Despite more than a century of endeavours a national Hindu political consciousness has failed to take substantial root. In this context, the virtually single-handed success of L. K. Advani during the decade of the 1990s to contrive a Hindu political consciousness, however limited, must be judged a remarkable phenomenon. Many Hindus were fed up with the mendacious anti-Hindu politics of secular India and sought a political leadership that would articulate it. The Ayodhya movement also prompted an unprecedented political sensibility among huge numbers of Hindus, awakening a memory of their historical past, as never before in a thousand years and more. Such was the meaning and scale of what the Sangh Parivar and L. K. Advani achieved.
The ultimate failure of the NDA to capitalise on this Hindu desire for change and self-affirmation was a stunning setback though the reasons for it are complex. The inability of the very leaders, who catalysed contemporary Hindu self-awareness to consolidate it is a testament to the grievous nature of the failure. Various reasons have been put forward to explain the dismal outcome, some of them are the constraints of coalition politics and the desire of the Hindu political leadership for approval from India'simplacably hostile elites and establishment, by diluting Hindu aspirations. Yet underlying these factors is a much deeper unrecognised factor that has always bedevilled the search for Hindu political consciousness in India.
The notion of Hindutva itself, which has come to encapsulate the political aspirations of Hindus, represents an intractable problem. The very idea of a Hindu political community embedded in the idea of Hindutva is no more than an aspiration, a mere abstraction not an established political fact. This intellectual and political conundrum is the pivotal explanation for the elusiveness of Hindu political consciousness. The reaction to the failure to awaken a genuine Hindu political consciousness across the length and breadth of India provokes lament at the fragmentation of Hindu society. It also prompts a measure of Hindu activist frustration and contempt towards their own community for its apparent insouciance regarding its own political fate.
Yet in the apparent division and political fragmentation of Hindus lies the critical defining feature of Hindu society, of which, paradoxically, Hindus, including the very same activists, are justly proud. Hindus are politically fragmented because they have not been regimented into an aggressive imperialism that characterises its two Semitic adversaries. It is because they are a truly pluralist people of faith, preoccupied with an essentially private religious quest for self-improvement rather than increased numbers through warfare and conversion. In a sense the private character of their faith, the very feature that makes them distinctive, is the counterpart of the absence of a grand political unity stretching across time and space. At the same time, this pluralist Hindu reality makes them vulnerable to predatory Islam and Christianity, both primarily defined by their raison d??tre of extirpating competing faiths. What the latter offer as an alternative has been unremarkable since their history of bloodlust is not even denied by their own adherents.
It is therefore a necessity for the survival of Hindus to unite politically as many rightly argue. However, the first reality that requires recognition is that both Christian and Islamic inward political cohesion was substantially the product of imperialist expansion. Though Christians clung together defensively during persecution by the Roman Empire they quickly assumed their historic essential identity through warfare, stamping out rivals and seeking to establish Christianity as the only true faith. In the case of Islam, the very founding of the faith was accompanied by warfare that has continued unabated ever since. This is not to say that Christianity and Islam do not cohere defensively when assailed. However, it is merely a tactic of adversity while their immanent strategy is expansion through warfare and other covert means, as appropriate to the circumstances.
The history of successful self-defence therefore seems to be inextricably associated with a military strategy of offensive engagement. Hindus have not historically undertaken this path and attempts to unite Hindus politically still falter. A kind of nationalism has taken root in India and more urbanisation, virtually synonymous with modernity, will only intensify this patriotism. But such patriotism can exist without religious conviction or indeed adherence to a different faith altogether. India could become mostly Christian in the way South Korea has during the last century, which is what the US government and US churches intend for India. And this process is advancing rapidly in Nepal with the effective abolition of the Hindu monarchy and US insistence on the elimination of any reference to Hinduism in the new Constitution. Hindus need to respond to this advance of Christian imperialism, targeting them for acquisition.
One must first recognise that India is already a country under foreign occupation. There are no troops looting, pillaging and engaged in rapine as the Anglo-American marauders are doing in Iraq. Nor have they set up scores of FBI offices, the self-willed fate of Pakistan thanks to its pukka military officer class. But India'sEnglish media is basically foreign owned though the structure of ownership is complex. Individual journalists are on the payroll of foreign governments, church organisations and Middle Eastern potentates. Loans undeclared on the balance sheet also totally compromise major media outlets. This particular strategy of conquest is best understood in terms of the behaviour of international corporations, their tactics of market entry or denial, mergers and acquisitions, etc. The tentacles of foreign occupation, not unusual in what remains a neo-colonial era of world history, are coursing terrifyingly through the vital organs of the Indian state.
Hindus can organise against this dismal unfolding fate. But reflexive slogans on national Hindu unity that mislead and divert strategy must first be shelved. In its place, one needs to organise Hindus politically around their regional state and meaningful local loyalties. These concern the specific forms of worship, social identity and their allied history that remain unique to the particular locus in question. A myriad of decentralised Hindu organisations across the length and breadth of India have to be mobilised in keeping with their uniqueness and local specificity. And instead of slogans about an all-embracing national Hindu movement a central leadership will only have the role of co-ordinating such local political movements in all their diversity and richness. This will be the form of the resistance against Christian and Islamic imperialism that takes full cognisance of the actual lives Hindus lead and will therefore resonate more easily with them. By contrast, an abstraction like Hindutva is a goal rather than an existing national process and reality.
(The author taught at the London School of Economics & Political Science for over two decades).