Hindu Dharma is a relatively new name for what has been timelessly known as Sanatana Dharma. Hindu Dharma is geographically Indian, or Bharatiya, but it is universally valid because, unlike other schools of thought, it accepts all other and diverse thoughts without rejecting any. This all-inclusive school of thought was a nameless philosophy that did not need to distinguish itself from others, as there was no other thought system from which it needed to be distinguished. It was a thought that did not need an identity different from other thoughts as it accepted all other thoughts as valid. It is only when exclusive schools of thoughts emanated from the Abrahamic stable, which rejected the validity of all thoughts other than those of the concerned Abrahamic school, Sanatana Dharma needed to distinguish itself form the exclusive Abrahamic thoughts. It is not Hindu Dharma which rejected the Abrahamic thoughts, but it is the Abrahamic thoughts which rejected the Hindu Dharma. With the result that the Sanatana Dharma had to acquire and accept a name to distinguish itself; not because it was an exclusive thought but because it was an inclusive thought and all other thoughts exclusive. This is how the word Hindu evolved to distinguish the exclusive Abrahamic thoughts from Hindu Dharma or Sanatana Dharma. The name was meant not so much to distinguish Hindu Dharma from others as it was to distinguish the newly emerged exclusive thoughts from the inclusive Hindu Dharma.
Secular India’s allergy to ancient India
In secular India, where anything associated with ancient India is viewed with suspicion as communal and unfriendly to secular way of life, the definitions of what constitutes Hindu, Dharma, Hindu Dharma and Hindutva are rendered contentious by the secular polity that is largely defined and directed by vote banks. Nevertheless, as politics penetrates every aspect of life including the impenetrable institution of family, any discussion on the socio-cultural life of a nation, particularly a nation like Bharatvarsh, which has an unbroken, though disturbed, tradition of thousands of years, is a complex and demanding one. More so because our nation has drifted away from public domain; it has been preserving its core life style stealthily for hundreds of years under alien rule, and has continued its stealthy living for five decades even under the independent indigenous rule. The task is even more difficult, because any discussion on understanding the core values of our ancient life represented by Hindu Dharma has to be carried out in a situation that is confounded by such drift and stealthy living. What was and is even now original to the Hindu people has become a hidden virtue; the Hindus have lost the confidence to openly live with it because of secular India’s explicit and institutionalised allergy to traditional India. Yet Hindu Dharma is the core of India’s tradition.
Proper understanding of India’s traditional values represented by the concept ‘Dharma’ requires a dispassionate discussion on the socio cultural life of this ancient nation, uninhibited by the politics of the day. Traditional India is largely the product of Hindu Dharma. The concept of secularism evolved in the mono-religious Christendom. As a result of the misapplication of this Christian concept to the multi-religious Hindu Dharma, which does not distinguish between different faiths and accepts all faiths, the Hindu Dharma was itself equated to the exclusive Abrahamic faiths. This has made an understanding of the meaning of Hindu Dharma even more difficult.
Secularism is a concept evolved within Christianity; it was never designed to handle a multi-religious situation. Only the Hindu tradition, and certainly not Christian secularism, has accepted and handled a situation where multiple religions are accorded validity. This fact has not been internalised in the understanding of secularism in free India. We have refused to understand that outside the history and geography of India there is no multi-religious social, cultural and political matrix which can be presented as a benchmark for this ancient nation. We have tried, incorrectly and inappropriately, to make the secularism of Christendom as benchmark for this ancient nation’s modern polity. Consequently, understanding of different elements of ancient India has been rendered difficult in modern conditions, conditions for which the rules have been laid by Christendom.
Dharma, Hindu, and Hindu Dharma
To understand Hindu Dharma one has to be clear about the meaning of the word Hindu and also the import of what Dharma means. Both words are difficult to define, but the word “Dharma” is even more difficult to comprehend, particularly in English. This is a word that the ordinary people of this country understand and apply in their day-to-day life, but it is difficult for even scholars to properly define for scholarly discussion. For, Dharma is based on experience, rather than explanation. For the intellectual, explanation is more important than experience; and, for the ordinary, experience is more important than explanation.
If the word ‘Hindu’ signifies the collective identity of the people of this ancient land, than their experience of the world and life enshrined in a continuously evolving belief system approximates to the idea of Hinduism. The Hindu experience, or Hinduism, is the longest known and living continuity in the world. And perhaps the most chequered one. The Hindu tryst with humans – why? – with all living creatures, and with nature and in fact the entire creation, has been a fascinating story of a civilisation that grappled with the complexities of humans and of the creation as whole on a practical plane.
This civilisation had the wisdom to let the accumulated human experience to handle current human problems, even as it firmly believed that the eternal values of creation would continue to guide the destiny of humans. The Hindu understanding of the world is conditioned by the Hindu experience of nature and the propensities of humans; and the immutable laws of nature as translated into continuously evolving rules of life in observable form were called ‘Dharma’.
