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Shoji Ito was an Indophile like no other Japanese economist I have known. During the 1990s, he would frequently visit India to keep pace with the changes in the economy. We would always meet and have long conversations about India, Japan and the world. Unfortunately Ito-san died early. Our last meeting, in the late 1990s, was at a conference in Japan on globalisation in Asia. Speakers from the United States and China spoke eloquently in the first session on the benefits of economic globalisation. Ito-san and I were scheduled to speak in the second session.
During a coffee break, Ito-san walked up to me and said, “I hope you will not be like the American and the Chinese. Being Indian you should also speak about culture. Not just economics.” Globalisation is not just about investment and trade, Ito-san argued. It is also about values, ideas, culture. “India has been globalised for centuries. You are the home of so many great religions of the world, and have been open to so many others.” Ito-san implored me to widen the conversation on globalisation beyond economics.
But then, generations of Indian intellectuals and political leaders have done precisely that, arguing that India brings something more to the global table than just a billion, and more potential, consumers; that the rise of India is also about the validation of an idea — the idea of the political, social and economic empowerment of a long suppressed people through the institutions of a plural democracy. India may be a young nation, it has often been said, but an ancient civilisation that has believed in the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — the whole world is one family.
This much many across the political spectrum are willing to say. Ideological differences arise on defining the idea of an Indian “civilisation”. The Indian National Congress went along with Jawaharlal Nehru’s concept of “composite culture” that many viewed as a clever cop-out, which avoided a direct link between India’s civilisational attributes and its ancient, dominant and in many ways defining religion, namely, Hinduism. The BJP rejects what it views as an unfair glossing over of history. The idea of “Hindutva” was proffered as an explanative civilisational construct. The BJP insists that Hindutva is an inclusive term since Indians of all faiths, including the Semitic ones, have, over centuries, acquired an Indian personality that has come to define the Nehruvian “composite culture”.
With the BJP emerging as an almost pan-Indian political formation and a natural party of government, it has become necessary for it to articulate its political vision more clearly so that the nation and the world feel not just reassured but enthused by India’s rise. In this context, it has often been asked: What does the BJP seek from political power and whether its priority is “development” or “Hindutva”?
Many have recently argued that while Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 on a development rather than a Hindutva plank, Yogi Adityanath rose to power in Uttar Pradesh on a Hindutva rather than a development plank. Is this an artificial and false dichotomy or one that requires further analysis? The fact is that both Modi and Yogi emphasise the importance of development for all (sab ka saath, sab ka vikas) while remaining true to their Hindutva ideology. Is it then possible for the BJP to articulate a vision of “Developmental Hindutva” in a way which shows that the term is not an oxymoron? What does striking a balance between the two mean? If development is defined in social and economic terms, while Hindutva is defined in cultural terms, it should be possible for the BJP to construct a political platform that is reassuring to a large majority of Indians and is respectful to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Just as the policies and programmes for development have to adhere to the law of the land — respecting the basic principles underlying the Constitution — so too must the idea of Hindutva. Thus, for example, few can object to the teaching of yoga or even the singing of Vande Mataram — aspects of Hindutva that non-Hindus can easily live with. But many non-Hindus may be dismayed by the ban on the consumption of beef. A republic that is understanding of such nuances would truly hold up a lamp to the dark world of religious extremism, bigotry and violence.
In December 2007, as India celebrated four years of uninterrupted annual economic growth of 9 per cent, Singapore’s founder-leader Lee Kuan Yew famously asked: Why has China’s rise created so much apprehension around the world while India’s has not? His answer was that India was a transparent, plural democracy and the global community felt reassured by that fact. The rise to power of the BJP and the decline of the Congress in this past decade has not altered that basic fact. India remains a plural democracy and so the world will continue to welcome its economic rise. However, some have expressed concern about the growing assertion of religious extremism and wondered if this will alter, in any way, the basic character of the Indian Republic. In what manner is the idea of India as a civilisational entity getting altered? Will India’s economic rise be thwarted by the political assertion of ideologies that might weaken the republic? It is in this context that the clarification of the idea of “Developmental Hindutva” would be useful.
Combining the vigorous pursuit of equitable growth, within the framework of a liberal economy and polity, with the reinforcement of civilisational attributes that define the Indian personality can easily be a non-divisive political programme. Of course, there will always be extremist elements on all sides that will never appreciate the idea of building the widest possible consensus on such a programme of Developmental Hindutva. The challenge of leadership in a plural democracy is to construct policies that ensure political stability, social equity and economic progress on the basis of a widely shared ethical and cultural foundation.