Hindu Rashtra and idea of India
For past few days days media and political parties are engaged in debates over two statements of the RSS Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat. Bhagwat while delivering his address to the gathering of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad said that India is a Hindu Rashtra and Hindutva is its national identity. Second, Hindutva has the unique capacity of assimilatory integration which no other religions have. Third, the role of the Sangh should be to see that the Hindu society does not suffer from social vices of untouchability and economic disparity. Hindus must come together leaving aside their social prejudices.
These three aspects were interpreted in many ways. Some looked at it from the political perspective and saw in the statement a political ploy to entice and consolidate the dalits vote bank in impending assembly elections in the states. Some deprived of raising the bogey of spurious secularism for sometime after the general election found a right opportunity to stick BJP. They read in the statement of Bhagwat a threat to secular fabric of India under the current political dispensation at the centre. But for the RSS it was merely a restatement of the fact which it has been saying for the last nine decades since the inception in 1925. It is an understanding and conception of India which does not sync with left liberal framework of interpreting India which is highly influenced by colonial and missionary historiography. This historiography conceptualises India as a modern nation which worked towards nationness with the freedom struggle. Interestingly this modernist theory does not go well with Gandhi whom they consider as father of the nation.
Gandhi in his work Hind Swaraj clearly articulated that India was a nation before the arrival of the British and it was precisely the reason that British could have one empire. Gandhi rejected the political definition of nationalism, and like the perennialists and traditionalists defined India in context of its cultural and civilisational entity. He invoked the institution of four Mathas by Adi Shankaracharya as a mark of defining the cultural geography of the Indian nation. Gandhi rejects the colonial historiography which included even Aryan Invasion theory which envisaged the entitlement claims of the Hindus that their forefathers nurtured the Indian civilisation. This was the theory, also espoused by Marx, which Churchill used to justify the British occupation of India because it propagated that Hindus too came from outside as invaders and settled here and therefore their claim to the land is unjustified. Modernists still continue to hold it true and generations after generations in post independent India has been taught to learn this as final truth despite no substantial historical evidence. Needless to say Gandhi identified himself with the cultural nationalists from Bankim to Aurobindo Ghosh, Vivekanand, Lala Lajpat Rai, Swami Dayanand and numerous others who all subscribed to and located the nucleus of the Indian nation in Hindu Culture and Hindu civilisation. Gandhi explicitly does not say this because he wanted to engage the Muslims in the freedom struggle but the same is clear from his references on Indian culture. He refers only and always Hindu scriptures, Hindu Dharmagranthas etc.
Nehru was not different but as an apologetic Hindu he too never explicitly said so. But does Nehru not identify the Indian culture with the Hindu culture? He does. Two important points; when he talks of Indian civilisation and culture he goes back to five thousand years. Neither Islam nor Christianity existed then. Further he held that cult of Islam was a dreadful experience. He said so in context of religious fanaticism and use of the physical force for propagation of religions. It was alien to Indian culture. When he is saying so for which culture he indicates to? Of course, he was referring to the argumentative and free intellectual traditions within Hinduism. Further, when Nehru says that Indian culture has ‘immense capacity of absorption of others, he is saying the same truth which Bhagawat articulated.
This immense capacity cannot be with semitic religions which operate through revealed ideas, through one text and by one prophet. Revealed ideas give inflexibility and discourages the internal discourses as well makes the religious denominations intolerant towards others. Both Islam and Christianity fought against each other and homogenised the population under their control and influence. Hinduism on the other hand allowed a powerful argumentative tradition, integrated all diverse realities and concluded at the end that ‘Akam Sat Vipra Vahudha Vadanti; Truth is one, people speak out about that differently’. This argumentative spiritual tradition which is absent in semitic religions provide Hinduism a distinct identity and strength to absorb others.