This in brief is the story of the endogenous evolution of the Hindu society. But the discussion cannot be limited to the endogenous evolution alone. We also have to deal with the exogenous factors that impacted and are continuing to impact on the body, mind and intellect of the Hindu society.
Hindu Dharma – a non-combative socio-cultural view intertwined with politics and economics
Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, one of the well-known thinkers of Independent India, repeatedly asserted, in his profound exposition of ‘Integral Humanism’, that human life is integral. No aspect of life is autonomous, or compartmental. This is true both at the micro and at the macro level. In fact, this integral nature is not limited only to the humans. It extends to the whole of the creation. Pandit Upadhyaya refers to the integration of the Vyashti, the individual, Samashti, the collective, and the Parameshti, the creator. There is integral relationship in the creative processes; and this applies particularly to the relationship between humans and nature. Given this integral relationship, and even limiting it to humans only, the politico-economic life of a nation cannot be divorced from its social and cultural life.
Socio-cultural behaviour of the people impacts and shapes the economic and political construct of a nation. Economic and political dimensions in turn have a vital bearing on the socio-cultural evolution of a society. The modern world moves on economic theories and econometrics. Every decision, concerning political, diplomatic or security aspects, is linked to economics. Yet even the die-hard west-centric economic and social thinkers feel that there is something like a ‘20% missing link’ in economics. What is that missing link? That is culture. Culture is the uniqueness in the personality of a society. It is inextricably mixed with economics. And economics interfaces politics. Therefore there is an inseparable linkage between society, culture, economics and politics. Not only are they interdependent, they exert enormous mutual influence. It is admitted that economics influences culture. But culture influences economics more than economics influences culture. Therefore any analysis of socio-cultural life will have to factor-in economic and political dimensions as well.
As a faith, Hinduism is inclusive, and inner-directed. It does not impose itself on its own adherents. So no question of its imposing itself on others arises. This principle of life has been observed and unfailingly put into practice by the inhabitants of this land since time immemorial. That was why they could receive invading Sakas and Hunas and assimilate them and integrate them into their society. That was why they could receive the Jews, Parsis, Shia Muslims and the early Christians – all of whom came as refugees, with their thoughts and beliefs orphaned in their own lands – and treat them as equal members of this ancient society. There was no modern constitution that guaranteed rights to minorities then; there were no secularists to protect them from the majority. It was the majority inhabitants, seeped in their Hindu Dharma, who protected them. The non-conflicting nature of Hindu Dharma is not just a matter of theory, but an observed practice that has been followed and adhered to for ages.
Hindutva – the kinetic form of Hindu Dharma
Hindu Dharma represents the potential energy of the Indian people. But without the manifestation of that potential energy in it active form, it was unable to gather together its adherents to face the challenges. Hindutva is the kinetic aspect of Hindu Dharma. Hindu Dharma or Hinduism was never organised. Nor was it organisable. Organisation and Hinduism were contradictory terms. A thought which accepted all other thoughts as valid, which found fault with none and demeaned and discredited none, can never be organised, because organisation is always motivated to build strength around a thought against another. If there is no ‘other’ thought and all thoughts are acceptable and valid then there is no need to organise. This was the strength of Hinduism or Hindu Dharma. It did not need an organisation, and it was incapable of being organised.
But when it was faced with the onslaught of the Abrahamic faiths which rejected other thoughts, considered their followers as kafirs and heathens, and denied them even the right to live, Hinduism slowly assumed a kinetic form. Hinduism had to acquire this form to secure its defence against the thoughts that used physical might against Hinduism. This is how Hinduism, which had internal kinetic dimensions that led to continuous evolution and to change with continuity, and which did not need any external kinetics, began to develop external kinetics as defence against the thoughts that sought to extinguish it.
That was how Chatrapathi Shivaji thought of and was motivated to establish a Hindavi Swarajya; this was an unprecedented departure from the traditions of the Hindu nation. Never in the history of Hindus was there a kingdom which had a religious connotation or implication. In fact, the Hindu concept of RajaDharma protected the desachara of even the conquered people; it made it obligatory on a conquering king to respect the beliefs and life-style of the conquered people. Thus the victory or defeat of kings did not mean any impact on or change in the life-style or beliefs of the people. But, since the Abrahamic faiths were powered by the state and the army, to defend itself Hindu Dharma also had to manifest an external kinetic form that allowed it to take defensive counter-actions. Over the years such counter action became the kinetic force of the Hindu society, and come to be known as Hindutva. Hindutva is the kinetic aspect of Hindu Dharma. For an unorganised thought like Hinduism, this kinetic aspect is necessary; without Hindutva, the kinetic force inherent in Hinduism, Hinduism was incapable of saving itself from the aggressive Abrahmic faiths. Those aggressive faiths would have long overrun Hindusim, if it were not protected by Hindutva.
