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.