When RSS calls India as a Hindu nation it is merely the depiction of a nation in cultural and civilisational terms. Bhagwat did not say that India is a Hindu state. What he said is that India is a Hindu nation. State is a political connotation whereas nation is a geo-cultural connotation. What is the identity of India? The way every individual has a different and distinct personality every nation also has a distinct personality. What gave and gives India a distinct identity is not the Islamic culture or Christianity but the Hindu culture which has been the life breath of this nation. Separate this aspect and you find the nation either gets fragmented or that part losing its identity. Even Gandhi did not therefore want the numerical preponderance of the Hindus to go down and that is the reason he denounced religious conversion, though he resorted to spiritual arguments for the same.
What Bhagwat meant by Hindu Rashtra is that Hindutva is the chromosome which defines the character of the Indian nation. The way a dominant radical in a chemical compound defines the character of that compound, Hindutva is the defining radical of the Indian nation. Balraj Madhok was right that the notion of composite culture is a misnomer in the same way as we do not depict Ganga as mix-Ganga because its water bed is contributed by many tributaries. A river is always identified with and known after the dominant stream. So is the culture. When RSS talks of Hindu Rashtra it merely signifies the dominant stream of this nation which defines its character and distinctiveness. It comes from Hindu culture only.
Hindutva is both a way of life and a religious system. As a religion it signifies all the religions which have native origin such as Buddhism, Jainism and all the sects within them. All these are offshoots of Sanatan Dharma. Hinduism also points to a collective noun under which anyone who identifies with this land and its culture irrespective of the faith he practices but does not look beyond the national border for its cultural identity is Hindu. When RSS says that even the Muslims are Hindus it merely signifies that Muslims culturally are Hindus. And that is true also until a separate identity is manufactured and propagated to deliberately look distinct and different. Religious conversion had not broken the cultural ties unless the 20th century Muslim politics was made to think itself as different.
The idea thus seeks preponderance of the Hindu cultural ethos in the national life. It does not ask Muslims and Christians and other religious denominations to dissolve their faith and start following the Hindu religion. It is merely asking the non-native faiths which emerged due to conversion of the native population at certain point of history not to denigrate their forefathers and share and own up the common cultural tradition. Indonesia is a shining example of this. Indonesia is a country where 98 per cent population is Muslim. Yet, Garuda is the national symbol. Indonesian Airlines is Garuda and the central bank of Indonesia is named after Kuber. Staues of Hanuman, Bhim and Ghattotkach can be seen at several squares of Jakarta and other cities. Ramayan still is played and even Muslims have Hindu names. That neither has weakened Islam nor have they belittled Islam. They do not look towards Arabian countries for language, dress and food pattern and have not severed ties from the cultural stream which came to them from their Hindu forefathers. Hindu Rashtra therefore is not at all a call for theocratic state aimed at religious homogenisation but certainly intended at assimilatory cultural integration.
Again, reforming the Hindu society to make it more egalitarian and equitable is not something which the Sangh is talking about today. Sangh has consistently been working towards eradicating untouchability from the Hindu society through several constituent organisations such as Seva Bharati and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.
The Sangh has developed unique mechanism of social commingling in which surnames which identifies the caste of individual has no place. Sahbhoj in the Harijan Basti and celebrating together the Hindu festivals is a regular activity intended to demolish the hierarchal social walls. It emerges from the historical realisation that it was division within the Hindu society that allowed the foreign invader to attack and occupy India. Hindu consolidation is therefore necessary which cannot be realised till dividing factors continue to dominate the social dynamics of Hindu society. The idea of social revolution of Sangh has nothing to with the electoral politics. It is more an on-going exercise towards nation building and integral to its idea of realising the Hindu Rashtra.
Lastly, when RSS talks about Hindu Rashtra it is projected as if it is the most conservative thoughts spoken ever. It flows from ignorance of the fact that ethno-nationalist theory today has emerged as a powerful theory in nationalist discourses and it has seriously challenged the modernists’ explanations of birth of nation states. Modernists say that it is the state which gave birth to nations. Ethno-nationalists argue that nations give birth to states. Both are true. There are examples of nations giving birth to state and vice versa. But India falls in the first category unlike most of the European nations which became nation through the state.
The author is associate professor Maharaja Agrasen College, DU