age Hindu religiosity with the civic religiosity of contemporary market structures. Conversely, it seeks to differentially exclude the Dalit, the Muslim or the poor in terms of custom, attire, speech, food, hygiene, habitat and other details of lived life.

I have, of course, used "advertised” as a concept metaphor in the title of this essay. We have long since adjusted ourselves to a certain civic indulgence to the phenomenon of the advertisement as long as it deals with identifiable commonplace feelings and objects; that is, we accept its hyperbolic declarations about beer, clothes or cars without actually believing that such procurements will absolutely live up to their primary product promises and contribute ancillary effects, like improving one's sex life, confidence or professional success rate. The advertisement is supposed to render an innocuous "take home,” a "feel good” sensation or, in some cases, a consumable fear. It is designed to fix an often intangible sense of prestige, pride or belonging in relation to a particular brand. The advertisement is supposed to do so without narrative obligation to truth or closure and without reference to a consistent or realistic world-picture to formally authenticate its claims. It is also, by virtue of its nature and terms of engagement, instinctively majoritarian.

The propagandist lie of course is a relatively small part of the broader cultural phenomenon of advertised modernisation. In order to understand this, we need to update the concept of advertising itself, from its 20th-century incarnation in the age of industry and vertical institutions of mass culture to an order of convergence

Hindutva 2.0 as information ecology’ 183 marked by non-directional flows between platforms, instant audience migrations and co-operations between industries - that is, from a moment in the 1960s when advertisers could reach 80 per cent of U.S. women with a prime time slot on three networks to the present mediaverse in which the same content would have to run on 100 channels to gather nearly as many eyeballs (Jenkins 2006: 66). In the age of the hyperlink and industrial temporalisation of consciousness, advertising does not work according to David Ogilvy’s "push model" anymore.7 Campaigning becomes interactive, driven by continuous feedback loops and data processing, between partial attention and complete immersion. It becomes a matter of acquiring continuous “lovemarks”8 across a range of media "touch points,” blurring the lines between entertainment and product placement and passing the brand through a circuit of emotive experiences (Jenkins 2006: 20). This, in a sense, is the cultivation of "Google juice” or positive patterns of linkage in "pull media” like the internet, where it is the public that seeks out information and decides which news should rise to the surface. Contemporary campaigning involves navigating a sea of variables, no longer under expert editorial control, in order to achieve a workable signal-to-noise ratio. Advertising today is about merging the brand into an overall picture of a secure metropolitan life worth living in an order in which capital produces social life itself. It inaugurates a regime of affectations in which it is better to mine information from Facebook or Twitter rather than through conventional market research.9 This could be seen in Barack Obama's revolutionary run in 2008, which challenged and changed the rules of political campaigning as well as psephology, or in the way that orchestrated fake news was decisive in catapulting Trump to the presidency.

Advertising in the digital age therefore is an enterprise that ideally looks to reduce the purely informative, the purely pedagogic or the purely doctrinaire to degree zero of top-down execution. As Amit Rai points out, the generic 30-/15-second ad has reached the end of its shelf life. The future belongs to uninterrupted branding of digital content "that integrates the marketing interval into the attention of consumers contagiously” (Rai 2009: 87). Contemporary advertising therefore aims to insert and circulate particulars of the informative or the doctrinal immanently in a wider realm of infotainment, which, in itself, is a whirlpool of industrial attention and diversion. Branding becomes a matter of controlled chaos. It seeks to achieve critical densities of affect, recall value or regularities of reference amidst a multitude of competing sensations. The keywords in advertising jargon therefore become the microsegment, the mosaic, the hide and seek or the creation of "affinity spaces” for visitors who are "loyals,” "zappers,” “minglers” or “casuals” (Jenkins 2006: 66, 280). This playfulness is achieved not just by negating rival clusters of energy, but also by "piggy-backing” some others and entering into synergies with some more. The advertisement, in an ideal form, should therefore merge with the pulsations of the city itself - its forms of customary life and its horizons of faith and expectation.

