Arvind Kejriwal
File photo | Arvind Kejriwal offers prayers at Hanuman Temple with family on the eve of Delhi assembly election | ANI Photo
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There are words and phrases that need to be retired from India’s political lexicon. For example, you don’t hear the BJP use ‘pseudo-secularism’ anymore. It managed to delegitimise secularism long ago. Today, you are just anti-Hindu if you don’t support the project of making Muslims second-class citizens.

There’s an easy way to shed the anti-Hindu charge: be Hindu. In the 2017 Gujarat assembly election, I asked a BJP voter what he thought of Rahul Gandhi’s temple-hopping. “It’s all fake,” he said expectedly, but added this insight: “The only thing it’s ensuring is that Hindutva is not working.” I saw his point. How do you call a temple-going person anti-Hindu?

Yet, some of our Leftists and liberals don’t understand this. Politicians going to Hindu temples (yes, with cameras) is called “soft Hindutva”. You can find this tired old phrase even in straight news reports, not just social media rants.


Also read: 5 reasons why Modi-Shah’s BJP lost to Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP in Delhi election


‘Soft Hindutva’ means nothing

Hindutva as an ideology is about establishing political supremacy of Hindus over non-Hindus, reducing non-Hindus, especially Muslims and Christians, to second-class citizens. It is an ideology that uses and supports violence, discrimination, discriminatory laws and even seeks to make Indian Muslims stateless.

Praying before Hanumanji or Shiv is not the same as wanting Muslims put in detention camps or declaring India a Hindu Rashtra. The term “soft Hindutva” equates the two. Taking Hindu and Hindutva to mean the same is exactly what the RSS-BJP want. After all, Hindutva literally means Hinduness.

In fact, we need a new word to describe Hindutva, so as to counter this false equation of Hindu and Hindutva. Instead of emphasising the difference between the two, some liberals and Leftists have unfortunately been serving the BJP-RSS cause by using the term “soft Hindutva”.

It is absolutely bizarre that worshipping at a temple or reciting a prayer is considered bigoted. If praying at a temple is soft Hindutva, offering namaz must be soft Islamism? And throwing an Iftar party must be jihad?

The same Arvind Kejriwal who recites the Hanuman Chalisa also throws an iftar party during Ramzan. Religion is part of everyday culture, and everyday culture is bound to reflect in politics. It is an intellectual privilege to object to a politician praying a temple. If you have ever trailed an MLA or MP candidate, you will see them visit all places of worship and pay respect.

If you ask a Muslim what they think of Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal going to temples, she will probably tell you, “It is great that they are following their religion.”

It is only the Leftists who romanticise irreligious politics. Religion in politics is inevitable: Mahatma Gandhi used it. The question is, how do you use it? You can use religion to unite, and you can use it to divide. Secular politicians going to temples are doing so to unite people. To disparage this as “soft Hindutva” is a despicable thing to do.


Also read: Rahul Gandhi is as polarising as Modi but Indian liberals won’t use that word for him


If it’s Hindutva, it must be hard

When Rajiv Gandhi allowed a religious ceremony to take place at the disputed Babri Masjid site in 1986, it was a case of appeasing Hindutva forces. It came from political strategy, poor as it was. He had to make up for his Shah Bano folly. Nevertheless, giving permission for the shilanyas at the Babri Masjid site was not an act of ‘soft Hindutva’. It was Hindutva, plain and simple.

The role of the next Congress prime minister, Narasimha Rao, in the Babri Masjid demolition is also well known.

Political actions that fall into the Hindutva category must not be exonerated just because they come from non-BJP parties. But such actions should not be called ‘soft Hindutva’. If it is Hindutva, it is by definition a hard thing.


Also read: No soft Hindutva, no Left Revolution, Kejriwal establishing a new centre in Indian politics


Silence as strategy 

Sometimes secular parties don’t express enough outrage and disapproval over Hindutva actions by the BJP-RSS. This, too, is criticised by Leftist critics as ‘soft Hindutva’.

The truth is that secular parties do not gain any votes by going for ‘soft’ Hindutva. When voters have the 24-carat pure Hindutva option, why would they go for the softer option?

The reason why secular parties sometimes avoid talking about Hindutva is strategic communication. Whatever you talk about, positively or negatively, becomes the dominant trend in voters’ political imagination. Secular parties, therefore, talk about things that they want to see as dominant trends.

For example, the Lalu-Mulayam answer to Mandir in the early 1990s was Mandal. That is how you change the conversation.

To defeat Hindutva, we need to talk about something else. The BJP-RSS are proposing Hindutva as the reason why people must vote for the BJP. Secular parties have to propose something worthier. And merely opposing Hindutva can’t be enough. So, secular parties have to talk about what they are offering, and this should overwhelm what they are opposing.

That is what Arvind Kejriwal was trying to do. The BJP wanted to talk about Shaheen Bagh. Arvind Kejriwal wanted to talk about education, health, electricity, and water. It was a battle over defining what the Delhi assembly election was about.


