Vichara Vedike on Hindutva
(Editor’s Note- Over the next week, we will be publishing 4-5 shortlisted entries that we received for CRI’s essay writing competition Vichara Vedike. This was the contribution received from Saif Khan)
‘And God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son and that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but last till eternity.’ This iconic Biblical verse mentioned in Gospel of John, Chapter 3, Verse 16 has served as the principal plank of Christian Theology since centuries. It happens to be the kingpin of evangelists and Bible thumpers. Similarly, the apologists of the Hindutva brigade continue to chant the same slogan of it being a ‘way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos’ whenever they are pressed upon to define the same. This definition of the term Hindutva was accepted by the Supreme Court in the year 1995.
The word Hindutva (ie Hindu-ness) was coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his ideological document ‘Hindutva : Who is a Hindu ?’ written in the year 1923. It was in this document that Savarkar opined the concept of ‘pitrabhoomi’ and ‘punyabhoomi’ and described Hindus as those who consider India (A Hindu Rashtra) to be their fatherland as well as their holy land. On the occasion of his 59th birthday in the month of May, Savarkar wrote to his followers, “Hinduise all politics and militarize Hindudom and resurrection of our Hindu Nation is bound to follow.” He further stated, “Hindus should henceforth test all national and international politics and policies through the Hindu point of view alone. Whatever policy or political event contributes to safeguard and promote Hindu interests must be backed up by the Hindus and whatever is likely to prove detrimental to Hindu interests must be condemned and opposed by the Hindus.” However, Hindutva apologists have mastered the art of evading such words of the principal ideologue of Hindutva and have maintained high standards of euphemism revolving around the same old notion of Hindutva being a ‘way of life’.
A dubious game is being played in the nation in the name of Hindutva and Nationalism. In reality it is pseudo-Hinduism and jingoism. A lot of people equate Hindutva with Hinduism but this understanding of Hindutva is flawed since the ancient Vedic religion stands in complete contradiction to Hindutva as Hindutva assaults its fundamental tenets of equality, peace, co-existence and tolerance. Hinduism is the oldest living religion in the world. It can be possibly ruled as the religion with the widest and most tolerant set of beliefs and teachings. Hinduism, unlike other religions, isn’t confined to one Holy Scripture. Its teachings have been enunciated in an array of religious books. Hinduism breaks all ideological barriers and is the only religion of the world whose concept of God encompasses beliefs which include monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, kathenotheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, agnosticism and even atheism. Hinduism has preached to the world the great doctrine of non duality which emphasizes on the fact that all religions are true and service to mankind is the greatest act of religiousness. Based on the teachings of this very religion, Mahatma Gandhi coined satyagraha and ahimsa.
Unfortunately, a religion which is so very liberal by its intrinsic nature is being represented by a rigid ideology of Hindutva in modern India which has traits of theocratic fascism, militant nationalism, genetic-racism, retributive colonialism and Islamophobia. The first and foremost feature of Hindutva is a theocratic state which was envisioned by Savarkar himself. He outlined his vision of a Hindu Rashtra as Akhand Bharat stretching across the entire Indian subcontinent. This theocratic state is the anti-thesis of the democratic secular polity which we cherish today and has a very hostile attitude towards religious minorities especially Muslims. MS Golwalkar, the Second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, wrote the following in his book, We or Our Nationhood Defined, in relation to religions with foreign origins, “They have no place in national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion, culture and language of the nation and completely merge themselves in the national race. So long, however, as they maintain their racial, religious and cultural differences, they can only be foreigners. In Hindustan exists, and must exist, the ancient Hindu nation, and nothing else but the Hindu nation. All those not belonging to the national, i.e. Hindu race, religion, culture and language, naturally fall out of the pale of real national life.” He further stated, “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea except the glorification of the Hindu religion and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or they may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation, let us deal as old nations ought to deal with the foreign races who have chosen to live in our country.” On Muslims, Mr Golwalkar commented, “Ever since that evil day when the Muslims first landed in Hindustan, right upto the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been fighting gallantly to take on these despoilers.” Bal Thackeray, a contemporary regional Hindutva leader (Dubbed as Hindu Hriday Samraat) stated in an interview to India Today in 1984, “They [Muslims] are spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer. The country should be saved from the Muslims and the police should support them [Hindu Maha Sangh] in their struggle just like the police in Punjab were sympathetic to the Khalistanis.” It is this very hostile attitude towards minorities especially Muslims which has made right wing Hindu Nationalist parties a political pariah in mainstream Indian politics. Subramanian Swamy, President of the Janata Party and a Hindutvavadi recently elaborated on the concept of Hindutva in the most atrociously fascistic fashion which smelt of genetic racism. He opined that India should be declared a Hindu Rashtra where non Hindus could vote only if they would accept their Hindu ancestry. He wanted India to be renamed as Hindustan, a nation of Hindus and those whose ancestors were Hindus. Such concepts expose the congruity between theocracy and gene-based racism through Hindutva. Militant Nationalism is another key feature of Hindutva which fantasizes an uncompromising foreign policy based on non interaction, military threats and