‘NDTV’s Barkha Dutt doesn’t seem to understand the phrase Hindu Rashtra’

published on February 19, 2013

At a program on NDTV (Right wing terrorism : real threat or overstated ? Feb. 17, 2013))  Barkha Dutt ,the anchor, seemed startled at the expression used by one of the participants, the phrase Hindu Rashtra. She was genuinely startled as both her body language and facial expression indicated. She placed her hand on her heart and went on to say ‘I feel scared  when I hear that phrase!’

It is a sad day when a gifted and seemingly well educated Indian should be startled by the word ‘Rashtra’. Ms. Dutt, this is an old Sanskrit word of ancient lineage. Please check the Rig Veda (a translation would do !) especially the verse  where the Goddess Sarasvati says ‘aham rashtri sangamani abhyudayam ‘. Translated, it reads ‘I am the rashtra moving the people together for their welfare’ (Rig Veda 10, 125).

Dutt’s response is an indication of how Indians have become alienated from their own history and culture. They are not startled at the word  ‘ republic’, bloodsoaked as it is ! But somehow ‘rashtra’ startles them by its foreignness !

Ms. Dutt, you may want to read up on the work of some of the current Indic scholars to get a clear view of the word Rashtra. May I recommend the book Rashtram by Dr. Kalyanraman of the Sarasvati Research Center (2010). It has a whole chapter on the word, its origins and history(pp.21-61) in Hindu thought. One of the delightful aspects of this chapter is that it quotes extensively from the Sanskrit ( a boon to aficionados of Sanskrit) and provides the English translation (to those who are not familiar with Sanskrit).

There is no proper translation of the word Rashtram (loosely translated as ‘nation’) in English but both the Sanskrit and the English translation are given. As well, a brief discussion is given of the many definitions of the word ‘nation’: some seven are cited from comparative studies of the problem. For a Hindu Rashtram, the key phrase is the ‘welfare of the people’.
It is usually translated as ‘nation’ but the better word might be  ‘community.’ You could follow up with the excellent study of the word ‘nation’ and the political thought behind it in Dr. Shrinivas Tilak’s book Reawakening to a secular Hindu Nation’ (2008).

Hindu Rashtram is  secular in the accepted sense in Hinduism of tolerance and mutual respect for other religions. In many ways it is better than the word Republic which came into history quite blood stained. It is governed by the word Dharma, again a Vedic word which expresses the Upanishadic sentiment : Sarve bhavantu sukhinah (May all beings be happy). The minority faiths on the other hand do not accept the notion that all religions are to be equally respected. The proselytising zeal is always present thus indicating that they do not subscribe to the idea that all religions are equal. The history of the proselytising faiths both world wide and in India is well known and need not be elaborated upon.

The respect for all religions is the meaning of the word ‘secular’ in India. It does not have the same meaning as obtains in the West : the separation of Church and State.

A very interesting handling of the question of Hindu Rashtra is found in the recent study Eclipse of the Hindu Nation (2009) by Radha Rajan. The author draws a clear distinction between Rajya (governance and the state apparatus) and Nation, pointing out that historically in India, the state has upheld the Hindu Nation. Her definition of Nation complements the definition given above by both Kalyanraman and Tilak :

” Historically, the sense of nation and nationhood among Hindus has been cultural and civilisational. culture and its unique value system, founded in an extradordinary concept of Dharma, touched every aspect of individual and collective life. Politics, a means to protect and preserve dharma, was subordinate to dharma. ” (p.x)

Recently on February 1, 2013 the daily newspaper The Hindu (started in 1878 during the freedom struggle) inaugurated its Policy Center  in New Delhi. One of the interesting highlights (for this writer) was the use of the word Rashtrapati to describe President Pranab Mukherji who was present for the inauguration. N.Ram, former editor of the newspaper went out of his way during his introductory speech to refer to India’s great civilisational past. But he also went out of his way to refer to Indian nationalism, as that which started during the freedom struggle, thus limiting himself to that time frame only. He also used the word ‘secular’ to describe Indian nationalism, again trying to distinguish itself from Hindu Nationalism (without actually spelling it out).

In the opinion of the present writer this distinction is not necessary and reflects a lack of understanding of the  phrase Hindu Rashtra. The NDTV program was simply an extension of this lack. Some 65 years after the trauma of the Partition the country has still not recovered completely. This is understandable both in a human sense ( the tragedy of the murder and mayhem and the transfer of populations), but also in an accompanying loss of focus on what constitutes the Hindu Rashtra.

Let us hope that Ms. Dutt will refocus on the seriousness of the question and not be carried away by the emotionality of the topic under discussion during her program. Let us hope that the newspaper which carries the name ‘Hindu’ will also not identify the word with theocracy by using the current mantra of ‘secular’.

Hinduism and Hindu have always been secular in the true meaning of the word. Hence, while addressing the President of India as Rashtrapati, it is also equally valid to use the phrase Hindu Rashtra to describe the Indian polity.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)

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