A Glimpse Into the Hindu Rashtra of the Future

Written by Ujjwal Yadav and Saib Bilaval | Published on: October 10, 2017
RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, at an event celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Sister Nivedita was quoted saying that, “All diverse languages and practices should co exist, but under the unifying idea of Bharat Mata. All diversities should be subservient to nationalism”, asking Muslims in India to accept that they were “all Hindus before being converted”, and vowing to oppose the Sachar Committee recommendations (a committee that brought out the pathetic socio-economic conditions of Muslims in India).

Hindu rashtra

Then, we have the BJP Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, who, ignoring all secular virtues of the public office he held, carried out a procession on the occasion of Dussehera in the town of Gorakhpur, from the temple he was the chief priest of. Praveen Togadia, VHP’s chief demanded recently that the “Centre should ask states not to harass authorised people and agencies engaged in cow protection”.

These statements no doubt are selective in nature, but the purpose here is to highlight the ways in which major state and political actors are strengthening majoritarianism in the country, enhancing the moral superiority of one community over all others. More often than not, they harness history, and play a part in shaping the consciousness of the people and transforming them into vanguards of an “emerging” Hindu Rashtra.

To begin any discussion on Hindu Rashtra, we need to first understand what Hindutva is. In simple terms, it is the ideology that governs the working of the “Sangh Parivar” in India, which wants to make India, primarily a country for Hindus. “Hindutva is the modern political ideology of the Hindu Nationalism”, according to eminent scholar Nivedita Menon. The idea of Hindutva as projected by the founders of the Sangh Parivar was one where the Indian would become equivalent of Hindu. This is to say that irrespective of the faith or religious beliefs of an individual, everyone needs to pledge loyalty to the Hindu belief system, thoughts and symbols.

This has been highlighted by Christophe Jaffrelot, in his book Hindu Nationalism: A Reader, where he outlines Golwalkar’s idea of the Indian, saying “Indian identity is equated with Hindu culture and religious minorities are enjoined to keep expressions of minority particularism to the private sphere”.

At a time when the seeds of this reactionary ideology were sown by Savarkar (later by Hedgewar and Golwalkar), particular importance was given to a ‘reductionist history’ that suggested India was primarily a Hindu country since the Vedic ages, one whose glorious past was disrupted by invasions of “Muslim” rulers who inflicted endless hardships on the people of the other faiths and were particularly meat eaters.

Savarkar believed ‘Hindus’ to be the people who lived across river Sindhu (Indus), and there is an element of historicity in this argument. But this idea was very conveniently given a religious connotation (as a belief, not a debating point) without having any source validity or basis for the same.  Nevertheless, it would be apt to say here that one of the prominent scholars of ancient history, D.N Jha, has already argued that meat eating was indeed a common practice in ancient India. It was widely practiced by the Brahmans themselves who performed ritualustic sacrifices.

The right-wing utopian past of cow-worship, reverence of Brahmins, a single culture and religion, and domestication of women - has been long debunked by decades of historiography.

Further, it is completely false and anachronistic to use the term Muslim for these invaders. They did not see themselves as Muslims but as people of Turkish and other such origins. The fact that Muhammad Ghori onwards, most of them made what is now seen as India, their home – and that non-Muslim people of adjacent small kingdoms in what is known as India today, saw each other as equally foreign is key to exposing this postulate.

So, one can ask – why is this kind of glaring distinction being deliberately fostered between Hindus and Muslims by Sangh ideologues? Is it being done to create a false binary and to monopolise a past that was, in fact, a shared cultural heritage? How much are these postulations about the past, the present, or the future? That this manipulation is a basic, political need today that suits the design of achieving a future Hindu Rashtra. The Hindu Rashtra theory is a lot less about the past than it is about moulding the present to shape the future.

This kind of reading of history was and is not only erroneous, but has been based on a careful attempt (on the part of the Hindutva ideologues) to deploy history as a political tool. To rewrite a different kind of history as it could be opportunistically exploited. They also attributed much importance to the idea of creating a nation that was based on one religion and one culture, sharing a common language and consisting of people belonging to the same race. The latter two continue to hold importance in specific ways even today. Buddhism, Jainism and even Sikhism at various points were subject to Sangh appropriation as “Hindu sub-sects”.

