World

India Is on Its Way to Becoming a Hindu Nation, Suppressing Multiculturalism

Putting one religion first in the state is a threat to all democracies, not just India.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi at the UN Paris COP21, 2015.
Photo Credit: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

As I write, about 150 Hindu groups meet in the unlikely spot of Goa, a popular international tourist destination, to discuss how their "common goal” of the creation of a “Hindu nation” (rashtra) can be achieved by 2023. It is not insignificant, as has been recently pointed out by Professor Shamsul Islam in Sabrangindia, that one of these 150 organizations, the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS), has been regularly holding national conventions to establish a Hindu state.

Says Islam:

“In 2013 one such convention was held in Goa. It is to be noted that members of one avtar (face/version) of HJS, Sanatan Sanstha, have been found indulging in bomb blasts at Muslim institutions and are under investigation for the murder of renowned secular intellectuals like Govind Pansare and Narendra Dhabolkar. This convention started its proceedings with a felicitation from the then CM of Gujarat, Narendra Modi wishing HJS all success in its project of turning India into a Hindu Nation.”

Much has changed since 2013. Narendra Modi, who was then chief minister of a western Indian state, the first chief minister who was a direct recruit from the supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is now India’s prime minister, heading a majority government that has already implemented several changes in laws and statutes that arguably militate against India’s constitutional framework.

This government rose to power in May 2014, led by Modi’s charisma with the masses, backed by a high-voltage campaign funded by crony capital; yet no victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within Indian politics has ever been possible without the organizational mettle of its parent body, the RSS. The RSS, since its birth in 1925, has openly advocated not just to create a Hindu nation, but also to continue propagating the “overthrow of the constitutional framework.”

It is therefore not insignificant that the purported vision of the 2017 convention of these self-declared “Hindu nationalists” is to have a Hindu state in place by 2023, to coincide with the near century of the RSS’ existence.

The moot question is: How different would a “Hindu state” look from an India based on what it is today, the Indian Constitution? To address these questions, it is first critical to locate the circumstances under which India was born, and the complex contexts within which the Indian Constitution took shape and form. Eighteen volumes of the extensive “Constituent Assembly Debates” give a student of law and history an insight into the detailed deliberations that took place around the shape, texture and form of India’s foundational document. Spread over 18 long months, the deliberations were even spotted with doses of harsh reality: India not only achieved independence but was partitioned through a bloody vivisection that the British left behind as a bitter relic of their years of “divide and rule.” Ten to 12 million were forcibly displaced, and the death toll to date remains disputed, varying from 200,000 to 2 million.

Despite these violent schisms, as this author tells students of history and law in her classes, the rich deliberations contained in India’s Constituent Assembly debates reveal a deep maturity in the political leadership of the day, from all political persuasions, that was clear and committed to an India that was inclusive and based on equality of citizenship, irrespective of color, class, gender or community. The Preamble of India’s Constitution lays this out clearly:

“We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, [“Socialist, Secular” was added through a subsequent amendment] Democratic Republic and to ensure to all its Citizens,

Justice: Social, Economic and Political;

Liberty of Thought, Expression, Faith, Belief and Worship,

Equality of Status and Opportunity and to promote among them all

Fraternity, asserting the Dignity of the Individual and the Unity of the Nation.”

Despite the deep schisms, even bloodshed, caused during India’s vivesection, the vast section of India’s political leadership opted for India to remain democratic, inclusive and secular. This was a deeply principled and pragmatic decision, as only through this promise (as encapsulated in the Indian Consitution) of equality for all could India and Indians—with all their attendant diversities of language, faith and culture—remain as one. The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 languages, though we have more than 740 dialects, and through this abiding respect for our deep diversity has this nation been born. It is this basic assumption that is under direct threat from an ideological force that believes in the overthrow of India as was born in 1947 and established in 1950.

Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantee every Indian equality of citizenship and equality before the law; Article 25 guarantees freedom of faith and belief; and Article 19, freedom of expression and association. It is these non-negotiables that herald India as a democracy with a secular Constitution that are in direct threat of being overthrown by forces that have come to power through the ballot box but are wedded to overthrow India as we know it.

As I wrote on December 31, 2015, in Sabrangindia:

“The official website of the RSS (www.rss.org ) has a version of the e-book, Bunch of Thoughts.
 
“For the purposes of this article, I shall look only at Bunch of Thoughts, not yet disowned by the RSS in which, at the outset, it rejects the Indian constitutional understanding of Indian nationhood articulated in the Indian Constitution. [3] From start to finish this foundational and guiding document that governs the worldview of the ruling party in India today is at loggerheads with the basic doctrine of the Indian Constitution, equality in citizenship and composite, territorial nationhood.
 
