Many proud Hindus like myself cherish the inclusive nature of our faith and have no desire to live in an intolerant mono-religious state.
It must have been a slow news day.
The hysteria on our television channels yesterday over a remark I have made many times before (and tweeted in 2013) – that the BJP’s agenda of a “Hindu Rashtra”, if it succeeds in capturing both Houses of Parliament as well as a majority of the states, would reduce India to a Hindu Pakistan – was bizarre. It stretched credulity to see so many hours devoted to distorting two words and accusing their author of everything from being anti-national to anti-Hindu.
I have said this before and I will say it again: our nationalist movement was divided between two sets of ideas, held by those who saw religious identity as the determinant of their nationhood and those who believed in an inclusive India for everyone, irrespective of faith. The former became the Idea of Pakistan, the latter the Idea of India. Pakistan was created as a state with a dominant religion, a state that discriminates against its minorities and denies them equal rights. But India never accepted the logic that had partitioned the country: our freedom struggle was for all, and the newly independent India would also be for all.
On the other hand, the BJP/RSS idea of a Hindu Rashtra is the mirror image of Pakistan – a state with a dominant majority religion that seeks to put its minorities in a subordinate place. That would be a Hindutva Pakistan, and it is not what our freedom movement fought for, nor is it the idea of India enshrined in our Constitution.
This is not just about the minorities, as the BJP would have us believe. Many proud Hindus like myself cherish the inclusive nature of our faith and have no desire to live, as our Pakistani neighbours are forced to, in an intolerant mono-religious state. Hinduism, as Swami Vivekananda pointed out, teaches the acceptance of difference as a basic credo. Hindutva is not Hinduism; it is a political doctrine, not a religious one. A “Hindu Pakistan” would not be Hindu at all, but a Sanghi Hindutva state. We want to preserve the India we love, and not turn our beloved country into a Hindutva version of Pakistan.
What is bizarre about the media drama over my remarks is that no one giving air time to multiple BJP voices frothing at the mouth about my words actually asked them one simple question: “Is the BJP giving up its dream of a Hindu Rashtra?” Instead, pro-government voices have been allowed to get away with reaffirming the PM’s famous statement that the Constitution is his holy book, eliding the fact that many senior BJP leaders – from Governor Tathagata Roy to union minister of state Anantkumar Hegde – have openly affirmed that, in the latter’s words, “the BJP had come to power to change the Constitution” and that it would “do so in the near future”. RSS ideologue Govindacharya has declared that he is already at work on a new Hindutva Constitution for India.
BJP apologists point out that the government has done nothing to amend the Constitution, and others have suggested that the Supreme Court’s ruling that secularism is part of the “basic structure” of the Constitution makes the idea of a Hindutva Pakistan impossible. But the fact is that both have only been held at bay by the simple fact that the BJP has not had the numbers required to achieve their goal – two-thirds of both Houses of Parliament and half the states. Today they control 20 state assemblies and lead coalitions in two more, which means in five years or so the Rajya Sabha will inevitably be theirs. If they manage to retain control of the Lok Sabha in the next general elections, they will finally have all the elements needed to fulfil their project.
Hegde and Roy are blunt-speaking politicians with a long record of preferring valour to discretion, and they have let the proverbial cat out of the bag. The Hindutvavadis’ critique of the Constitution is a fundamental one; their idea of its flaws lies in their core belief in the idea of a Hindu Rashtra, as opposed to the civic nationalism enshrined in the Constitution of India.
The RSS sarsangchalak and ideologue M.S. Golwalkar articulated this critique almost as soon as the Constitution was adopted. India’s independence from colonial rule in 1947, Golwalkar argued, did not constitute real freedom because the new leaders held on to the “perverted concept of nationalism” that “located all who lived on India’s territory as equal constituents of the nation”.
This fundamental flaw was the same one identified by Deendayal Upadhyaya, undoubtedly the principal ideologue of the Hindutva movement today, who is honoured and exalted daily by the BJP government; the PM has instructed every ministry to hold seminars on his thoughts. India had written a Constitution imitative of the West, Upadhyaya argued, and divorced from any real connection to our mode of life and from authentically Indian ideas about the relationship between the individual and society. Upadhyaya argued that the Constitution should embody a Hindu political philosophy befitting an ancient nation like Bharat. He was clear that reducing the Indian national idea to a territory and the people on it was fallacious. In building his case for a Hindu Rashtra, Upadhyaya specifically disavowed the existing Constitution of India.
Having rejected its premise, Upadhyaya was scathing about the Constitution’s drafting and adoption: a nation, he argued, “is not like a club which can be started or dissolved. A nation is not created by some crores of people passing a resolution and defining a common code of behaviour binding on all its members. A certain mass of people emerges with an inherent motivation”. “It is”, he added with a Hindu analogy, “like the soul adopting the medium of the body”.
Upadhyaya thus fundamentally questioned the very legitimacy of the Constitution and not just the process by which it was created. For Upadhyaya, the absence of the Hindu Rashtra idea in the Constitution was unacceptable. This makes all the more curious the enthusiastic zeal with which his devotees today – from Prime Minister Modi to others below him – swear by it and celebrate every milestone in its adoption. The man who rejected the Constitution of India in conception, form and substance would be astonished to find his supposed acolytes extolling its every line and holding special commemorations in Parliament with grandiloquent speeches to mark the anniversary not just of its adoption—which, after all, is Republic Day—but even of its passage by the Constituent Assembly in a newly anointed ‘Constitution Day’. If Upadhyaya had not been cremated, he would be rolling over in his grave.
So we have heard every BJP leader and supporter on television yesterday telling us how the Modi government has stood for our constitutional democracy. This must surely imply a commitment to retain the Constitution of India, and its basic structure as defined by the Supreme Court, including secularism and minority rights. In keeping with these affirmations, will the Prime Minister himself now announce to the nation, “though I admire Deendayal Upadhyaya, I disagree with him about the Constitution”?
Somehow, I doubt he will.
Dr Shashi Tharoor is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 17 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is ‘Why I am a Hindu’. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor