The Moving Finger Writes
Conservative Christianity rallied to the Republican banner under Bush. And this in a country which is proud of its liberalism and secularism. Nobody has dismissed Bush as a fundamentalist.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is presently going through a difficult phase but neither its leadership nor its vast membership need be apologetic about it. All things change and pass. Within a party changes are inevitable as much as conflict of egos. The hundred plus years of the Congress has seen it go through turbulent times. As now within the BJP, so in the past within the Congress, egos have clashed, new ideas entertained, and in the end the party has moved on. There is no need to snigger at the BJP as has now become the fashion among our secularists. All progress is marked by the inevitable continuum implied in the dictum: Thesis, Anti-Thesis, Synthesis.
For a long time now, the BJP thesis was Hindutva. It is now considered a divisive philosophy. It has alienated non-Hindus who have flocked to other parties, notably the Congress. Two points need to be made here. One is that there is a genuine need to vitalise Hindu society, especially in the background of growing Islamic fundamentalism. This has been attempted in centuries past as a necessary means to encourage progress. Nobody damned Swami Vivekananda when he took on the task at the turn of the nineteenth century. But then we did not have that strange breed going by the description of secularists, to impede the Swamiji'sprogress. The revitalisation of Hindu society is a must, but that must be seen as a prelude to the revitalisation of Indian society as a whole.
What the BJP has to do is to attempt both simultaneously and in tandem. One is not?and should not be seen as?in conflict with the other. A liberal and absorptive society that Hinduism is, it can achieve the goal provided the BJP is clear in its mind. Presently the term ?Hindutva? raises the hackles of non-Hindus, needlessly to the total disadvantage of the BJP. This is where a great deal of introspection is called for. Rightly or wrongly, the term ?Hindutva? is associated with separatism, dogmatism and fundamentalism. To describe it as Bharatiyata is merely being apologetic. To call it ?cultural nationalism? is even worse; it sounds like an attempt to appease secularists.
The unification of Hindus crossing all ethnic, linguistic and caste lines is a demanding task. Only the BJP can take it on. And the country is waiting for some one to shoulder it. The Congress, under Sonia Gandhi, is incapable of re-moulding Hindu society. Let the Congress snigger. It will, in due course, be shown its place: at the bottom of the ladder. Notice what happened in the US presidential elections. Conservative Christianity rallied to the Republican banner under Bush. And this in a country which is proud of its liberalism and secularism. Nobody has dismissed Bush as a fundamentalist. What needs to be emphasised is that the revitalisation of Hindu society is not a political issue, but a social issue and can in no way be dismissed as ?communal?.
Shorn of superstitions and the weight of rites and rituals, Vedic Hinduism is highly scientific and a liberated Hinduism can achieve mastery over the world not in the political but in the intellectual sense. The Western world is fast becoming aware of it. India has much to give but that becomes possible only when Hinduism resumes its scientific, questioning origins and does not permit itself to be bogged down by dogma.
If Henry Kissinger is to be believed, the centre of gravity of the world is shifting from the Atlantic to Asia or to the Pacific. In substance it is shifting towards Asia and more specifically towards India. India should have the strength of character to deserve it and to make the most of it. That is the challenge facing the BJP. We need Hindu leaders of an exceptionally high calibre who can interpret Hinduism in its broadest sense. At the same time we have to unite India as a whole showing due respect to minority religions, taking due care to see that we are not imposing value systems on them that they resent. It, in sum, calls on the BJP to tread cautiously. If the BJP wants to carry the entire country along with it, it has to construct new stratagems. Consider this: Indonesian currency notes carry the figure of Ganesha on them. The Indonesian Airlines is named after Garuda, Vishnu'svahana. That, truly, is cultural nationalism. But nobody imposed it on the Indonesians, the majority of whom are Muslims. But try doing that in India and there will be charges of communalism and the imposition of ?Hindu? values on the entire society. In the circumstances, the BJP must find ways and means to carry everyone along with it and that not only calls for a great deal of introspection but a lot of humility as well. And that is necessary precisely because Hindus are in the majority.
The trouble with the Congress is that it does not want to face up to the issues. And, in any event, what kind of leadership can Sonia Gandhi give to Hindus? If she starts criticising Hindus, she will be run out of town. That task of self-criticism, of looking inward and facing up to reality can be shouldered only by Hindus themselves and this is the call of the hour. Hindutva must give space to non-Hindus to express themselves without being misunderstood. It should never be an imposed value; it must be a voluntarily shared value. Indonesian Muslims do not find it strange to give their children Sanskrit-based?not Hindu?names. That is an excellent illustration of cultural nationalism. Can anything be more Sanskritic than the name of the former President of Indonesia, Meghavati Soekarnoputri? But if one were to insist, all in the name of cultural nationalism, that Indian Muslims must give their children Sanskritic names, all hell will break loose.
In sum what the BJP should convey by its homage to Hindutva is an image of an immensely tolerant Hinduism that is willing to embrace values that are not native-born, in an open spirit of bonhomie. Hindutva must be seen working for an open society; not a closed one. It should be Catholic in its concept, all-embracing in its execution and value-based in its vision. Hindutva should be seen as a cooperative endeavour; not a confrontational approach alienating all non-Hindus.
If the BJP wants to succeed, it has to give further thought to the core message it swears by. The rest will take care of itself. Leaders come and go, but values are eternal. The in-fighting now visible within the BJP camp and the clash of egos will pass. They should be seen for what they are: temporary and evanescent. The BJP must look beyond the horizon to see the future which by all accounts is going to be great. Ask the former British Prime Minister, John Major; and ask Henry Kissinger. When will we ever grow beyond our pettiness?