‘Hinduism’ and ‘Hindutva’ are being falsely differentiated owing to a communist-driven discourse that lacks the intellectual capital to understand these concepts.
Both are two sides of the same coin, the former representing ‘a way of life’ and the latter, which defines its ‘spirit’.
This is written in response to D Raja’s article Political ideology vs lived reality published in the Indian Express. In that piece, Raja has tried his best to create a wedge between Hindutva and Hinduism despite the fact that the two are inseparable, nay, the two sides of the same coin. This will be clear through the following paragraphs.
Raja has used two key assumptions for his attack on Hindutva. Firstly, he says that Hindutva is attempting to forge a monolithic identity for the Hindus. His second assumption is that Hindutva aims at subsuming all other religious and cultural minorities under its fold. In order to lend credence to his assumptions, he uses the views of Ambedkar, Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and Antonio Gramsci (to name a few). However, on a deeper analysis, one will find that his arguments fall flat when seen objectively in the light of facts rather than through a communist lens which he proudly uses.
At the very outset, the meaning of the word ‘Hindutva’ needs to be clearly understood. The literal meaning of the word in English would be “Hinduness” and that exactly is what was meant by V D Savarkar when he coined the term. It signifies the essence of what Hinduism stands for and thus cannot be bound within boundaries of any religion as such. So, Hindutva is as integral to the lives of Hindus as Hinduism itself (if at all it can be defined). The Supreme Court clarified through its judgement in 1995 that Hinduism and Hindutva are essentially the same and they are not pandering to any narrow section of society as such.
This is what it said then:
Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism…it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption…that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion…”.
The Supreme Court refused to revise this judgement in 2016 too in reply to a petition filed by Teesta Setalvad.
Now coming to Raja’s first assumption that Hindutva is forging a monolithic Hindu identity is very far from reality. On analysis, one would see that Hindutva espouses the commonality which exists among all Hindus with enormous respect for their diversity. In fact, it goes beyond Hindus and finds the commonality among the adherents of other faiths in India too. Thus, it is not a narrow and myopic vision as Raja believes and wants others to follow suit.
Rather, it’s a vision which espouses the common strand running through the entire Indian society across faiths and communities. Hindutva understands that the diversities which the left keeps harping upon are nothing but the different manifestations of the same spirit in different contexts. It’s the string which holds the flowers of the garland together, the foundation upon which the people exhibit their enormous vivacity and diversity. Thus, it can rightfully be called as the Soul of Hinduism.
In his second assumption, Raja has blamed Hindutva for trying to subsume other faiths. This is a rhetorical statement at best when analysed factually. He alleges that Hindutva has led to attacks on minorities, tribals and dalits. However, he shies away from giving any statistics to support this allegation.
On the contrary, despite so many provocations in the name of caste and faith, the regime of the so-called Hindutva government has hardly seen any major communal clashes across the country. A comparison with the previous regimes under the self-proclaimed “seculars” on this matter will throw up many contrary results which Raja would detest. Not even going far back into history, if one looks back at the Congress-led UPA regime, two major communal riots happened under its watch. The Muzaffarnagar riots in UP and the Kokrajhar riots in Assam.
That several riots on smaller scales occurred in UP and other states only supplements this fact. The violence against dalits was not even reported in most cases in West Bengal under the Left rule. This has been stated by none other than Kancha Ilaiah in an interview reported in The Hindu where he says: “The Left, which rules India’s consciousness, has not provided enough space for movements of equality in West Bengal. That is why dalit movements have failed to emerge there.
Communist ideology there has kept other ideologies under its hegemony. Upper caste intellectuals failed to give space for dalit intellectuals to thrive. Media and other social forums need to intervene and report on the dalit situation there.”
What else needs to be sighted to show that Raja’s assumption is nothing more than a figment of imagination?
What prompts him to make such an allegation? It appears that the communists are irked or rather afraid that their facade built around fake secularism and sanctimonious attitude towards caste issues is falling to pieces. That Hindutva espouses people of all faiths to come together and forge a common destiny is totally antagonistic to the communist idea of India. Dr S Radhakrishnan’s views on Hinduism make this amply clear to a reader.
Hinduism, according to him, is not a religion, but a commonwealth of religions. He says:
It is more a way of life than a form of thought. The theist and the atheist, the sceptic and the agnostic, may all be Hindus if they accept the Hindu system of culture and life. Hinduism insists not on religious conformity but on a spiritual and ethical outlook of life. Hinduism is not a sect but a fellowship of all who accept the law of right and earnestly seek the truth.
The partition of the country was based on the two-nation theory. It was well accepted at that time that the people remaining in India share commonalities which hold them together despite their differences. This has been acknowledged by Dr B R Ambedkar in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India where he says:
A state either consists of a series of communities or it consists of a series of nations. In a state, which is composed of a series of communities, one community may be arrayed against another community and the two may be opposed to each other. But, in the matter of their ultimate destiny, they feel they are one.
