September 14, 2016

India: Secular moorings Rahul, Cong’s only hope (C.P. Bhambhri)

The Tribune, September 14, 2016

Secular moorings Rahul, Cong’s only hope
C.P. Bhambhri

Hindutva is an artificial construct of the Sangh Parivar; the reality is that lower categories are practitioners of many Hinduisms and ritual-based belief systems.

THE INSPIRATION: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi garlanding a statue of Mahatma Gandhi during his Kisan Yatra in Basti, UP. PTI file Photo

Rahul Gandhi seems to have realised during his approximately 14 years of experience in politics that the Congress party under his leadership does not have any prospects of revival unless the people of India get a clear message that on all ideological fundamentals, the Congress agenda is fundamentally different from its ideological opponents, the Hindu Sangh Parivar and its political outfit the Bharatiya Janta Party. This realisation on the part of Rahul Gandhi seems to have made him decide on September 1 to face a trial in a Bhiwandi court in the defamation case filed by the RSS on a statement made by Rahul in March 2014 that “people associated with the RSS were responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 31, 2014.”

Rahul very firmly stated before the Supreme Court while withdrawing his petition that “I stand by each and every word. I will never take my words back. I stood by it yesterday; I stand by it in future. I am ready to go to trial.” Incidentally, Rahul’s assertion that he stands by his public statement is in the best tradition of nationalist leaders who during anti-colonial struggle preferred to go to jail than offer apologies for their statements against the British rulers. The only well known exception to this rule has been V. D. Savarkar, the ideologist of the Hindu RSS and author of “Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?”, who offered an apology to come out of prison.

The real significance of Rahul Gandhi’s sharp attack on the RSS and its “divisive and hateful agenda” can be interpreted as an effort to position himself and the Congress as an ideological and political opponent of its main “antagonist”, the Hindu Rashtravadis of the Hindu Sangh Parivar and the BJP. Is Indian politics in the second decade of the 21st century going to witness a sharp polarised issue-based ideological battle between secularists and Hindu communalists, and between nationalists who believe in the idea of “unity in diversity” and the RSS and its affiliates who believe in “dividing” the nation on the basis of religion of Indian citizens?

If Rahul Gandhi is really committed to confront the ideology and politics of his party’s real opponents, he has to project the Congress under his leadership as the real defender of values of secularism, pluralism, respect for every religion with equal protection to the rights of multiple and diverse religious communities living in India. Secularism is the pillar of the republican Constitution of India, where the Preamble clearly guarantees “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship”. Chapter III on fundamental rights contains Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28 guaranteeing “freedom of religion” along with Article 29 on the “protection of interests of minorities”.

It deserves to be clearly mentioned that post-Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the Congress has witnessed a gradual decline because instead of standing firmly in defence of its ideological values that it had inherited from Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru, it made opportunistic compromises with opponents of secularism. In the process, it is the champions of a militant Hindutva, the Hindu Sangh Parivar, which succeeded in consolidating their political and ideological position in politics. The “ideological purists” of the Sangh Parivar, unlike the wavering, ambivalent, opportunist secularists of the Congress, have relentlessly pursued their ideology beginning with K.B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar to Mohan Bhagwat. The RSS has used every public opportunity to project itself as the sole representative and chief protector of the Hindus of India.

When Golwalkar was released from jail in 1949, he stated that the RSS would make every effort to “revive ancient culture”, which in reality meant Brahmanical Vedic Sanskrit religious philosophy of the so-called Hindu India. Mohan Bhagwat, following the tradition laid down by his preceding RSS chiefs, observed on August 17, 2014, that “Hindustan is a Hindu Rashtra. Hindutva is the country’s identity”. He further observed that “Hindutva is the identity of India and it has the capacity to swallow other identities.” “We just need to restore those capacities.”

The primary task of every secularist, including Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, is to reach the common man with a clear message that the Hindutva of the Sangh Parivar has nothing to do with the great Hindu religious traditions of India because Hinduism of India is “amorphous” and as a “living religion of ordinary Hindus, it cannot be codified or classified as one monolithic religion.”

The Hindu Sangh Parivar is distorting history by stating that Hinduism is an ancient and unchanging-to-tradition eternal Sanatana Dharma. The term Hinduism can be dated to the 1770s, a European/British construct and of the Evangelical Christian Missionaries. However, the modern living Hinduism is a collection of many “little local religious traditions” and the living Hindus worship thousands of different deities or devatas and gurus — a central fact that can be clearly observed, unlike the “one in Hindu unity” categories. Hindutva is now an artificial construct of the Sangh Parivar, but the reality is that lower categories are in fact practitioners of many Hinduisms and ritual-based belief systems.

The upshot of the above narrative is that Rahul’s ideological battle is against the Hindutva of the Sangh Parivar and a campaign has to be launched to “rescue and liberate Hinduisms” from the hands of its political manipulators who are distorting the real meaning of plural and internally differentiated Hinduisms. The secularists in India respect every religion, including Hinduism, but the task is to eject the Hindu Sangh Parivar from the position it has tried to occupy as the pole representative of Hindutva, which has nothing in common with Hinduisms.

Another offshoot of this ideological struggle is that the RSS-led Sangh Parivar and the BJP have to be challenged and exposed because they are also wearing the cap of nationalism. The BJP has appropriated Indian anti-colonial nationalism by organising Swatantra Parva and Tiranga Yatra, and Narendra Modi and other political leaders are visiting different places in India as ‘messengers of nationalism’. A twofold frontal attack has to be launched against the Hindu ‘rashtravadis’ and the BJP for making claim as nationalists.

First, Indian nationalism as it emerged during the long and tortuous struggle for freedom was socially and culturally all-inclusive. Participants in this struggle belonged to every religion, caste, creed and faith of a plural and diverse India. It was truly an Indian National Struggle for Indian independence, joined by all sections of society, and the RSS was never part of that anti-colonial national struggle. Further, the essence of the Sangh Parivar’s definition of India is that this Bharat Mata (Mother India) is the country of Hindus and on the basis of this definition, the RSS type of nationalism is “exclusively” Hindu because the “other” Indians, Muslims or Christians, are not the children of Bharat Mata. This Hindu nativist nationalism has to be exposed because it divides India into religious camps, while in modern India the nationalism nurtured by nationalist leaders was all-inclusive.

The ideological battle against Sangh Parivar thus has to be fought by exposing their claims of being the sole custodians of the Hindus of India and the Indian nation, because the sectarian, divisive and socially disruptive politics is the product of its ideology.

The writer is Professor Emeritus, Centre for Political Studies, JNU.