BJP party supporters at a rally (Representational image)
BJP party supporters at a rally (Representational image) | Photo: Mitesh Bhuvad | PTI
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The BJP and its supporters are celebrating the hat-trick of recent ‘victories’ – the takedown of Article 370, the adoption of the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the Supreme Court decision that a Ram Mandir is to be built at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. In their view, these three historical wrongs have been finally corrected. And, many BJP leaders, such as Home Minister Amit Shah, are today presenting themselves as students of history, vociferously advocating that correcting these historical wrongs are critical to making a strong and prosperous India in the future.

While I am glad that Indian politicians often invoke history, but perhaps they have a very limited world view history. As philosopher George Santayana wrote, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.


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The ethnic Hindu

The BJP is building a new India, an India in which the complexity and diversity of Hindu religion are being flattened into a Hindu ethnic identity. Religious orthodoxy everywhere always seeks to centre their politics on moral principles rooted in interpretations of texts. One may or may not agree with them, but their principles are rooted in a cultural or religious tradition. In current-day India, the word Hindu, especially as it is being deployed by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s BJP, has virtually no moral connotation.

Swami Karpatri Maharaj, a monk in the Hindu dashanami monastic tradition and a teacher in the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Hindu philosophy, who founded the Ram Rajya Parishad (RRP), wrote critically of the limited commitment of the Sangh Parivar to the Hindu religion. In his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh aur Hindu Rashtra, he presents a scathing critique of RSS’s commitment to the Hindu religion, and in Vicharapiyusa, he refutes the nationalist agenda of M.S. Golwalkar. In his view, the RSS parivar is primarily influenced by European nationalism and modernist ideas brought by Western orientalists and not by Hindu religious traditions. Karpatri Maharaj’s criticism of the RSS is meaningful even today since we are hard put to find a philosophical document written by a current Sangh ideologue about what it means to be a Hindu.

It is becoming evidently clear now that in BJP’s India, the word Hindu carries no higher principles, no utopian ideas, and no moral compass. All that is left of Hindu identity is an ethnic identity. Who is a Hindu for the BJP? A person who has a religious identity distinct from another religious identity (read largely Muslims and Christians) and whose forefathers were born in India. It seems that in the current BJP conception there are no principles of justice, no philosophy, no compassion associated with the word Hindu. Just ‘us’ versus ‘them’.


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Rich dividends

Creating this new flattened identity has indeed paid rich electoral dividends for the BJP. This strategy allowed the BJP to avoid contending with the diverse religious traditions that encompass Hinduism, and neither does it have to address the caste discrimination rampant within some Hindu cultural traditions. By just sharpening the wedge between Hindus and Muslims, the BJP has managed to bring together a large section of Hindu society, which is under a permanent ‘majority complex’ and feels threatened by religious minorities.

Religious Hindus sense the disconnect between the politics of BJP’s current dispensation and Hinduism as a religion or a way of life. In a forthcoming paper, Rahul Verma and I analyse survey data from the 2019 Lok Sabha election. We find that more religious Hindus do not necessarily favour the BJP today as they did in the past. The BJP’s strategy of creating a Hindu identity whose sole fulcrum is anti-minority has paid off at the polls. A new Hindu majoritarianism (whose self-definition is just ‘Hindu’) is taking root. This majoritarianism is bereft of an association with any religious practice.

The BJP has convinced its supporters of three interrelated ideas that support the notion of this new Hindu identity. Its supporters are convinced that in a democracy like India, the will of the majority should prevail, minorities should adopt the customs of the majority, and that the government is to treat all religions equally.

In the aforementioned paper, Rahul Verma and I find that it is this new political majoritarianism that helped the BJP win the 2019 elections. The unifying force behind these ideas is the notion that India is a Hindu country. In today’s India, minority religions should accept the idea that Hindus are the majority. In India, all religions will be treated equally (this very liberal idea at the heart of the BJP’s platform is quite frankly a canard, especially because Muslims have no special privileges apart from a few constitutional rights granted to all religious minorities) but on terms decided by Hindus.


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The BJP has been successful in its campaign in delinking religious ideas and moral principles from what it means to be a Hindu. As an electoral strategy, this campaign has been successful. Its success, however, means that religious polarisation will engulf India. The ideological middle will shrink. I just wish that the BJP leaders were students of global history and paid heed to Santayana’s warning. As any student of Spain and Germany will tell you, ostracising minorities is the first step towards a less tolerant, less prosperous, and less innovative nation. Accommodating and celebrating diversity is the key to progress. As India stands at a historic crossroads today, I hope we do not repeat the mistakes of the past in a way that our future is doomed forever.

Pradeep Chhibber is a Professor and Indo-American Community Chair in India Studies at UC Berkeley. Views are personal.