“RSS and the Guru, Both are Anti-Indian Constitution

“The RSS and by ideological and organisational association, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that rules India today are fundamentally against the concept of Indian nation-hood, Indian citizenship as defined by the Constitution of India. At page 119 of the Bunch of Thoughts,the RSS’ foundational doctrine, the author has completely debunked the ‘absurdity of the concept of territorial nationalism’.  Golwalkar says, “They(we presume by this the RSS means the Leaders in the Constituent Assembly) forgot that here was already a full-fledged ancient nation of the Hindus and the various communities which were living in the country were here either as guests, the Jews and Paris, or as invaders, the Muslim and Christians. They never faced the question how all such heterogeneous groups could be called as children of the soil merely because, by an accident, they happened to reside in a common territory under the rule of a common enemy.”
 
“RSS Unashamed about its Aim: Overturn the Constitutional Mandate

“‘....We have been sufficiently fooled uptil now by their exhortation that we Hindus, who are having a great philosophy of human brotherhood, catholicity of spirit and so on, should not narrow ourselves by the talk of Hindu Nationalism and all such 'communal', 'medieval' and 'reactionary' ideas! We must be able to see through the game and revert to the truth of our nationalism as an ancient fact and the Hindus being the national society of Bharat, so clearly restated by our revered founder when he decided the word 'Rashtriya' for our organisation. We must once again stand up in our true and full stature and boldly assert that we shall elevate the Hindu National Life in Bharat to the peak of glory and honour which has been its birthright since hoary time.’ (Page 127, Bunch of Thoughts, MS Golwalkar)

“It is enlightening to derive an understanding of the multi-faith perspective of the RSS, be it its attitude towards Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. The latest Census figures show Buddhists at 0.70 per cent of the Indian population, Muslims at 14.23 per cent, Christians at 2.30 per cent. (We now have a category of ‘Others’ that do not declare their religion in Census records which is at 0.89 per cent). Despite these figures, the RSS outlines Muslims, Christians and Communists as three grave internal threats.”

For the proponents of the “Hindu nation,” be it Modi or any other, the freedom struggle or overthrowing colonial yoke was never a priority. Accused through evidence of being collaborators with British colonialists, the RSS never even flew the Indian tricolor flag over its headquarters until it led a minority government under former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. Its objection to India’s flag is again deeply ideological—representative of India’s diversity of faith and profession, giving space in this symbolism even to the “Buddhist wheel (chakra)” is what has made India, and its flag, so special.

It is this multifaceted respect and negotiation with diversity that is under direct threat from those who more aggressively, now, push for transformation into a “Hindu nation.”

Frontline encapsulated again what Italian academic and scholar Marzia Casolari had traced, drawing links between RSS leaders and ideologues like BS Moonje and the fascists under Benito  Mussolini, published by the Economic and Political Weekly, in its issue dated January 22, 2000. It is these ideological linkages that are more firmly expressed in We Or OurNationhood Defined, by MS Golwalkar, a major RSS ideologue when he praises Hitler’s nation of “superior race Aryans” and squarely says that if the “Christians and Muslims” must live within this “Hindu nation” it must be as “relegated second-class citizens.”

It is not mere words but the actions of those in power and the mob on the streets after Modi assumed power, that give weight to these potential dangers. “The recent election of Adityanath, who is a strong proponent of Hindu rashtra, with a brute majority (to the post of chief minister of Uttar Pradesh) shows that people want a Hindu rashtra in India,” Uday Dhuri, spokesperson of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, told the Hindustan Times ahead of the Goa conclave. The Samiti’s agenda, available on its website, is a good example of the priorities of a Hindu rashtra, should it emerge. Hatred and bile against India’s religious minorities and Dalits, authoritarian rule, the imposition of “one culture, one language” to create a strong “militarized, Hindu nation.”

For India, and the world, to understand the gravity of the threat to the basic principles of democracy and equality of citizenship, the historiography of this ideology as also its overt invocation of violence, intimidation and threat would be in order. In several bouts of intra-community violence that have assumed the shape of anti-minority pogroms in post-independence India, commissions of inquiry headed by sitting or retired judges have held organizations of the far “Hindu” right to blame for using inciteful speech and writings against minority sections of the Indian population.

This discourse has achieved greater and greater legitimacy since Modi assumed power today as can be seen and heard from what many may see as atrociously provocative statements by members of his government, members of parliament and state assemblies.

The ongoing convention in Goa represents a very real threat—and not just to India, known as it is as the largest democracy with well-negotiated principles of equality and non-discrimination. Another win for Modi and his lot in the next general election could make this threat into a chilling reality, where discrimination rules and violence, threat and intimidation become an easy norm.

During the era of racial segregation in the United States, when the white majority, in most part, refused to see what was happening to the black minority, Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Can India and the world afford such a silence now in the face of this emergent threat?

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