The date May 26, 2014 marked a fundamental change in the nature of the Indian political system. Securing 282 seats, Narendra Modi, sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of the country. Boasting about his 56 inches chest, he promised to bring development (“Vikas”) in a way that promised  to make India a super global power free of poverty. Other policies would be formed to eradicate social evils. Congress was vehemently accused as being a “corrupt” party from whose dynastic rule Mother India should now be freed.

However, the political gimmickry of “vikas” for electoral politics apart, it was fairly clear that the mandate had been given to a party whose ground politics is governed and regulated by religio-political inclinations and by Hindutva (the main ground-level ideology). However, as the years passed, it has become much more difficult for the government to hide under the plank of development while spreading communal hatred and strengthening Hindutva on ground, something which can immensely challenge their rule in the next elections.  It can now be safely said that we have a political regime in power, in India, that belongs to this breed of Hindu militants. They now have been entrusted with political powers which they can effectively use to propagate the ideals of a Hindu Rashtra, in the best and worst forms possible. That is why, it is  apt to call India a Hindu Rashtra in the making.

Attempts have been made to create a different kind of political, social and cultural environment in the country. Well-organised hate propaganda is making the rounds, directed against the minorities, people of backwards castes, dalits and women – in government literature, in party posters, political speeches, and more recently cyberspace. The sudden rise in the incidents of mob lynching have not risen out of the blue, even if the widespread impunity to the perpetrators  exposes the brazen confidence of those in power.

A recent report of IndiaSpend says that “In the first six months of 2017, 20 cow-terror attacks were reported – more than 75 per cent of the 2016 figure, which was the worst year for such violence since 2010. The attacks include mob lynching, attacks by vigilantes, murder and attempt to murder, harassment, assault and gang-rape.”

Similarly, the atrocities against the Dalits have increased manifold. A new kind of politics of social exclusion is emerging where the right to live a dignified life for the socially weaker sections is being consistently denied. Muslims and Dalits below a certain level of affluence are being ghettoized in small towns. Those who were shudras and below them, the untouchables then should now also stay at the bottom, to maintain the “efficient” functioning of the varna system. The new trends in identity politics and faltering unity among the Dalit groups themselves have not allowed them to emerge as a major united political force that can challenge the current Indian state that is inherently an upper caste brahmanical state. 

Now, war is being projected as the only solution to all kinds of disputes. Pakistan is on paper treated like a military and political enemy, while in practice and in the UN, both countries end up on the same side of the aisle. The State’s inability to equally call out terrorism, of the Muslim or Hindutva kind, is a small contradiction. As questionable are the more longer term actions of the state, which some say amount to state terror – will those ever be called out? The soul of the nation in terms of natural resources, land, water and minerals are being  actively sold to a handful corporate houses. These companies now control the nation through the strings of their unchallenged might demonstrated in wealth.  Violent aggressions against tribal people and Kashmiris is justified under epithets of high sounding para military endeavors that are undertaken in these areas: Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt. These have also exposed the consensus of the political establishment over issues such as Pakistan, Kashmir, AFSPA, Bastar, and the north east.

In some ways, the space for arbitrary state aggression was already made by previous Congress regimes (P Chidambaram was a leading light, as was Nehru), and (recently barring Tripura), even the Left. The aggression and destruction are justified in the name of making them more “civilised”, by parties from across the political spectrum. There is a given attitude of intolerance and unacceptability towards these people whose mere existence is now termed as the greatest “internal security threat” – a state and a media unwilling to separate the insurgent from the tribal.

The problem is that they don’t fit neatly into the Hinduised framework of things – and for the Congress, they contradicted their globalisation narrative and stood to foil the land grabs.l under their regime. Their customs, practices and ideas of who and what is civilised is different from the majority, their traditions are protected by law, hence the threat and need for elimination. That the threat is cultural is demonstrated by the fact that conversion and anti-conversion movements spring up like insurgency and counter-insurgency.

Certain aspects about these different sets of “threats” are mind boggling.
How will emerging Dalit movements be suppressed? What political counter can one bring to the “unity of the oppressed”, once such as narrative achieves political success and maturity? What if ‘some’ people continue to worship Mahishasur? What if regionalism springs up to combat homogenising right-wing tendencies? And women simply refuse to marry or produce kids?

Women form a core segment of the forceful imposition of the ideology of Hindutva – anti-Romeo squads, the bogey of love jihad, khap panchayat lynchings and honour killings, dress-shaming, victim-blaming, moral policing, marital rape and rigid control over movements – a sort of traditional sense of ownership, now being openly politically justified.

