When Nehru Was Not Secular Enough For The Far Left

Aravindan Neelakandan

Aug 20, 2015, 12:30 PM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 09:36 AM IST

If exclusiveness is the DNA of the Wahhabi secularism of elite individuals, the Dalits of the Indian intellectual pyramid – the Hindutvaites – revel in inclusiveness.

An interesting aspect about the Indian Left is their ability to jettison their favored icons as they make more ideological ‘progress’. Thus, even if Nehru was until yesterday their favorite icon he would have to be abandoned when they come across his willingness to celebrate our Indic heritage. Someone whose works can be presented as more venomous will have to be found. A recent article on “The Missing Conservative Intellectuals” is a good instance of such an attitude. 

The article makes the usual rabid anti-Indian statements – that ‘despite constitutional secularism’ India being ‘a Hindu majoritarian state in practice’ has ‘documented anti-minority biases in the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the police, the media and other institutions’ etc.  

The article also charges the ‘left-liberals’ as being insufficiently critical of casteism ‘despite overwhelming evidence of pervasive casteism’. And what is casteism but Brahmanism and what is Brahmanism but Hinduism?

The writer states that the India’s nationhood was intimately associated with ‘Hindu, imaginary’ that, in this context, is ‘nothing but another name for Brahminism’.

None other than Nehru is singled out as an example of a ‘left liberal’ view being socially conservative. A passage from Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India,’ which seems to glorify ‘Brahminism’ when taken out of context and presented as a prelude to his supposedly unprintable ‘utilitarian defense of caste system’, is highlighted. The passage:

That mixture of religion and philosophy, history and tradition, custom and social structure, which in its wide fold included almost every aspect of the life of India, and which might be called Brahminism or (to use a later word) Hinduism, became the symbol of nationalism. It was indeed a national religion.”

This part is then contrasted with a statement taken from Dr.Ambedkar’s writings:

“No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality, and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy.”

Here is the full context of Nehru’s amputated quote here:

“It was indeed a national religion, with its appeal to all those deep instincts, racial and cultural, which form the basis everywhere of nationalism to-day. Buddhism, child of Indian thought, had its nationalist background also. India was to it the holy land where Buddha had lived and preached and died, where famous scholars and saints had spread the faith. But Buddhism was essentially international, a world religion, and as it developed and spread it became increasingly so. Thus, it was natural for the old Brahminic faith to become the symbol again and again of nationalist revivals.”

Essentially Nehru was speaking about the rooted nature of Hinduism, which he considered (wrongly) in its nascent form, as ‘Brahminism’.  In fact he held common ground with the later day ‘cultural nationalists’ – a term almost always identified with Hindu ‘rightwing’ when he stated that India..

‘is … a cultural unity amidst diversity… held together by strong but invisible threads’.

This cultural unity of India was axiomatic for both Hindu nationalists and the Left. Dr.Ambedkar was even more emphatic on this aspect when he declared that India..

‘has over and above all a deeper and a much more fundamental unity—the indubitable cultural unity that covers the land from end to end.’

While Dr.Ambedkar did find the Smrithi-based Hindu religion as practiced by socially stagnant Hindu traditional institutions a menace to liberty, fraternity, and equality, he always considered the nascent Indic culture, more specifically, the pre-Buddhist, Upanishadic Indian culture the most assured source for those values.    

Interestingly, the pseudo-progressives of Arundhati Roy vintage who rediscovered Dr.Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’, only as a convenient stick to beat Gandhi and Hinduism, forgot the important point. Dr. Ambedkar had emphasized that Hindus need not ‘borrow from foreign sources’ concepts to build a society on the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty. They ‘could draw for such principles on the Upanishads.’ It is a theme to which he would return again.  And the occasion is telling.

In 1949, as the head of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar faced the attack of the Communists. The Party attacked the Constitution because, as the good doctor saw it, the Constitution ‘was not based on the dictatorship of the proletariat’ but ‘parliamentary democracy’.  In his brilliant defense of Parliamentary democracy, Dr.Ambedkar pointed out that historic roots of democracy in India go back to pre-Buddhist India:

A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments-for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments – but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modern times. … Although these rules of Parliamentary Procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the Political Assemblies functioning in the country in his time.

