Since Modi and the BJP’s stupendous victory in 2014, we have all witnessed a constant topic in the media – “National vs anti-national”. This debate was triggered in the JNU, HCU student agitations and intensified there on in every small or big issue. It ranged from film releases like “Padmavati” and “Udta Punjab” and banning Pakistani film actors to the sensationalising of defence operations in Doklam or surgical strikes in Kashmir.
Also, we are additionally seeing a Hindutva project being unleashed by the centre on educational institutions, love jihad, killing and attacks on minorities and dalits in the name of gau raksha and so on.
So all this brings us to the point where we need to ask what the idea of India is? To answer this, we need to take a peek at our history. Let us start the journey.
Indian civilization is one of the oldest in history, along with the Greek, Mesopotamian civilizations. We have the earliest remnants of the Indus Valley civilization with excavations and remains at Harappa and Mohenjodaro. These sites show mature city structures, canal system and great baths, which were advanced for their time.
Then we have the Vedic religion or Sanatana Dharma which became the dominant philosophy of the people. This continued unopposed till the advent of Buddha who challenged the existing rigid caste structure and rituals which had become the norm of the day.
Buddhism offered a much more simple and spiritual way of life especially for those sections of society which had been suppressed under the caste system of the Vedic religion. Buddhism spread far and wide, not only in the Indian subcontinent but also into South East Asia. Many prominent kings like Ashoka were Buddhists who helped the spread the word of peace and simplicity.
Eventually, after many years of domination, Buddhism receded from large parts of India and settled in Tibet, China, Japan and South East Asian countries. The remaining Buddhists settled and got amalgamated into Indian culture. Same is the case with Jainism.
India also housed a small section of migrant Jews who came and settled in Kerala, Manipur etc. And similar is the case of Parsis, the Zoroastrians, who fled from Iran, settled in India – notably in and around Mumbai. Then with the advent of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad on the world stage, the two great monotheistic religions Christianity and Islam emerged. In India, these religions were introduced by the missionaries in the first case and the Sufis in the second case. Contrary to what is claimed by many proponents of Hindutva, Islam was spread by the peace-loving and mystic Sufis in India, and not at the edge of the sword of the Muslim rulers, who came a lot later.
Islam soon spread far and wide in India and became the second largest religion in India after Sanatana Dharma. Christianity too spread in some pockets, and we can find a sizeable percentage of Christians in India, especially in states like Kerala, Goa, Tamil Nadu, etc.
The name “Hindu” came to mean to refer to people living around or beyond the Sindhu river (Indus). This term was used by some Greek and Persian rulers earlier, and also was used by Muslim Dynasties like the Mughals, Delhi Sultanate in some texts. It was only after the British came and colonised India, that the name Hindu and Hinduism became the collective term for people following the Vedic religion, to distinguish from the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.
Also, the idea of India came into existence with the advent of the British Empire and the independence movement. In the time of empires, like Mughals or Vijayanagara dynasty or Mauryas or Guptas etc., there was never a concept of a united India. There were only kingdoms then which very frequently warred against each other for territory and power. This was the reason why the first war of Independence in 1857, though a noble attempt was not successful as the kings were not united.
Hence, in my opinion, the very idea of India developed during the Independence movement led by the Congress party under Mahatma Gandhi. With the advent of British education system and western values of democracy, came the notion of the ‘Indian nation’ and ‘nationhood’. Here emerged three ideas for the future India. The first and most prominent was the concept of a secular, democratic republic by the Congress, by leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad etc. The second was the idea of a communist state led by the communists like Sundarayya, Jyoti Basu, EMS Namboodiripad etc. in the lines of Soviet Union. The third was the idea of a religious identity; this had two twin brothers. One was Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan for the Muslims and other RSS’s concept of the “Hindu Rashtra”.
Unfortunately, with the British divide and rule strategy and Jinnah’s persistence which led to violent riots between Hindus and Muslims, Pakistan was carved out as a separate country. The consequences of creating a religious state like Pakistan are evident to the entire world today as Pakistan has been declared a failed state by many, with the military and jihadis calling the shots instead of power resting with the democratically elected govt.
