‘ What is Hindu Nationalism ?’

published on July 17, 2013

Since that famous interview with Reuters when Shri Narendra Modi said that he was an Indian, a patriot, a nationalist and a Hindu by birth there has been a tsunami of ill timed and poorly argued criticisms of him by sundry journalists, organisations, the mainstream media etc. Many even spoke darkly about how dangerous Hindu nationalism is, etc. There was even a misguided comparison between Hindu nationalism and Khalistani nationalism, misguided because Khalistani separatists were just that, separatists, whereas Hindu nationalists like Shri Modi or for that matter anyone whose self description is Hindu nationalist, they do not favour the splitting of the country.

Quite to the contrary a Hindu nationalist has always supported the notion of Akhanda Bharat, undivided India.

What then is Hindu nationalism ? The word ‘Rashtram’ is a better way to describe Hindu Nationalism.To understand that one has to go back to the Rig Veda where the Goddess Sarasvati says : ” I am the rashtri, working for the welfare of the people (Rig Veda, Book 10, 125 ).” The word ‘nation’ is of recent origin, a Western concept that began with the nation state in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In his book, Rashtram (2011, pp.23-24) Dr. S.Kalyanraman, Director of the Sarasvati Research Centre) cites definitions of nationalism/nationalists, from Paul Gilbert :

1. nominalist ( a nation is whatever a group of people who consider themselves a nation say it is).

2. nationalist (a nation is a group of people whose grouping is given by nature).

3. voluntarist ( a nation is a group of people bound by a commonly willed union).

4. territorial (a nation is a group of people attached to a specific territory).

5. linguistic (a nation is a group of people who share a common language).

6. axiological ( a nation is a group of people who shares distinctive values).

7. destinarian (a nation is a group of people who have a common history and a common mission).

(Paul Gilbert’s The Philosophy of Nationalism, 1998).

A Hindu nationalist would have no difficulty in accepting this as definitions of Hindu Rashtram. Even no.7 would most likely find acceptance by Hindus such as the writer and senior journalist Radha Rajan who in her book The Eclipse of the Hindu Nation(2009) has argued that the state (rajyam) is for the defence of Rashtram, which she goes on to equate with the defence also of Hindu Dharma. This, she points out quite clearly, is the message of the Bhagavad Gita : defence of Dharma.

The present writer is of the view that from the Hindu viewpoint Dharma is derived from that overarching word ‘Rtam’, which stands for the order and harmony of the universe as envisioned by the Rig Vedic Rishis. This was the order that governed the entire universe of earth, atmosphere and the heavens. Dharma then is the social practice or understanding of Rtam and includes such concepts and practices as moral precepts and yajna (the Vedic ritual worship of the Devas and Devatas that they call upon in the Rig Veda) etc. From north to south and east to west the Hindu has been united by Dharma.

This unity lasted through invasions and conquests and the colonial period. It continues to this day.

For the Hindu then, the nation is both sacred geography and the customs and practices of Dharma. The lineage is traced back to the Rig Vedic Rishis and the Vedic peoples. Down the ages this Dharma was transmitted through the rituals of temple worship and as well household worship. In the Hindu world view Akhanda Bharat is the land from the Himalaya to Kanya Kumari in the south and from west to undivided Bengal.

Hence, what Abrahamic faiths call religion is not a suitable description for the Hindus. Dharma and nation are one. Hence, too, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s comments about nation and religion are not applicable to Hindus or Hindu nationalism. He had said in the context of his criticism of Shri Narendra Modi :

” Religion can’t have nation. Religion has no identity. Nation has an identity. Nationalism falls in a different category than religion ” (Zee News, Friday, July 12, 2013).

For the Hindu there is no Abrahamic religion, there is Dharma, and this is practised by the nation that is called Akhanda Bharat and it derives its ancestry from the Veda- Agama. Thus when Shri Modi said in the same breath that he was an Indian and a Hindu nationalist he was expressing the existential situation of a Hindu nationalist who lives and works in the context of the Indian Constitution and the Indian State. This state (rajya) is now the field of his/her living, and does not require that the notion of Hindu Dharma and Akhanda Bharat be abandoned.

Some Hindus would even go as far as to say that the spirit and intent of the Indian Constitution are Dharmic.

Does this, should this cause problems ? It should not, provided that the machinery of the Indian State is not run by a dogmatic and ill informed government that is not sensitive to the issues mentioned above.

Is it possible for Salman Khurshid or for that matter the eminence grise at Delhi to understand the age long traditions of the Hindus ? Both are not equipped for this, nor have they made an attempt to come to grips with these questions.

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

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