Hindutva For The 21st Century: Ram Madhav's Book Looks Back And Forward
Ram Madhav has brought to the fore once again the idea of Hindutva and what it means to be Indian.
Which way the debate resolves itself will be central to the future of India that is Bharat in the twenty-first century.
The Hindutva Paradigm: Integral Hinduism and the Quest for a Non-Western Worldview. Ram Madhav. Westland. 2021. Pages 422. Price Rs 799.
Driven by hubris and arrogance, it is customary for Left-liberal intellectuals to dub those who oppose them – usually the monochromatically-painted “Hindutva types” – as incapable of original thinking. In the past, modern historian Ramchandra Guha has criticised BJP (or its mentor, the RSS) as a party with no intellectuals. He once condescendingly wrote that he could engage with Right-wing intellectuals like Rajaji, but not the current lot available to him. This is bollocks, and indicative of the typical Left-liberal intellectual’s double-speak. If you can talk only to the dead and departed, who cannot rebut you, you are an intellectual coward.
Others like Guha have derided Hindu intellectualism by highlighting the wildest claims made about Hindu heritage – including the alleged discovery of flying machines or plastic surgery in ancient India – as representative Right-wing non-intellectualism.
Without in anyway rejecting the charge that some Hindu individuals want to link every modern discovery or knowledge to ancient Indian beginnings, the real problem is two-fold: one, the existence of a hostile Hinduphobic academic ecosystem that never encouraged indigenous thought and ideas to raise itself out of mediocrity; and two, a steadfast refusal to accord the status of “public intellectual” to anyone who speaks with knowledge and deep insight. The assumption that all modernity and knowledge is the product of a European Christian experience makes the discovery of Indian intellectualism difficult to surface.
Colonised minds produce only two kinds of “intellectuals” or demagogues: a biased individual who has already internalised Western ways of looking at its own history; or a reactionary who forces Indic pride down your throat and wants to see all things good and great as based only in Indic tradition.
One intellectual who refused to take either of these two defeatist options was someone ignored by both Left and Right in India: Deen Dayal Upadhyay, one of the founders of the Jana Sangh, precursor to today’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Upadhyay was beginning to give shape to an idea called ‘Integral Humanism’, but he died young (at 52) and could not fully expand on his ideas.
Ram Madhav, a key office-bearer of the BJP till recently, in a new book called The Hindutva Paradigm, tries to expand on Upadhyay’s ideas, which were given through four seminal lectures, and work them into a broader sense of cultural nationalism that goes beyond Hinduism as a religion.
It is worth noting that the idea of ‘Integral Humanism’ was not invented by Upadhyay, but by a Frenchman named Jacques Maritain, who gave primacy to the spiritual realm in the context of emerging totalitarian and destructive ideologies like Nazism and communism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But while Maritain’s quest for integral humanism ends with Jesus Christ, Upadhyay’s revolves not just around man, but includes society, nature and the divine. Upadhyay also adds capitalism to the other evils of Communism and fascism.
In the book, Ram Madhav takes Upadhyay’s ideas forward and posits the concept of Rastram, an idea of the nation that predates any European meaning. The Rig Veda, the oldest text of Hinduism, uses the word “to describe the national identity of the people of the land called Bharatvarsha,” says Madhav.
The Hindutva paradigm takes the idea of nationhood beyond just a land and its people to a sense of the national soul, where diverse peoples strive to live in harmony, and where the Rashtra is imbued with a sense of divinity and sacredness, held together by Dharma as a living entity. The nation is conceived as a mother, as Bharat Mata, the Jagat Janani (as Sri Aurobindo saw it), a universal mother to all mothers. The ultimate ideal of Rashtra is a global sense of community, or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
In fusing the thoughts of diverse Hindu thinkers, from Gandhi to Swami Vivekananda to Sri Aurobindo to Rabindranath Tagore, Madhav builds the idea of this new Hindutva paradigm as all-encompassing, and not necessarily related to just the religion we call Hinduism.
In doing so, Ram Madhav makes a quiet distinction between westernised Indians like Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, who saw nationhood in European terms, and the Indic version of nationhood, which is civilisational in content and can accommodate diversity without any mental or emotional stress.
While Nehru believed that Hinduism had no relevance to the establishment of a modern and secular India, Ambedkar believed that the mere existence of hundreds of distinct castes invalidated the idea of India being a united nation. He (partly wrongly) believed that diversity meant disunity, even though he correctly identified casteism as retrograde and divisive.
Deen Dayal Upadhyay would not have disagreed with him on the evils of casteism. He wrote: “Our attitude has been vitiated as a result of over a thousand years or slavery. Narrowmindedness and obscurantism have harmed our progress. Discriminations on the basis of caste and untouchability have shaken the foundations of our society… We no longer believe in the dignity of labour. We must establish the right values for educating our countrymen.”
Where Upadhyay probably differed from Ambedkar was in giving the idea of nation a presence beyond just territory and people. He said: “It is Dharma that is supreme, Dharma is the repository of the nation’s soul. If Dharma is destroyed, the nation perishes. Anyone who abandons Dharma betrays the nation.”
The problem is that Dharma is incredibly hard to define even though many people, in their individual or collective capacities, find it easier to define what is not Dharma. Dharma can often be best described as an approach and a journey, rather than a destination.
Ram Madhav’s book makes a strong effort to contrast the dharmic worldview, where not only humans but even the gods have to behave in accordance with it, with the Abrahamic worldview, where god sits in judgement on humans. While the Indic system is characterised by the quality of its doubt, the Abrahamic system, which gave birth to Western civilisation, sees faith as the central virtue in religion. The dharmic approach is that of a seeker, while the Western one is that of a believer.
Unlike Indic thought, which emerged from millennia of experience and deep philosophical contemplation, the Western worldview emerged largely from Christian theology and its conflicts with science, which led to some fundamental convictions: that humans have to struggle for existence with other species, that only the fittest can survive, that humans are at the top of creation and hence could exploit nature, and that individual rights are at the centre of everything, with the state being the guarantor of it. Family, tribe, community and other human institutions are seen only as impediments to a better and more just world order under almighty god.
There are, however, points on which one can disagree with Madhav’s rejection of the two-nation theory of Muhammed Ali Jinnah (an idea first espoused by Syed Ahmad Khan and later by Alama Iqbal), which finally led to a partition of the country. He contemptuously rejects Jinnah’s idea that “Hindus and Muslims derive their inspirations from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes and different episodes…”.
Madhav thinks that Jinnah’s views were “erroneous and frivolous” since most Muslims in India are of Indian origin. What Jinnah’s argument meant was that a mere change of religion would change one’s history, heroes and ancestors.
While this is obviously true, the fact remains that accepting Islam means giving yourself a new identity and accepting yourself as part of the Ummah, which its own centre, its own ecosystem, its own aspirations. This does not mean the negation of existing national identities, but the very fact that most Indian Muslims still do not buy this idea of a “common DNA” even today tells us that the Hindutva paradigm is not something that is going to be easy to sell to members of non-Indic faiths.
Madhav, however, indirectly admits of this challenge when he writes: “Unlike the countries in the West, India did not face any big challenge of immigration in history. Invaders came in hordes, lured by the riches of the land, either to go back defeated or to get assimilated in the mainstream. But India’s brush with Semitic faiths exposed it, for the first time, to a conflicting narrative about its national identity.”
The issue remains unresolved to this day.
However, what is undeniable is Ram Madhav’s scholarship and intellectual abilities. He has brought to the fore once again the idea of Hindutva and what it means to be Indian. Which way the debate resolves itself will be central to the future of India that is Bharat in the twenty-first century.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.