Indians can be passive and let things take their shape or play an active role in organising and channelising the growth of Hindutva at a time when the world is yearning for deeper meanings.
"Modernity is a deal. The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.” – Yuval Noah Harari
It seems as though, the number of articles written on Hindutva has taken a nose dive post 2014. A cursory search on Google News would direct you to a few ramblings in The Wire (recently by Nayantara Seghal) or Scroll.in, or by the Communist Party in Kerala, who are bereft of any new ideas. The pro-Hindutva folks have simply not bothered to rebut perhaps due to the current political irrelevance of the opponents or just sheer lack of energy. But one place where the anti-Hindutva propaganda is winning hands down is Tamil Nadu. The meme-makers through clever and innovative ways, piggybacking on Kollywood comedies, are dishing them out through Facebook and WhatsApp to devastating effect. The right wing satirists might have at last met their match; but alas the language barrier rules out a meme war.
It is as though political victories in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and the subsequent string of victories in the states defying the left-liberal media has lulled the “party intellectuals” into believing that “cultural hegemony” of the left is broken (borrowing Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci’s phrases). But it has been proved false by the unceasing onslaught of the entrenched left wing in the academia, intelligentsia, media and more importantly in the bureaucracy. Hence, it is essential that the defence of Hindutva should be kept alive in every sphere and should not be left just to the people in the countryside that kept the flame alive for centuries through dogged practice of simple rituals, only to be provided broad “intellectual” support much later.
While that said about the “present” of the Hindutva debate, “the past” two decades have been one of rediscovery and revival. Articles galore in niche publications, blogs, social media posts and contributions of right leaning authors in mainstream media, reinterpreted and clarified many misconceptions. In an interesting article in The Organiser , S Gurumurthy likened “Hindutva” to “American Creed”. He goes on to equate the ideas of “core culture” of Guru Golwalkar and “composite culture” as postulated by Samuel Huntington in his book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity. It was in some ways an attempt to create an analogy with the dominant phenomenon of the time in American exceptionalism.
The article explains that American Creed was based on “the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; rule of law; responsibility of rulers; individual rights; Protestant values of individualism, work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven of earth”. In the last couple of years, it seems as if the American Creed has been reduced to more of a swan song than an affirmation of values. With the first anniversary of the Donald Trump victory approaching, US seems irretrievably divided. All the good things that Huntington said perhaps are unable to bring the community together anymore. Religion per se has taken a beating and the waves of immigration have perhaps completely changed the cultural, linguistic and value expectations that citizens ask of each other and the government. American society is hanging on to “rule of law”, “individual rights” and its powerful position that it has derived from the past. It leads one to wonder if these are enough to hold a country together? Is there a higher value-based union required for sustainability? The “past” and “present” of the Hindutva debate can provide a platform for some analysis going forward into the future.
While the US is in self-introspection mode, India is seeing a renaissance in cultural consciousness buoyed by political and economic successes. The Hindu is not 'uncool' anymore in India. It is showing that a country can survive centuries of deprivation and slavery by holding on to a core value system. The society of myriad languages, customs and culture stands united (barring the Partition of 1947) by a distributed and customised set of values that are not just parochial but resonate completely with the universal human values. This value system, not just the practices of the religion, packaged as Hindutva has to be exported as means to actualise Vasudaiva Kutumbakam.
The question of “why” Hindutva (term coined in 1923) can be gleaned from Shri Aurobindo from more than a century ago. In his Uttarapara speech, he says, “we speak often of the Hindu religion, of the Sanatan Dharma, but few of us really know what that religion is. Other religions are preponderatingly religions of faith and profession, but the Sanatan Dharma is life itself; it is a thing that has not so much to be believed as lived. This is the Dharma that for the salvation of humanity was cherished in the seclusion of this peninsula from of old. It is to give this religion that India is rising. She does not rise as other countries do, for self or when she is strong, to trample on the weak. She is rising to shed the eternal light entrusted to her over the world. India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be great”.
Hence, it becomes the bounden duty of our generation of Indians to play our bit in strengthening Hindutva at home and spreading it abroad. Hindutva provides a platform to handle diversity of beliefs; it is not technophobic; it plays well with “compassionate capitalism”; it has answers for climate change and terrorism. Contrast that with the Vatican’s recent pronouncements on technology, transgenders, its pyramidal organisational structure etc. They are narrow and not modern enough and does not seem to keep pace with human progress and aspirations. Not much needed to be said about the state of Islam in which practitioners seem stuck with the rules written for 7th century Arabia. The success of new age Hindu gurus abroad and popularity of yoga etc should be just construed as beginning and indicative of a populace yearning for something deeper. There is a demand for stitching a community through a set of values that are spiritual, practical and can be personalised.
Hindu organisations, not just theological groups, should jump into the fray for the success of the mission. They should shed their self-imposed geographical inhibitions and think global. To look back at Aurobindo, the mission of globalising Hindutva is not being done for geopolitical expansionism or soft power etc, but as dharma owed to fellow human beings. Flowing from compassion and brotherhood, it differs in spirit from the “white man’s burden”. The Hindu way is also not to ram down the throats but persuade by offering it as a better alternative to status quo.
Gazing a bit farther, the era of robots will be up on us soon and as Ray Kurziwell reminds us, singularity is nearing. Advances in artificial intelligence algorithms, genome editing, bionic implants are rapid. Very notions of “what is being human”, “what are relationships” , “what is citizenship” etc, will be questioned in more fundamental and in deeper ways. With machines taking over jobs both at factories and households, the nature of work and leisure would be redefined, creating what Yuval Noah Harari calls the “useless class” unfit for economic or military work. The learnings of our rishis that have pondered over timeless ideas of consciousness for centuries have to be bought to the forefront to provide succour to the people in times of great psychological upheaval, lest decay of humanity would begin just with “bread and circuses”. (It is quite interesting to note that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has already started thinking about it. A senior leader said there were even discussions on the dystopian TV series The Black Mirror.)
The rapidly increasing foreign tourist inflows to places like Rishikesh and Banaras are just pointers to the fact that the world is looking to us for leadership. We can be passive and let things take their shape or play an active role in organising and channelising its growth. Hindus have always been accused of the former. It is civilisational duty to provide active leadership this time around.
This article was first published on Organiser and has been republished here with permission.