In the run up to the Assembly elections to five states, there was a conscious effort by a section of the political class backed by a part of intelligentsia to challenge ‘Hindu nationalism’ as a parochial concept.
But the results of the Assembly polls in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored stunning victories in four out of five states should provide an appropriate answer to the critics of Hindu nationalism.
The term ‘Hindu nationalism’ is synonymous with the term ‘cultural nationalism’. In the political context Hindu nationalism has two important aspects which are integral to each other. The first is ‘good governance’ and the second is ‘Hinduness’ which is often known as ‘Hindutva’.
This is what you may call the ‘Bharatiya Model of Development’. So the Hindu nationalism/cultural nationalism or the Bharatiya Model of Development is actually the ‘Unique Selling Proposition (USP)’ of the BJP which is making it expand and consolidate across the country. The era of apologetic Hindu leaders in Indian politics is over. What people of the country want are assertive Hindu leaders. A note of caution here, there is a fine line of difference between an assertive Hindu and an aggressive Hindu. The opposition failed to understand this difference. They targeted ‘Hindu nationalism’ as an aggressive plank whereas most of the Hindus see it as an assertive plank.
Until and unless the synergy between Hindu nationalism and the fundamental unity of Bharat is understood by the opposition, it would find it difficult to make a comeback. The BJP has understood this synergy and its governments’ actions reflect this understanding. Some of the steps taken by BJP governments in this regard included — doing away with special status of Jammu and Kashmir, laws against love jihad, laws stopping triple talaq, Citizenship Amendment Act, revamping Kashi corridor, revamping Ayodhya and starting construction of a glorious temple there, etc. These steps often work in favour of the BJP at the subconscious level in the majority of Hindu voters because these moves reflect the understanding of the BJP about the basic ethos of our society.
If one wants to understand the reasons for the growth of the BJP and a growing support for ‘Hindu nationalism’, one has to revisit certain fundamental concepts related to Hindu nationalism which form the core of Bharatiya society.
To begin with, faith is an integral part of our culture and it shouldn’t be seen as merely confined to religious practices or rituals.
Hindu dharma is different from a religion. The former is a way of life while the latter is a much narrower term and is confined to the way of worship. The manifestation of this dharma as a conceptual framework is done through culture and faith is the practical manifestation of this culture. So when it comes to Hinduness, both faith and culture are integrally part of each other and together they form the whole i.e. Hindu dharma or Sanatan dharma.
Radha Kumud Mookerji has explained this aptly in The Fundamental Unity of India, an essay he wrote in 1909 and then in a lecture to Calcutta University Institute in 1917. Mookerji said and wrote, “Superficial observers are… liable to be bewildered by this astonishing variety in Indian life and geography. They lack that power of perception which dives beneath appearances and externals and sees into the life of things. They thus fail to discover One in the Many, the individual in the Aggregate, the Simple in the Composite. With them, the Whole is lost in the parts, nay, the parts are greater than the Whole as in the old adage of blind men ‘seeing’ the elephant. The fact is that an exclusive dependence upon mere sense-impressions, mere sense-contact with external phenomena, cannot carry us very far: for the senses cannot take us beyond the apparent and the objective. What is needed is the superior interpreting, integrating, synthetising power of the mind that instead of being overpowered by the multitude of details will master them and rise above them to a vision of the whole.
A keen penetrating insight can hardly fail to recognise that beneath all this manifold variety there is a fundamental unity; that this diversity itself, far from being a source of weakness, is a fertile source of strength and wealth. As Sir Herbert Risley has truly observed, “Beneath the manifold diversity of physical and social type, language, custom and religion which strikes the observer in India there can still be discerned… underlying uniformity of life from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.” (The Fundamental Unity of India, Lifespan publishers, 2021, Pp11-13)
In the modern socio-political context, Pandit Deendayal Updahyay also explained it in the post-Independence era as ‘Integral Humanism’ which has become the official ideology of the BJP.
According to the philosophy of ‘Integral Humanism’, when a group of persons live with a goal, an ideal, a mission and look upon a particular piece of land as their motherland, this group constitutes a nation. If either of the two — an ideal and a motherland — is not there, then there is no nation. There is a ‘Self’ in the body, the essence of the individual; upon the severance of its relation with the body, a person is said to die. Similarly, there is this idea, ideal, or fundamental principle of a nation, its soul… a nation too has a soul. There is a technical name for it.
In the “Principles and Policies” adopted by the Jana Sangh, this name is mentioned as ‘Chiti’ (Chiti is a Sanskrit term and it broadly means universal consciousness. It forms the core of the philosophy of Integral Humanism)
If there is any standard for determining the merits and demerits of a particular action, it is this Chiti. Whatever is in accordance with our nature or Chiti is approved and is to be added to the culture consciously.
Whatever is against Chiti is discarded as perversion, undesirable and is to be avoided. Chiti is the touchstone on which each action, each attitude is tested, and determined to be acceptable or otherwise. Chiti is the soul of the nation. It is on the foundation of this Chiti that a nation arises and becomes strong and virile. And it is this Chiti that is manifested in the action of every great man of a nation.
On dharma and its role in a nation, Upadhyaya said, “The state is brought into existence to protect the nation, and to produce and maintain conditions in which the ideals of the nation can be translated into reality. The ideals of the nation constitute Chiti, which is analogous to the soul of an individual. It requires some effort to comprehend Chiti. The laws that help manifest and maintain Chiti of a nation are termed dharma of that nation. Hence, it is this dharma that is supreme. Dharma is the repository of the nation’s soul. If dharma is destroyed, the nation perishes. Anyone who abandons dharma, betrays the nation.”
The nearest equivalent English term for dharma can be ‘innate law’, which, however, does not express the full meaning of dharma. Since dharma is supreme, our ideal of the state has been dharma rajya, said Upadhyay.
In a nutshell, if one would look at the Hindu philosophy from the Western conceptual framework, there would be unnecessary attempts to establish a binary of culture and faith. But if one looks at it from the Bharatiya perspective, what is important is ‘dharma’ and its true manifestation through individual and collective actions. You may call the collective action ‘culture’ while the individual action is ‘faith’.
But as Mookerji had underlined, if you would look at the ‘parts’, your view would be fragmented and the conclusion would be erroneous. What you need to do is to look at the whole. Unless our political parties and the intelligentsia understand the significance of this ‘whole’, they would continue to be out of sync with Bharatiya society and become increasingly irrelevant.
The writer, an author and columnist, has written several books. Views expressed are personal.