A “Liberal Hindu” Asks: ‘Is Hinduism So Fragile That It Needs To Reassert Its Dominance?’

Posted on March 9, 2016 in Society

By Nisshanth Kumar:

Activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a hardline Hindu group, shout during a protest over a land row in Mumbai August 21, 2008. The row has posed a political dilemma for India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh months before a general election due by May. The government must find a solution that does not alienate either Muslims or Hindus, both important voter constituencies. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe (INDIA) - RTR21I3G
Image credit: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe.

The past few months were laden with incidents relating in one way or another to a communal ideology. From the ‘ghar wapasi’ (or homecoming), attacks on the churches, Dadri lynching, and leading up to the recent Jawaharlal Nehru University fiasco. Those affected by this are Muslims, Christians, and public intellectuals. This reminds me of ex-RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar‘s deplorable conviction that the Muslims, Christians and Communists were the three poisons of Hindustan.

To be clear, public discourse and scholarship in India has largely been shaped by left-leaning intellectuals, which may not be healthy for a democracy. But then, where are the right wing intellectuals? It is not like you do not exist. A number of names – Madhu Kishwar, Arun Shourie, and Arun Jaitley – come to mind. But why do we seldom hear from these people? Why have the voices of extreme elements like Sakshi Maharaj and Yogi Adityanath been heard the most? I understand the necessity of putting up a united front. But at what cost?

At risk are not only Indian democracy but also your own rise to power after lurking in the shadows for several years. I say this because I am not sure if an abstract idea such as ‘Indian Democracy’ would be enough to get your attention. So, I appeal to your own selfish interest of maintaining power. I hope you realise, like Chanakya did, that a republic’s strengths are directly correlated to not only the protection of its minorities but also respecting the opinion of its wise men. You may retort that these are fringe elements and need not be taken seriously. But, please do remember that anaemia at the peripheries can lead to a stroke at the ‘Centre’. Evidence? The Delhi and Bihar elections.

Secondly, I find your nationalism as emotional and devoid of logic. While I am glad that Prime Minister Modi’s campaign managed to generate a buzz and continues to do so in the economic realm, the voice of the gundas seems to dominate the socio-political realm. Recently, Raghuram Rajan gave a speech on the correlation between economic development and political stability. This was strange considering that Mr. Rajan seldom comments on such issues. Yes, your intention of development, which will enhance unity, is commendable but as you do so your very own ‘bhaiyas’ undermine your efforts.

The last time I remember when people were driven by some kind of mystical Oedipal love for the homeland, things went downhill in 20th century Europe. This is why men like Tagore explicitly claimed that ideals of humanity must always trump those of nationalism as it can degenerate into fascism. Sadly, fascist trends are the reality that I see around me. So strong is human emotion that it seems to pervade the boundaries of class, caste, gender and even literacy. The ‘bhakt’ army seems to pounce on anybody that disagrees with them. The only ray of light is that there are those who use verbal violence which is better than doing so physically.

To me, it seems as though we, as a people, are confirming those very stereotypes that our colonisers propagated of Indians being emotional, and incapable of self-governance. I understand the power of emotion but why can’t it be grounded in reason? Is the idea of Akhand Bharath as Ram Madhav pronounced on an international media forum really practical? Why keep asking minorities and intellectuals to keep reaffirming their nationalism and their ‘Hindu’ origins? While your definition of Hindu as being a cultural entity might be true, I find it extremely dishonest when an organisation whose central idea has been that of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (a political entity) hides behind the veil of the cultural definition. I mean, why even bring this up in public space? How does this in any way connect to “sabka saath, sabka vikaas”?

Finally, is Hinduism really that fragile that it needs to keep reasserting its dominance? If it is truly sanatana dharma, or eternal order, does it need saving? I don’t believe so. It is the very fluid, flexible and dynamic nature of Hinduism that has made it survive for centuries despite the invasions. The best part is that it not only survived but also accommodated other ways of thinking into it. By the way, I am both a Hindu and a liberal and don’t see them as mutually exclusive. I believe that both the Dharmic framework and the liberal framework can be used to complement each other to make up for their inherent deficiencies. Most other countries don’t have this privilege as they simply search for answers within the flaws of the modern liberal framework. What we have instead, is that the emphasis now seems to be on ‘either my way or the highway’, which pushes the dangerous framework of fascism above both liberalism and the Dharma.

Maybe you will do well if you heed the advice of arguably the greatest Hindus of the century – Gandhi. If my appeal to the moderate right is turned a deaf ear to, I as a Gandhian, make an appeal to the ‘Right’.