Quite some time before the general assembly elections, the final articulation of the to-be-dominant narrative has already arrived. Though it started with Rahul Gandhi’s temple-hopping and the Congress’ claim that he’s a janeu-dhari (the one who wears the Brahminical thread) Hindu, Shashi Tharoor’s new book, “Why I Am a Hindu“, is the new entry into the realm of ideas from the Congress’ corner.
Hinged on cow-vigilantism, love-jihad, temple-politics and minority marginalisation, BJP’s Hindutva clearly lacks intellectual lustre, spiritual depth, and, quite apparently, the liberalism and modernity which supposedly exists within Hinduism. However, the political appeal of Hindutva and the organisational strength of the Sangh Parivar are hard obstacles for any opponent.
It’s also enviable to liberals of all shades – especially the liberal nationalists, who believe in neo-liberal economic policies. They see a somewhat narrow form of nationalism emerging as an instrument from these developments. At the same time, they have also begun to realise the flaws and dangers of their own limited narrowness and the overt narrowness of Hindutva.
The apparent danger of this articulation is the subversion of the other important and real issues – jobless growth, environmental degradation, income disparities, and public service delivery – broadly speaking, the state capacity. Having said this, it’s also true that without a socially-cohesive narrative, the politics of development is led astray by inconsequential debates.
The most recent example of this is the controversy surrounding the movie “Padmaavat”. But again, however desirable the cost might be, can the imminent dangers of the other real challenges be ignored? Answering this question requires a deeper engagement. Perhaps, the mutual evolution of Hinduism and a democratic-republic model of governance can be considered to be a way forward.
The foremost challenge in the Hindu versus Hindutva debate is to delegitimise the ‘Hindutva militancy’ (romeo squads, cow vigilantes, etc.) by shrinking their social base. It is essential to establish the liberal and modern face of Hinduism and Hindus and lead the energy of the youths towards more creative ways of self-expression.
In his interview to Rajdeep Sardesai on his book, Shashi Tharoor talked about three kinds of leadership – spiritual, political, and the leadership of ideas, which are required to establish an order based on Hinduism – of which Swami Vivekananda and Gandhi are the faces. Though, Tharoor was asked whether this was a departure from Nehruvian secularism, Ambedkar was not mentioned even once.
The omission of Ambedkar in this debate is peculiar. Who would Ambedkar have sided with, in this debate? The Hindus or the Hindutvavadis? I don’t think that there’s any doubt that Ambedkar would have sided with the Constitution of India, even today. Constitution is that book due to which democracy survived in India for so many years. In my opinion, had Ambedkar been alive today, he would have considered this debate to be one between constitutionalism and religious dogmatism.
Another important challenge before us is the absence of leadership. The leadership for politics and ideas can emerge and exist. In my opinion, the leadership where there is a void is that of spirituality. A mahant is a chief minister of one of the biggest provinces of India. Does he represent the spiritual order of Hinduism? A baba has turned into a politician-cum-businessman. Does he represent the modernity within Hinduism? A few babas are in jail for raping women. Do they represent the ‘greatness’ of Hinduism?
Who represents the diverse and rich intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual dimensions of Hinduism? Can career politicians be trusted with this? Can university professors and opinion-makers do justice to it? Who has the ability, legitimacy, depth, and most importantly, self-confidence (like Swami Vivekananda) to say at a global platform that acceptance is the core of Hinduism?
The Hindu versus Hindutva debate is a historical opportunity for the young population of India to reinvent the Indian society, its political and economic system, and its development paradigm. However, right now, there are more questions and confusions than straightforward answers. The debate appears abstract and devoid of reality.
But, by no means is the debate unnecessary. The young people of the nation must participate in it and capture the public sphere which has been lost to the ‘corrupt elite’. Do not allow intellectual feudalism to prevail once again, just because the time, medium, knowledge and circumstances are all on their side.