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Hindu Nationalism

With a Grain of Piquant Salt:

Its long history of a feeling of victimhood and discrimination
by Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta

Hindu Nationalism has emerged from a rather long history of a feeling of victimhood and discrimination, with roots going back to more than millennia. Ever since new religions and cults have appeared from the imaginary (maya) body of Hinduism or have intruded into the subcontinent, there have been reactions against those cults and religions with a call to Hindu Nationalism.

There have been reactions to introduction of Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam, intra Hindu sectarianism (such as the Naga's, Shaivites, tantrics etc.). But the current formulation, called as Hindutva, is of comparatively recent origin. A recent book, titled 'Lies, Lies and More Lies' by Vivek (ISBN: 978-0-595-43549-4), is a collection of articles aiming to shed light on Hindutva. I am afraid if Hindus need to be defined as a nation, it needs much more work than this effort. Let us see why!

Nobody can doubt the sincerity of the author. It is clear that the author is writing with deep passion and strongly held beliefs. There are also several chapters and concepts that the author raises that I completely agree with. But by and large, the book suffers from some very deep seated misconceptions and fundamental inconsistencies, which unfortunately destroy the entire argument around building a nation out of Hindus. Building a nation out of Hindu's is a laudable aim. Nations have been formed for far less interesting and cogent reasons (cults are one example).

But given the nature of Hinduism, I am afraid forming a nation is well nigh impossible. The whole concept of nationhood relies on a group of people united under a common concept or ideology (communists), a characteristic (Goths, skinheads, white skin), a geography (the Brits from the British Isles), a language (Swedish, Serbian, Marathi), culture (Bengali around the work of Rabindranath Tagore), religion (southern Baptists, Greek orthodox), history (Mongolia ' emerging from the Mongol Empire history) etc.

Sometimes the concept of nation and country coincide (Greece, Greek, history, religion'), but more often than not, they do not. Sometimes the country is bigger than the nations while at others the nation is bigger than the country. Sometimes the nation is spread out over multiple countries. To further complicate matters, a person can belong to multiple nations at the same time.

For example, I can belong to the Bangla nation from the perspective of one culture and language, but also belong to the British nation by virtue of geography, while belonging to the English nation by virtue of language. One can switch in and out of nations for example after immigration, learning another language, conversion to another religion or falling in love with somebody from another nation. And the concept of nations changes over time. The Mesopotamian or Ancient Egyptian nations no longer exist, although the successors do.

This brings me to this book where the author switches between a country (India), the idea of India which was expressed in the Indian constitution and a nation (Hindus) interchangeably. This is the root cause of the incoherence and inconsistencies in the book. It is the same confusion which occurs with Jews, Zionism and Israel.

More importantly, I am afraid the author has missed the foundational underpinnings of Hinduism. For example, the cycle of birth-rebirth, the concept of Moksha and Maya, destiny in the hands of the Brahman, the impermanent nature of this world and atman.

These would have given him the clue as to why Hindus have not undertaken resistance to the large scale invasions of the sub-continent, rule by foreigners, foreign customs, etc. Given that background, Hindus operate on a totally different frame of behavior and one should not expect a violent reaction to invasions. This also emphasizes the concept of non-violence of the Mahatma.

Secularism is another concept which confuses the author. Secularism, like beauty, depends upon the eye of the beholding country. While the dictionary meaning might say one thing, you have all different varieties in the world. In the UK, you might have the head of the state also being the head of the church. In Poland, it is explicitly Catholic. In USA, you have clear identification with God (In God we trust), and so on and so forth. So the conclusion is that there is no single definition of secularism.

Which brings me to India and this concept of 'Nehruvian Secularism'. If one has to name it, then a better name would be 'Ambedkeraite Secularism' after the Chairman of the committee which drew up the Indian Constitution. And this brings me back to the idea of India, and the secular, pluralistic idea of India is based upon this document.

The author also seems to demand a certain pride in his religion. I fail to understand why belonging to a certain religion will make one proud? Religion is not something to be proud of. Religion provides a moral compass to live by, a set of principles, processes and procedures which will hopefully lead one closer to God(s) and achieve the spiritual aims.

Pride, as it so happens, is one of the deadly sins (yes, I know, it is in Christianity, but it is almost the same in every religion and value system). And what exactly is involved in 'being proud'? Boast about it? And who will hear it? And what will it achieve? Besides noise and disgust, nothing. Its such a bizarre notion! So this desire to recover the lost pride is rather meaningless.

