I have been receiving a lot of feedback on my article against Hindutva in last month’s Pragati. Not just through blogs and social media, but also through emails – positive and negative. So I am pasting here a somewhat haphazard, long and personal email reply I sent to a gentleman I respect a lot (edited to protect his privacy, and also edited so as to not be too politically incorrect).
Let me tell you about one of my closest friends. He hails from an orthodox Jain family. And he does not like to be called a Hindu. Now he loves the usual Indian icons, his mother wears beautiful sarees and his father looks and talks like any other Hindu gentleman. But still my friend is indeed offended by the BJP not recognizing Jainism as a separate religion in Gujarat etc. Similarly, two of my other very, very dear friends are a Malayali Christian and a half-Kashmiri Muslim. But let us concentrate on the Jain friend for now – as Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists are not perceived by many Hindutva-waadis as, to put it bluntly, “hostile”.
Now, my friend may be right or wrong. Maybe all Jains are Hindus, and if it makes him feel better maybe all Hindus are Jains! Maybe if the state did not interfere in our education, temples through quotas, subsidies, regulations (and indeed the census) – then this distinction of Hindu-Jain could have been irrelevant and a lot less controversial.Yet the basic incontrovertible fact remains that he is a proud Indian, and does not like being called a Hindu.
As you know very well, my political sympathies lie with the BJP. But my ultimate loyalty is to India and the idea of India – an idea which is for peace, pluralism, and yes unabashedly for prosperity too. I think the Hindutva critique of the fake or pseudo secularism of the Congress/JNU crowd has been very well-received and is a critique that I fully support. One need not look beyond the recent antics of Mr. Khurshid and Mr. Gandhi Jr. to understand and recognize this. But I believe that Hindutva is not the answer. Yes, it is true that intellectuals that I have enormous respect for (like Mr. VS Naipaul and the late Mr. Nirad Chaudhuri) have supported some of the most controversial aspects of the Hindu Nationalist movement – the Ayodhya movement, in this case.
I too understand that sentiment. One need not be a parochial Hindu to feel repulsed by what happened at Ayodhya, Somnath etc over the centuries. Being human is enough. Indeed Ataturk got Turkey’s most important mosque (formerly Hagia Sophia, the Christian basilica) converted into a museum because religion must signify mutual co-existence and not superiority – something that some religions have a tough time grasping. But even here – in the Ayodhya case – what we have is above all a property dispute in a strict legal sense, and not a civilizational/religious dispute.
You and I know that “Hindutva” at its best (and this is important, “at its best”) is actually supportive of liberal nationalism and cultural (non-denominational) pride. It is not about slapping professors, or beating women, or killing minorities. My question then is – why call it Hindutva? Why not, say, Bharatiyata? I know this question is not new – but I am yet to witness a convincing answer to it.
Is it just a semantic ego issue (I almost typed Semitic ego issue, and that may have been a suitable Freudian slip). I do not want to expand on the India-Hindu conflation point, as I have written at length on this aspect in my Pragati article.
(I have also written another Pragati article earlier – “The Sanctimony of Statists” about liberating Hindu temples, and all places of worship, from the Indian state. You may wish to peruse that here http://pragati.nationalinterest.in/2011/08/the-sanctimony-of-statists/ I have also written about the liberal part of BJP’s agenda in Minthttp://www.livemint.com/2010/01/13200318/The-liberalism-in-BJP8217s.html ).
The question now is do we have the courage to consign this divisive term “Hindutva” to history?
Tony Blair had to overtly drop references to socialism, a hugely emotional issue for the Labor Party – but he (and Gordon Brown, if not UK itself eventually) gained from such pragmatism. Bill Clinton too explicitly accepted markets and welfare reduction. The Christian Democrats (the religious center-left in continental Europe; I am thinking of the Swadeshi/Saffron Left movement as I type this) has also accepted markets and de-emphasized Christianity.
