By Vaidehi Nathan
Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism by Jyotirmaya Sharma, Penguin Viking, pp 205, Rs 350.00
?Hindutva? has become the most common epithet to be hurled against any idea that mismatches with the communalists? idea of secularism. From culture to politics, anyone who disagrees with the more vociferous Congress-communist combine is branded a votary of Hindutva.
Journalist Jyotirmaya Sharma decided to find what exactly is Hindutva. He has chosen to do so through the voice of four persons, who went beyond the religion, into the realms of politics and sociology?Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Sharma clearly is on the other side of Hindutva. The quarrel about the word Hindutva comes from its opponents because they see this as an ?unwarranted? self-assertion by Hindus, in the only land that belongs to them. The word Hindutva, in its conception and usage, is inextricably linked with being Indian, belonging to India and most of all, accepting this reality without ?buts?. The thoughts of the four men discussed in the book have too much in common to be missed. The author has put them together in his quest to understand Hindutva. All the four were unanimous that Hindus and Hinduism constituted the core of India. They also propagated the ideology of using the ?Hindu identity in the service of Indian nationalism.? They believed in the self-rule of India. And by self, they unambiguously meant the ?Hindu self.? The current proponents of Hindutva, Sharma argues, take their cue from the teachings of these men. Hindus have always celebrated plurality, not in its divisiveness but in its common bond. It is not unity in diversity but diversity in unity. The absurdity of the situation today is that, inspired by the Semitic West, looking through the Semitic paradigm, living the Semitic life and defending the Semitic religions, they (the non-Hindus) preach the virtues of pluralism to the Hindus. The preachers of Hindutva, though not using the word till Savarkar coined it, have believed in it as a practicing philosophy or even religion and not as a mere intellectual activity. The establishment of various Hindu movements?Arya Samaj in 1875, Hindu Sabha in 1909, Hindu Mahasabha in 1915, Hindu Sanghathan in 1921-22 the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1925 and its political wing Jana Sangh in 1951 are proof of this, says Sharma. He believes that after Savarkar, nothing much significant has been said on the subject of Hindutva. According to Sharma, though Dayananda Saraswati, Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Savarkar advocated the same theme, what separated the former three from Savarkar is the ?language, tone and method of articulation.? He says Dayananda was direct, acerbic, contentious and in places even abusive. Vivekananda was eloquent, energetic, emotional and driven. Aurobindo was ?always the quintessential philosopher?grand, dry and systematic. Savarkar was a bit of all these. He was eloquent, direct, splenetic, dry, systematic and grand. The only thing he was lacking in was emotion.?
The absurdity of the situation today is that, inspired by the Semitic West, looking through the Semitic paradigm, living the Semitic life and defending the Semitic religions, they preach the virtues of pluralism to the Hindus.
Sharma analyses the views of the four. According to him, there are six fundamental similarities in their vision on the Hindu nation. One, though they tried to reform Hinduism in their own way, they also tried to transform it into a rigid, codified, monochromatic entity, which Hinduism is not. He has quoted from them all extensively, from various periods of their lives. Two, they shared the view that Hinduism is a masculine, aggressive and violent faith. It was subjugated as a nation because the Hindu had lost his manliness and it was the need of the hour to regain it and establish our superiority. The third point is their premise that Hinduism as the oldest religion in the world had nothing to learn from any other religion but give a few lessons to others, especially Christianity and Islam. This brought us back to the need for a militant Hinduism.
The fourth common characteristic of their rhetoric is about victimhood, conspiracy theories and ?a never-ending sense of threat to Hinduism.? They believed that India with Hinduism as its core was under constant threat in the form of alien values, alien religions and imported lifestyles and intellectualism, including the creative art and literature. The fifth commonality is the central text or doctrine. Vedas were considered by the four as the supreme and the final word on Hinduism. Everything else was either tolerable or intolerable derivations and deviations. But the primacy of the Vedas has been unanimously proclaimed by all of them.
The six and final point was in taking on the adversary, using the legitimate tools of writing, conversation and public discourse. They did not believe in polite words and soft conversation. The author says though, during the anti-British struggle, Tilak, Gandhi, Tagore and Lohia added significant voices and view to the question of ?Hindu?, they shared none of the above six characteristics. The burden of the author is in trying to prove that Hinduism is not what is being defined as by its proponents. Every individual (both Hindu and non-Hindu) will decide what Hinduism is. The religion allows this individual space. It has to be preserved, it has to remain ?inviolable?.
The book makes an interesting reading as it moves away from clich'sof ?secularist? dictionary and diatribes of the communalists. It takes the discussion on the subject of Hindutva to a higher plane.
The author calls for serious fight against Hindutva. According to him, there are three options?one is to sit idle, sit side by side with the forces of Hindutva and hope that when there is a conflict, the State will take care. The second is to fight Hindutva directly, in the form of sympathetic and yet critical re-evaluation of Hinduism. The third is to have a multiple-level dialogue between the proponents and opponents of Hindutva. Now, the point the author is glossing over is the reason for the rise of Hindutva, the cause of the restlessness among Hindus in the current political milieu and its natural political fallout. He has not debated or even placed in context the apprehensions and doubts of the Hindus. He has swept aside the Hindu feeling today as ?projecting and magnifying real and imagined wrongs done to the Hindus in the past and present as a real threat to the plural character of Hinduism.? He has not understood that this pluralism is what is precisely being used against Hindus, who are the core of the nation. India is India because of Hindus. Why is it so difficult for the non-Hindus (which include the Congressmen, the communists, the so-called secularists and the other religionists) who are protesting against Hindutva? India is the land of Hindutva. For it to remain so, a reincarnation of all shades and views of Hindutva is the call of the hour.
The book makes an interesting reading as it moves away from clich'sof ?secularist? dictionary and diatribes of the communalists. It takes the discussion on the subject of Hindutva to a higher plane. The author has used original quotes extensively, sufficiently explaining the contexts. The book, in that sense, is an eye-opener. One realises how little the world has changed for the Hindus, despite Partition after the British left. The attitudes have not changed, the biases have only become louder and the discriminations sharper. The divisions that British sowed among the Indian society have grown and the harvest (in political terms also) is being reaped by the secular communalists. A scene that is verily ripe for the rise of militant Hindutva.
(Penguin Books India, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110 017.)