The transition of Hinduism to its kinetic form Hindutva
An introductory background to the modern theoretical understanding of Hinduism or Hindutva is essential for any discussion on reinstating Hindutva in the socio-cultural life of Bharatvarsh. This takes us to a discussion on what constitutes Hindutva as it might be understood through the exposition of scholars and literature which the modern world and the modern Hindu are familiar with. As the modern Hindu and the world at large are the principal factors that need to be tackled – the ordinary Hindu is already in tune with the concept of Hindutva in his total lifestyle – this discussion is focussed on the more recent and modern understanding of Hindutva. It is focussed on Hindutva as it is defined outside the intellectual process of the Hindutva movements; but this definition is not very different from the understanding of Hindutva within the Hindu movements.
‘Hindutva’, ‘Hinduness’ and ‘Hinduism’ are not independent but interchangeable concepts. The statesman-philosopher, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, said in his lectures at the Oxford University that originally the word Hindu had geographical, not creedal, significance. It signified the geographic identity of Bharat, the identity of the people in a particular geographic area, that is, Bharatvarsh; the term did not signify any particular faith or method of worship. Hindu was the name of the people of Bharatvarsh, the national identity of Bharat. Even in the sense of a faith, Hinduism is unlike Semitic religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, which have a global agenda to Islamise or Christianise the world, which means converting the adherents of other faiths and beliefs and eliminating those faiths. The goal is not denied. It is only the means and the methods that are in dispute or debate. The Hindu view is in direct contrast to this Semitic mission.
The best definition for Hinduism is given not by any scholar on Hinduism, but the one contained in Encyclopaedia Britannica, a compilation that perceives the world from a Christian standpoint. On Hinduism, the Encyclopaedia says:
In principle Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship without necessitating the selection or elimination of any. The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant, leaving others – including both Hindus and non-Hindus – to whatever creed and worship practices suit them the best. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu, and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange Gods, and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers compliment each other for the well being of the world and the mankind. Few religious ideas are considered to be finally irreconcilable. The core of the religion does not even depend on the existence or non-existence of the God or whether there is one God or many. Since religious truth is said to transcend all verbal definition, it is not conceived in dogmatic terms. Hinduism is then both a civilisation and a conglomerate of religions with neither a beginning, nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy or organisation.
Quoting this from the encyclopaedia, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held in 1977 that Hinduism is a non-conflicting religion. Later, when the political idiom of India began to be influenced by Hindu Dharma through the kinetics of Hindutva, the Supreme Court had to consider the meaning of Hindutva. After considering the meaning and content of Hinduism and Hindutva, the Court held in 1994 that Hindutva, the kinetic effect of Hinduism, too is a non-conflicting and secular idea. So conceptually and practically, Hindutva, which is the kinetic effect of Hindu Dharma, is a non-conflicting idea. And so it has been in history and in practice. The Hindavi Swaraj of Chatrapathi Shivaji is the first state that adhered to Hindu Dharma. Otherwise it was the general rule of Rajadharma which was the governing rule of this land. The addition of the world Hindu as a prefix to the rule of Shivaji was in response to the Islamic theological rule which had devastated the Hindu land everywhere.
Strength as weakness: Inability to handle a faith that denies validity to other faiths
That it is non-conflicting in precept and practice is the distinctness of Hindutva. It is its differentiating uniqueness, its strength, and also its weakness, particularly in its interface with Islam and Christianity. In the Christian view, Hindutva is a pagan idea. Paganism everywhere collapsed in the face of Christianity, because it did not know how to deal with a faith that denied the foundations of all faiths other than its own. Analysing why the Roman Empire and Roman Paganism collapsed under the onslaught of Christianity, Encyclopaedia Britannica says:
Christianity consistently practiced an intolerant attitude to Judaism and paganism as well as heresy in its own ranks. By practising its intolerance vis-à-vis the Roman Emperor cult, it thereby forced the Roman Empire on its part into intolerance. Rome, however, was not adapted to the treatment of a religion that negated its religious foundations, and this inadequacy later influenced the breakdown of paganism. [Vol. 4. page 492]
It is not just the fate of Roman paganism; all pagan religions collapsed the same way before the onslaught of Christianity. Pagan religions were unfamiliar with a religion like Christianity, which negated the foundations of all other religions. Till Christianity arose on the horizon, no religion negated the foundations of another religion. It is only Christianity which introduced the idea of a religion rejecting another religion and claiming to be the true religion. Even Judaism, even though it claimed to be the only religion, did not invalidate or negate other religions. It is this proselytising element of Christianity, which makes it essentially intolerant and violent.