invasions. This uncompromising approach of the nationalists was born way back in 1950 when Syama Prasad Mukherjee resigned from the Interim Central Government when Jawaharlal Nehru invited Liaqat Ali Khan for the historic Delhi Pact which sought to safeguard minority rights in both the nations and establish minority commissions. Mukherjee saw this as an act of appeasement and resigned from the Cabinet since he held East Pakistan directly responsible for the large influx of Hindu refugees in Bengal. The sole notion of patriotism for Hindutvavadis is Pakistan bashing and jingoism. Most of the times they act like a xenophobic bunch of pseudo-patriots. In the year 2002 during his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra, Narendra Modi, another Hindutva poster boy, remarked, “The day Hindu terrorism comes into being, Pakistan would be wiped off the world map.” The annihilation of the neighbouring state of Pakistan seems to be the penultimate aim of Hindu nationalists. Other Hindutva intellectuals like Swamy have even developed an Indianized verion of the Nazi Lebensraum (Living Space) as they advocate in favour of India invading Bangladesh and annexing the region from Sylhet to Khyber in order to accommodate illegal immigrants coming from Bangladesh. Others argue in favour of militarily taking over PoK. Undoing the colonization effect has always been a dream of right wing nationalists. It was this ambition which drove Golwalkar to emphasize on the need for reversing the cultural intrusions resulting due to the invasion of colonial invaders like the Muslims and Christians. Keeping this in mind, LK Advani embarked on the Rath Yatra in the 1990s which ultimately culminated with the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and spread riots all across the nation. This mentality further influenced people like Swamy to suggest removing the mosque at Kashi Vishwanathan and 300 other mosques with temples. Admiration of Adolf Hitler is another interesting feature of Hindutvavadis. Golwalkar wrote, “To keep up the purity of its race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic race – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the roots, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.“ The threat of yet another Holocaust against minorities in modern India never really died since we always had people like Bal Thackeray who once said in an interview, “I am a great admirer of Hitler, and I am not ashamed to say so! I do not say that I agree with all the methods he employed, but he was a wonderful organizer and orator, and I feel that he and I have several things in common. What India really needs is a dictator who will rule benevolently, but with an iron hand.” Even LK Advani, the man who spearheaded the Rath Yatra of the 1990s was not left far behind in praising Hitler. When Sonia Gandhi called Narendra Modi a ‘merchant of death’, Advani remarked that ‘Narendrabhai can’t be a merchant of death but he can certainly be Hitler.”
Looking at the quotations presented above, one would certainly want that Hindutva as an ideology should to be proscribed immediately but the irony lies in the fact that an equal number of good sayings of Hindu nationalists can be brought forth to prove that Hindutva is a secular and inclusive philosophy. Savarkar opposed the Partition and prescribed one man, one vote system, be the man Hindu or Muslim as summarized by BR Ambedkar in his book ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’. In the year 1998, Bal Thackeray said, “We must look after Muslims and treat them as part of us.” During the BJP’s recent National Executive Meet in Surajkund, LK Advani, reiterated the party’s commitment to secularism and condemned the movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ which had angered Mohammedans all across the globe. It is this paradox which adds mystery to the concept of Hindutva. However, what is clear is that there are certain pet issues of Hindutvavadis, namely construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, Abrogation of Article 370, Enactment of a Uniform Civil Code, etc a slight change in the position of which could lead to repositioning of Hindutva as a blessing instead of being a threat for India.
As far as the Ram Temple is concerned, the right wing parties, BJP, in particular, need to come out with an unequivocal condemnation of the demolition of the Babri Mosque which took place on the night of 6th December, 1992 in the presence of top Hindutva leaders. They need to stop justifying the heinous act of razing the mosque to the ground in the name of Lord Ram and make no extra-judicial efforts to construct the Ram Temple while simultaneously letting the law take its own course. This would be tough for right wing parties as the demolition served as their claim to fame but in a secular polity, no one can be spared for such antics. Political history will never forget the Hindu Nationalist Parties for the demolition since their participation in the conspiracy is self evident. One day prior to the demolition, Vajpayee, the most liberal face of Hindutva, exalted his supporters to perform kar seva at the place by saying that ‘rokna ka toh sawaal hi nahi hai‘. He further stated, “zameen se nukele pattthar nikal rahe hai, unpe toh koi baith nahi sakta, zameen ko samthal banana padega” a statement which was seen as a tacit approval to the act of demolition which took place the next day. Repenting for this historical mistake would make parties like the BJP more approachable in the future.
Abrogating Article 370 is a principle demand of the Hindu Nationalist parties but the reason why this demand is looked upon with suspicion and scepticism is because the Hindu Nationalist parties merely look at the ill-treatment meted out to Kashmiri Pandits while they keep mum on the atrocities which have been unleashed on innocent Muslims living in the Valley. The right wing needs to support the idea of scrapping AFSPA from the state of Jammu and Kashmir and they should ask for an independent probe into the human rights violations carried out by the Indian Army in the valley right through the days of insurgency since 1987. The premise that normalcy would return to the Valley if Article 370 was removed is put to death when the same Hindu Nationalists parties advocate in favour of draconian laws like the AFSPA which haven’t helped in containing militancy but have led to innumerable injustices and excesses which have given rise to the feeling of secessionism.
