Indian nationalism can only be Hindu
by Virendra Parekh on 27 Jul 2013 27 Comments

The secularist lobby has predictably lost no time in pouncing upon Narendra Modi for describing himself as a Hindu Nationalist. Modi sought to explain (hedge?) the assertion by separating the two words before joining them. “I am nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I am born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So I’m a Hindu nationalist. So yes, you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist because I’m a born Hindu,” he told Reuters.


That has cut no ice with secularist hounds in media and politics for whom the word ‘Hindu’ is anathema. The orchestrated cacophony is part of the Congress strategy of keeping the spotlight on BJP and Modi and away from its own shameful record of corruption, misdeeds and economic mismanagement.


Yet, it would be a good idea to take up the standard secularist slogans and expose them to be the self-serving falsehoods that they are. Portrayal of Hindu nationalism as something dangerous and divisive is one such falsehood.


The charge was led by Salman Khurshid, India’s minister for external affairs. Khurshid is a Muslim and, therefore, by definition, secular. An Arabic name is probably the highest secular credential one can have in India. But Khurshid has strengthened his credentials with his own efforts. Way back in 2001, he appeared in court as counsel pleading for the Islamic terrorist outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), since reincarnated as Indian Mujahideen.


With this impressive background Khurshid thought it fit to pontificate: “Religion can’t have nation. Religion has no identity. Nation has an identity. Nationalism falls in a different category than religion.” (Zee News, Friday, July 12, 2013).


This is the standard line of Indian secularists. MJ Akbar, usually far more balanced and patriotic than the likes of Khurshid, agrees with him on this: “religion is ineffective as a basis for nationhood. Pakistan is a good example. Indeed, if religion worked as glue, why on earth would there be 22 Arab nations?” (Sunday Times, 21/7/2013)


The short response would be that while this applies to Islam, it does not apply to Hinduism. Religion with its division of mankind into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ (believers vs. non-believers, Christians vs. Heathens, Momins vs. Kaffirs) and an agenda of world conquest is a Semitic enterprise. It is this agenda which brings it in perpetual conflict with its neighbours. 


Hinduism is not a religion in the Abrahamic sense. By its very nature, Hinduism is syncretic, accommodative and assimilative. “Hinduism is more a way of life than a form of thought. While it allows absolute liberty in the world of thought, it enjoins a very strict code of practice. The theist and the atheist, the sceptic and the agnostic, may all be Hindus if only they accepted the Hindu system of culture and life… Hinduism insists not on religious conformity but on an ethical and spiritual outlook in life... Hinduism insists on a moral life and draws into a fellowship all those who feel themselves bound by the claims that the moral law or Dharma makes upon them. Hinduism is not a sect but a fellowship of all who accept the law of right and earnestly seek for the truth.” (S Radhakrishnan, Hindu View of Life)


Dharma in all its manifestation in life and society is the basis of India’s nationhood. At social level, it expressed itself as a civilisation. India’s unity which encompasses and permeates all its bewildering diversity is rooted in its culture and civilisation. Founded on the sound principles of svabhava, svadharma and svarajya and nurtured by numerous regions and communities within a common framework of spiritual and moral values, it has proved more abiding and durable than mere political unity. Take it out, and India will be reduced to a geographical expression and Indian society, a loose conglomeration of disparate groups (linguistic, ethnic) sans any principle of unity.  


That civilisation in turn is centred on the spiritual tradition known as Sanatan Dharma. Just as the word ‘Religion’ is narrow to capture the essence of Dharma, the word ‘Nation’ with its exclusivist connotations is too inadequate to capture the meaning of Rashtra, a word which first occurs in the Veda. Asmin rashtre brahmano brahmvarchaso jaayataam… says the Veda (may in this country be born Brahmins with spiritual powers.) Prádur bhutó’ smi rashtre’smin kírtim riddhim dadátu me (I am born in this rashtra. May it give me fame and prosperity).


This intimate connection between Rashtra and Dharma has been an unbroken tradition through millennia. Hindu Rashtra is co-terminus with Dharma or its external manifestation: civilisation. Bharatavarsha is where Bharatiya civilisation prevails. For several centuries, the words Vidharmi and Videshi were synonymous in India.


The Mahabharata carries a complete picture of this cultural unity in its tîrtha-yãtrã-parva, which is part of the larger Vana-parva. The Ramayana, the Puranas and the Dharmashastras paint the same portrait of an ancient land, every spot of which is related to some sacred memory or the other. The Jainagama and the Tripitaka speak again and again of sixteen Mahajanapadas, which spanned the spread of Bharatavarsha in the life-time of Bhagvan Mahavira and the Buddha. Even a dry compendium on grammar, the Ashtadhyayi of Panini, provides a near complete count of all the Janapadas in ancient India.


