A victory for Hindutva and its political manifestation lies in an industrialised Hindu nation, and not in an idyllic feudal order of the villages.
Four years have passed since that pivotal election of the 2014, which altered the socio-political landscape of India. The 2014 mandate has been interpreted in several ways. It has been called a vote for development, a vote for a corruption-free India and a vote for a communal agenda, depending on the ideological prism of the commentators. But the most important aspect of the 2014 election was the electoral resurgence of Hindutva politics. This time, there was no emotional wave backing Hindutva, unlike the Ram temple issue in the 1990s. This resurgence of Hindutva came in the wake of deeper socio-economic churning, which in turn consolidated the Hindu identity. This was only the latest event in a long process, continuing since the 19th century, but one which gained momentum only after post-colonial India embarked upon the process of industrial-urbanisation.
Despite the lofty claims of many, Hindutva is a modern construct. To be precise, it was the Hindu response to Western colonialism and resurgent Islamic imperialism in the Indian subcontinent under the new emerging economic order based on industry and capitalism. It sought to override the various fractious lines, that were the cost of a civilisation built on a decentralised model and characterised by diversity. Hindutva envisioned a unified Hindu nation transcending the differences and conflicts of region, language and caste. And like all nations, the Hindu nation thus envisaged is not possible without the ascendency of industrial-urbanisation.
The economic transformation after Independence and especially since the economic reforms of 1990s has given a fillip to this process. The growth of market economy and expansion of the capitalist mode of production directly undermined the birth-based social-stratification of a rural-feudal economy, and urbanisation led to the convergence of the lifestyle and worldview of people belonging to different castes and communities living in increasing proximity to each other. That is why, it is in the urban areas that Hindu political consciousness is encountered whereas caste consciousness dominates in the agrarian areas. Therefore, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a party professing ideological moorings in Hindutva, has its strongholds in the urban regions while its position in the agrarian hinterland has been precarious at best. Despite all claims to the contrary, it was Hindutva coupled with the aspirational youth that made the unprecedented mandate of 2014 possible.
It is Hindutva again which shall play an important role in the upcoming national elections of 2019 and the BJP once again will be the obvious beneficiary, but it won’t be a simple task. Not only has the opposition put in place counter-measures but the centrifugal force of caste has also been working against Hindutva politics. As it stands today, Hindutva suffers from several major complications.
First, the very language of the Hindutva today is heavily derived from the upper-caste milieu of north India. The symbolism and the heroes it propagates, the narrative on several social questions — especially caste system — it upholds, makes it difficult for Hindutva to percolate to the masses. There is a lack of a refined and inclusive language and symbolism, which incorporates the concerns and aspirations of all the sections of the Hindu sphere and makes it easier for Hindus of all castes and regions to feel an organic connect to Hindutva.
One wonders why Prithviraj Chauhan must be considered a hero in the Hindutva pantheon while Raja Suheldev remains nondescript. One lost due to strategic mistakes, the other won due to tenacity. Why are the kings and heroes of the north-east and south India not at the forefront of the Hindutva symbolism? Why are the saints and religious reform movements of the Dalit castes not part of the narrative of the Hindutva? It is true that most of them are at odds with the present-day social narrative of the votaries of Hindutva but then, if Hindutva must take deep roots, the narrative and symbolism it must adopt should come from a synthesis of various religious sects, reform movements, cultural inheritance of different castes and regions.
This is not an impossible task but will take conscious strategic actions to carry out and include more and more people belonging to different sections of the Hindu society, especially the subalterns, as stakeholders and not just as voters. Otherwise, Hindu unity dissipates as fast as it is created.
Second, the people claiming to represent Hindutva must abandon their agrarian fetish and romanticism of the feudal-village order of the days bygone in the name of swadeshi and all. They must realise that the verdict of the 2014 was also the expression of the desire of Hindu modernity. India, as V S Naipaul calls it, is the land of a million mutinies where the new is struggling to be born out of the old and any attempt to sail against the flow of history can only be disastrous.
India and Hindu society are fast reaching the inflection point when they must make the decisive shift from pre-modern, semi-feudal society to a modern one. More efforts are needed to understand the future trajectory of this process than are needed to praise the village orthodoxy. Hindutva will have to integrate itself to this process of modernisation if it must remain politically relevant in the fast-changing and rapidly urbanising economy with a youth bulge.
Third, the political manifestation of Hindutva depends on reactive unity, like during the years preceding 2014, when the ruling dispensation adopted an openly hostile stance towards the Hindus and encouraged Islamic and evangelist missionary belligerence. An alliance built on common fear is a fragile alliance at best.
Looking forward to 2019 and beyond, Hindutva must become a construct of equitable power-sharing between all Hindu castes and communities and a vehicle of social mobility. Without tackling the caste conflicts head on, Hindutva will find itself in an unenviable position.
Denialism of caste issues and social differentiation and discrimination is not an option. These issues must be engaged with within the Hindutva framework. Otherwise, we will have frequent disruptions like Maratha or Jat agitations or Dalit protests, like the ones during the recent Bharat bandh or aggressive upper-caste assertion like one sees today in Uttar Pradesh. Each one of them can neutralise the Hindutva factor in 2019. And while one can try to manage these conflicts by placating different sections, they will keep on repeating themselves unless the root cause of social stratification is addressed. It can only be done under Hindutva, for which, it must have clarity of purpose, and an intent to create a modern, industrialised Hindu nation and Hindu modernity.