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The political project of Hindutva is incompatible with a liberal polity

Written by Rajshree Chandra |
Updated: April 25, 2017 1:18:11 am
hinduism, hindus india, hindu identity, secular india, secularism, jawaharlal nehru, mahatma gandhi, cow vigilantism, hindutva, indian express As Hindutva becomes the authority of benchmarking an authentic Indian, each test it’ll devise will only push us closer to being a version of our theocratic, tyrannical neighbour, whom we love to hate.

Sanjaya Baru raises two rhetorical questions in his article titled ‘Developmental Hindutva’ (IE, April 14): Is the term “developmental Hindutva” an oxymoron? Is it possible to balance the two in a way that is reassuring to a majority of people? Baru suggests that the dichotomy between Hindutva and development is “artificial”. The article confirms the proposition that developmental Hindutva is not an oxymoron, it is not ridden with internal inconsistencies and the two terms can be balanced in a productive way.

From its origins, Hindutva was never intended to be a benign or inclusive geo-cultural construct. It was a political ideology that sought to cement an idea of a homogenous people, united by their loyalty, geography, race and religion. Its premise is the conflation of the idea of the Hindu with the idea of India. A BJP website declares as follows: “Hindutva will not mean any Hindu theocracy… However, it will mean that the guiding principles of Bharat will come from two of the great teachings of the Vedas, the ancient Hindu and Indian scriptures.”

It serves us to ask what the Hindutva of Baru’s understanding is? Is it akin to the political project of V.D. Savarkar, or is there an inclusive Hindutva that Baru seeks to formulate? Baru seems to be okay with the majoritarian construct of Hindutva as he seeks reassurance for the majority. But he also believes in the need to purge Hindutva of its religious extremist tendencies. Only then can Hindutva evolve into a non-divisive programme, which will combine vigorous, equitable growth within a liberal economy and polity. “Liberal” here seems to mean simply not being extreme.

But the idea of the liberal is larger. It retains two key elements — a commitment to individual rights and a deep distrust of authoritarian regimes and tyrannical majorities. Hindutva is sustained through its exact opposite — it thrives under majoritarian assertion that defeats both individual rights and a liberal polity.

How can any version of Hindutva combine with a liberal polity when, according to Baru, the task of the liberal polity is to “reassure a majority”? It is distressing that he chooses to not reassure the Engineer Rashids, the Akhlaqs, the Pehlu Khans, the Gurmehar Kaurs, the Una Dalits, the so-called love jihadis, the Christian converts. In the face of crude displays of majoritarian vigilantism, it is saddening that a committed libertarian like him chooses to turn his back on the potential and practices of majoritarian tyranny.

If we are prompted to dismiss the word “tyranny” as a hyper-formulation motivated by ideological blinkers, we ignore an unacknowledged fact; tyranny in a democracy does not proceed in the same way as in dictatorships and other authoritarian regimes. The sovereign does not need to say, do as I say or you’ll die. He says: There are majoritarian sentiments that need to be respected. While some of your freedoms — what you eat, drink, who you love — are made contrary to law, some will be left to the mercy of the majority and its moral sense. You retain your constitutional freedoms, but they will be of no use to you.

As Hindutva becomes the authority of benchmarking an authentic Indian, each test it’ll devise will only push us closer to being a version of our theocratic, tyrannical neighbour, whom we love to hate.

If we understand “liberal” to mean anything more than an open, liberalised economy, then Hindutva cannot be its compatible compatriot. The real oxymoron we should look out for is not within developmental Hindutva, but within liberal Hindutva, a term not to be confused with a liberal Hindu.


The writer teaches political science at Janki Devi Memorial College, Delhi University  

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