May 09, 2017

India: Mischievous wordplay - Why ‘Developmental Hindutva’ is a misnomer

The Indian Express, 9 May 2017


At the end of his political career, S.A. Dange, one of the founders of the Communist movement in India and a veteran trade union leader, discovered “Marxism in Vedanta”. I, like many non-communists, respect Dange’s progressive thinking. But this “invention” was most disappointing. I recollect Dange here because recently, Sanjaya Baru has come up with the innovative idea, “Developmental Hindutva” (IE, April 14). Briefly put, Baru finds Jawaharlal Nehru’s emphasis on “composite culture” as “ a clever cop-out which avoided a direct link between India’s civilisational attributes and its ancient, dominant and, in many ways, defining religion, namely Hinduism”.
Baru says Modi came to power on a “developmental” plank, while Yogi Adityanath won on a “Hindutva plank”. He considers this dichotomy false and ventures to strike a balance between the two. Baru considers “teaching of yoga and singing Vande Mataram as aspects of Hindutva” and expects the non-Hindus “to easily live with” them.
Baru’s innovation is absurd.
No modern Indian political leader, including M.K. Gandhi, grasped, with such enormous clarity, the essence of India’s 5,000-year-old civilisation and contextualised it for building a “modern Indian nation state” as Nehru. Of all his contributions, Nehru’s determination to make India’s “composite culture” the foundation of the country’s nationhood in the face of stiff opposition from some of his Congress party colleagues — let alone sections of religious bigots — is the most enduring. The Constituent Assembly debates show that when there was no agreement even on the name of the country — “India” or “Bharat” — Nehru struck a balance by agreeing to the nomenclature, “India, that is Bharat” — the latter being the symbol of India’s cultural and civilisational roots and heritage.
Now about “Developmental Hindutva”. It’s common knowledge that “development” (economic growth) encompasses a much bigger canvass with social, economic, political and cultural factors — with their inter-related dynamics — collectively enriching the overall standards of a society. It implies creating a more rational, tolerant, inclusive, just and equitable society. Development would also imply strengthening all possible channels of communication among various socio-cultural groups. This does not rule out socio-cultural and religious differences in society. Rather, it implies “co-existence” in the midst of such differences.
According to V.D. Savarkar — who coined the term “Hindutva” — and M.S. Golwalkar — the chief ideologue of the RSS — unlike Hinduism, “Hindutva” is a political ideology that aims to establish a “Hindu Rashtra”. Muslims and Christians do not fit into the scheme of the “Hindu Rashtra” (“Bharatvarsha”), because, though India is their janmabhhoomi (place of birth) and karmabhoomi (place of work), it is not their pitrubhoomi (fatherland, land of origin) and punyabhoomi (holy land). Therefore, they are parakiya (outsiders). Hindutva is thus an exclusivist doctrine, narrow in its nationalistic essence, divisive in its consequences. It is therefore superfluous to equate Hindutva with singing Vande Mataram, teaching yoga or doing surya namaskar.
Since its inception in 1925, the RSS has never deviated from this fundamental ideological premise. This explains the aggressive stand of the Sangh Parivar-affiliates towards Muslims after 2014. Muslims are held responsible for the Partition of the country (a half-truth); they are assumed to be loyal to Pakistan (absurd, as they opted to stay in India); their population is said to be growing faster because they are polygamous — members of the Sangh Parivar argue that one day, Muslims may outnumber Hindus (wild conjecture) — they are accused of being cow killers and so on. Right after taking office, Yogi Adityanath clamped down on “illegal abattoirs” in UP. This is an attack on the sources of livelihoods of Muslims — most abattoirs are owned by Muslims, though a large majority of wholesale traders of beef are Hindus.
The education system is being tampered with and India’s history is sought to be rewritten. Progressive inclinations and dissenting voices are opposed — that explains the attack on JNU, the best Indian university even by the standards of the Human Resource Development Ministry itself.
Hinduism is different from Hindutva. It is not only a religious belief system but also a civilisation that evolved over time. Despite all its infirmities, such as the ignominious caste system, untouchability and the subjugation of women, Hinduism has been the single major component of India’s culture and civilisation for almost 5,000 years. Indian civilisation could adapt to modern challenges because of its ability to churn out mutually conflicting worldviews. The internalisation of democratic values by the people of India can be ascribed to such a “composite” culture.
Nehru made strenuous efforts to make this composite culture the foundation of inclusive development. One can debate its achievements, but it is hard to challenge the core philosophy of modern India. Hindutva is the antithesis of Hinduism.
It threatens the foundations of inclusive India. It’s time for every Indian to introspect and choose between “Hindutva” and “development”.
The writer is former member of the Rajya Sabha and Planning Commission