The BJP has given very good governance (relatively speaking, of course) at the Center, and continues to do so in the states. Muslims and Christians benefit in an economically rising Gujarat, while their co-religionists suffer in my state of socialist Bengal – a state that used to be the vanguard of progress in India. So, why not drop the term Hindutva and openly stand for federalism, freedom and fraternity? (We can stand for “faith and family” too – but that should be for any faith, not a specific faith.)
Many BJP leaders know this and understand this in their hearts – Gujarat’s inclusive as well as rapid growth under Modi post-2002 show this. Jaitley’s “wikileaks” (though partially misrepresented in the media) confirm this. Vajpayeeji of course was a genuine moderate. LK Advani’s and Jaswant Singh’s measured praise of Jinnah seal the issue.
We have the opportunity to make a bold stand. An historic opportunity akin to, forgive an American metaphor too many, Obama’s race speech in 2008. We must be bold – Tabligh 2.0 and Word of God 2.0 must be met with Shuddhi 2.0. It should be a battle of ideas, volunteer strength, financial capacity, and sheer determination. Then we can go out and shout at the top of our voices to ban religious quotas and subsidies and minority appeasement – whether in a St Stephens or in a UP/AP clerical job. Then we can be consistent – we support free conversions, but on a level playing field.
Similarly on issues of free speech. We can shout about Rushdie and Nasreen if we do not have skeletons in our closet. I have met ABVP members who openly boast about slapping Professor X and Student Y. Yes, the Ram Sena may have fielded candidates against the BJP – and yes, the media is hypocritical, biased and bought off – but the larger movement still has repeatedly tried to become India’s moral vanguard. And that is simply not acceptable to a New India. As I wrote in a blogpost ( http://swaraj.nationalinterest.in/2011/06/17/whither-the-hindu-right/ ), “Nagpur, we have a problem”
There is indeed a clash of civilizations – but the answer to that is a tough, strong but small and secular state. Tough against terrorism, violently coercive conversions, browbeating of authors, loudspeakers that cross the decibel limits, etc. Most Hindus do not want a theocracy. We all know that. Indeed, it is tough to know what a Hindu theocracy would be. Kill Hindus who like beef? The very idea is laughable. Yes, we just do not like double standards. Do not appreciate the pseudo-seculars and the fake liberals.
But why do we oppose the genuine secular and liberal activists and writers (secular and liberal here in the classical European sense)? Young people who do not follow politics want to be labeled liberal and secular increasingly – why do we give up the terms without a fight?
You are absolutely right – Marxists and Nehruvians have sought to label Hindutva as Brahmanical, fascist etc. Anything that divides and confuses Hindus, basically. They have labeled it anti-women and anti-modernity. But the problem is, and here is where I perhaps disagree, that on the ground they are indeed partially right (And one must give credit to Nehru for reforming Hindu personal laws – something that was opposed by the Jan Sangh, although of course Nehru did not have the courage to go the whole distance when it came to other communities)
To conclude, the high metaphysics of Hindutva maybe at its core libertarian, but that matters little if its followers are uncouth goons.
You are also factually correct, if not politically correct, that it is because of Hinduism that India is secular, not because of Nehru’s epiphany. MJ Akbar acknowledges this and I have mentioned this in my articles. Moreover, Hindutva has to its credit strived to be against the caste-system – and this is also deliberately misrepresented as you write (Speaking of castes, while I am against caste quotas – there is a difference between caste and religious quotas. You cannot change your caste, but you can change your or at least your to be child’s religion. Hence religious quotas are indeed more dangerous and illiberal – as they end up becoming a de facto jaziya).
At the end of the day, the biggest problem in this country – our biggest shame – is poverty. That will go away only and only by free-market reforms. That, along with democratic decentralization and good governance – has to be BJP’s agenda. Being against appeasement of any community (minority or majority) is something we must of course always stand against, and we must also take pride in our history and culture. But the latter is more the task of society, not the state (A reading of “Common Sense” by Paine would help our leaders a lot, if I may be arrogant enough to say so)
Let us not underestimate the maturity of our populace – no matter how economically unprivileged and bereft of formal education they are. I fundamentally agree with almost everything you have written. But I believe we must take the logical next step, and get rid of this semantic albatross.