The thought of Hindutva 2.0 as a new age political monotheism for a virtual Hindu congregation involves such an advertised realignment between tradition and the modern. It is not based on holistic enunciations of philosophical, theological or political truth by way of the essay or the novel. It may, pace Ranciere, be called an informational distribution of the Brahminical sensible.10 The energies in this distribution may “touch upon” the diverse works of the world contagiously, without enclosing them into a truth of Hindu metafiction. This is exactly what gives Hindutva 2.0 an affectional latitude, a non-obligatory flippancy that the older discourse of Hindu nationalism lacked. That older revivalist discourse struggled to subsume the modern disciplines and the physical sciences - from archaeology to medicine or astrophysics - into a constitutive Hindu vision. It had to world the caste question afresh in an altered universe of rights and freedoms. It attempted, at every turn, to reconcile mythology with history and realism, or theodicy with justice. Such discursive efforts - rarely sublime, often ludicrous - have had a long history and continue to this day. However, in this new ecology, a neo-traditionalism acquires fresh powers of effecting touchpoints and leaving lovemarks on all worldly works, from the economy, to computation, or the Mars Mission.

The Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb’s recent assertion that there was internet during the age of the Mahabharata11 is, in that sense, no different from the postulates that have regularly come up in Hindu discourse, right from the late 19th-century moment of the Calcutta or Poona revivalists, such as the ideas that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle validates Vedic creation theory, that the Hindu scriptures anticipate Newton and Darwin, or that the mythical story of the Sage Agastya drinking up the ocean provides a parable of ancient Hindu electrolysis. The difference, however, is that Deb's comment arrives in an informational environment saturated with random Hindu emotives. This ecology offers instant transmissions between town and country, between Sanskrit and the vernacular, between the Bhagavad Gita and labour management, or between Vedic cosmogony and astrophysics. The energies of Hindutva 2.0 can, accordingly, advertise a new Hinduness by curving around, piggy-backing or assembling with a much wider spectrum of objects and postulates. It can thus bravely "touch upon,” without obligation, many matters that traditional Hindu nationalist discourse has either avoided, been unsure about or approached gingerly. It can make Deb's statement itself Trumpian by placing it in a wider, but essentially homogenous, spectrum of neurosis and laughter. The spectre of the majoritarian normal becomes apparent exactly when we realise that there are indeed available “Hindu” ways - city-slick or rustic - of taking Deb seriously, indulging him, making fun of him or even dismissing him altogether. It is this stance of the advertised in a general realm of culture rather than political speak that I hope to illustrate in the next section, this time in terms of "Bollywood” as affect industry.

Hindutva 2.0 and Bollywood

A major cultural expression of Hindutva 2.0 is, in a sense, a "Bollywoodisation” of the modern religion, the older ideology or its predicates of cultural nationalism; that is, in terms of how these forces are inducted into an overall immersive experience of contemporary metropolitan culture, birthing its own versions of what Shanti Kumar (2006) has called the "unimaginable communities” of electronic capitalism. "Bollywood,” as it has been understood in recent times, is a media assemblage which cuts across multiple avenues: television, cinema, radio, travel, fashion, jewellery, music, consumer goods, event management, internet, cell phone ringtones and advertising. As an urban resonance machine, it strongly inflects shopping mall environments, marketing and contemporary global presentations of a brand India in general.12 It infuses its advertising energies into state overtures to the NRI communities, international diplomatic missions and state projects of cultural ambassadorship like the “India Everywhere” campaign in Davos 2006.13

I have elsewhere theorised Bollywood cinema of the 1990s and after against this backdrop in terms of a geo-televisual and informational aesthetic with a pronounced high-Hindu ontology (Basu 2010), that is, as a cultural dispensation that absorbs geo-televisual pressures of metropolitan globalisation by setting up "advertised” relationships between these and ethical postulates of "tradition.” A template of Bollywood cinema, in other words, was one among many modes by which Hindutva 2.0 absorbed and adjudged new sensations, hermeneutics of desire, and visions of life that had either arrived or were out of the closet: unapologetic consumerism, the profit motive, pre-marital sex, live-in relationships, swinger lifestyles, adultery or homosexuality. The challenge lay in squaring these profanities of the new world order with a traditional Brahminical shepherding of culture.