Even in ‘Riddles in Hinduism’, his harshest and uncharitable tract on Hinduism, he points out that Hinduism has the potential to become the spiritual basis of social democracy. So, according to Dr.Ambedkar, the Hindu religious philosophy ‘gave rise to an idea that had greater potentialities for producing social democracy than the idea of fraternity.’

Dr.Ambedkar had used the word ‘Brahminism’ contemptuously to designate a kind of counter-revolution to Buddhism. But he had also used a much holistic, more accurate and more secular term to represent the social ills of Indian society: social stagnation. Interestingly, there is one more social malaise that he diagnosed in Indian society as equally dangerous as the social stagnation. ‘This policy of appeasement’, he pointed out, was a malaise ‘no less acute than the malaise of social stagnation.’  

In their desire to use Dr.Ambedkar as a catalyst to aggravate Hindu-phobia, the far-left radicals have forgotten that Dr.Ambedkar’s very project of annihilation of caste was from the perspective of ‘Hindu Sangathan’ (Hindu Unity).

As late as 1955, a year before his parinirvana, the legal Bodhisattva had written about how he was for partition, because without partition, ‘India would not have been a free India from the point of view of the Hindus’.

That is again a consistent theme in his thoughts as he had stated that, more important than the question of defending Swaraj, is the question of defending the Hindus under Swaraj. So, at every point Dr.Ambedkar’s critique of Hinduism is an intensively internal critique – as a historic-cultural, legal Hindu who wanted Hindus to homogenize, to become a strong nation and who saw caste as the single greatest stumbling block in that direction. Interestingly, it was the RSS chief Deoras who could be said to be the direct inheritor of this legacy of Dr.Ambedkar.

It is interesting to note the typical radical far-left’s attempt to categorize every left-intellectual in India who has no visceral hatred for Hinduism as ‘merely Hindu, upper caste, and invisible.’ This is exactly how the Wahhabi mindset functions. It excludes, sometimes violently, every sub-sect of Islam that differs from its own version.  Thus, the Sufis are excluded. Then, the Shias are excluded and, of course, Ahmadiyas are also excluded. If power comes, they can also be eliminated as the ISIS is demonstrating. Alas, the Indian Constitution and the ‘Hindu majoritarian state’ prevent our Wahhabi like radical far left from enacting such executions in Chandni Chawk. 

Contrast this with the Hindu mindset or, rather, the Hindutva mindset that goes on an inclusive spree. This Indic inclusiveness is something unique to Hindutva and is the hallmark of Hindu politics even when it does not acknowledge itself as explicitly ‘Hindu’. Thus, to Hindus, Jains are Hindus, Buddhists are Hindus, Saivaites are Hindus, Arya Samajis are Hindus and even Muslims are Hindus – without them having to do any theological correction.

Gnani Sankaran, a leading rabid left intellectual and activist, alleged that the RSS-Hindutva agenda ‘is to make every Muslim a cultural nationalist like Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam’ whom he derisively labeled as ‘three-quarters Hindu and one-quarter Muslim’.  (Seldom did he realize he was paying the highest compliment to the organization he loves to hate.) Despite the net-Hindutvaites attack on Nehru, it is repeatedly documented how M S Golwalkar of RSS repeatedly admonished anyone attacking Nehru in his presence.

Sitaram Goel has reported on how the ‘Organiser’ even stopped a series of articles that attacked Nehru during the Chinese invasion. In the Sangh circles, this dictate of Golwalkar is quite famous: when there is an external threat, ‘we are five and a hundred’ – a statement from ‘The Mahabharata’ emphasizing in-house unity.

A lesser ideological antagonist would have seen that as an opportunity to pour bile on Nehru. The result was that Nehru, who had thundered that he would not give an inch of land for the saffron flag in India, ended up inviting the RSS for participating in the Republic Day parade.

Thus while exclusiveness is the DNA of the Wahhabi like far-left, those on the right seem to revel in inclusiveness. And everyone who has read the legal definition of ‘Hindu’ that Dr.Ambedkar had put forth would know which side of the fence the genius of people like Dr.Ambedkar stands. 

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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