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A conversation between me and an ecosystem activist

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

Me: There are civilizational threats to the Hindu society and India. Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan’s book “Breaking India” makes it alarmingly lucid.

The Other: This is merely a brawl amongst religions. We must look forward and not cling to our past.

Me: If you are so forward-looking, you must surely possess the foresight to understand that this civilizational battle is a battle of ideologies. These global threats to the Hindus also provide intellectual cover for the Naxalites. Surely, you are far-sighted enough to understand that employing paramilitary force can merely reduce their manpower but not weed out their ideology. Surely, you possess logic enough to understand that only a potent ideology can counter another ideology. So, that is what Hindutva seeks to achieve: a potent ideology against these pernicious forces. I do not see the reason for controversy!

The Other: But what if there is truth in what these “pernicious forces” propagate?

Me: But what if there is truth in what I say? The ancients said that there is one truth but the wise call it by many names. That our egalitarian society did deteriorate is truth. But that the same society produced reformers is also truth. The question is, “Which truth is most apt in the circumstances?” Is it not the truth that the present-day society is one of sovereign nation-states? If yes, why is it that foreigners are so interested in eradication of social evils in India? Do they believe that Indians cannot do so themselves? If so, how did India produce men like Jyotirao Phule and Ambedkar?

The Other: But Ambedkar was enlightened by education abroad, and he attacked Hinduism throughout his life.

Me: But Ambedkar did not need education abroad to understand that the caste system was evil. He understood it since his childhood. He received education to equip himself with the skills to emancipate the depressed classes. Also, that he attacked Hinduism is not in dispute. But if he was such an avowed hater of Hinduism as a whole and not merely the evils thereof, how is it that his biography by Dhananjay Keer mentions Ambedkar using examples from the Mahabharata to motivate the depressed classes in his speeches? Modern Hindutva also seeks a total eradication of the caste system the way he did. Do you see why proponents of Hindutva revere Ambedkar?

The Other: But that amounts to his appropriation!

Me: The idea most dear to Hindutva is the cultural unity of India. Ambedkar reiterated the same. In his paper that he presented at the Columbia University, he details out the cultural unity of India. According to him, India possessed a “deeper and a much more fundamental unity – the indubitable cultural unity that covers the land from end to end.” He says that spirituality is the binding fabric of this nation. What is it that proponents of Hindutva say that is radically different from this? That he did not hate adherents of Hindu consolidation is proven by the fact that he appointed a man affiliated with the RSS as his election agent. Also, how is it that Ambedkar recommended that Upanishads could be looked to for democratic principles? He wrote: “To support democracy because we are all children of God is a very weak foundation for democracy to rest on. That is why democracy is so shaky wherever it made to rest on such a foundation. But to recognize and realize that you and I are parts of the same cosmic principle leaves room for no other theory of associated life except democracy. It does not merely preach democracy. It makes democracy an obligation of one and all.” Much as you may not want to admit, Ambedkar’s thoughts are in near-perfect conformity with modern Hindutva.

The Other: But Ambedkar clearly did not share the views of Hindutva proponents so far as the divinity of cow is concerned.

Me: Savarkar, too, did not share it. A cow being divine is a theological construct. I think I have made it clear that modern Hindutva is about considering cow a utilitarian animal and not a divine one, and that it is not confined to theology. Hindus themselves are divided and do not share a unanimous view on the topic. Again, I see no reason controversy.

The Other: But what about his statements about Hinduism not being in conformity in democracy and other such bitter remarks by him?

Me: He was right. Hinduism, deteriorated by the caste system, could never adapt itself to democracy. Modern Hindutva seeks to eradicate the evils. I again see no reason for controversy.

The Other: But declaring India a Hindu Rashtra would be unconstitutional, because Article 1 of the Constitution begins with “India, that is Bharat” and the Preamble states that it shall be a secular nation. Theocracy can never co-exist with secularism.

Me: Who said that Hindu Rashtra would be a theocratic state? Did anyone ever say that Hinduism would be the state religion of such a Rashtra? Do any of the intellectual proponents of Hindutva say so? Do not include inconsequential statements from an MLA here or an MLA there, for such would be innately political with little substance. The question is, “has any such intent been shown by the government?” Was not one of the earliest decisions by the Narendra Modi 2.0 government pertinent to minority welfare? Did I not say that Hindutva is not solely about theology, and that worship is an individual choice? Why would then proponents of Hindutva ever amend the basic structure of the Constitution? Hindu Rashtra is merely an ideal.

The Other: But what about the fact that it may alienate other communities?

Me: If it is so alienating to other communities, how is it that intellectuals like Shehzad Poonawalla sympathize with the Hindus? How is it that Arif Mohammad Khan sympathizes with the Hindus? It may be a start and a feeble one at that, but should this trend continue, I see no reason why Muslims would not support this endeavour. The same applies to Christians. Look at Savio Rodrigues, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Goa Chronicle. Again, a feeble start probably, but a start nonetheless.

The Other: Another question. We know that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was a very secular king. He had Muslims serving in his army. Why is it that Hindutva proponents have appropriated him as a Hindutva icon?

Me: Well? Is it not a fact that he fought against the imposition of Islam by the Mughals? Did he fight merely for freeing India from the Mughal rule? The Marathas also liberated temples from the Islamic yoke. Also remember that the principle he fought for was Hindavi Swarajya, which literally translates to Hindu self-rule. True that he did not mean it exclusively for Hindus. Now, merely because Muslims served in his army, he did not introduce Muslim reservation for propitiation. These are the precise principles of the proponents of Hindutva today. Their conception of India is not based on religion, but on culture. And culture is more than theology. Their motto is, “development for all, appeasement to none.” They, too, are not in favour of theological diktats, if any, guiding affairs of the State. No wonder they find Shivaji very close to their conception. Again, I see no reason for controversy.

I hope this imaginary conversation has brought to light the contours of the Hindutva thought.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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