Students and aspirants commit suicide by the dozens in Kota, but this isn’t a political issue – on the other hand, when women in Banaras Hindu University demand their right to action against sexual harassers, they are lathicharged.

Forms of social and political dissent are the target of mainstream right-wing discourse and public policy today – anti-establishment journalists, rationalists, Muslims, Dalits and women.

In essence, the regime wants to limit social mobility for scripturally marginalised sections, and wants to reverse decades and centuries of constitutional and social reform that are the hardly adequate hallmarks of our social progress – i.e. showing women, lower castes and minorities their “place”. This is a glimpse into the future, one that the regime wants to accomplish, under the guise of being a cultural Ancien Regime.

While the development agenda was false, and the fact that most BJP regimes have followed Manmohan Singh’s financial policy trajectory – it shows that the Congress had adequately fattened the top 1% - the billionaires and corporations – under laissez faire rules. The shift to monopolistic capitalism is to be noted, but moves such as demonetisation, tax-breaks for the rich and shift to indirect taxes are policy stunts to cover up the communal polarisation of the electorate, while continuing the previous regimes economic aspirations without the latter’s caution.

So, a new kind of definition of the nation is being manufactured that coherently includes all the basic tenets of ideology of Hindutva and one which is politely referred to as Hindu Nationalism.

The suffix “nationalism”, innocently coined by even critical scholars, has given aggressive Hindutva a legitimacy today that it is cashing in on. The more Hindu various popular perceptions of nationalism becomes, the more patriotic the proponents of Hindutva seem. All others have to give their proof of Nationalism through different means; easiest out of all is to say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” for everything, to prevent social ostracism or a lynching. This also answers to the changes done in school textbooks. The books will now teach that “Maharana Pratap conclusively defeated Mughal emperor in the 16th century, Battle of Haldighati”.

The distortion of historical facts and history itself is not new, the Sangh perfected this art long time ago but now the ease with which all these ideas are implemented - and the fact that they are getting away with it - is shocking.

Part of the continuity between the old communal narratives and those of today come from popular publication houses such as the Gita Press, and the fact that unlike in Germany or France, the best of historians in India do not write in the vernacular at all – leading to a gap between developments in academic historiography, and popular perceptions of public history. The distortions of these sorts are but a political need to water the fertile soil for the base of Hindu Rashtra. RSS shakhas today exist in every part of the country, and the RSS runs the largest chain of schools – Vidya Bharati and Shishu Mandir. They are, in fact, creating and influencing the general electorate of the future.

This is to say that given their virtually nil contribution to India’s freedom struggle, their betrayal of the Quit India [1]movement, showing shameful allegiance to the Britishers - they should not exercise any kind of moral authority at all. How come they have gained the social and Political strength to even talk about their version of “nationalism”? Especially when this is based on some kind of real and supreme entity - while being exclusive, divisive and discriminatory, entirely based on the idea of supremacy of race and religion of the majority community.

In fact, the  most renowned economist of our times, Prof Amartya Sen has acknowledged that the appointment made in the educational institutions like that of ICHR and many others show that political (not just government) interference has become more “systematic” in these regards and there is a clear “Hindutva pattern” that can be attributed to these.

Many postulate that India is on its path to become a Hindu Nation. An important stimulus for the same came with the victory of BJP in UP elections that nominated and successfully installed a Hindu fanatic as the CM of the state. The state would now become a laboratory for testing whether or not can India become a Hindu Rashtra. The CM himself has started endorsing the idea of Hindu Rashtra and he was quoted saying “Hindu Rashtra ki awadhrana kahin galat nahi hai”. Given the political power and Sangh’s strict commitment of creating a rigid ideological framework, the work does not appear to be a taxing one. Making nationalism a ‘National’ issue instead of education, poverty, and unemployment are rather fair indicators of India being on roads to a Hindu Rashtra. In a secular  but not secularising state, Hindu hegemony is strengthening and taking deeper roots – a distant dream no longer so distant.

However, it is somehow yet difficult to undisputedly conclude that India will, without doubt, become a Hindu Rashtra.

