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Monday, September 27, 2021

BJP should keep off stagnant Hindutva

Atal Bihari Vajpayee,whose ill-health has rendered him inactive for the past few years,was a deeply contemplative political leader.

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
June 21, 2009 5:49:51 am

Atal Bihari Vajpayee,whose ill-health has rendered him inactive for the past few years,was a deeply contemplative political leader. It’s not just that he was an incomparable orator,but his speeches were carriers of his carefully expressed thoughts. In private conversations,he became increasingly economical with his words in his later years. Nevertheless,even when he spoke very little,his communication was powerfully suggestive of what he wanted to convey.

The BJP’s defeat in the May 2004 parliamentary elections,which brought his six-year-long premiership to an end,filled him with sadness,although he didn’t show it. He didn’t agree with the many voices within the party and the Sangh Parivar that ascribed the defeat to what was perceived as the BJP’s abandonment of Hindutva. In August of that year,the party held a chintan shibir in Goa to reflect on the causes of the electoral setback. The issue of Hindutva also came up for discussion,but Atalji made no intervention in it. During the tea-break,when I happened to be sitting alone with him,he surprised me by breaking the silence with his remark: “Yeh Hindutva kya hota hai?” If ever there was a telling question,which contained its own answer,this was it. Here was the party’s tallest leader,one who headed the BJP-led government at the Centre,expressing scepticism over the way the party’s core ideology was being interpreted and articulated.

As Prime Minister,Atalji rarely used the term Hindutva. The one time he did so on a public platform was to sharply rebuke its narrow,dogmatic and exclusivist projection. The occasion was the launch of a book,India First,authored by the late K.R. Malkani,at 7 Race Course Road in March 2002. Here is how PTI reported his speech on that day. “In a clear disapproval of the recent actions of the so-called practitioners of Hindutva,the Prime Minister,Atal Bihari Vajpayee,tonight said it would be better to ‘keep a distance’ from the kind of Hindutva being practised by some now. Speaking at a book release function here,he said when Swami Vivekananda spoke of Hinduism,nobody called him communal. ‘But now,some people have defined Hindutva in such a manner that it is better to keep a distance from it.’ He said Hindutva should not be equated with religion as it was ‘a way of life’. We should keep away from such Hindutva which is stagnant.”

Atalji’s words should be a guide to the BJP at a time when the party has been forced yet again,after its defeat in the 2009 parliamentary elections,to search for much-needed clarity and consensus on what its core ideology is. The moot question is whether the BJP should allow different—and,indeed,conflicting—interpretations of Hindutva to have a free play within the organisation. The problem for the BJP gets further compounded when some in fraternal organisations preach and practise a patently anti-Muslim and anti-Christian version of Hindutva. The BJP’s inability to counter it in a timely and effective manner extracts a heavy price in political,electoral and image terms. Sadly,the party has often chosen to pay the price rather than join issue with the hotheads in the ideological fraternity.

It is instructive to remember that the BJP and its predecessor,the Bharatiya Jana Sangh,did not adopt Hindutva as their foundational ideological representation. The BJP’s party constitution does not use the term. Instead,it states that ‘Integral Humanism’,a profoundly inspiring philosophical treatise by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya (1916-1968),the foremost ideologue and organiser of the Jana Sangh,is the party’s guiding ideology. Notably,the word ‘Hindutva’ does not appear even once in ‘Integral Humanism’. L.K. Advani,who led the Ayodhya movement,popularised it as ‘Cultural Nationalism’ during the late 1980s and early 1990s,in the context of his robust ideological counter to the practitioners of psuedo-secularism. But even he drew a Laxman Rekha when some in the Ayodhya movement projected it in Hindu-only or Hindu-first terms that betrayed anti-Muslim prejudices.

Much of the flawed understanding of Hindutva comes from a 1930 book on the subject written by Veer Savarkar. Although Savarkar was a man of soaring patriotism who made an undeniable contribution to India’s freedom struggle,he lowered himself in the estimation of history by making several questionable references to Muslims and Christians. But the Jana Sangh distanced itself from the Savarkarite interpretation of Hindutva. There is a revealing conversation between Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee (1901-1953),who founded the Jana Sangh in 1951,and Savarkar,which is narrated by Dhanajay Keer,the famous biographer of both Savarkar and Ambedkar. On August 26,1952,Dr Mookerjee saw Savarkar at his house in Mumbai and requested him to bless the Jana Sangh. Savarkar wanted the philosophy and programme of the Jana Sangh to be the same as that of the Hindu Mahasabha. “He warned Dr Mookerjee that the tragedy of the Congress would overcome the Jana Sangh also,for Muslims would remain Muslims first and Indians never. When Dr Mookerjee said that the Muslims and Hindus lived in harmony in Bengal,Savarkar replied that it was strange that Dr Mookerjee should cling to the idea in the light of the massacres and ghastly tragedies and colossal sufferings of the Hindus in Calcutta and in Eastern Pakistan.”

Even today,many are advising the BJP not to forsake Hindutva as doing so would be tantamount to the party becoming a carbon copy of the Congress. Strange how history repeats itself. Nevertheless,for the sake of its own future growth,it is high time the BJP unequivocally aligned its ideological compass in the direction set by Dr Mookerjee and Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya. There is also a crying need for it to incorporate within its ideology the important learnings from India’s socio-political developments since the demise of these two stalwarts.

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