The elephant Ganesh, one of the most common among the Hindu’s pantheon of gods and goddesses, is increasingly being put to service of Indian nationalists, reports the Washington Times (Oct. 2).
That Ganesh is becoming a vehicle for Hindu nationalism and political activism was evident in the recent elections in India, where images of the god often led parades calling for Hindu unity. The movement known as the Hindu Munnani spearheads the activist wing of nationalism and it has adopted Ganesh as its symbol of a Hindu reawakening and political renaissance, particularly among the lower-caste Hindus.
The more mainstream element of the nationalist movement represented by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has called for moderation and compromise, such as retaining rights for religious minorities. But the hard core agenda of the Munnani call for a completely Hindu state and often refer to the onslaught of traditional Hinduism by the growth of (and conversions to) Christianity and Islam.
The Munnani and Hindu nationalism in general has grown rapidly in South India, where it has never been strong. A decade ago, the Ganesh festival would take place with a few idols and a small number of Mummani; today, “some 1,400 Ganesh idols are immersed in the ocean by 40,000 boys and young men,” reports Robert Marquand.