Fortunately for India, the vision of Congress party held sway, and it led to the establishment of the largest democracy in the world, with secularism and socialism as the foundations of the state, as against the Hindu Rashtra version of the RSS.
So what we see clearly in history is that India has always been an amalgamation and home to all the major world religions and hence is by character not a nation only for Hindus, although Hindus do form the majority.
In my opinion, the Modi government has subtly and boldly pursued a Hindutva agenda since 2014. Let us see examples to prove this. The ‘gau raksha squads’ which were earlier inert or submissive, suddenly realized that the RSS backed-BJP govt is in full majority. Immediately, they started attacking Muslims and dalits who rear and maintain cattle in large numbers. Pehlu Khan’s murder sent shock waves across India. The entire cow-belt of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana has ever since become a terror zones for those found travelling with cows or buffaloes. Even without any proof that whether these cows or buffaloes are being taken to slaughterhouses or not, these gau raksha squads go on an attacking rampage and are taking law in their hands. The second instance of Hindutva agenda in action, are the increasing attacks on dalits. Una is just one such example of this brutality. All this remind me of the SS squads of Hitler in Nazi Germany unleashing terror on Jews and other opponents.
Coming to educational institutions, we all saw in display, the brutal attack on students of JNU, HCU, Allahabad University, FTII, Jadavpur University and IIT Madras, where students have been in a battle zone with the University administration which is being remote controlled by the HRD ministry. The HRD ministry, first under Smriti Irani and now under Prakash Javadekar, have been subtly undoing the secular foundations of our syllabus in CBSE as well as universities, to bring in Hindutva agenda like reducing chapters on Akbar and replacing him with Rana Pratap etc. So by pitting our kings against each other or by pitting Sardar Patel against Nehru, BJP is cleverly planting the seeds of soft Hindutva into the future generations of children, in my eyes.
The media too is being majorly influenced into not questioning the government’s functioning – thereby, throttling the basic nature of journalism. Republic TV is just an example of how state-controlled media can totally brainwash its viewers to generate the dangerous seeds of ultra-nationalism.
The instances go on and on. The way the government has not taken a humanitarian stand in case of Rohingya Muslims and instead taken, what to me is a blatantly Hindutva stand, shows clearly what their stand is towards Muslims. Also, an interesting fact is that there is no Muslim MP in the Modi government 283+ MP tally in the Lok Sabha, except the token Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
What we need to understand is that govt has very intelligently tried, and in a way succeeded, to link Hindutva with Nationalism. Anyone who questions the government or takes a secular stand on issues is considered anti-national. Also, all opposition parties are called anti-national – Congress, Left, AAP etc. by BJP’s IT cell and WhatsApp forwards are being engineered to generate hate and make fun of Congress, AAP, Left parties.
Hence the need of the hour is for all opposition parties who believe in a secular, democratic republic to stand up against the fascist tendencies of BJP government and unite to fight the common enemy. If the social democrats and communists had recognized the real traits and danger of fascism, and unitedly fought the Nazis, Hitler and the Nazi party could have been stopped in his initial days and the horror unleashed could have been avoided.
So this finally brings us to the question again, what is the idea of India? Is it going back to a feudal concept of Hindu Rashtra which is inspired by the fascism of Nazi Germany and Mussolini in Italy? Or is it the forward-looking vision of a modern secular, socialist, democratic republic as enshrined in our Preamble and Constitution with respect and equal rights for all religions? I will conclude by quoting Nehru :
“It may sound very nice to some people to hear it said that we will create a Hindu Rashtra etc. I cannot understand what it means. Hindus are in majority in this country and whatever they wish will be done. But the moment you talk of a Hindu Rashtra you speak in a language which no other country except one can comprehend and that country is Pakistan because they are familiar with this concept. They can immediately justify their creation of an Islamic nation by pointing out to the world that we are doing something similar. Hindu Rashtra can mean one thing, and that is to leave the modern way and get into a narrow, old-fashioned way of thinking, and fragment India into pieces. Those who are not Hindus will be reduced in status. You may say patronisingly that you will look after the Muslims or Christians or others, as in Pakistan they say that they will look after the Hindus. Do you think any race or individual will accept for long the claim that they are looked after while we sit above them.”