Hindi cinema thus adopted what is now known as the signature Bollywood style, involving sudden transportations to fantastic scenarios beyond the determined milieus of the story, or non-obligatory breakaways into MTV-friendly song and dance capsules. In that sense, it reserved a space for the purely advertised, one beyond the control of contextual storytelling. This was a zone of affects and immersions celebrating a spectral form of life that connected metropolitan India across cultures and languages to the diaspora. The infusion of non-directional powers of the advertised began at the level of colours, saturations, textures, magical spaces, luminosities and the sonorous. In most cases, they operated at the level of semiotics, not at the level of ethical propositions, problems and solutions. The cinematic image of Mumbai itself - as a stage for gathered metropolitan desires and plenitudes - frequently became an advertised compact of the real and the geo-televisual. In Sanjay Gupta's Aatish/Mirror (1994), it became a hybrid of the historical city itself and Mauritius of the golden coasts and the deep blue sea. In Yaarana/Friendship (David Dhawan 1995), the protagonist started driving a car in the dusty streets of Mumbai and continued driving till the vehicle came to a stop in a lush, touristy landscape in Switzerland. Similarly, in Rajiv Kapoor's Prem Granth / Book of Love (1996), the agrarian heartland of village India was upgraded as manicured vistas of South African locations.

“Bollywood” came with new alluring textures of traditional piety, consumerism and a lush heritagism perhaps best seen in the famous extended family marriage melodramas of the late 1990s and early 2000s. In these influential films, the ritualistic paraphernalia of the high-Hindu home could assemble with conspicuous consumables and exotic locales of Europe and the world at large. The super-rich Raichand Mansion in Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghani /Happiness and Tears (2001) was a filmic combination of lavish neo-traditional interiors melded with European aristocratic exteriors and the grounds of the Waddeson Manor in Buckinghamshire, U.K., expansive enough for a private helicopter to land in the driveway. The neo-Hindu Gurukul in Aditya Chopra’s Mohabbatein (2000) was a never-never school that featured a rather draconian Hindu spiritual makeover of British public school education. The campus was an assemblage of Longleat, a country house in Wiltshire, England, and spots in the Oxford and Cambridge universities. Increasingly, during this period, it seemed that a cinematic high-Hindu "tradition” could no longer be staged without a concomitant richness of worldly paraphernalia. It was thus a cultural shift away from the powerfill 20th-century credo of Gandhian asceticism and principled poverty. The form of melodrama in such films mitigated key transformational anxieties about irreverent globalisation and assured a caste/class patriarchal status quo. It presented mega-"business” in the era of finance capital as essentially interiorised "family business,” always under the spiritual control of the caste father and never dispersed into a body of anonymous shareholders.

The Bollywood geo-televisual aesthetic was thus an advertising mode by which a new, urban caste Hindu elite presented its life and aspirations as artwork. In this expressive form, stories of home were immersed into a wider basin of planetary affectations and desires. The form came with a global distribution of the Brahminical sensible, by which spaces, movements, bodies, objects, customs and rituals of the world were imbued with new spiritual animations and resonances. It was precisely because of this opening out that such cinema required a dimension of the advertised beyond the narrative as master organiser of effects. That was because the films had to concede a volume of signs in the mise en scène that were voluptuous and libidinal beyond measure. These too-hot-to-handle objects, spaces, lifestyle signatures or forms of urbanity could only be segmented off by way of music, dance and various touch points of spectacle. The “dream” and fantasy sequences could therefore feature the Hindu woman in otherwise compromising and scandalous situations. The faithful wife in Yash Chopra's Darr (1993) could partake in a lusty dance sequence with her stalker in the dreamscapes of his psychopathic mind, in assemblage with forbidden objects like the swimsuit or the champagne bottle. The devoted Hindu wife in Girlfriend (Karan Razdan 2004) could display a lesbian side, but only when she was drunk out of her wits.