Hindutva brings out this commonality which holds us together as a nation. What else is the similarity between people of so diverse languages, faiths and cultures? Can Raja enlighten us? It’s about time that the focus of academics be shifted from diversity of India to its unity. It’s just a matter of priority in this case.
So, Hindutva is in essence the Hinduness which is common to all Hindus and other faiths in the country. Isn’t it true that all faiths in India, be it Christianity or Islam have a distinct hue and character sprinkled with Indianness? Hindutva is just a name to that Indic ingredient in these faiths in India and not an attempt to subsume them by any measure.
Now let’s see the evidences used by him to support his arguments. Raja first quotes Ambedkar to highlight his views on caste atrocities in Hindu society. While there is no denial of the fact that it was a pervasive problem in those times, it also needs to be acknowledged that there has been a sea change in the situation after 70 years now. One can only be blind not to see the empowerment of the depressed classes which has happened in these years.
The Hindu Mahasabha declared in its resolution:
Whereas the caste system based on birth as at present existing is manifestly contrary to universal truth and morals: whereas it is the very antithesis of the fundamental spirit of the Hindu religion: whereas it flouts the elementary rights of human equality…this all India Hindu Mahasabha declares its uncompromising opposition to the system and calls upon Hindu society to put a speedy end to it.
V D Savarkar was in favour of destroying the entire caste system to reform Hinduism. He was even willing to do away with the varna system, which even Gandhi supported staunchly. As far as the Rashtriya Swayamevak Sangh (RSS) and the proponents of Hindutva are concerned, they have definitely made their share of contribution towards this. Whether one looks at the number of office- bearers in the RSS and BJP from the backward classes or the number of parliamentarians, in all respects, it does much better than its opponents.
As a matter of fact, the BJP won 66 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats reserved for SCs in 2014. When given a chance, it chose its candidate for President from the same community. However, since he has quoted Ambedkar, let’s look at some of his views on the Aryan Invasion theory:
That the theory of the Aryan race set up by western writers falls to the ground at every point, goes without saying. In the first place, the theory is based on nothing but pleasing assumptions and inferences based on such assumptions. In the second place, the theory is a perversion of scientific investigation.
Will the communists and their historians accept this view of Ambedkar? It’s highly unlikely as their entire edifice of Dravidian, dalit and tribal politics will be dismantled. Further, Ambedkar had also showered some praise for Indian communists through these words:
These communists have never been as arrogant and bitter against the caste system as against Ambedkar.
That there has hardly been a dalit member in the CPI polit bureau is a big proof that Ambedkar was right. And here is my question to Raja and his communist party. What magic has been done by the decades of communist rule in West Bengal? Yes, Singur, Nandigram, Marichjhapi and Sainbari massacres did happen and were brushed under the carpet.
Raja has also quoted Swami Vivekananda to prove that religion is not meant for the poor. Well, this selective veneration of the Swami is not out of respect but only for proving his own point. Does he accept the same views when used to question evangelism over hapless tribals and depressed classes? Mr. Raja, Swamiji had done exactly the same in his historic Chicago speech. Or does Raja accept Ambedkar's views on religion for poor. Let’s see what Ambedkar said on this issue:
For the poor, religion is a necessity. Religion is necessary for people in distress. The poor man lives on hope.
So, Raja is neither here nor there.
Moving on, Raja quotes Gandhi’s views on religion in India. Here again, he happily forgets Gandhi’s staunch support for a ban on cow slaughter. What an irony it is when people can celebrate a beef festival and support Gandhi at the same time. The assassination of Gandhi by an RSS sympathiser can't be used to paint the entire organisation with the same brush.
This useless canard has been spread for far too long now and needs to be buried to move on. At least the people of the country have seen through the machinations of historians and politicians alike on this issue.
Now, coming to the allegations on V D Savarkar and M S Golwalkar of being polarising figures. It must be said that they appear polarising if one misconstrues Hindutva. If some lumpen elements in the pro-Hindutva camp take to violence. It’s not a fault of the concept per se but the shallow intellect of those followers. Similarly, if Hindutva is divisive for the Left, it’s because they keep their communist lenses on in their analysis of Indian society. The idea of Hindutva is way beyond the binaries of left versus right, which can’t be understood in communist epistemology.
Before concluding, I would like to discuss one more issue pertinent to the subject. At the start of his article, Raja talks of the Constitution guaranteeing pluralism and tolerance. I have an offer for Raja here. How about moving ahead from tolerance to mutual respect? The literal meaning of tolerance is “ability to tolerate or endure something which one dislikes or disagrees to”. Doesn't it sound very pejorative when someone is told that he is being tolerated?
On the contrary, mutual respect means acceptance and respect of each other’s positions. Hindutva has the potential to transform tolerance into mutual respect. Swami Vivekananda’s words in that historic Chicago speech could be useful in this regard.
The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.
Lastly, we have all grown up listening to the phrase “Unity in Diversity” being used to describe our nation. We have had enough of discussions on diversity. In fact, it has been given disproportionate focus, leading to growth of fissiparous tendencies in the country. Can we not just change course and bring the spotlight back on the unity of the nation?