With all its loopholes, democracy could potentially be the strongest deterrent to any such plan. The ruling party does not automatically imply the Indian state - there is a difference between the two and this puts limits to what can they do despite being in power.
Previous precedents (Emergency, and the Congress’s liberal usage of “President’s Rule” in states) and bygone crimes (Telangana/Hyderabad, Kashmir, 1984, Ayodhya, Gujarat 2002, Hashimpura, Nellie, Kandhamal) will decide the limits of politically acceptable state action (a sort of Indian Overton Window), not just brute parliamentary majorities. Besides, issues like “Hindu Rashtra”, removing the words “secular” or “socialist”, or imposing a uniform civil code, will, however, all require Constitutional amendments, and not just be passed as simple Bills. Thus, until there is a violent capture of state power by the Hindu militants, the idea cannot be seen as a becoming reality so easily. It remains a long-term goal.

The immediate scenario is more worrying - the situation of all ‘others’ (minorities, Dalits, women, etc) will surely worsen in the process of building a dream that cannot be realized within the working contours of the Sovereign, Socialist, Secular and Democratic Republic – everyday lives being trampled upon.

Given the material, geographical and historical conditions, India cannot become a Hindu Rashtra easily, per se. But the rhetoric of its ideology and the way it is invoked in the hearts of the people is still very powerful.

Media capitulation, almost wholesale to the BJP is another factor that is selling the idea of Hindutva in whatever garb. “Nationalism” is seen as an integrating force. The ruling party is adapting itself to changing political needs, not unlike the earlier Jan Sangh or the Vajpayee government – but the depth of its brutality and suppression of dissent is unchanging and rock solid. They are appropriating Gandhi and Ambedkar together for manufacturing legitimacy, to bring different radical groups under them; imitating what Congress has done 65 years back. Today both political parties are battling over manufacturing history. Will anyone ever ask the historians?

The past aside, the real threat is what if India becomes a ‘Democratic Hindu Rashtra’, a proto-Rashtra which has everything promised, except the name !

In that sense, arguably we are already one. A Hindu Rashtra which will thrive under the cover of democracy.  A state where fear and death would be normalised, the recent death of Gauri Lankesh is living testimony of this. It is more dangerous than a real Hindu Rashtra that’s so because it appeals tremendously to the consciousness of the common middle class people. A situation where social silence determines what and how much of an atrocity or injustice is permissible. The lower classes of people are too poor to care about matter, the upper classes are already benefitting but they themselves cannot sell the Hindutva ideal alone.

 So, it is ultimately the middle class which will be the catalyst, they will be made to believe that what their leader is doing is what India ought to be – and the non-government employee middle class appears to have abandoned the Congress, currently. It’s a space without reason and rationality. Those who reason would be an ideological minority who can be singled out and politically purged or excommunicated from public life. Hence the bottom line is – to replace the BJP, there must be a strong alternative framework presented. In the absence of that, the BJP will always have the patriotic and ideological upper hand.

It is important to note, that out of anywhere in the world, it was only in Congress-ruled India where we find an example of a private army (RSS) not aligned to the state being allowed to exist with sanction of the state. The exceptionalism of India in this matter is striking indeed.

Hindu Rashtra will emerge out of the exploitation of democracy, from the short term political twists, and the almost invisible long-term structural and policy shifts - and not merely by using the loopholes.

It is this deliberateness, evident in attempts to muzzle democracy that makes the Indian context unique and specific – in the US the entire media besides Fox News, the New York Post and the Observer, is lined up against Trump.
  • In India, the media swallows the PR talking points of the Central Government like the dessert served at a buffet. There will be no direct seizure of power force, but by manufactured public consent. The bureaucracy may bend the rules. But there would be promotions and awards, and the bureaucracy would be the meritocracy it aimed to be all along. Added to this would be a symbolic increment in status of the ‘brave’ which would entice others to swear obedience and loyalty. The opposition from Congress is not an opposition. The threat from Communists is zero. The media will swoon, “India is on its path to development and progress” and we will feel proud of being able to see a dream where we are made to believe that we are just second to the United States in controlling international politics. Academics and intellectuals would end up lining up in silent marches and protests. Sadhvis will be the new feminists in the country giving sermons. Bank accounts of all the ministers and the elite would be shooting sky-high – in Switzerland, that is. Communists will keep on shouting “Revolution!”, they will continue to fuel the fire of Hindutva – the ones who brand others unpatriotic become patriotic by the mere act of branding. And all others will say “we Hail……….whatever! Just decide what, because the nation really wants to know!”
(Ujjwal Yadav is a Masters student in Ancient History at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Saib Bilaval is a PhD scholar in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.)
The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Sabrangindia.