Hindsight, Happenstance and Hindutva – Part 2
The evolution of Hindutva as a political instrument is a work in progress.
While its opponents go berserk deriding Hindutva, they might be losing sight of a critical development taking place before their eyes.
Put coarsely, the origins of the BJP’s growth, all through the muddled years of the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jana Sangh and the Janata Party, can be traced back to a sense of outrage at the successive political regimes that sought to undermine the brilliance of India’s indigenous culture at the altar of electoral advantage, in the guise of a well crafted concept that has been variously referred to as secularism, or more recently, as pseudo-secularism.
Secularism, in the Indian context, turned out a strange concoction of tolerance based around a rejection of religion in political space – a muddled version of gross Gandhianism bred with spotty western liberalism and which for various reasons became an anthem for most of the newbies of post independence India. Later it manifested itself as a side-effect of the faux socialism of the Nehruvian age, through an imposed sense of egalitarianism in a country unprepared for such largesse when it had still to deal with immense inequities of almost every conceivable parameter, particularly social and political.
Somewhere down the line, secularism degraded into a negation of the implicit commonality of the identity of India with Hindu thought and culture and became an armour to ward off any threat to the Congress’ hegemony of political space, using, most ironically, religion as its most potent instrument when applied to minorities, particularly Muslims.
While it can be argued that this was a natural corollary to Congress’ near total control of legitimate political space in post independence India, it was, in fact, a typical abnormality of post-emancipation political processes that left India without any alternate party for governance after independence. Every nation that has had such a long struggle for freedom and has negotiated with an occupying foreign entity has roughly had the same experience, where the reactionary forces which were more amenable to the occupants, slipped into post-freedom slots of governance or political prominence. In effect, the more fundamentalist the opposition to the foreigners, the lesser the chances of such groups having a shy at political legitimacy, which in most cases went to more middle of the road, ambivalent, malleable combination of forces that made the evading foreign power’s loss look more respectable.
Without going into the reasons for such phenomenon, for that is an involved subject on its own, it was clear that an unorganized group such as the pro-Hindutva votaries with such a strong streak of socio-cultural nationalism, was always going to struggle for large scale legitimacy when the engine of the freedom movement was all but monopolized by better organised structures like the Congress and led by pan-India leaders like Gandhi, later Nehru and others who secured cross voter support due to an ambivalent approach to the issue of nationalism, its meaning and its forms in a country still coming to grips with the concept of pan-Indian aggregation.
Progressively, this feeling among Hindus of being marginalized in the country of their origin – not socially, but politically – by using almost every trick in the book of the British – emphasizing diversity instead of commonality, underlining the divisions rather than the overlapping cultures – began subtly, but in ensuing years, with successive Congress governments more or less using the old Nehruvian model for electoral profit, resulted in a consolidation of the sense of cultural compromise – where to seem fair to a one legged man, others were expected to limp too. The Congress’ avowed and much vaunted secularism therefore has had less to do with a genuine ideological belief in non-partisan religio-cultural expression and more to do with electoral expediency, year after election year.
But the continuous corrosion of this theory, and its masterful re-use and revitalization under Indira Gandhi until it became an alternate dharma, caused much of what is seen as Hindu revivalism. In that sense, the BJP is really a byproduct of the Congress – even as it is its nemesis, and the rise and rise of this party over the last two decades is truly spectacular in a historical perspective.
Whatever the debate suggests and however one may look at it, the undeniable and interesting fact is that it took a modern time like the twentieth century to see the Hindutva theme take centre stage. What explains that? If democracy has only seeped in more penetratingly into our socio-political system, if education has produced more aware, liberal and rights-conscious people, if we have integrated even more into a global system of liberal values, how do we explain the rise of a party that is so often cornered by intellectuals and left wingers and centrists as being a neophyte Hindu, rightist party with a lunatic fringe and now even an extremist wing!
The question need not be whether the rise of the BJP is good or bad, right or wrong: the question is, what explains the growing legitimacy of the Hindutva theme, if it’s so bad for the polity and so dangerous for democracy ?