Hinduism is similar to the pagan religions as it does not negate the foundations of other religions, and in fact accepts all other religions. Therefore, like the Roman pagan religions, Hinduism must also have been a candidate for collapse; but it did not collapse. Why Hinduism did not collapse has stunned the forces inimical to it. More than theological foundations, it is the socio-religious structure of Hinduism that protected it. Its defences were too complex for any armed or ideological aggression of the kind that felled the other pagan faiths. What these defences were, and continue to be, will be discussed at some length later in this article.
While Hindutva did not and will not collapse in the face of Christianity, it has been hurt and hurt grievously in many areas. It is being hurt and injured even now. The Hindu belief that all faiths are sacred human experiences is fundamentally incapable of handling a faith like Christianity, which completely denies validity and legitimacy to any faith other than itself. It is difficult even to make the Hindus imagine that there could be a faith that denied validity to another. This inability persists even today. This is one of the greatest challenges to Hinduism in Bharat.
The Islamic belief in exclusive validity is identical to that of Christianity. But the problems of Hindus in their interface with Islam are even greater. Islam came into Bharat mainly as an invading faith; it was imposed here through statecraft and military, both of which were driven by faith. The interface between Hindutva and Islam has been highly violent. Will Durant says that Islamic invasion of India is the bloodiest invasion in history. The Islamic impact on India led to huge transfer of populations and territories from the Hindus to Islam. First Afghanistan, then Pakistan and Bangladesh, ceased to be part of Bharat, after the people in those societies ceased to be part of the Hindu society.
Thus both Islamic and Christian theologies constitute the mightiest problem and pose the greatest challenge to the Hindus and to Hindutva, to the security and life and culture of the Hindus.
Even a greater problem is posed by the inability of the adherents of Hindutva to believe that a faith could deny and even claim, as a matter of faith, the right to eliminate other faiths. As a result, Hinduism is handicapped in facing the aggressive proselytising thrust of Christianity, which is founded on the premise that Christianity alone has the patented know-how for human salvation, and no other faith is valid. It is handicapped in understanding that the trigger for Islamic terrorism is the very belief that only Islam has the right to exist, and no other faith has such a right.
So the real problem of Hinduism lies in the theology of Islam and of Christianity. The problem is not the Muslims or Christians; not even the organised Church or the Mosque. The problem is their fundamental religious belief that negates other faiths the right to exist. This is where proselytising faiths differ fundamentally from those that do not proselytise. This is where even the Judaic faith, which is part of the Abrahamic family, differs from Christianity and Islam. The Jewish faith is a racial faith; it believes in domination, but not in elimination of other faiths by conversion.
The challenge: The notion among Hindus, even Hindu scholars and leaders, that all religions are of the same nature or have the same goals
The internalised experience of the Hindus over millennia that all religions are same has settled in the genetic code of the Hindus. This was blindly applied to the Semitic religions also when they arrived in India. This is evident from the intellectual and social responses to Judaism, early Islam and early Christianity when they reached the shores of India. This is also partially true of our response to the Parsi religion. But these faiths, when they arrived in India, were refugee faiths, having been driven out from their lands by their enemies or quarrelling cousins, like in the case of Shias who were driven out by their Sunni cousins.
The general truth about these faiths is that they never recognised or shared the Hindu idea of Dharma, which was the common denominator of the multitude of faiths within Hindutva. In fact this was and continues to be an area of unresolved theological conflict between these alien religions and Hindutva. This conflict was less pronounced in the cases of Judaism and Zorastrianism, which were racial religions not open to other races, and which therefore did not insist upon Hindus converting to these faiths. They became like separate castes in Bharat. But this conflict became pronounced and even violent in the case of Islam and Christianity, which entered Bharat as refugee faiths and turned into invading faiths after the Islamic hordes and colonialists entered Bharat.
The violence arose because of the spirit of conversion that was not only inherent in them, but also was ordained as a compulsive trait of a believing Christian or Muslim. Encyclopaedia Britannica records that Columbus set out to sail to India because he believed that Satan, in the form of Hinduism, had taken refuge in India, and further believed that unless this hindrance called Hinduism were to be removed through Christian missions, the impending return of Christ, which was on hand, would be indefinitely delayed. Thus the colonial powers had as much a religious motive as an economic-commercial motive fuelling their urge for expansion. The less said about Islamic invasion of India the better. It was motivated as much by religious fervour as by the desire to loot.
These two proselytising religions are violent by nature, because of the idea and institution of conversion that is inalienable from the core of their faith. The faith in these religions is incomplete unless the faithful simultaneously invalidates and de-legitimises other faiths; hence their hostility to the Kafir and the Heathen; and hence their core institutions of Jihad and Crusade designed to deal with the non-believer in their exclusive faiths.
