What is wrong with Hindutva?
If Hindutva is khaki knickers; modern, masculine and military; Hinduism is dhoti, loose and unwieldy, difficult to manage, hanging precariously with a bare tug and easy to come off. The khaki knickers smack of discipline and a high sense of purpose, the purpose of dhoti is to merely cover the nakedness, and even that it is barely able to do.
You could say that the title is not suitably framed; one should better ask, “What is NOT wrong with Hindutva?” If that is your view, perhaps this article will have nothing new to offer. It might just be a reaffirmation of your opinion, an echo of your voice, which, however, is not of any less importance in the time when the voice is ever getting fainter hitting the impermeable walls of unreason and fanaticism. The main purpose of this piece though is to challenge the belief of those who see in Hindutva a grand vision for India, a united and powerful nation, rubbed clean of it dross and impurities and anointed with the glory and grandeur it once had.
Hindutva is not Hinduism
This we hear from the horse’s mouth. In the quote cited above, the ideologue of Hindutva, Savarkar, himself makes the distinction pretty clear. Hinduism is only one of the religious, spiritual traditions emanating from India, but the scope of Hindutva is much grander. Hinduism is a mere “derivative”, a “fraction”; Hindutva is the whole. It is “history in full”, encompassing everything that represents the essence of Indian civilization.
But where is this essence of India to be found? Savarkar looks for it in the ancient and pristine Vedic past when the first Aryans settled on the banks of the Sindhu (Indus), when “the holy waters of the Indus were daily witnessing the lucid and curling columns of the scented sacrificial smokes and the valleys resounding with the chants of Vedic hymns”. The settlers named themselves “Hindus” after the river which sustained them – Hindu being the derivative of Sindhu in Prakrit. Later, as they left the banks of the Sindhu and went deeper into the heart of the subcontinent, purifying the lands with the resonance of Vedic hymns and the incense of homa fire, they carried the original name with them, as well as the essence it represented, the “Hinduness” or the “Hindutva”.
Anything which came afterwards was corrupting. Numerous foreign influences throughout history adulterated the purity and disintegrated the society into a hotchpotch of beliefs and practices. Indian civilization was weakened, its essence lost. The fact that India has always been so prone to foreign invasions and subjugations had to do with these debilitating influences which did not allow people to be united and resist the invaders. If India has to once again become a united and strong nation, it will have to rediscover its lost value: the Hindutva.
It is not difficult to see why Hinduism was not enough for Savarkar and he needed to formulate a new concept of Hindutva. Hinduism, by its very nature, does not lend itself to the kind of nationalist project Savarkar was working on. It is so mind-bogglingly pluralistic and diverse that it is impossible to even define it with any degree of satisfaction, let alone convert it into a coherent ideology. Savarkar needed to conceptualize something new which could provide a base on which he could construct a unified cultural identity of India.
Even though he was the author of the concept, Savarkar was not the first to feel the need of such a homogenous ideology. Since the turn of the 19th century, social reformers and political thinkers had been occupied with the task of shaping the character of modern India. Savarkar was only a link – albeit an important one – in the long chain. Although these thinkers saw themselves as ones endowed with the task of discovering the “Indianness”, the framework within which they were working, ironically, had very little to do with India. They could not have known – as they did not have the privilege of hindsight as we do – that the history they had available to quarry from, was very much a colonial imagination of Indian past. It was a truncated and falsified representation of India, the main purpose of which was to define the “natives” through the lens of the rulers, and thus control them.
The European model of history, with its three demarcated periods – the ancient, the medieval, and the modern – was uncritically replicated in the Indian context. Indian history was divided into the pre-Islamic Hindu period, the Muslim period, and the Modern period which began with the arrival of the Europeans. Just like in Europe, the first “Hindu period” was supposed to be the period of high philosophy, speculation etc., to be followed by the barbaric “Muslim period” which plunged India into the “dark ages”, and then, in the Modern period, Europe came to rescue armed with the Enlightenment values of reason and progress. In this sense, the colonizers were not the oppressors but the liberators of India from the autocratic rules of Rajas and Nawabs, and the “natives” could do well to remember that and be thankful.
