Guest post by Aman Verma
It is disheartening to see amongst supporters of Hindutva these days a silent acquiescence and at times even active support for extra-constitutional techniques being adopted by organizations like the RSS and its offshoots towards attaining the goal of Ram Rajya. An assessment is necessary of what would ultimately entail on the social, political and economic fronts if such a policy that envisages a supposedly ‘Hindu’ cultural and linguistic hegemony over cultures and languages represented by minority communities becomes reality. However, being a student of law what disturbs me more is the absence of any socio-political entity or civil society movement rooted in values of democracy that can effectively counter the impact of Hindutva organizations on the Indian social fabric. While the BJP has its RSS, every other political party claiming to be the upholder of secularism lacks its equivalent, or at the very least an effective social protégé.
Further, my personal interactions with supporters of BJP reveals that there is some deep sense of hurt and helplessness, part valid for the sake of argument, but for the most part carefully manufactured by Hindutva propaganda, which manifests itself in questions a friend recently put to me, “What are the other ways in which the Hindus can also claim their rights and send out a message that they have been too tolerant for too long?” and another which sounded like “How else to keep our dignity and identity alive in our land?”. These questions, based upon presumptions like those of “Hindu tolerance” of acts perpetrated by other communities supposedly only against Hindus and, protection of a completely vague concept of “Hindu identity” are clearly an outcome of a campaign strategy that relies upon upping the antics on the romantic-nationalist front.
Thus, I concede I am troubled by the paranoia building around me, and many of my age, by the constant ‘historicisation’ of mythology, distortion of historical facts, disguised reproach for constitutional values of democratic socialism and secularism, and belittling of historical personages whom until now were a part and parcel of our national or social life. And it may therefore be relevant to ask of these self-professedly apolitical organizations, especially when their political parent party is in power: What is the nature of the goal you want to achieve by acts akin to those of proselytization – a political or a socio-religious one? And whether that indeed is at all desirable in our plural society?
The identity question
Identity and culture may mean a host of things for a lot of people but for our Hindu fundamentalist, it means “Hindu” identity which in itself is quite hard to define as anyone in India would concede that a Hindu of North India is, both culturally as well as linguistically, is different from one in East India and or in South India. However, he may really be very similar to a Sikh or a Muslim of North India (take for example the confluence of cultures and languages in the cities of Lucknow, Delhi and Amritsar). Of course fundamentalists will argue that Hindu identity means the characteristic identity of any person whose religion is Hinduism, and by extension includes Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, and by a further extension of some absurd logic, even someone whose forefathers, though Hindus, had converted to another faith by their own free will or by force. “Hindu culture” may be taken to mean, shorthand, the practice of various Hindu religious rituals and occasions. But anyone willing to devote a little time to thinking about the various yardsticks that identify culture like food, language, religious, political and educational institutions etc. would realize the inherent contradictions that lie within any such assumption of a “Hindu identity or culture” imputed as being common to the entire majority community. And as our own history shows, such assumptions of commonality when there really is little quantitative as well as qualitative material to vindicate them, only spell disaster and leave scars that fail to heal in the form of partitions, deaths and displacement. What Jinnah achieved by his stubborn attitude and what even the Islamic State is claiming to be, is not much different in terms of ideology when compared to the Hindu right.
Hindu Rashtra: A political or merely a social goal?
The history of the Hindu right in our country is an old one, not forgetting the recent hate speeches made by sitting MPs like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Yogi Adityanath; acts of conversion allegedly under undue influence and coercion carried out by Hindutva’s fringe organizations; and rationalization of mythical folklore such as the pushpakyaan and that of Ganesha’s trunk by none other than the hon’ble PM. This history stands testimony to the fact that corruption of the constituents of culture, and an opportunistic interpretation of history and myth lies at the heart of the action policy of Hindutva organizations to achieve their objective of a “Hindu Rashtra” or “Ram Rajya” – just another romantic concept of the nation-state that dates back to, even if it dates back to anything keeping in mind its mythological origins, the first millennium anno domini, before invasions by Muslim rulers. As far as my own understanding goes, this primitive idea of a nation state that substitutes for the Hindutva organizations all political theories of a nation-state propounded by Indian and Western political scientists alike, involves the creation of complementary political and socio-religious exigencies with one being used as a tool for achieving the other and vice versa. The desire of Hindutvawadi organisations to create social conditions through means discussed above presumably will at first help in building and then maintaining Hindu political hegemony, which in turn shall be used to promote only those Hindu cultural and social practices which they deem to be Hindu until their dream of ‘Ram Rajya’ is attained. In the extreme case, a real consequence of these could even be the re-institutionalization of the caste system to maintain the regressive social order, for the same purposes of political hegemony, in contradistinction to their present policy of social appeasement of these historically suppressed classes. Outside the ‘Hindu’ fold, the real consequences, for Hindus not accepting their defined order could be ostracism; and for those from minority communities the package can only be imagined.
Some of the preceding paragraph might appear out-stretched contemplation and an exaggeration of the circumstances which will in all likelihood ensue under an essentially regressive government reeling under the pressures imposed by the demands and promises of ‘development’; but that is in fact the purpose of this article – to determine the nature and kind of the goal of Hindutva and then to assess whether it essentially is at par with India’s Constitutional ethos. Also, are there any constitutional alternatives available to the followers of Hinduism in a democratic country for the protection of their faith, culture and language, if they genuinely feel it is under some existential threat? The nature and kind of goal that Hindutva wants to achieve however is essentially political in as much as it is an ideology for a particular kind of nation-state; while the means of achieving it rest upon ensuring that an essentially social revolution is able to propel itself to political power and hegemony.
My aspirations for the India of my time
While the biggest bulwark against any such realization remains that pious document, the Constitution of India, its basic structure and our Courts of law, it is the duty of the political parties aligned against the Hindutva ideology to produce an effective counter-weight that while ensuring development also ensures equality and equal respect for all religions and the dominance of none. Above all it is the duty of the youth to help maintain the system of checks and balances, and present to the nation a counter social revolution based on democratic principles and one which is within the contours set by the Constitution of India.
We have been told time and again about the timelessness of our Constitution, an organic document, which in the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “needs to be worked”. Historian Ramachandra Guha notes India as a country is rife with contradictions, and an exception to the rules of nationhood contemplated by political and social science disciplines. Fortunately, our founding fathers and mothers understood this paradox, this wonder that in fact is India. The fear psychosis being manufactured by Hindutva organizations in India against particular religious communities is only to keep the ‘Hindu’ vote bank intact and thereby materialize its political ambitions. As far as Hindutva as a force against increasing Islamic fundamentalism or Christian missionary propaganda is concerned, my personal view is that fundamentalism is not the answer to fundamentalism. The nation acts as one when all its peoples unite against common enemies and not when people only of a particular religion unite against those of another. It would be un-natural for any particular race or religion to dominate this land for there actually is no race or religion that can withstand the human costs, of which the trauma of partition is sufficient evidence, of any such domination as contemplated by fundamentalists of any religious ideology forcibly taken to its ultimate end.