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Hindutva & The Indian Political Landscape

Hinduism or the Hindu way of life, is a set of ancient principles, theological ideas, and traditions, bound by moral values and philosophies, that continue to guide billions of people around the world even today. Hindutva is an ideology that aims to promote and sustain the Hindu/ Indian/ Bharatiya way of life. Many define Hindutva as a form of militant Hinduism, but for V.D. Savarkar, the man who coined the term, Hindutva presented an identity to the people living east of the River Indus, those who considered India to be their “pitrabhumi as well as punyabhumi”. Those who consider India to be their Fatherland as well as Holy land are deemed Hindus. Someone who considered India to be its pitrabhumi (Fatherland) would have incentive in the well being of the country and would support actions that were in the interest of the same. Since modern India was a secular nation, the concept of punyabhumi was no longer relevant. Thus, a bastardized form of this concept is today referred to as Nationalism or Jingoism. In short, Hindutva in today’s age is Hindu Nationalism or simply Nationalism of and for those who originate from the geographical region that is Hindustan/ India.

What I am implying as a result is that, Hindutva is an ideology that focuses on the betterment of the Indian society, whether through the advancement of Dharmic ideas and beliefs or through the defense of the Hindu society from the onslaught of foreign militant cultures and beliefs (who do not consider India to be their Fatherland). Recently though in the Indian political landscape, the term Hindutva has unfortunately come to represent a negative connotation of communalism – a polarization of communities across religious lines.  Hindutva, instead, is an ideology that advances the interests of the nation, India as a whole and not that of a particular community specifically.

In advancing the interests of the nation, proponents of Hindutva suggest policies like Uniform Civil Code for all communities regardless of caste, religion or race and the abolition of Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu & Kashmir, an integral part of the Union of India. Ban on Cow slaughter (arguably unconstitutional), as well as a ban on religious conversion are other policies some proponents of Hindu Nationalism support to protect themselves from foreign cultures.  Although some of these policies infringe on personal liberties of individuals in a free society, but maligning them by coupling them with the term communalism is simply adventurous. Communalism is when one community sets to benefit from a particular policy decision made by the state. When state and religion intermingle to form policies that benefit only a few, it is considered communalism. Thus, it’s ironic that the oft-repeated phrase of communal politics continues to be associated with the most fervent opponent of such appeasement – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In every election since its inception, the BJP has sought to promote this idea of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas (Together we grow as one). This is the reason why the BJP wishes to derecognize the special status given to J&K within the Union of India under Article 370. It believes that it is unconstitutional to have two flags and two power centers in a Republic. This is also the reason why the BJP refuses to accept the Congress Government’s minority quotas, as these quotas are unconstitutional by the way of their discrimination based on fluid religious identities. The government has no business in knowing the religion of an individual as it does not provide governance based on the individual’s belief system, the government is a sovereign that must deem all its subjects equal. The BJP must present this point of view and take inspiration in what the political philosopher Locke describes as Secularism:  “I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other.”

Hence, Hindutva isn’t necessarily a divisive ideology as the mainstream English news media would want us to believe. It is in fact an ancient ideology based on the ideals of nationalism and preservation of one’s cultural identity in a way that provides liberty and freedom to the individual. Although the Ram JamnaBhoomi Movement of the early 1990s in India is commonly referred to as the Hindutva movement, there is a stark contrast between the two. While Hindutva is an ideology espoused by Veer Savarkar, a movement that is somewhat of a renaissance, an ideology of new ideas offering to bring back the glory and honor of being a native of Hindustan (nationalism), Ram Janmabhoomi was a reactive movement that received nationwide acceptance due to the discriminatory actions of the then Rajiv Gandhi government. The handling of the Shah Bano case amongst many others were seen as clear indication of the Congress government’s pandering of Muslim minority vote-bank for electoral gains. As a result, far-right Hindu fundamentalist organizations gained widespread popularity and united a confused electorate in a post-Mandal era. Comparing the Ram Janmabhoomi movement (RJM) to Hindutva would therefore be wrong as RJM was reactive and did not originate as an ideology of original ideas. The movement was only a by-product, a reaction to the policies and appeasement of the then Congress government, easily usurped by politicians trying to find a foothold on the national scene who presented demolishing of a mosque structure as some sort of victory of Hindus over the appeased Muslims.

There is no doubt that the BJP supports construction of a Ram Mandir at the Babri site, but it is a policy that is a subset of its overarching nationalist ideology of Hindutva. While at a time the BJP believed the Ram Mandir was the epitome of India’s cultural identity and had to be constructed to restore the national glory and honor, it must now mature into a political party that understands that economic development and individual liberties are just as important to promote cultural nationalism and assertiveness amongst the youth in being a part of an Indian renaissance. Development, fiscal prudence, liberal economics, reforms, and equality are pillars of future growth and wealth creation –  things the Indian youth of today desires more than anything else. A fast growing economy that lifts millions out of poverty, while raising per capita incomes and standard of living across the country, gives the youth pride in being an Indian, a Bharatiya, or a resident of the Hindu Rashtra. It makes them proud of their Fatherland, their pitrabhumi.

If the BJP demonstrates Hindutva to be an ideology of cultural nationalism, it will be able to align itself more closely with the biggest electorate of the 2014 general elections – its Youth. Led by a dynamic leader, coupled with a reform-driven economic agenda and an aggressive foreign policy, this strategy is bound to yield positive results for the biggest opposition party come summer 2014, while still presenting a nationalist alternative to the current government.

