Threats to Democracy and Secularism: Part 3/4—Ideological 2

Part 3: Ideological basis for direct threat-2
Rohit Dhankar

Part 4: Ideological tools to counter the treat

Mohan Bhagwat continues …

But ‘unity of India’ is a difficult idea to grasp. Bhagwat obviously is not talking of the geographical India of today; what he has in mind if more likely to be akhanda Bharat, which is roughly the Indian sub-continent. In what sense the sub-continent has been ‘united’ since ancient times? Three candidates come to mind immediately: united as a geographical area (whatever that might mean), as a cultural entity, and as a political entity.

Geographically the sub-continent has been somewhat demarcated, if not isolated, from the rest of the world due to the Himalayas, Hindukush range and the sea. The area has a range of climatic conditions, flora and fauna. Still perhaps Indians are prone to see a continuity from proverbial Kashmir to Kanya Kumari and now from Baluchistan to Myanmar border. It could of course be debated. But in any case human belief systems, be they religious or otherwise, could have had no impact on the climate etc., this geographical demarcated-ness, then, cannot be attributed to Hinduism or any other faith.

As a political entity one wonders when has India—in the sense of sub-continuant—been united before the Britishers ruled it? Nation states as we know them today are a comparatively modern phenomena. India became an independent nation state only in 1947, and that covers only part of the sub-continent. Whether we realise or not the project of building a nation state of India is still incomplete. The debate Sangha parivar is raising is actually part of that process. More precisely speaking, whether this nation of ours should remain secular democracy or convert into a Hindu Rashtra is one of the main issues today. If the Sangh Parivar wants to give credit to Hindus for keeping India as secular state after Independence, it seems to me, it is not entirely true, even if may have a grain of interpretative truth. Of course all Indians—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis—wanted a secular democratic state and so they created it. But one has to give credit to the majority of Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other, as they were actively fighting each other during the partition. And the partition itself came about on religious basis. Denying the contribution of sanity of majority Hindu population in crafting a secular state immediately after partition would be erring on the other side. Also explaining it away purely in terms of political and economic necessity as if there was no other way available would be rather stretched. This certainly constitutes at least the part of Bhagwat’s intent in the unity statement. Even if the secular intelligentsia of the country does not like it, or even if this is not a politically correct position, it is debatable without calling names to parties on either sides of the debate.

Beyond this what could be called ‘unity of the sub-continent’ politically? The region has been governed by different kingdoms and empires throughout the history. The only two empires that came close to covering the whole of the geographic region were Mauryan Empire under Ashok and Mughal Empire after Akbar. Ashok became a Buddhist, and so one has to accept Buddhist contribution to that empire; Mughal Empire clearly was a creation of Muslim rulers, even if some of them were remarkably secular for their historical age. Most of the time in the history, then, the region has been divided into various kingdoms and empires and political unity of the whole region has been a rare phenomenon.

That leaves us with the third candidate: cultural unity. We have already mentioned above that the sub-continent has been a cauldron of ethnicity, social and cultural practices, and religious beliefs. So if one has to seek cultural unity, it has to be sought more in the family resemblances rather than strictly defined cultural practices. If one considers Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism as one, intermingling of practices and knowledge sharing across the region, then perhaps one can imagine the sub-continent as one cultural region. But then one has to share the claim for keeping it united with various ethnic groups and faiths. Hinduism as we use the term today cannot claim this credit alone.

If this understanding is acceptable then a factual analysis of Bhagwat’s statement shows it to be false. But perhaps the real purpose of the statement is not to state a truth at all. The real purpose might be to create a certain emotional impact among the Hindus to give them confidence and prominence in the Indian nation today. This might be a statement designed for hegemonic purposes rather than to establish truth. We should remember that partially true statements serve such purposes better than plain lies. Simply because when opponents summarily reject such statements without shifting truth from falsehood the small grain of truth in them gets magnified and those who reject summarily are seen as biased. It becomes easy to label these people as anti-Hindu.

Another statement, as reported in The Hindu, by Bhagwat is designed to achieve the same purpose through it ambiguity, he says “[A]s long as dharma exists in India, the world will continue to respect this country. But once dharma is gone, no force on earth can stop the country from crumbling”. What does ‘dharma’ mean here? The term in Sanskrit is used for meanings as diverse as physical properties to moral duty taking in its stride true-nature and even coming close to religion. Modern use mostly connotes religion. So is he saying that as long as the ‘Hindu-dharma’ exist India will continue, but if Hindu-dharma is gone the country will crumble? The context seems to suggest this interpretation unmistakably.

One simple truism is that if there is a large scale change in the belief systems of a population the country does not remain the same, one can say that it ‘crumbles’ in the sense that even if exists as a political entity it becomes a different country. Hindus now comprise slightly above 80% of the Indian population. The present character of the Indian society and democracy certainly will change if Hinduism disappears from India. But that, as mentioned above, is simply a truism. Why mention it? The purpose seem to be to indicate that Hinduism is actually under threat, an old claim of the Sangh Parivar. And the second purpose seems to be that if no Hinduism in India, no secular democratic India. This second claim also has a hint that if Hinduism goes, the second largest minority in the country, Islam, will become a majority. Therefore, it seems there are at the least four claims packed in this statement: one, Hinduism is under threat; two, it is under threat mainly from Islam; three, if Hinduism goes it will be Islam which will come to majority; and four, the secularism and democracy will not survive in a Muslim majority country. These are standard Sangh Parivar ideas being used for creating a political Hindu identity; other name for Hindu consolidation. The standard secularist response to these ideas is that they are paranoid imagination of a lunatic fringe in Hindu population and are patently false. This standard response is not serving the purpose; actually, right or wrong, it is discredited in the minds of now sizable Hindu population and secularists are considered either anti-Hindu or, more charitably, unconcerned morons who can’t even see their own interest. So if the secularists are concerned with the democracy and secularism in the country they have to change the discourse and take on the Hindutva brigade with more vigour and better tools. A victory of Hindutva will be certainly fatal to democracy as well as secularism, as we know it today.

This provides the ideological basis to Singhal’s statement. Without challenging this ideological basis simple condemnation of statements like Singhal’s will not work

What could be a set of better intellectual and ideological tools to counter Hindutva then? I believe Hamid Dalwai’s writings have more than a hint at how to fashion such tools.

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