Hindutva: Some personal thoughts.

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).

Dear …..

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.

I remain very sanguine about the future of Hinduism. It has suffered a lot worse. What I am impatient about is our country’s poverty. I want to see it extinct before I die.
Regards, Harsh.

2 responses on “Hindutva: Some personal thoughts.

  1. @agastya80

    A good post. The journey of Indian Secularism took a sharp and unexpected turn in the late 1980’s with Shah Bano’s case. Hindus were stunned to find the Muslims actually regressing (rather than progressing) with time. Then came Ram Janma Bhoomi issue which essentially again was an issue of Islamic fundamentalism and Indian Muslims’ intransigence. It’s a common myth that Ram Janma Bhoomi issue was forced on the nation by Hindu fanatics – that is far from the truth. Even as a young high-school student, I was a voracious reader then. When Rajiv Gandhi performed the Shilanyas, the expectation of even the most moderate Hindus was that the Muslims will be reasonable enough to come to a compromise. But, they didn’t, and thus began the problem. Subjectively, if one grades the Hindu astonishment at the Muslim intransigence on some sort of scale, the latter’s resistance to a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya was actually considered, at that time, more unexpected. What supports my assertion that I just made is that Rajiv Gandhi actually went inside the dispute premises to perform the Shilanyas. Do you think he would have done that if he had even a whiff of the prevailing attitudes among Indian Muslims – which everyone learnt later? The response of the Muslims on this issue further confirmed to the Right-leaning Hindus that the former are dangerously regressing. In their best wisdom, the Right-leaning Hindus decided not to back down, and decided to resist this intransigence. The rest is history. Of course the ethnic cleansing of KPs also played a role in creating the mood.

    What happened over the next 10 years or so (i.e. the 1990’s decade) was essentially what I would describe as a ‘resistance against pseudo-secularism’ phase. Then came multiple terror attacks/plane hijacks in India and all over the world. The Internet had also truly come into being. People became exponentially more aware of what various religious scriptures contained – and formed sophisticated and informed opinions on various religions. Now, quite a few people on the Right have, wittingly or unwittingly, replaced the ‘pseudo-secularism’ term with ‘secularism’ term in their daily usage. Just look at the tweets of the tweeps on the Right. More people now realize the difference between a mere ‘tolerance’ and a true ‘respect’. More and more recognize the deadly flaws inherent in the Indian Secularism – one of which is that, while Hindus are expected to respect all religions (which they do with ease), the followers of Islam and Christianity are expected to merely tolerate (and not respect) the followers of other religions. The latter can’t respect others as they are forbidden, by their own dogmas, to do so.

    The way Indian Secularism will evolve further in India is uncertain. The biggest mistake one would make is to compartmentalize the issues related to the religions to India only. What would happen in the Middle East or the West or elsewhere would also influence the way the Indian Secularism would evolve further. Till the time the Indian Secularism fully evolves, I would advise strongly against giving up the concept of Hindutva. Doing so will put the Hindus at an immense risk.

    Again, I congratulate you for a very good post.

  2. Dr Khurana

    It is estimated that about 50 million girls have gone missing. They are aborted based on their sex. India has passed laws 18 years ago making it illegal for a medical practitioner to reveal the sex of an unborn baby. This law is rarely implemented because most of the government officials and judiciary are apathetic to this epidemic. This has caused the sex ratios to be extremely skewed in certain parts of India.

    Please read the following articles and the story of one lone woman, Dr Mitu Khurana, who has bought a case against the hospital, her husband and in- laws, who illegally found out the sex of her unborn twin baby girls and then tried to force her to have an abortion. She has been given the run around for four long years by the Indian judicial system.



    Can anyone give a voice to the 50 million girls that have been silenced forever? All Dr. Khurana is asking for is a chance to go before an unbiased judge and be heard. can we give a voice to the 50 million murdered and raise the question with Indian officials as to why they are silently witnessing the elimination of a whole generation. The silence of the Indian officials tell the story and makes us wonder if Dr. Khurana and the 50 million dead baby girls will ever see justice done.

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