Who is the Hindu?
While Hinduism – or call it what you will – is thousands of years old, the Hindu isn’t. The Hindu of our time – or the Christian, the Muslim, the Jew, and the rest of it – is in large part a fairly recent being. He (the He-ness of it needs to be emphasized) is forcibly brought into existence by the myriad forces of modernity which unhinged him from the organic traditions of the past his forefathers had been living for centuries and left him anxious about his place in the world. His reaction to this existential crisis of sort was to swear his allegiance to the past more vehemently. The real tradition lost for him forever, he constructed one for himself, arbitrarily choosing some chunks from the past and leaving out the others.
His choice of tradition may be arbitrary, it is not whimsical. It enables and advances the industrialized, capitalist economic system and a social system which is outright patriarchal and supportive of other hierarchies. He is both an enabler and a victim of the socio-economic system in which he lives. Since the tradition he constructs is arbitrary, he inevitably has to use force for its acceptance. He has to be sadomasochistically violent to himself and to others. Only when he is able to free himself from the nervous desire to rigidly root himself in a certain past, he can really achieve a balanced psychic state. But then, he ceases to be the Hindu – or the Christian, the Muslim, the Jew, and the rest of it, for that matter.
Hindutva suits this new Hindu; Hinduism, not so much. If Hindutva is khaki knickers; modern, masculine and military; Hinduism is dhoti, loose and unwieldy, difficult to manage, hanging precariously with a bare tug and easy to come off. The khaki knickers smack of discipline and a high sense of purpose, the purpose of dhoti is to merely cover the nakedness, and even that it is barely able to do. Dhoti is at the mercy of the wind of time and flows left and right at its dictates; khaki knickers attempt to freeze time in their crisp creases. Khaki knickers have nothing in common with dhoti, they are more in consonance with the Brown Shirts of Germany and the Black Shirts of Italy. As to what good use these handsome uniforms were put to, one would suppose not much explanation is needed. From the earliest time, the proponents of Hindutva have been great admirers of Hitler and Mussolini. RSS’ paramilitary force was inspired by those of these European dictators.
The Real “Indianness”
Even though he spent a large part of his life searching for the essence of India, Savarkar miserably failed to see it even though it lay all around him. His ideology appears to have been born not out of confidence in the strength of India, but out of anxiety in its perceived weaknesses which kept him blind to its real values. He was a thinker with a lot of conviction, little understanding, and even less imagination. He could not see that the real strength of India lay in her immense flexibility in accommodating differences and coexisting with astonishing diversity unprecedented anywhere in history. If there is one thing that India can teach the world, it is this.
Despite their own shortcomings, Gandhi and Nehru could see this. In his Discovery of India – not a comprehensive history by any means – Nehru presents the picture of the country which is a confluence of different streams coming together, and in the process, losing a part of themselves and enriching the whole. Gandhi too was a believer in the mosaic nature of India. He was the biggest hurdle in the project of Hindutva. So Gandhi had to be killed.
Hindutva is a mere phantasm and has no correspondence with the lived realities of India, past or present. At best, it is an attempt to establish high Brahmanism with all its oppressive, hierarchical norms; at worst, it is Fascism in its purest form which seeks to physically eliminate any differences. Whatever grand idea Savarkar may have had in mind, later, in the hands of Golwalkars and Bhagwats – the lesser minds – it has become naked communalism. It won’t tolerate Gandhis or Kalburgis or Akhlaqs in its way. It is the worst threat to the “essence” of India and can threaten the very existence of the nation. The sooner we realize it, the better.
The author is a teacher by profession and a writer by compulsion. He likes quiet walks in the woods, noisy chats with friends, books which do not bore, ruins, and small railway stations. He hates having to write about himself.