The contemporary Hindutva politics is also critical of the idea of ‘communal majority’.
The Ram Temple movement sequel led by the VHP is different from its ‘90s version. It is not merely about historical subjugation of Hindu society. This time, the narrative of Hindu victimhood has a strong majoritarian claim.
Mohan Bhagwat’s comment, that although ‘Hindus have always abided by the law and shown enough patience… can society run only on the basis of law?’ , is an example of this renewed Hindu majoritarianism, which does not hesitate to even go beyond the limits set out by the Constitution itself.
A simplistic political history of Hindu victimhood rests primarily on a passive-aggressive use of the majority-minority framework. But do Hindus really constitute a political majority?
In the political framework, Hindus are presented as a historically wounded majority, which was subjugated by Muslims – a minority – for centuries. The Partition, we are told, further marginalised Hindus. The Hindus did not get a Hindu Rashtra despite being a majority, even as Muslims became a constitutional minority in India. Bhagwat’s formulations around Ayodhya continue this political tradition of projecting numbers to play out a sort of aggressive rhetorical claim to victimhood: if a Ram temple cannot be built in Hindu-majority India, will it be built in Rome or Saudi Arabia?
Hindu as an official category
Bhagwat can be criticised for indulging in what used to be called communal politics to mobilise Hindus for political purposes, especially in the context of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
But the expression ‘Hindu community’ should not always be seen from the prism of Hindutva. The term Hindu is not merely a name of a religious community (or communities); it is an administrative category, which is used to collect official information such as decennial census and other related socio-cultural statistics. Hence, describing India as a Hindu-majority country on the basis of religious demography cannot be called a communal portrayal.
However, the religious demography of India does not mechanically transform any religious group into a political majority. The term majority stands for ‘greater number’. It simply means Hindus become a religious majority only when citizens are counted on the basis of religion. By this logic, we can have a variety of majorities: linguistic, regional and even caste-based.
The anti-Hindi agitation that opposes the linguistic majoritarianism, and the rise of Bahujan politics that Kanshi Ram and Mayawati propose, which argues for the creation of a majority of oppressed castes and groups, are the reflections of other kinds of majorities in Indian politics.
And yet, the word ‘majoritarianism’ has come to be a byword for Hindutva politics today. But, how did religion, a simple census category, become the most relevant criterion to determine political majority in recent years?
Communal majority vs political majority
The story of Hindu majority is inextricably linked to the British colonial perceptions regarding Indian communities. The Census report of 1891 is a good example. This report described Hindus as a majority and treated them as the natural and original inhabitants of the country. On the other hand, Muslims as the adherents of a pan-Islamic community and also as a numerically inferior group in India were called minority. Interestingly, this majority/minority distinction is also cited to depict a ‘conflict of civilisations’ between Hinduism and Islam.
This official recognition to Hindus as a permanent and fixed majority was also used to design political institutions in British India. The British invoked rigid majority/minority framework for addressing the adequate representation of religious communities –Hindus and Muslims – in legislative bodies.
This explicit communalisation of politics was always opposed by the nationalist leaders (except Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League). The most elaborate critique of this communal politics of divide and rule came from Babasaheb Ambedkar. In a lecture delivered in 1945, he argues:
In India, the majority is not a political majority. In India the majority is born; it is not made. That is the difference between a communal majority and a political majority. A political majority is not a fixed or a permanent majority. It is a majority which is always made, unmade and remade. A communal majority is a permanent majority fixed in its attitude. One can destroy it, but one cannot transform it. (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (Vol. 1), 1994, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Govt. of India. P. 377)
The Constitution of India recognises this crucial distinction between political majority and communal majority to establish a secular institutional apparatus. In this sense, no social group can become a permanent minority or majority. In fact, there is only one reference to Hinduism in the Constitution (Article 25, 2b), which emphasises on practice of restricted temple entry.
Hindutva 2.0 and Hindu majority
Interestingly, the contemporary Hindutva politics is also critical of the idea of ‘communal majority’. It does not want to mobilise Hindus as a communal group –primarily because it goes against the established legal-constitutional framework. On the contrary, there is a conscious attempt to bring about an appropriate Hindutva-friendly conception of political majority.
In this framework, Hindutva is presented as the fundamental constituent of Indian culture. This redefinition of India in overtly Hindu terms is creatively used to characterise Hindu as a cultural entity, which cannot be compared with other religious groups such as Muslims or Christians. This reinvention has also helped the term find wider political palatability in the last three decades. It is argued that invoking Hindutva for envisaging a political-electoral majority of Hindus is an acceptable form of expressing national sentiments, which cannot be called a communal foul play.
The non-BJP parties have not understood the basic premise of Hindutva’s majoritarianism. Hindutva groups do not want to replace the Constitution for establishing a theocratic Hindu Rashtra; rather, they are keen to manufacture a political majority of Hindu voters within the framework of electoral politics.
Non-Hindutva groups do need to rework their own alternative meanings of political majority. Otherwise, communal majority of Hindutva will survive in name of majoritarian national sentiments.
Hilal Ahmed is a scholar of political Islam and associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
(ThePrint is publishing three series on minorities in India by Hilal Ahmed. The ‘Sarkari Muslim’, Minority Report, and Line of Law will trace the political journey of Muslims in the country. This is the first article under Minority Report.)