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3 Comments

  1. I cannot argue with you over the origins of Hindutva and what it ‘really stands for’. The fact remains that the meanings of words change with times and the current version of Hindutva is, as you mentioned yourself, the more radical hindus who wish to enforce their ways. However, this is of minor concern.

    My primary concern is that your eloquent language is clouding the fact that even if the original ‘hindutva’ was about “advances the interests of the Hindu nation or India as a whole and not a particular community specifically”, seems to be a paradox. ‘Hindu nation or India as a whole’ – It seems to be that you are making a judgement here that the Hindus make the India as a whole. Protecting the hindu culture etc etc which you seem to portray as peaceful goals are extremely dangerous of leaders of a divergent country like India to have. The only way India can be stable is by being secular, and BJP is far from that.

    You argue that BJP fights against religious quotas however choose to ignore that there are OBC and tribal quotas that BJP whole heartedly supports. It seems like BJP has a problem with giving other religions special status but does not mind dividing the people of the same religion. If we are all to grow as one, these quotas should technically not exist. If you can argue for the case of one (caste based quotas) then you can argue for the case of the other (religious quotas).

    BJP, not unlike congress, is a dodgy party. They claim to have certain ideals but jump around based on what suits them. The only thing the stand by is the hindu mentality and bias. This you admit yourself. But we as a nation claim to be secular – then should we really be having a party that is biased towards a particular religion?

    I don’t claim to have answers for this question. To be honest I feel we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. But I definitely cannot accept your portrayal of BJP.

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  2. Chaturvedi says:

    The definition of Hindutva that its proponents espoused is very different from what our cocktail circles believe it to be. Unfortunately I think I haven’t been able to do a good job of changing your ‘cocktail-circle’ viewpoint of Hindutva. I have consistently and consciously argued that the words India, Hindu nation and Bharat can be used interchangeably. I believe that as per the Hindutva ideology they are all the same, a Hindu nation can in fact have adherents of other religions, Islam, Christianity, etc but they still will be the people to the east of River Indus, as discussed by Veer Savarkar. Hence, I do not believe it was a paradox to discuss Hindu nation and India together, in fact it was a clever way to show you my point.

    As for the BJP, I do not believe the BJP was a vociferous supporter of the Mandal commission that led to the flashpoint around caste quotas in early 90s. I agree the BJP has been dodgy on various stands but your argument of it supporting caste quotas and hence it should support Religious minority quota is something I refuse to accept. Caste quotas are in place due to the societal ostracization and hundreds of years of economic polarization of people based on their caste alone. No such discrimination for the worse occurred for the minority religions of the country. In fact, the adherents of Islam were economically better off for 1200 years due to the limited/differential enforcement of Jaziya Tax by Muslim rulers on non-muslim citizens. On the face of it Jaziya was an incentive for the people to convert to Islam, so how can that community be equated to OBC which has never had the opportunity to step into schools, choose different jobs, etc.

    As for minority quotas, the constitution of India delegitimizes differential treatment of citizens based on religion. Other than minority quotas being unconstitutional they also make very little economic sense. There is reason to believe that economic subsidies in the form of quota will be an asymmetric incentive that will destabilize the social fabric and make a particular community more hostile on the back of such economic incentives.

    My personal argument though, is completely against community-targeted quotas, whether caste or religion. I believe quotas to jobs and economic support should only be provided based on the economic standing of a person, their household income and not the God they pray to in the morning. And I believe only the BJP is the closest political party to that line of argument.

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  3. Pritesh Somani says:

    I think when we talk about India being a secular country, we need to put in Indian context. Our original constitution did not preach separation of state from religion simply because unlike Europe there was no political interference of theocratic institutions in India throughout its history. This word secularism was introduced my Indira Gandhi in order to consolidate her vote bank. Because there are so many divisions among Hindus in terms of caste, many parties found a quick way to win: Choose a candidate from a caste in a constituency where that caste is in majority. So those votes are given. You have Mayawati playing Dalit politics and Mulayam Singh playing OBC and Muslim politics in UP. Recently you had Nitish playing the politics of vote bank. Thus to say that all parties in India except those in the NDA are secular is a bogus argument.

    Lets, for the sake of argument, say that they parties play politics of caste and religion only to consolidate their vote bank and it has no impact on their executive or legislative policies. If that were the case, then this debate of secularism will not arise. But you have the Congress government in 1980’s not implementing Supreme Court’s decision of giving alimony to Shahbanoo. By doing this they undermined the ” secular ” values of India. There are so many wide ranges of issues such as uniform civil code which is giving special rights to a community based on religion. Very recently, there was a bill named Communal Violence Bill 2011 which by any human standards was discriminatory against a a chunk of population.After coming to power, Mulayam Singh Yadav appeals to courts that terrorists captured from Azamgarh are innocents. I can go on and on about their discriminatory attitude not only before elections but even after they come to power. Nobody is saying that minorities specially muslims and Christians should live like second class citizens. Every Indian citizen is entitled to all rights equally. The problem arises when you demand special rights. Why cant the political representatives ask for equal rights and not “special rights” in places where they are discriminated against ? I agree with Aashish that people who were barred from economic and social benefits need that extra push until they can stand up on their own. However that should apply to poor people from the so-called backward class and not rich people. And I strongly believe that people who were discriminated was because of their castes and not religion. Mughal rulers ruled India for more than 400 years and it would be foolish to believe that Muslims were discriminated against in a muslim regime. So I reiterate my argument that there is no such thing as secular in Indian political scene.

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