All this continues to be beyond the comprehension of the Hindu mind. So, even the scholarly Hindus, and Hindu religious leaders, continue to believe that Christianity and Islam are just like our own religions, except that these faiths tend to emphasise their point of view very strongly. The misbehaviour inherent in these religions is attributed to the zealots among them. But the truth is that there is mischief in the very foundation of these religions. So long as religious conversions are inherent and compulsive to a faith, that faith shall be violent to other faiths. To hold the followers responsible for such violence and exonerate the fundamental religious doctrines which preach such violence is a miserable intellectual failure of the Hindus. The misreading of these two religions, of understanding them in the image of Hinduism, is the biggest intellectual and philosophic failure of Hinduism.
Removing this gross misconception from the minds of Hindu religious leaders, scholars, and others is the first and the greatest challenge facing the Hindu society and the Hindu religious leaders and scholars. The Hindu leaders and scholars must study the Islamic and Christian scriptures thoroughly. They must undertake a massive effort to make the Hindus understand the theology of both. They must engage Islam and Chritianity in an open debate so that modern audiences may listen and watch. They must openly question the Christian and Islamic belief that all other beliefs are illegitimate; question their classification of the humans into Faithful and Pagan or Kafir; torment them on what they mean by Jihad and ask them whether Hindus are Kafirs and Heathens.
This alone will throw them on the defensive. Their aggressive pursuit of their religious and political goals can be checkmated only if they are thrown on the defensive. The only thing that will shame them is the public exposure of the narrowness and violence inherent in their faith and theology.
Even many Muslims and Christians do not know how narrow and violent their faiths are. They merely want to differentiate themselves from the Hindus, and for the sake of that differentiation tolerate their own leaders’ intolerance to Hindus and Hinduism. If they come to know that their own faith is the culprit in fomenting violence against the Hindus and Hinduism, their response could be very different.
The Hindu religious and social leaders must also link up globally with the leaders of other non-proselytising faiths. They must strike alliances with Buddhists, with the remaining pagans in Europe, Africa and the Americas who are trying to revive their traditions, and also with the enlightened followers of Semitic religions all over the world, particularly among the Christians who do not agree with the mission of Christianising the world. We should also ally with enlightened sections of Islamic societies in Iraq, Iran and Egypt and with the tribal chiefs of Afghanistan.
The evolution of Hindutva in vote bank based secular polity
Hindu Dharma, which almost got eclipsed in the public domain and went underground in Independent India under the Nehruvian spell, began to assert itself again in the public domain in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the Ayodhya movement.
The secular polity of Independent India had gradually turned into a game of minority appeasement for votes; it had consequently become anti-Hindu. The Ayodhya movement evolved as a corrective to this distortion. The movement brought about massive political changes in the country; it put the pseudo-secular polity, parties and leaders on the defensive. The BJP, with its agenda of Hindutva, became the largest political party in less than a decade and captured power in 1998 as part of a coalition.
Today Hindutva is the mainline thought of the country. Pseudo-secular political parties and their leaders are in the process of giving up secularism to fight elections on the basis of good governance. Politics is in the process of being restored to political parties, which were only appeasing the minorities for votes just a decade ago. Expressing allergy to Hinduism and Hindus had become part of the political process and normal secular ideological expression. But today this style of politics is fetching negative returns.
Now one can disagree with Hindutva, but cannot disregard the Hindus or distance themselves from Hinduism any more. Imagine the government of Kerala extending the rights of minority institutions to the Hindu educational institutions! This would have been unimaginable without the tectonic shift that is taking place in the national polity. The secular political parties are seeking to make a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, implying that Hinduism is good, but not Hindutva. But some reflection would show that Hindutva is only the kinetic manifestation of the dormant potential of Hinduism; it is the defensive force of the only non-conflicting and non-combative religious faith.
Hindutva is no more a marginal idea today. It is now the mainline thought. It is Hindutva that has been setting the agenda for national debate for the past decade and more. The emergence of Hindutva as the mainline thought places special responsibilities on those leading the Hindutva movement. Unlike the minority-led movements which can agitate and go on agitating as perpetual dissenters, unconcerned about governance and the running of the country, the Hindutva movement has the responsibility to ensure that national governance is not affected, whichever party is in power. It is the alienation of the Hindus from the establishment which turned the majority Hindus into dissenters in the decades following Independence. As a result of such alienation the majority of this country never felt that it was in power as Hindus. In fact the very idea of majority rule was defined as opposed to the idea of secularism.
The polity of Independent India prior to the Ayodhya movement and rise of Hindutva had virtually no character. It was a polity that was driven by personalities rather than ideology. The cult of personalities as the centre of politics, without any ideology informing and driving the polity, has almost ended with the ascension of the BJP to power. Whether the ruling BJP asserts its Hindu character or not, whether it owns up to its basis in Hindutva or not, it is always seen as a Hindu force.
