In Praise of Hindutva

published on June 5, 2009

  By Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

After the BJP’s electoral defeat there has been no shortage of articles from pandits and India watchers advising the BJP to abandon Hindutva if it is to remain relevant on the Indian landscape. This advice coming both from well wishers and opponents is rather premature and does not take into account the importance of Hindutva in maintaining the democratic fabric of the Indian polity and one which makes it unique to the Indian subcontinent, and distinguishes Indian political life from that of its neighbours.

To understand Hindutva in its proper context one must go back to its definition by the much maligned and much misunderstood Damodar Savarkar who defined quite clearly what the word Hindutva means (The Essentials of Hindutva, 1922). Hindutva is the shared culture of all
inhabitants of Hindustan and Hinduism is the faith practised by some of the inhabitants of Hindustan. Thus Hindutva and Hinduism are not identical though related.

The Mahomedans (as the British called them), Savarkar argued, may not consider Hindustan their Punyabhumi (sacred land) since Saudi Arabia would fill that role for the Muslim community. The Hindus consider Hindustan their Punyabhumi. However, in independent India, after the departure of the British, Muslims would enjoy equal rights as equal citizens of independent India.

At the time that Savarkar wrote, the subsequent development of the Hindu Code Bill had not come into play. The use of the word ‘Hindu’ was unfortunate since it suggests that it is a piece of communal legislation, when in fact, it was a common civil code for the Hindu population, with progressive legislation both in regards to women’s rights and property rights etc. Hence, the phrase Common Civil Code or Uniform Civil Code would have been in keeping with the content andintent of the bill.

However, the Nehru government erred in not adopting this terminology and compounded the error by further making special Personal Law for both the Muslim and Christian communities. This would set back for decades to come, the cause of women’s rights in the minority
communities, notably the Muslim community, and it would also inaugurate the divisiveness of communal politics.

The Nehru government hailed as the inheritor of the freedom struggle against colonial rule enjoyed the popularity of most of the population and it would have been relatively easy to pass a Common Civil Code or the Unifrom Civil Code. It failed to do so and generations of Indians are suffering from the effects of this failure. At this stage, therefore, the BJP has the responsibility to work for the Uniform Civil Code. Suggestions such as having a Muslim
Code Bill at this late hour (MJ Akbar in Times of India, May 31, 2009, ‘Muslim Code Bill for India ?’) are counterproductive and will only further encourage communal divide.

And here the philosophy of Hindutva would be an inspiring and useful tool. Far from being a divisive element it will , in fact, strengthen the national spirit and allow disparate elements in the body politic to integrate in one common cause, the modernization and integration
of the body politic. No longer will the BJP or any other political party have to feel apologetic for being a Hindustan where all communities share their culture to a lesser or greater extent,
depending on the locale or individuals. Mohammed Ali Jinnah had famously(infamously!) said that Muslims and Hindus do not have a shared culture, that they are different in their customs, religion and social practice. For him this was the raison de’etre for the creation of Pakistan and the logic behind the Partition.

Muslims do not need to think of Hindustan as a Punyabhumi, however, they can and probably should rejoice in India’s ancient history which predates Islam by several millennia. Such was the milieu where most of the freedom fighers worked in (with some exceptions). Writings of
Muslim poets and writers reflect this pan Hindustan approach (Bewildered India by Rasheeduddin Khan, 1994).

Despite the depredations of conquest , Hindu India was prepared to forget and forgive, and the divisiveness and tragedy of Partition had also receded from people’s minds. Neverthless, international events would preciptate new hostilities and this clearly originated from
Pakistan’s sense of insecurity vis a vis India. Hindus began to ask why the governments of the day both in New Delhi and in the states would discriminate against Hindus. An example of this would be the appropriation of temple funds by the government while neither the Muslim nor the Christian mosques and churches were touched.

The Sachar Commission Report was seen by many Hindus as discriminatory since the absolute number of Hindus who were impoverishd or deprived was obviously greater than that of the minority communities. A frustrated Hindu community was ready for an issue and this came in the blatant hostility towards Hinduism by the Christian missionaries, the many Islamic terrorist attacks from outside the country, the DMK’s strident anti Hindu positions. The
beleagured Hindu community saw the Ayodhya theme as a rallying point for Hindu reaffirmation. Soon came the defence of Ram Setu, a must not only for Hindus but for the larger environmental cause, against the greed of developers and corporations.

This writer believes that the civilisational continuity of India, with suitable modernization, is best expressed by Hindutva . The Sangh Parivar’s motto Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the family of the Earth is perhaps the most modern statement both of the environmental theme of protecting the Earth and as well the unity of humankind. The Sanskrit word ‘vasudha’ means the Earth. Hence, the Earth Family.

Commentators, both friendly and hostile, see the BJP as merely another political party out to secure votes and win elections. R.Balashankar (Editor of Organiser) has rightly pointed out that good governance and security issues are the requirements of all governments, but the party with a difference, has to have some noble ideological foundation (Deccan Herald, June 4, 2009 debate on Politics of Ideology). And both from an ideological and pragmatic
point of view, the BJP without its Sangh Parivar moorings would be a carcass, as Balashankar points out.

Hence, a vigorous restatement of Hindutva is an obligation for all patriotic Indians, especially Hindus, who have the civilisational advantage of being able to relate to a noble universal ideal, as opposed to narrow particularism. Upholding Hindutva is not only the task of the BJP. Those who have Hindustan’s interests at heart must work to spread the ideal amongst the general population.

(The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university)

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