Hindu and Hinduism in the modern context | Pakistan Today

Hindu and Hinduism in the modern context

  • Modernity has produced Hindu political discourse

By Dr Rajkumar Singh

The word ‘Hindu’ and Hinduism are products of modernity. Its cause was championed by nationalists who thought Hinduism suffered in comparison with Christianity because it lacked an effective ecclesiastical organisation. Even today it remains an outer layer of religious self-identification as those who are commonly acknowledged as Hindus, shows no willingness to adopt religious practices. As the idea of Hinduism is quasi-political in origin, it is easy to use it for political purposes. It did not bind itself to the idea of territorial nationalism but spread to the concept of cultural nationalism. Unlike traditional religion it is not apolitical, but organises an impressive assemblage of world renouncing Sadhus to assist in the winning of elections for political parties, this has changed the entire nature of modern politics in more ways than one. It is entirely due to the forces of modernity and has little to do with traditionalism. Hence, it is a process generated by the forces of modernity.

Comparison with the West: In Western democracies politics is followed by a decline of religious influence in public life, but in India, in which a strong religious culture is dominant, democratic politics would show the imprint of popular religious notions. Since our politicians had not direct access to Western parliamentary styles of governance, they simply translate these notions to rural India. Even ordinary people grasped the great significance of numbers in electoral politics and beginning with the Panchayats, a new style of functioning came to be represented in the political arena, which was less observant of the norms of liberal democracy. All these alterations began to reflect in Indian politics in the form of style, language and behaviour. It was in sharp contrast to those in power in the Nehru years. Further the issue was compounded by the forgetfulness and negligence of the Nehruvian state itself about the process of the cultural reproduction of the nation. M S Golwalkar had described the concept in detail: “Our nationalist vision is not merely bound by the geographical or political identity of India, but defined by our ancient cultural heritage. From this belief flows our faith in ‘cultural nationalism’ which is the core of Hindutva. That we believe, is the identity of our ancient nation Bharatvarsha.”

It is also possible that in shifting the line between the sacred and the profane and playing opportunistically with it, this political religion would erase that distinction and turn eventually to more secular forms of mobilisation. But the example of Iran and some other Third World countries urges caution

Status in India: Failure of the Nehruvian state to create conditions for the development of a common sense in Indian politics also led to a lack of secular political ideas in public. The material benefits of modernity were exclusively limited to English-knowing class which gave rise to two understandable reactions in the rest of society. First, of course it set off a great movement of emulation, through English-medium schools. Secondly, because the number of those who could benefit was bound to be quite small, it added to the resentment of the rest. Thus, the uneven and unjust distribution of the benefits of development had prepared the ground for two types of political dissent– an economic critique of class and an indigenist critique of modernist cultural privilege. And it was the second kind of resentment that has found expression through regionalist and communal politics, through the politics of Hindu, Hinduism and finally Hindutva. Excessive reliance on the state and its increasingly less accountable bureaucracy created a situation in which forces of Hindu majoritarianism can claim the dignity of cultural self-assertion against a dispensation in which individuals are penalised for speaking their mother tongue or evincing interest in their own culture. This cultural indigenism is a likely consequence of democracy, and the unwillingness of liberal and left politics in India to allow expression to these impulses has enabled Hindu communal and Hindi chauvinist politicians to appropriate the considerable power of such cultural democracy.

Party positions: All the major parties had a direct political agenda which included the themes of this cultural democracy. But, no doubt, the BJP is first to take advantage of the situation. In the 1970s when communal propaganda seemed to bring a few dividends and the then Jana Sangh seemed irreversibly declining, some suggested that it should shift its appeal to the middle class. They also advised that instead of the traditional appeal to Hindu chauvinism, it should try to project itself as a substitute for the Congress offering a cleaner, more efficient, government. The Indian National Congress too under the leadership of Indira Gandhi began to adopt a more Hindu-oriented strategy beginning 1982. Her killing by her Sikh guards in 1984 and the elections that followed immediately in a communally surcharged atmosphere brought the party, now led by Rajiv Gandhi, its biggest victory ever. From then on, the Party had sought support of Hindu communalists as it had not done earlier. ‘Encountering implacable opposition from an array of regional forces, the political centre gave Hindu majoritarian communalism its head.’ In 1986 the Congress under its policy of appeasement allowed the opening of the Babri Masjid and the Hindu shrine for worship which were kept locked since 22 December 1949. It created the setting for a sustained mobilisation of Hindus that led to the Shilanyas for a new temple in November 1989 and the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.

But the BJP from the 1970s onwards sincerely executed its two-pronged policy. Especially after the dramatic success of the rathayatras its own agenda was rewritten in a retrograde direction but it also adhered to its more secular constituency. With advertising tactics, it continued to appeal to modernist groups but it also persisted with its blatantly communal propaganda aimed at more traditional Hindu groups. The BJP’s manifesto had clearly adopted the theory of ‘cultural nationalism and noted, “Our nationalist vision is not merely bound by the geographical or political identity of India, but defined by one ancient cultural heritage. From this belief flows our faith in cultural nationalism which is the core of Hindutva”. However, the modernisation of this traditional religion cannot be of much use as its root lies in contradictions, bewilderments, suffering and enticement of modernity. It is also possible that in shifting the line between the sacred and the profane and playing opportunistically with it, this political religion would erase that distinction and turn eventually to more secular forms of mobilisation. But the example of Iran and some other Third World countries urges caution: for it is possible for religious consciousness to acquire a modern form, that is a historical formation of consciousness, and which can turn against all principles of modernity, including democracy itself.

The writer is head of the Political Science Department at BNMU, Saharsa, Bihar, India and can be reached at [email protected]



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