With Hindutva emerging as the central focus of the nation and pseudo-secularism getting marginalized, the earlier phase of the marginalisation of Hindutva and Hindus in politics is over. The Hindu movements now will have to reconsider their posture of perpetual dissent, and turn into mainline drives of the country. It is true that the Hindu agenda remains largely unfulfilled. But the Hindu movement has a difficult situation to handle. It cannot agitate and at the same it cannot give up its ideological thrust. Any agitation today is seen as a rift within the Hindu movement. So the Hindu movements need to handle the situation with extreme dexterity and skill.
The need to avoid creating or contributing to create the image of a reactionary intolerant and violent Hindutva, and of the Hindu organisations as the counterparts of Islamic terrorist outfits
Today, when communications have linked the whole world and anyone saying something or any event happening in a remote corner is soon broadcast all over the world, all debates have become global, and so has all opinion making. This is particularly so where the debates concern a nation like Bharat, which constitutes 1/6th of humanity, and which is perceived to be an emerging global player in the economic and strategic fields. It is even more so, when the debate concerns Hindutva in relation to Islam or Christianity, which are global faiths with powerful global lobbies supporting them.
The world suffers from utmost ignorance about Hinduism. The ordinary world sees it as another exclusive faith. Most people in the world do not believe that there can be a religion that grants the validity and legitimacy of other religions. The world is used only to religions that proclaim not only their exclusive validity, but also the falsity of all other religions. Such ignorance pervades those in the media and even many of the intellectuals. Their knowledge of religions is limited, and they treat all of them to be about the same. They tend to understand Hinduism and Hindutva only through their understanding of Islam or at best of Christianity.
The Christian West thinks that all religions other than Christianity are like Islam. They believe that Buddhism is like Islamic extremism, and they find evidence for this belief in the ‘Aum Shirinyo’ phenomenon of Japan. They think that the Hindutva movement in Bharat is the counterpart of Islamic fundamentalist movements in Pakistan or Indonesia or Malaysia. The difference between the Semitic faiths and the Hindu pantheon of faiths is largely unknown to the world, particularly the Western world. Even scholars are unaware of the difference between Hindutva and Islam for instance.
Today it is the media that is informing scholarship and not the other way round. The leaders of the Hindutva movement must understand that the Hinduism and Hindutva are being judged on the analogy of Islam and Christianity. For, to the West, religion means only Islam and Christianity. They understand and judge other religions only on their understanding of these two Semitic faiths.
The profane media-generated opinion, which happens to be mostly incorrect, is a problem for Hindutva and the Hindu organisations. The latter are in danger of being bracketed with Islamic extremist and terrorist organisations. Why go out of India? Even within India the pseudo-secular and left elements always juxtapose Hindu organisations with the Islamic extremist organisations; they always tend to compare and club together a Hindu organisation like Bajrang Dal with the Islamic SIMI. This is a ready trap into which the Hindu organisations and their leaders keep falling repeatedly. In the process Hindutva is being regarded as a cousin of Islamic extremism and Hindu organisations as the mirror-image of Islamic terrorist and extremist organisations.
The leaders of the Hindutva movement must understand that Hindutva is the only thought that lacks global support. Equally it is a thought that has as its adversaries two of the most powerful global thoughts, Islam and Christianity. It requires sound strategy and great skill and dexterity to navigate the Hindutva movement through this maze of global overseeing. The leaders of Hindu organisations need extensive training and deep thinking to undertake this highly demanding enterprise. They must choose words that cannot be faulted; employ the language that cannot be questioned. They must project an image of being the victims of Islamic terror and extremism rather than as their equal or equivalent counterparts. The Hindu organisations must understand that it is only the state that can fight terror with fire. The society can only generate fierce public opinion against terror to enable the government to fight terror freely and without being constrained by the human rights industry, and by the liberals and other intellectual anarchists.
This is an area to which the Hindutva movement and the leaders of the movement need to devote adequate time and attention. They must devise proper strategy. They must develop proper leadership and appropriate tools and language for articulation. For, on them depends the opinion that the world shall form of the Hindutva movements and the view it shall take of Hindutva.
Since global opinion is very crucial to fight Islamic terror, which is a globally linked and globally directed phenomenon, it is necessary for the Hindu organisations to start correcting the distorted opinion created in the past by the omissions and commissions of the Hindutva movement and its leadership. This needs to be attended to immediately on an emergency footing. If need be diverse chosen leaders of the movement will have to travel to important countries in the world, meet opinion-makers within and outside of the national establishments and ensure that the obvious difference between the Islamic and Hindu movements are clearly explained to them, that these differences are clearly etched in their understanding. Now is the time when the world will be receptive to such viewpoints; it was not so two years back. The situation offers a challenge as well as an opportunity.