The author also says that Hinduism needs armour. Armour from what? You see, armour also has issues. Armour is heavy, expensive and is very limited in protection. Steel armour worn by the mounted knights was overturned by the cross-bow. And I am also surprised to hear that Hinduism needs protection. The author again confuses the religion with its practitioners.

A philosophy doesn't need any protection, and the practitioners of a religion get physical protection from the state. Why would they need this strange undefined and illogical concept then? If Hindus are not getting protection from the state, then that is a different matter to Hinduism needing protection.

Concepts and history are very uneasily mixed in the discussion. Bharatvarsh, Bharat, the Mauryan Empire, The British Indian Empire, so on and so forth. An example of the confusion arises from the fact that the largest expansion of the Mauryan Empire was done under the aegis of Ashok, who ultimately converted to Buddhism. So how do we draw a line from a contentious origin of the Hindu nation, to a Buddhist empire, to the Mogul Muslim Empire, a colony of Christian Britain, to the Dominion of India, to Independent Secular India?

Another shibboleth needs to be knocked on the head. The concept of "divide and rule" is a very simplistic concept. You cannot rule a country the size of former British India based upon a silly sound bite concept. The British Indian dominion was a proper subsidiary state, with national structures, parliamentary representations, army, judiciary, etc. etc.

And divide and rule does not explain how the British Crown took over from the East India Company nor does it explain the partition. The author also forgets the amount of British control over the so-called independent kingdoms, whether Kashmir or Hyderabad, they all had British residents controlling the kingdoms tightly.

None of these kingdoms had an independent foreign, defence, macro-economic, or communications policy. So they were, in effect, colonies with the thin trappings of independence. The tiny countries and kingdoms collapsed because of their own mismanagement and were taken over by the East India Company or the British (or were controlled by them).

India as a cohesive and unified nation did not exist except as a figment of people's imagination. Just what did a Bijapuri have in common with a Pathan or a Konkani with an Assamese or Naga? Even the first war of independence was fought under the ostensible allegiance to a Muslim Emperor who used to spend his time writing poetry, while rest of the leaders were motivated more by a desire for personal gain rather than an over-arching National Ethos.

The author again is making a leap of faith in trying to ascribe a single world view to Hinduism, and I am afraid the historical record vitiates against his assertion that "The only religion to have a stellar record of tolerance and acceptance of other views is Hinduism. Hinduism and democracy are synonymous". There have been far too many fights between various sects of Hinduism. And there is actually no link between democracy and Hinduism, but what does exist is based more on the Pali canton (which is Buddhist in nature).

If one does want to review political structures within Hinduism, then it is based upon a class based structure, not democracy based structure calling for equality of all. The caste system, the restriction of professions, the divine right of kings, etc. have no link with democracy. On page 44, one cannot conclude that Hinduism equals democracy at all.

Democracy was imposed as a foreign condition, based upon the general liberal education of most of the pre-independence leaders of the Indian National Congress (who were of all different faiths as it so happens). And the fact that we had the luxury of a long unbroken series of institution building, a great constitution and a huge determination to be secular. No link to Hinduism at all, I am afraid. So it would have been useful to know more about the background to this assertion.

The population modeling is interesting but very limited. Population dynamics have a long unhappy history of being proven almost continuously wrong every generation. Some major exclusion in this modeling relate to socio-economic levels, fertility rates, survival rates, birth/death ratio's, health and education statistics, availability of employment opportunities for women, polygamy, etc.

Each of these factors has a severe and large impact on demographic trends, so the ratio is very suspect. Furthermore, the ratio is different in separate areas. For example, urbanized Muslims have the same fertility ratio as Hindus say in Hyderabad, etc, but the ratio is far more skewed due to the immigration factor mentioned by the author. However, one aspect is important and that is the immigration from Bangladesh, because it is seriously a threat to the integrity of India, as well as the survival of rare and ancient cultures in the North East.

The prevalence of terrorist, insurgent and separatist threats in North East is evidence of how difficult it was and still is to control immigration, the border fence not-withstanding. And the blame lies on many political parties seeing this new voting bloc as their way to power by displacing local political parties. But to ask for Demographic Status Quo in Chapter 21 is such a silly concept that I am not even going to deign that with a comment.

Before this turns into another book, I should stop. My sister hates multi-part essays, but this topic is so broad, and the author has covered such a large number of issues that writing a good comprehensive review in one essay will be too large to cover this broad spectrum of issues. So next week I shall continue with my observations about the remaining chapters and my final conclusion about the intellectual development of Hindutva after reading the entire book.

' Continued


More by :  Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta

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