The notion of India as a Hindu nation is gradually gaining ground across the social spectrum. As instances, a judge from the Meghalaya High Court recently declared that India should have been declared a Hindu country. Ex-IPS officer from Gujarat DG Vanzara demanded that “India be declared a Hindu rashtra by establishing dharma satta (reign of religion)”.
British journalist Hasan Suroor has also drawn attention by saying that just as Britain is a Christian country but has government practices that are secular, India could legitimately become a Hindu country but remain secular in practice by treating all citizens as equal and making sure that their religious and civil rights are protected by law.
The act of conflating Hindu-Muslim relations with secularism and suggesting that minorities can be safe only in a constitutionally secular state was a mistake as it led to branding anyone who didn’t buy into the liberals’ definition of secularism as ‘communal’.
Since India has not been wanting for believing Hindus, Nehruvian secularism and especially its opportunistic use in later years — as under Rajiv Gandhi — strengthened Hindutva and made it more aggressive than it might have been. The Congress had accommodated people across the political spectrum – including both leftists and Hindu traditionalists – and it is on record that in 1947-48 there was actually a move through Sardar Vallabhai Patel to merge the Hindu Mahasabha with the Congress since the Hindu right ‘should not imagine that they had a monopoly over Hindu culture and religion.’
But Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and Patel’s death put an end to such a move.
How to define Hindu nation?
With the religious gulf widening in India and a resurgence of Nehruvian values unlikely, Suroor’s viewpoint looks the sanest. But what engages me is a different issue and pertains to the difficulties in defining a ‘Hindu nation’ with Hindu belief as its basis.
There are several theocratic Islamic countries and the Vatican City is also theocratic, with an absolute theocratic elective monarchy guided by the principles of a Christian religious school of thought. All these are theocratic countries and they have laws based on religious belief. The issue is whether Hindu belief can similarly serve as a way of building a nation through appropriate laws. Vanzara’s pronouncements imply that there are Hindus who dream of that eventuality.
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The appropriate place to look for ways to constitute a Hindu nation would be through the writings of Hindutva’s political theorists. Of the three principal ones, the earliest, VD Savarkar, was primarily concerned with the Hindu identity and saw Hindus as being “People who live as children of a common motherland” and to whom loyalty towards it was natural; he did not envisage a moment when the constitution of a Hindu nation according to beliefs might be needed.
MS Golwalkar, who tried to propagate dharmic teachings, believed that all the elements required to develop as a great nation were present in Hindu society in their entirety and saw Manu as the lawgiver.
Deendayal’s ‘Integral Humanism’
Deendayal Upadhyaya authored a concept called ‘Integral Humanism’, according to which humankind had four hierarchically organized attributes that corresponded to the four human objectives of dharma (moral duties), artha (wealth), kama (desire) and moksha (salvation). While all of them were pertinent, dharma was the most basic and moksha the ultimate objective.
‘Integral humanism’ uses the word ‘human’ and the natural question here is whether ‘human’ pertains to individual aims or those of society as a whole; and the two are certainly not identical. If one listens to the religious discourses offered by seers and religious leaders, they similarly discuss the way one should lead one’s life but hardly ever do they offer guidance on how humans should deal with each other in social situations. Two ardent followers of the same seer, who understand his/her teaching differently from each other, could come into personal conflict and that might never be resolved.
Religious precepts could lead one to ‘moksha’, but would society as a whole even pursue that? This is where the notion of ‘Paramatma’ in Hinduism is different from the God of the Judaeo-Christian religions. Paramatma is a mystical concept that does not dictate ethics and can therefore not punish in the way that God does. A nation is primarily interested in a just society and free individuals are a corollary to that.
Dharmic principles differ from law in a theocracy
My proposition here is that this ‘inward looking’ tendency of Hinduism, its valorisation of personal salvation as the ultimate goal, makes it difficult for it to become the basis for the constitution of a fair society and a modern nation founded on its precepts. It is the strictness of God and His capability to inflict punishment equally for wrongdoing that is the basis of law in a theocracy, but dharmic principles do not offer us anything like that — since they are relative to one’s station, something that cannot be determined accurately to be acceptable to everyone involved in any conflict.
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‘Swadharma’ (acting according to one’s nature) is hardly reliable and a fair arbiter is evidently needed. The dependency of dharma on station resulted in law like the Manusmriti, which is often grotesque; it can, if followed, break up Hindus into warring caste groups. Here, for instance, is 8: 417: “A Brahmana may confidently seize the goods of (his) Sudra (slave); for, as that (slave) can have no property, his master may take his possessions.”
If India is to be a ‘Hindu nation’ the only course would arguably be to take advantage of the fact that there is little agreement among Hindus as to what its essential beliefs are. This means that the nation would be free to be a modern one that was secular in the actual sense of the term rather than the way it was understood. Its (common) laws could not depend on religious beliefs but on the notions of justice, tolerance and egalitarianism as are understood in the modern world.
(MK Raghavendra is a writer on culture and politics)
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