Hindu Dharma is inherently a global thought: Hence the challenge of factoring Global influences
In the present context, with mass communication invading individuals, families, societies and nations, there is cross-country interface between different cultures, which also influences and impacts national cultures. Today there is an undeniable and unstoppable global influence over national cultures. All over the world there are debates taking place about the consequences of such cross-country influences, about the creeping westernisation of all cultures, about the homogenisation of all cultures into a single global construct. Even within the West there is growing resentment towards the Americanisation of the European culture. Particularly the French feel so. In fact there are debates that points towards emerging global conflicts over culture.
As early as 1994, long before Islamic terrorism struck at the US and the West as intensely as it began doing later, a leading strategic thinker in the US wrote about a possible clash among civilisations driven by Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu religions. This was written in the context of Islamic fundamentalism emerging as the greatest threat to the West. The author perceived a possible future scenario where the West might be raged against all the Rest. He advised the West to come to terms with the Rest in order to avoid large-scale violent clashes.
While this particular scholar spoke of clashes among civilisations defined by religion, another thinker felt that the clashes would indeed arise along civilisational lines, but what defined civilisations was not religion, but technology. According to him there would be clashes among pre-modern, modern and post-modern civilisations, which are deeply differentiated from each other by technology. Thus cultural divide, whether the culture is defined by religion or technology, is increasingly perceived as an important element, perhaps the most important element, in forging and breaking global relationships and alliances.
It is necessary – indeed it is a challenge – to factor global perceptions and development in any socio-cultural or socio-economic study of India. For, India driven by Hindu Dharma is susceptible to global influences more than any other country. This is for a host of reasons, some of which have been suggested by Dr Abdul Kalam, the current President of India. Paraphrasing Dr. Kalam, the reasons for the peculiar susceptibility of India to global influences are: First, India has been a land that was repeatedly invaded and totally colonised land for centuries, and so the colonial hangover distorts its mind. Second, by faith and conviction it has an inclusive and global mind, it believes invasudhaiva kutumbakam, and so, philosophically, it can never be insular. Third, it has no sense of retaliation and so it cannot reject even those who have in the past harmed it. Fourth, it has greater flexibility in accepting outsiders and so it makes very little distinction between those who are its own and those who are outsiders. [A most striking example of this phenomenon is Sonia Gandhi’s acceptability to the Congress party.] Fifth, it has huge Indian diasporas; the number of Indians outside India is as large as 30 million, with every one of them relating to at least three persons in India as relatives and friends. Lastly, the Indian people account for 1/6th of global population and a country of that size and number cannot remain isolated from the rest of the world. For all these reasons, India is inevitably susceptible to global cultural influences.
India cannot be insulated; therefore, unless India influences the world, the world is bound to influence India. The only way India can neutralise global influence on India is to influence the world and bend it towards its way. This is a huge challenge. Today India’s actual capacity to influence the world is unproven and its potential capacity is suspect. While the world, which means the West, ceaselessly and comprehensively influences Hindu India, there is hardly a matching Indian influence on the world or the West. This is because the main vehicle of Western influences on India in the last century was not the West outside India, but the English-educated elite and the leftists within India. They do the work of the West in India. They influence India towards the Western views and ways. They make India believe that it has nothing worthwhile with which to influence the world and it has every reason to be influenced by the world. They continue to dominate the Indian debate even now. This great challenge too needs to be met.
The response to this challenge lies in establishing an acceptable language and style of communication to get across to the important, vulnerable and critical segment of Hindu society comprising of the English-educated elite. The Hindu leadership must understand that the English-educated population in Bharat is more than the total population of England. It is this segment which controls and handles the levers of power and influence in the society. Their influence over the Indian establishment, including the government, business, finance, media, politics, academics and public discourse in general, is totally disproportionate to their numbers. Their understanding of the real Bharat, its history and traditions, its values and culture, is minimal, and often wrong. Some among them even detest all ideas and things Indian. Following the Western view of gender relationships and under the influence of feminism – which has nearly destroyed the institution of the family in the West – some of them are even apologetic about being women in the normal sense of the term.
These influences are gaining force, and even legitimacy, in the Indian discourse. This has accentuated the tussle between the modern and the tradition in India at various levels; it has influenced everything from discourses in the public domain to quarrels and disputes within families. So the Hindutva movement, that spans a large canvas extending from the traditional mathas to the modern, westernised and even Christianised versions of Hindu organisations like the new spiritual orders, must specially target this English-educated and the partially and fully Westernised. This requires detailed planning and execution.
If the challenge of Westernisation and cultural invasion – which is becoming an issue all over the world, and shall probably be the principal reason for the emerging clash between Islam and the West – can be handled, and even defied and defeated by any society, it is only the Hindu society. Hindutva has the philosophical flexibility and diversity of traditions that allows it to make tradition a part of the present, a part of the immediate context of the individual, without making traditional practices remote or distant. This has been achieved by the Hindu society and the exponents of Hindutva by locating Hindu traditions and beliefs deeply within the filial, local and social contexts.