This does not mean that there was no relationship between a caste Hindu moral cultural governance of narration and the spectacular mounting of desires that flirted with the forbidden. The relationship may be called disjunctive in a Deleuz-ian spirit, involving semiotic osmosis and diverted channels of energy. It is usually an interface in which sensations and principles are brought into a state of dangerous proximity rather than frontal collision. Sensations and principles affected and energised each other without necessarily entering into a dialectal exchange.

Hindutva 2.0 as advertised modernisation could thus be a thrilling orchestration of touch points and lovemarks between a neoliberal modernity and Hindu tradition, a chiming together of signs that belonged to contrary domains of thought and feeling, that is, between the father's absolute “No” and the million worldly lures the prodigal had to navigate before returning home. The “take home” consequently became a photosynthetic mix of moralisms and pleasures, both transformed by mutual exposure and semiosis. It was the informational dance of the geo-televisual that sublimated a majoritarian urban normal as the default position between the polarities of boredom and terror. This synergy yielded both a new urban Hinduness as well as indigenous pictures of globalisation.

In the digital age, the advertised neo-Hinduism has inserted Vedic and Puranic cosmologies into the generic Hollywood-style super hero film (Krrish, Krrish 3, Raakesh Roshan 2006,2013), the science-fantasy (Rudraksh, Mani Shankar 2004; Ra. One, Anubhav Sinha 2011) and the animated feature.14 It has infused energies of a messianic patriotism across hitherto cinematically unexplored domains of a national civic religiosity, from the sports film, the biopic, entrepreneurial heroism, or techno-military achievements like space exploration or the 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran. What has been especially illuminating in the digital dispensation is the emphatic return of the historical, the period piece or the folklore film after a protracted period of twilight. Films like Bajirao Mastani (Sanjay Leela Bhansali 2015), Mohenjo Daro (Ashutosh Gowrikar 2016) or the recently controversial Padmavat (Bhansali 2018) variously present a new Hindu will to the past. This involves not just the insertion of marketable myths into the field of the historical or the faux-historical, for example, the introduction of the "Aryan” horse and the unicorn in the Indus Valley setting of Mohenjo Daro. Other than the monumental canvases and antiquarian mise en scènes, what distinguishes this will to the past is a phatic re-texturing of the pictures of the bygone. The acute resolutions, colourations and imaging possibilities of the digital are deployed in these films in the service of a new sovereign desire to monarchically direct the energies of memory. The digital imparts new epic animations, breathtaking vertical looms, a burrowing acuity of Dolby sound, a critical buoyancy, musculature and lustre to pictures of an imagined past that was hitherto denied to a third-world cinema. The digital is capable of both a cosmic verticality as well as a particularised acuity of sound and vision. As such it can conjure up a panoptic perspective that is also haptic and tactile; it is meant to be felt in the inner recesses of being rather than merely witnessed (see Basu 2011b). As an assemblage of affectations, it presents the thrill of two temporal visions - that of a techno-determined future of the nation and what Benjamin would call the ornaments of a great forgetting. A technologically emboldened Hindu nation is finally able to birth pictures and an invasive experience of sound that are adequate to the profound nature of Hindu remembrances.

