The Indian freedom struggle was qualitatively different from other freedom struggles of the modern age. Most other freedom struggles of modern age were for political sovereignty and economic liberation. But they were not for cultural and spiritual liberation.
In that vital aspect of national lives, many nations chose to surrender before the colonisers. They accepted the culture and religion of the colonisers.
So, while the political-economic colonialism ended, the theo-colonialism continues.
In India, too, theo-colonialism continues in pockets, of which some are quite powerful. But the resistance to theo-colonialism is also vibrant.
Theo-colonialism is imposed monoculture of the mind. These monocultures are monopolistic, expansionist worldviews. They destroy theo-diversity. India through the ages has defined Her nationhood through theo-diversity. India has not looked at the invaders through the prism of ethnicity. It has seen the invaders through the prism of theo-diversity – whether or not they accept it.
If they do accept then they are no more alien invaders. They become part and parcel of the Indian nation. When we say a particular invader had been assimilated into Indian culture, we actually mean that the invader group had accepted theo-diversity.
This is a civilisational process. There is no ethnicity here. There is no division of race and colour and language. Rabindranath Tagore was perhaps the first to identify this process by the name ‘Hindutva’. That was in 1901.
This Hinduness was to him the ability to absorb various elements and settle them in harmony without them losing their individual ability and without them imposing themselves on others but interacting and adding vitality to the national being. Even when Tagore felt that he had renounced the idolatry of nation, in his 1923 essay he again delved upon this ability of being resilient with diversity as the basis of India.
Throughout the ages, all the national heroes and heroines of India have contributed to this process. And this process is the fundamental resistance to theo-colonialism, so that theo-diversity can be protected.
It is this which connects Prithvi Raj with Hukka-Bukka, the founders of Vijayanagara. It is this that connects Vijayanagara with Maratha movement and Veer Shivaji with the Khalsa. The supreme sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur and the Jambudwip declaration of Maruthu brothers, separated in geographic space and time, are united in the spirit and heart of India through their resistance against theo-colonialism.
It is not an accident that the term ‘Swaraj’ that Mahatma Gandhi used comes from 'Hindavi Swarajya' of Veer Shivaji.
During the Maratha ascendancy, the term “Hindavi Swarajya” was used by Veer Shivaji (1630-1680) in a letter written in 1645, to Dadaji Naras Prabhu.
Here by the term 'Hindavi Swarajya', Shivaji meant “Hindu religious autonomy” for entire India. Sambhaj in his Danapatra calls Shivaji as 'Haindava-dharma-Uddharaka'.
The fact that the modern Indian nation-state owes its conception to this stream of “Hinduness” was explicitly acknowledged by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in his essay ‘Shivaji O Guru Govind’:
The first and great leader of Maratha history had formed in his mind a clear concept of the establishment of a Hindu kingdom before launching a movement in the historical state for the rise of Maratha power. Whatever he did, conquest of territories, annihilation of the enemy, expansion of the kingdom, all this was a part of his All India project.
So when Mahatma Gandhi used the term 'Swaraj', his statement that it was a sacred and Vedic term should be considered as a continuation of this historic movement. His insistence that if he were to legislate he would stop all conversions, was not just his personal wish but part and parcel of the historical process of the Indian nation standing mightily against theo-colonialism.
Unfortunately, one of the chief disciples of Gandhi himself was a willing subject of theo-colonialism; in the sense he considered Indian culture and spirituality deficient and inferior to imposed monopolistic worldviews. This also reflected in the policies preferred by him.
For example, the educational apartheid against Hindu educational institutions in India is a direct proof of the stark reality that Acharya Vinoba warned us against - that while the National Tricolur flies in the physical infrastructures of our educational institutions, Union Jack flies in the hearts and brains of the policy-makers of our education.
Theo-colonialism has also evolved. It once forcefully destroyed temples and massacred people wholesale if they did not convert. Later, in another form, it indulged in direct verbal abuses in public spaces and indulged in heavy hate-propaganda. Meanwhile, it also unleashed organised riots leading to partition of the nation. In post-Independent India, it operates through Macaulayism and Marxism, Nehruvianism and Dravidianism.
At the global level, theo-colonialism singles out India. Had India been a dictatorship and a failure they would have gleefully accepted it. But India even a Nehruvian India, is for them is a pagan democracy. A pagan democracy is for them a violation of their worldview. So India's achievements will never be talked about.
But now India is democratically ruled by a leader who believes in theo-diversity and Hindu Dharma. He does not shy away from his Hindu roots. Actually, after Mahatma Gandhi, it is Narendra Modi who has upheld Hindu symbols and symbolism.
One has to just read Verdict on India by Beverley Nichols, published in 1944, as India neared political independence. The book was a recommended read to understand Indian politics, by Churchill. If one reads the book today, one would notice that the way Gandhi is described in it is no different from the way a present section of international media refers to PM Modi.
The problem of theo-colonialism is also the problem of the mind. There are still subjects of this colonial empire in India. They are influential media personalities, Bollywood actors and actresses and in my home state, they may even be the rulers. They are powerful academics and column writers.
One such theo-colonised writer, a person powerful enough to make or break careers in academia and media, made it his full time job to claim Mahatma Gandhi for the Christian values of the West. The power of theo-colonialism of the mind is such that when Arne Næss (1912-2009), the eco-philosopher who coined the term 'deep ecology', valued highly the proto-ecological vision of Mahatma Gandhi, and considered Advaita as the spiritual basis of that vision of Gandhi, this Indian writer was quick to attribute it to the European influences on Gandhi - an untenable claim.
Theo-colonialism is still vibrant and powerful. It is the most dangerous form of colonialism. India is still fighting it. It has won impressive victories and it still has intensive and strategic battle fields lying ahead of it.
Let us pledge ourselves to fight the best battle of our generation against this remaining form of colonialism.
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!