How to handle the English-educated segment of the Hindus needs to be discussed in detail. But suffice it to say at this stage that this issue is a challenge. It needs to be handled deftly. But, let there be no doubt that it can indeed by handled; Hindutva has the civilisational and cultural resources to handle this challenge.
The main reason for the diffused and confused Hindu identity among the English-educated: Even as we became free, we allowed our minds to remain colonised
One of the principal reasons why India is porous to foreign, to be precise, Western, influences is that after Independence India never even attempted to de-colonise itself. Instead of illegitimatising the colonial rule and invasions and reinstalling the unconquered India, the Indian leadership perpetuated a defeated and colonised India. Far from distancing themselves from the colonial rule, personalities and influences, the rulers of Independent India came to terms with and perpetuated colonial institutions and personalities. Independent India even adorned the last colonial ruler on the highest governmental position of the land.
The Nehuruvian approach rationalised the colonial influences as necessary for national development. When Indian leaders set about rebuilding India after we attained freedom, the Nehruvian approach prevailed over the Gandhian in re-shaping the society, polity and economy of India. The conflict between the Nehruvian and the Gandhian approaches was clearly articulated by the two proponents themselves already in 1928. Pandit Nehru was clear that western culture should dominate India and it could not be avoided. He even charged that Gandhi had virtually kept the nation obsessed with village and khadi. He asserted that Rama Rajya was no good even when Rama reigned. Nor did he want it back. The extent of hostility Nehru displayed had shocked Gandhiji. He found Nehru’s views diametrically opposed to his own views about the future India, where native ways and views of life would dominate and the modern Western ways would be adopted extremely selectively only in unavoidable situations. Finally, it was the Nehruvian views that prevailed, and the Gandhian way was relegated to the margins.
One consequence of this dominance of the Nehruvian approach was that our Independence turned out to be a mere transfer of power, not freedom from the British; Independence came to represent merely a change of the rulers with almost no change in the character of the rule or the attitudes of the rulers to the people of India and to the ideas and things Indian. The Anglo-Saxon values and norms continued to be the soul of the Indian state that came into being after Independence. There was little of indigenous ways in the polity of India following Independence. Whatever was native was made the subject matter of ridicule. Secular India virtually targeted the traditional and religious India. To make matters worse, we took to the socialist form of economy and so whatever tradition remained, that became a prey to the leftist and socialist onslaught.
Thus, the divide between the Indian establishment and the Indian people remained despite Independence, and even widened as independent rule took roots. Consequently the socio-cultural life of Bharat is to day stretched and divided between the two extremes of Anglo-Saxon life-style, institutions and norms on the one hand and the native lifestyle, institutions and norms on the other. This divide is partly explicit and partly hidden. While this struggle has been going on in India since Independence, with the Nehru family directing the debate against the native ways of life, the initiative has been partly wrested by two socio-political mass movements in the late 1980s and early 1990s, namely the Mandal movement and the Ayodhya movement.
What follows from this discussion is that Hindutva is the kinetic form of Hindu Dharma. This form is an evolution dictated by the absence of organised strength in Hindu Dharma. Its evolution was necessitated by the fact that Hindu Dharma had no conflict with other religions and therefore it was non-combative in character. Since Hindu Dharma was non-conflicting and non-combative in nature, it lacked the aggression needed to face the aggressive Semitic faiths that had a global mission to convert the whole world to their faiths. Since Hindu Dharma accepted the validity of all faiths, it could not deny that validity and legitimacy to the Semitic faiths also, despite the fact that they denied not just validity to Hindu dharma, but also theologically denied it the right to exist as a religion.
With these structural weaknesses arising out of its inclusiveness, the adherents of Hindu Dharma evolved over centuries a facet of Hindu Dharma that responded to the onslaught of others; that is how the kinetic form of Hindu Dharma, namely Hindutva, was born. The entire freedom movement was in substance powered by the implicit kinetics of Hindutva.
But free and Independent India, which was hijacked by those who believed in the secularism practised in Christendom, turned the secular Indian allergic to Hindu Dharma. This distortion confounded the mind and polity of India for over four decades.
The Ayodhya movement evolved as a corrective to this distortion and brought balance to the polity of India. Now the kinetic form of Hindu Dharma, Hindutva, is the mainline thought despite the fact that the political idiom of India remains secularist; but the secularism that was practised for the first four decades is not the secularism that is being practiced now. What was once understood as ‘dharmanirapekshata’ or neutrality of the state towards religious faith, which approximated to the Christendom’s view of secularism, is now recognised as ‘sarvapantha samabhava’ or equal protection to all religions, which is the very essence of Hindu Dharma. So the kinetic form of Hindu Dharma, that is Hindutva, has forced a reinterpretation of secularism to make it consistent with the Hindu Dharma.