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Out of my mind: Who’s afraid of Hindutva?

Nationalism is a 19th century European idea.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published: June 15, 2014 12:26 am
 The electoral history of the BJP shows it has learnt that no party can win a majority by being merely Hindu majoritarian. The electoral history of the BJP shows it has learnt that no party can win a majority by being merely Hindu majoritarian.

I  live under an Anglican Christian monarchy, not a secular State. In the House of Lords, we have 26 bishops and each day begins with an Anglican prayer. Yet I live in a tolerant secular society. There are faith schools run by various Christian denominations and other religions. There are also State schools which are secular. Elsewhere in Europe there are Christian Democratic and Christian Socialist parties.

No one has thought of them as breaching secularism.

In India, over the years, the dread word has been Hindutva. The BJP is routinely described as a Hindu nationalist party. This is supposed to send a shudder down the spines of all good secular Indians. While the election was being fought, the spectre was created of Narendra Modi as some dangerous dictator — Hitler was frequently mentioned — who was about to impose Hindutva on India. The implication was that he would decimate all Muslims. Many secular parties almost wished that Muslims would believe that story and rush to vote for them. Alas, that did not happen. There are estimates that a fifth of Muslim votes went to the BJP. The Catholic Church in Goa and elsewhere urged people to vote for secular parties. Maybe the voters decided the BJP was a secular party.

What is Hindutva and why is it so dangerous as its critics want to make it out to be? At one level, it just means Hindu-ness rather like Panjabiyat. Gandhiji thought Ambedkar lacked Hindutva, which was not far from the truth. Savarkar, who wrote an essay on Hindutva, was an atheist and an enthusiast for European-style modernisation as an answer for India. His arguments with Gandhiji in London in 1909 led the latter to write Hind Swaraj. Nehru chose the Savarkar path after Independence and modernised India along European lines while keeping Gandhi on a pedestal.

Nationalism is a 19th century European idea. There were few nations as of 1900. Italy had just become one and Savarkar wrote a biography of Mazzini. As European nations began to be formed after the break-up of empires at the end of the First World War, the question arose, ‘What defines a nation?
Poland, Hungary and Romania and other new nations fixed on the idea of a nation being constituted of a people who primordially belonged to the soil. The words nation, race and people were used interchangeably.

The Indian elite who gathered at the Congress sessions during the first few decades were politely asking for concessions from the British rather than arguing for nationalism. There was the Hindu revivalist movement of Dayananda Saraswati, Vivekananda and then much more politically of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, which was one basis for building the idea of an Indian nation. The Muslim elite had doubts about democracy where the majority could swamp the minority. To get Muslims on board, the Congress and Muslim League negotiated a joint platform at the 1916 Lucknow meeting for seat-sharing where Jinnah played a crucial role. The climax for Hindu-Muslim cooperation came in the Khilafat movement, which Gandhiji launched and after Chauri Chaura suspended. Hindu-Muslim unity became elusive after that.

Savarkar was looking for a European-style argument for Indian nationhood. Following that logic, he began by defining Hindutva as the basis for what constituted a nation for people living in the territory that was India before Independence. Much of the essay is concerned about showing that the word Hindu does not come from Persian but is derivative of Sindhu. His stance was without doubt hostile to recognising Muslims as equal parts of the Indian nation unless they accepted India as their motherland.

The times have moved on. India is a nation and a nation state. The electoral history of the BJP shows it has learnt that no party can win a majority by being merely Hindu majoritarian. Neither Ram Mandir nor the destruction of Babri Masjid delivered a majority. The argument for nationhood even for a Hindu majoritarian party has to be inclusive. That in my view is what Modi offered and voters have bought. Let us see how well he delivers on his promise.

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  1. A
    Jun 15, 2014 at 12:19 pm
    There is a hardcore secularist Taliban who make it their business to demonise hinduism at every available opportunity. Lets hope they fade away from india's future!
    1. G
      G Shah
      Jun 15, 2014 at 7:19 am
      Rich Gujarati Brahman safely living in UK since past half a century says India has nothing to fear from Hindutva.my sides...
      1. H
        Jun 16, 2014 at 2:52 am
        Not of Hindutva but the projection of it by the so called secular parties.
        1. Ajith Kumar
          Jun 15, 2014 at 11:47 am
          Thank you Sir for exposing something people are afraif of.
          1. k
            Jun 17, 2014 at 6:56 am
            Dalits, Adivasis and OBC,s should be wary of Manuvadis and not Hindutva vadis.There is a vast difference between the two.Please remember,this time BJP won because of votes of Dalits,OBCs and Adivasis, who knew the difference .By the way Dalits are ill treated by OBCs also, what Hindutva got to do with that ?
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