Does that mean that we are declaring all films that have come out of the Hindi. Tamil or Telugu industries in the last three decades essentially Hindu nationalist? That is certainly not what I am saying, since Hindutva 2.0 is an ecological principle of solicitation, orchestration, enrolments or contagion. It is also, thereby, a mode of capital as affect or emotion industry that tends to assign value to all expressions of publicity or art. Hindutva 2.0 is not an ideological or doctrinal enclosure, like the older discourse of Hindu nationalism. As a form of capitalisation, Hindtuva 2.0 “touches upon” all gestures of aesthetics or instrumentation; that is, it exerts pressures and presents allures and supplications even when it comes to film, television or radio works that might be scrupulously “secular” and decidedly against Hindu bigotry. Hindutva 2.0, in that sense, becomes apparent as a normative informational ecology when a gesture - let us say in the form of a "progressive” film - enters it and finds the range of possibilities pertaining to narration, aesthetics or ideology already narrowed and already committed to a majoritarian ontology of being. This is a constriction not in the range of formal choices in and of themselves, but a constriction of the affectional possibilities of these choices. This is when one finds out in the plane of industrial temporalisa-tion of consciousness that there are increasingly limited ways of being nationalist, being a "responsible citizen” or simply being human. Conversely, it is important to understand that Hindutva 2.0, as a diffusion of profane energies, may actually foster unhappy consciousness and repulsion among the puritan and agrarianconservative old guard of Hindu nationalists.

Hindutva 2.0 is thus not a line of thought guided by a technological determinism, in the sense that it is not technologism that solely guides it, with predictable outcomes. It is the picture of an alternate Hindu ecology for an electronic political monotheme and a virtual ethno-religious congregation, but one that is historical as much as technological. This monotheme is advertised instead of discursively elaborated within the auspices of print capitalism. Accordingly, it is, in essence, not reliant either on dogma or on those great themes of modern consciousness -realism and novelistic narration. The spectral and advertised Hindu nation, as a dynamic cluster of particularised feelings and memories, promises to ward off the nightmare of perpetual postmodern instrumentation, the hypertrophy of will, and an empty time without the heroic. It promises, in a spectacular manner, a new Hinduism that can square the Gemeinschaft of old pastoral enclaves with the Gesellschaft of the metropole. In the process, it also claims to absolve the rawness of capital itself as a cultic religion without a dogma or theology that, as Benjamin (2000) once put it, produces guilt without atonement.


  • 1 For a wider look into tliis broad terrain, see Basu (2020).
  • 2 For book-length studies, see, for instance, Basu (2010). Butcher (2003), Kumar (2006), Kohli-Kandhekar (2010), Mankekar (1999), Mazarella (2003), Mehta (2008), Punath-ambekar (2013), Rai (2009) and Rajagopal (2001).
  • 3 An excellent work on this new form of urbanisation is Sunderam (2009).
  • 4 India Brand Equity Foundation Report on Media and Entertainment. February 2019. download inedia-and-entertainment-feb-2019.pdf.
  • 5 See the TRAI Annual reports, 2009-2010 and 2014-2015. default/files/ar_09_10.pdf> and <
  • 6 See, for instance, Urban (2015).
  • 7 See, for instance, the essays in furrow and Tsui (2008), especially Hespos, Schulman and Smith.
  • 8 The term was coined by Kevin Roberts, CEO worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.
  • 9 See, for instance, Schulman (2008), Smith (2008) and Hespos (2008).
  • 10 I allude to Ranciere (2004).
  • 11 See, for instance, “Internet Existed in the Days of the Mahabharata: Tripura CM Biplab Deb.” The Economic Times, April 18, 2018. news/politics-and-nation/internet-existed-in-the-days-of-mahabharata-tripura-cm-bip lab-deb/articleshow/63803490.cms.
  • 12 See the essays in Kavoori and Punathambekar (2008).
  • 13 See Thussu (2013) and Punathambekar (2013) on the Democracy - Bollywood - IT mode of branding India.
  • 14 See, for instance, Basu (2011a).


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  • -------(2011a) “The Eternal Return and Overcoming ‘Cape Fear:’ Science, Sensation, Superman, and Hindu Nationalism in Recent Hindi Cinema.” South Asian History and Culture 2 (4): 557-571.
  • -------(2011b) “The Passion of the Digital: The Ontology of the Photographic Image in the Age of New Media.” Recherches Sémiotiques 3 (1-3): 175-202.
  • -------(2012) “The ‘Indian" Monotheism.” Boundary’ 2 39 (2): 111-141.
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14 Purpose built

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