As Sita Ram Goel noted, “it was this feeling of being at home everywhere in the country which took the Adi Shankaracharya from the southernmost tip to the farthest corners of Bharatavarsha in North and East and West and helped him found (or revive) the four foremost dhãmas at Badrinath, Dvaraka, Shrungeri and Puri. There is no count of sadhus and sannyasins and house-holders who have travelled ever since on the trail blazed by that great acharya. Six and a half centuries later, Guru Nanak Dev followed in the footsteps of the Pandavas and the Shankaracharya in search of spiritual company. Chaitanyadeva who lived in the 16th century and Swami Vivekananda who came towards the end of the 19th, roamed over the same route, feeling similarly at home everywhere”. (Muslim Separatism: Causes and Consequences).


Throughout its long and chequered history, India has always been regarded as the land of Hindus, both by Indians and others.


Three facts need to be noted here.


First, if you take out the Hindu element from Indian history, culture and society, the remainder will no longer be Indian. What will remain, say, of Indian literature if everything contributed by Hindus is taken out?


Second, history shows that every part or region of Bharatvarsha where Hinduism declined, Hindu civilisation was eclipsed and Hindus became a minority, that part or region eventually seceded from India. Witness Afghanistan and Pakistan including the modern Bangladesh.


Third, every secessionist movement in India in the last hundred years has been anti-Hindu in its origin and intent - be it the Akali agitation in the early part of the twentieth century, Dravidian movement of Ramaswamy Naicker, Muslim League’s violent pursuit of Pakistan, Khalistani movement led by Bhindranwale, tribal separatism in the northeast. Even today, separatist movements exist only where Hindus are in a minority. On the other hand, there is not a single organization, movement or leader which calls itself Hindu and yet is separatist. Hindus cannot secede from India because they constitute India, they are India. It is Hindus who have imparted Indianness to India.


All the three facts remain unaltered whether you define Hindu as a community, religion, civilisation or a way of life; these are anyway overlapping, concentric categories.


Hindus and Hindus alone can claim that there can be no India without them. No other community can make such a claim.


This view of India as the country of Hindus is now unmentionable. Almost as a corollary, the national resolve to fight fissiparous tendencies and separatist movements has weakened unbelievably.


To say that Hinduism must be at the core of Indian nationalism does not require or even imply negation or belittling of non-Hindus in national life. What it does imply, however, is that anything anti-Hindu cannot be national: mosques (or churches) standing at the site of demolished temples, conversions, separatism, to name a few. Moreover, what is Hindu may be national, but it does not ipso facto become wholesome or desirable. Over the centuries, Hindu society has developed serious weaknesses of character and these have to be fought relentlessly.


Nehruvian Secularism can never be the basis of the Indian nation. No soldier has courted martyrdom shouting ‘Secularism ki Jai’; thousands have by invoking their gods. That is why modern savants have been unequivocal and eloquent in defining Hinduism as the essence of Indianness.


When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall be great.
When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists. I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish”. (Uttarpara Speech, Aurobindo Ghosh, Chandernagore, 1919)


Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th Birth Centenary is being observed by the nation including the Government of which Salman Khurshid is part, repeatedly declared India as a Hindu nation. In fact, the central premise of Swami Vivekananda’s entire life was that the essence of India lay in religion; that the religion of our people was the Hindu dharma; that this was the lever by which India was to be reawakened and that the truths the Hindu seers had uncovered were that pearl of inestimable value which it is India’s mission to give to the world.


What about non-Hindus living in India, secularists would ask? Indian society can live comfortably with any amount of diversity in modes of worship, dress code, food habits and social manners. The problem of Indian society is not diversity, but the presence of elements who refuse to be assimilated, who demand respect and tolerance as a matter of right but refuse to show respect and tolerance to others and who dream of and work for replacing this healthy social diversity with a uniformity of their choice. The secularists are clueless about the problem, let alone the solution.


Consider the irony. India’s secularism was meant to deny legitimacy to Islamic and other varieties of separatism. It has ended up denying legitimacy to its age-old civilization which has formed the basis of its nationhood since time immemorial. That is why today we feel powerless against fissiparous and subversive tendencies of all hues. Nothing shows up better the intellectual and political bankruptcy of a borrowed and distorted idea that has been elevated to the status of Government of India’s official religion.


Concluding, I cannot resist the temptation to remind Salman Khurshid of his book, “At Home in India; A Statement of Indian Muslims” (1986). In 1984, wrote Khurshid, when Sikhs were massacred in Delhi, “there was terrible satisfaction among the Muslims, who have not completely forgotten the Partition’s unpleasant aftermath. Hindus and Sikhs were alike paying for their sins. They were paying for the blood they had drawn in 1947”.


Cut to circa 2013: “Religion has no identity...”

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