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15 Comments Share Your Views

15 COMMENTS

  1. I dont understand how everyone is seeing modi and shah as the real villians, guys what did congress do in their rein?? And now congress are so desperate to get back to power because they cannot see some other party in power that they are joining with parties that have different political agenda from them.. Tell me one thing which face in congress you guys think is a PM material??? RAHUL DUMBO GANDHI !!!! And by the way everything in India happening right now all the Danga, ladai and all sab Congress krwa rai h , they are targeting students for their political selfishness .. why cant educated people see what the left and congress is doing to this country???

  2. MODI-SHAH’S AND THEIR IMMEDIATE FOLLOWERS’ ERUDITION IS EVER QUESTIONABLE . IN THE HOARY TRADITIONS OF INDIA, EVERY PHILOSOPHY AS PROPOUNDED BY SHANKARA , MADHVA AND RAMANUJA ARE BEING TREATED EVEN TODAY AS A SEPARATE RELIGION(MATA AS THEY SAY IN THE SOUTH) AND THE FOLLOWERS OF THESE THREE GENERALLY DO NOT HAVE MARITAL RELATIONS . EVEN AMONG THESE THREE ” RELIGIONS” AND TO THIS DAY MARRIAGE AMONG MEMBERS OF THE SUB-SECT IS FROWNED UPON. UNTIL THE BRITISH ARRIVED THERE WAS NO RELIGION BY NAME HINDUISM, WHILE THE NAME HINDU ITSELF WAS GIVEN BY MOGHALS TO DESIGNATE PEOPLE , WHO LIVED ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER SINDU. THE BJP TODAY , LIKE HINDU MAHASABHA OF 20TH CENTURY , IS A MIRROR IMAGE OF THE MUSLIM LEAGUE WITH LITTLE SPACE FOR ERUDITE AND LEARNED EVEN AS POLITICS IS BEING MANAGED WITH THE HELP OF MONEY BAGS IN RETURN FOR ARCANE FAVOURS AND NEBULOUS ELECTORAL FUNDING . BUT THEN SENSIBLE CITIZENS MUST REALIZE THAT THE MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY HAS ALLOWED THE BJP’S BIGOTRY TO FLOURISH Y NOT FIGHTING THEM ON REASON & LOGIC AND SEEMS TO HAVE CEDED ITS SYNCRETIC SPACE TO BIGOTED . THE BIGGEST BLUNDER COMMITTED BY THE CONGRESS PARTY WAS IN NOT SACKING PVN RAO DURING WHOSE REGIME THE BJP( CONSPIRED WITH RAO?) MANAGED TO DEMOLISH THE BABRI MOSQUE AND THEREBY DEMOLISHED TENUOUS SECULAR FABRIC WOVEN IN THE BACK DROP OF PARTITION RIOTS BY STALWARTS LIKE RAJAJI , NEHRU, AZAD AND OTHERS

  3. Most people are attacted to religion because it provides a moral compass – devoid of that, religion has no meaning. Shah will end up destroying the hindu religion in the name of saving it!

  4. People like this author are fine as long as Hindus are splintered and live like second class citizens who cannot even control their own places of worship. A semblance of emerging unity among the Hindus has sent these lefty folks into a tizzy and are painting an apocalypse. I guess when you are deracinated by Marxism, you lose any sense of history, community and common sense.

  5. This morning I showed our senior maid a photograph of Dr Gita Gopinath in a Print column. Told her, these are the people who are changing the way the world looks at India, as a country that produces incredibly smart people, despite so many constraints. Now we are throwing it all away.

  6. Through said article clearly depicts the bruised mentality of a propakistani mongrel and a khanGressi political tyke who hates Hindus and want them to be butchered by basteds of heinous Islamic terrorists and destroy the very soul of Bharat

    Your habits of spitting venom on Bharat and Hindus is going to backfire and destroy you completely

  7. Sir. In response to the Govts decision to build a temple #BabriMasjid, why not relocate the Mosque to a new place instead of having to tear it down? This is a possibility and a task that the ASI can do under the supervision of the #SunniWaqfBoard and other petitioners?

    • THe option to move the Babri masjid to another site was already offered by Hindus similar to how monuments were moved about in Egypt for the construction of Aswan Dam. It is the Muslim parties that rejected it and it is they who are rejecting it today. Dar ul uloom Deoband and AIMPLB will make enemies out of every single Muslim in India. Beware, you have been warned.q

  8. Yes, true! The majority population should be as pet dogs of minorities. I never believe Hindus would even think of questioning anyone’s belief, had the other side remained to themselves. You ask us to show the other cheek & sorry, Gandhi is not relevant anymore. We wint do the same blunder again.

  9. This author def belongs to the khan market gang. He is resonating the voice of the liberal left of india , US . He seems to serve his masters at UC Berkeley by penning this rabidly anti indian article. It would hv been balanced if he had commented about the rabid vote bank & appeasement policies adopted by previous Congress and Governments supported by it .

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