What is a Hindu rashtra? The February-March Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party scored a massive victory, is the point at which we became one, at least in spirit, said author and journalist Saba Naqvi while delivering the Madhu Dandavate Memorial Lecture in Mumbai on Thursday. The theme of the lecture, which is named after the former Union finance minister, was “UP verdict: It’s impact on Indian Polity”. An edited excerpt:
The secular model currently offers no counter-narrative to challenge Hindutva that claims to unite people above caste and region. Constitutionally and legally, we cannot be a Hindu rashtra but Uttar Pradesh 2017 is the point where I believe that in spirit we became one. I did not think so in (the general elections of) 2014, which I saw as an extraordinary mandate where a party (the Bharatiya Janata Party) won a simple majority with the lowest ever percentage of votes – 31%.
In 2017, after a magnificent victory (in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections), India’s ruling party has chosen a religious leader or monk (Adityanath) to lead the nation’s largest state. A few days after being chosen, he said there is nothing wrong in India being a Hindu rashtra.
So we must ask, what is a Hindu rashtra? We really do not have much experience of it in the world. Till 2008, Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom in the world and I remember my friends in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh being quite distressed when it ceased to be so.
In the words of Savarkar
Here I would like to quote from the most intellectually engaging ideologue of the Hindu Right, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. His speeches as president of the Hindu Mahasabha are published as Hindu Rashtra Darshan. In his 1937 presidential address, he began with what he called a Homage to the Independent Hindu Kingdom of Nepal and sent greetings to the king in holding out as a Hindu power. After more praise of Nepal, he proceeds to define Hindutva, explain what is a Hindu, and why people whose motherland and holy-lands are not the same cannot be part of the Hindu nation.
He describes the Mahasabha as a Hindu Rashtra Sabha and says the Hindus are a nation by themselves. He then asks, “How the Hindus who differ so much amongst themselves in every detail of life could at all be called a nation as such?” He replies: “To such questions, my reply is that no people on the earth are so homogenous as to present perfect uniformity in language, culture, race and religion. A people is marked out a nation by themselves not so much by the absence of any heterogeneous differences amongst themselves as by the fact of their differing from other peoples more markedly than they differ amongst themselves.”
Fellow Maharashtrian Dr Ambedkar looked at the same paradigm from an entirely different angle when he said that “Hindu society is a collection of castes. A caste has no feeling it is affiliated to another caste except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot.”
From what I can make out, reading the ideologues of the past and deciphering the actions of politicians of the ruling party, the first task of this Hindu rashtra is to create a particular identity by stressing the differences with others, who would be minorities. To create this imagined unity of Hindu society, they need symbols and motifs and today the cow is, I believe, the primary motif of the Hindu rashtra.
Surya namaskar, yoga, qabrstan (graveyard), cows, meat, slaughter houses, these are all code words. A sort of cultural fascism that is sought to be imposed since legally, the Hindu rasthra cannot exist.
There are some agitational templates of the Hindu rashtra, such as those who sing or do not sing Vande Mataram (never mind that it is AR Rahman, who converted to Islam in his life time, who has given India the most evocative modern rendition of Vande Mataram).
Conversion is another issue, on which Christians are attacked more than Muslims but in more remote parts of India, away from the spotlight. (As an aside, let me say that it’s always easy to annoy the Right wing by pointing out that Dr Ambedkar, the father of our Constitution, wilfully converted to Buddhism.)
Upholding two-nation theory?
So, can such a nation be created in spirit? Before we answer this, let us remember one thing very clearly: if we keep stating overtly and covertly that we are a Hindu rashtra, then our moral position on Kashmir is lost. We are then giving a great victory to Jinnah’s two-nation theory that holds Hindus and Muslims to be separate nations. (Recently, a BJP MP tweeted that the solution to Kashmir lies in depopulating the Valley).
But then the two-nation theory could not be made to work in Pakistan where religion was meant to be the unifying glue. But let’s see whom they have been able to accommodate in this imaginary Land of the Pure homeland of Muslims. First, they could not stomach the rule of Bengali Muslims, hence East and West were divided. Then, within the Home of Muslims, Punjabis dominated and competed with Sindhis. Within Karachi, the Mohajirs (those who immigrated post-Partition from India to the newly formed Pakistan) and run a reign of terror even as they claim discrimination. Shias, Ahmadiyas are all routinely targeted. Recently, we saw Mashal Khan, a young student, lynched in Pakistan because he was an Ahmadiya.
Around the same time, a few days here or there, Pehlu Khan, a cattle trader, was lynched in Alwar because he was transporting a milch cow.
Many of us do worry about what the Hindu rashtra has in store for minorities, but equally, I would ask, what does it subscribe for Hindus? The problem is that at an ideological level, it’s all very mean-spirited. Is there some grand humanist vision behind this Hindu rashtra? A moral centre? If so, I am willing to be a participant in it. I have one qualification. I do yoga every morning and that includes 24 surya namaskars. I suspect many of the BJP faithful who line up behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi on World Yoga Day (as if yoga were invented by the BJP) cannot match my facility with yogic postures. Adityanath, I am certain, can beat me to it.