A secular and uniform civil code for India is a must for it to achieve gender equality and social justice. Hindutvavadis have been raising the issue since the days of the Shah Bano Verdict which came during the premiership of Rajeev Gandhi but they have failed to capitalize on the issue and drum up support for it since they have communalized it by solely talking of the need for the abolishment of Muslim personal laws. The enactment of a uniform civil code will not only mean the abolishment of the Muslim Personal Laws but also the personal laws of other communities including the Hindu code Bills (like the Hindu Marriage Act). It’s totally wrong on the part of Hindutvavadis to try and impose Hindu Code Bills on Muslims, Christians, Jews etc as they were on Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains since the roots of the Hindu Code Bills lie in the Dharamsastras which are Hindu religious texts not literary pieces of secular jurisprudence. Secondly, Abrahimic faiths have a completely different background and history. Attempting to include them under the ambit of the term ‘Hindu’ as the indigenous Dharmic faiths were would prove to be detrimental.
Illegal immigration into the territory of India is a cause of concern for everyone but the reason why Hindu Nationalists have failed on this front is because of their evident hypocrisy in dealing with it. Over here they have again tried to cash in on the Hindu-Muslim clash by selectively picking on illegal immigration from Bangladesh and turning a blind-eye towards infiltration from Burma and Nepal. Pitching the majority against the minority is the modus operandi of racism. What is worse is that in Kashmir, Hindu Nationalists stand in opposition to separatists but in Assam they take a complete U-turn by sloganeering in favour of Bodi outfits many of which still hold separatist dreams and are working of maiming India by trying to carve out a separate nation for Bodos or a separate state for Bodos free from Assamese control. This duplicity of Hindutvavadis in relation to condemnation of Kashmiri separatists and coronation of Bodo secessionists needs to be done away with.
Communalization of education is another charge which has been thrown up on the nationalists ever since Murli Manohar Joshi as HRD Minister tried to rewrite the syllabus of History textbooks under the banner of ‘Indianization, Spiritualization and Nationalization’. It’s true that an unbiased account of history is extremely important since modern India has a rich and glorious past but what needs to be kept in mind is that when we talk of religious persecution, we don’t merely talk of the brutality meted out by some of the barbaric Muslim invaders on Hindus but also of the brutality which the Buddhists had to face at the hands of fanatic Hindu emperors and the testing days of both Hindus and Muslims under the British Raj. To portray Hindus in history textbooks as the sole persecuted community of ancient India is not only factually fraudulent but is also capable of flaring up communal sentiments. To have an unbiased account of history it is also important to not let academic debates and researches on issues like cow slaughter and beef consumption be subverted just because the truth doesn’t suit somebody’s political goals. As far as the question of Hindu pride is concerned, the nationalists have every right to raise their voice in relation to preserving Hindu culture by cleaning up holy rivers like Ganga and safeguarding sites like Ram Setu which they consider to be pious. The false propaganda of extensive minority population growth, razing of mosques purportedly created at the sites of Hindu temples and the intolerant act of pleading everyone to either accept their Hindu ancestry or reconvert need to be trashed since they are not sustainable secular pleas. It’s true that India is no exception to historical blunders but as Sitaram Yechury very rightly pointed out that, “if the process of undoing historical wrongs is unleashed then there are no limits that can be set for going back into the history. The son cannot be punished for the father’s crime; leave alone crimes committed by generations ago even if these charges can be substantiated.”
I would like to sum up by saying that if Hindus are being victimized or oppressed just because they are Hindus or because of evident minority bias then everybody needs to stand up for them but the idea of establishing a dictatorial Hindu state in a country which is currently being governed in a democratic fashion is simply unacceptable. The most important task infront of the nationalists is to define Hindutva. The BJP, which is the largest Hindu Nationalist Party in India, doesn’t have the word ‘Hindutva’ in its party constitution. Not only does it need to incorporate the word ‘Hindutva’ in its party constitution but it also needs to define it as ‘a way of life of Indian people’ where Indians are not simply those whose ancestors were Hindus or those whose religion was born over here but an Indian should be defined as ‘anyone who wishes to be one’ as beautifully said by Mani Shankar Aiyar. The nationalists need to understand that recognition of India’s ancient past is necessary for establishing a feeling of cultural nationalism but trying to define everything as per Hindu terminology is not an act of nationalism but of supremacism and cultural hegemony. As Indian Nationalists we should all hold in great reverence the contributions of various communities in building this great nation and hang our heads in shame and be remorseful about the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989, Babri Mosque demolition in 1992, Post Babri Masjid riots, Godhra Train burning incident, Gujarat Riots of 2002 and Kandhamal Riots of 2008. If we can do this without any excuses, no one can accuse us of being fundamentalists, pseudo-secularists or appeasers. The solution to the dilemma which we face today can be found in the words of Robert F Kennedy, “We have learnt to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling but not in common effort, the question is not what policies we should seek to enact, the question is whether we can find in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose which will recognize the terrible truths of our existence. We must realize that this short life can never be enriched by hatred or revenge.”