Also read: The new voters for Modi’s BJP are poorer, more majoritarian but not as religious


Power is the master key

Unfortunately, some Leftists and liberals were playing into the BJP’s hands by talking more about Hindutva issues than about electricity and water. Such liberals and Leftists fail to understand the strategic communication way of defeating Hindutva.

They could begin by giving up the use of the phrase ‘soft Hindutva’. By not going to Shaheen Bagh, Arvind Kejriwal was not doing ‘soft Hindutva’. He was trying to defeat the BJP in the election by talking about governance issues.

To be able to prevent India from becoming a Hindu Rashtra, secular parties have to first win elections. Political power is the master key that opens all locks, said B.R. Ambedkar. Power is also the key that will open the lock that has been placed upon secularism. And gaining power needs an appreciation of strategic political communication.

Leftists and liberals who want to save secularism should start by kicking the phrase ‘soft Hindutva’ out of the political lexicon.

Leftist and liberal critics must, of course, continue raising secular issues. They play an important role in shifting the Overton Window leftwards, and thus preventing centre-Left electoral forces from drifting Rightwards. But to constantly undermine secular parties with the ‘soft Hindutva’ charge is a self-goal.

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

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21 Comments Share Your Views

21 COMMENTS

  1. Only country the Hindus can call home is India and Hindus in all Islamic countries are considered 2 second class.And considers it Muslims as Indians but everybody with twisted mind thinks otherwise?

    • In Islamic countries ALL other religions are considered second class. But in secular democracies like my country, Australia, Hindus and Muslims are welcome to practice their faith. In fact the Hindu community is the fastest growing faith in Australia today. So STOP spouting that nonsense that Hindus only have one country where they are safe to practice their faith. This is BJP-RSS propaganda.

  2. Entirely agree with Shivam Vij. Somehow the saffron camp has con convinced a large section of Hindus that those who don’t swear by a minority-hating version of Hindu practice are sickular. The point is that Hindu politicians have ALWAYS practised their religion without barbs of soft Hindutva politics. Indira was quite religious, a devotee of Anandamayee Ma. A helipad has constructed on a hill in Vindhyachal near this guru’s ashram. Even Leftists in Bengal have traditionally been involved with local pujas. And in Bengal there are MANY of them, one after the other from September to February. Only some netas are agnostic or atheist. And why not? What does the Rig Vedic Hymn of Creation say? It says that the universe pre-dates gods because in the nothingness from which the universe emerged even the gods didn’t exist. And now we have some people claiming that BJP follows Vedic rules of governance.

    • Mam if you are implying that hindutva is against the minority then let me put some light towards it, as we all know that hindutva ideology is started by Late Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who gave this ideology just because Mahatma Gandhi started supporting muslims in their religious movement which is known as khilafat movement, which was nowhere related to our independence movement, all hindus left their homes not for any religious needs but for the country’s freedom and there our indian muslims are doing marchs for a thing which is happening somewhere else, when they cannot leave their religion , why we should, plus bcoz of our lack of unity among our hindu community and unity in their they are more capable of taking over this country than us like what happened between our hindu kings in the medieval era, they were having enemity towards themselves and didnt gave the attention to the foreign invasion, and still hindus like you and me are fighting and supporting those people who dont have the feeling of a nation, for them religion comes first, i think you saw what happened with the health workers when the went to find out the victims of corona and how the nizamuddin people who gathered in delhi are behaving with doctors and police.

  3. It is wrong to say that RSS-BJP combine is all hard Hindutva,and other secular parties are truly secular,
    They have lost public support due to their sin of omissions and commissions. They practiced a kind of
    family politics like the proverbial family businesses. This cannot go on forever as we have seen in the
    reversal of public verdict.
    The new ruling party may have its own manifesto,principles and policies for governance and nation-building.It believes in Sanadhana Dharma and the tenets of principles of governance enshrined in
    Vedas in the discharge of welfarism to the people of this country.They should have the opportunity
    for delivery of their promises,
    If you want to fight them,Kejariwal,the new entrant showed one way,there could be other ways which
    can come out of a hard brain storming and soul searching sessions within the Parties.Indian Public
    are always freedom loving and vote for Change and Progress.

    • Krjiriwal won bcas he cleverly united muslims as one solid vote bank and Hindus as usual.were sleeping or engaged in petty caste politics

  4. This is a tricky thing in which a commoner is normally brainwashed by the temple going politicians.
    No doubt we are majority Hindu population ,but we have been living with our brethren who hail from
    other religious denominations,for long,but they are still Indians and same as majority population as far their civic rights and liberties are concerned.
    Religious practices are personal to the individuals and the state normally
    does not interfere in their religious freedom.
    Religious tolerance is the essence of social living.
    The problem comes if political power is got on the basis of religion or other polarizing factors and some of the other group is treated as second class citizens,
    Ideally society be run on principle of liberty, equality, and fraternity as in some European countries,with govt. framing civil codes acceptable to all,
    and there will be no politics of power of any religion, and into that heaven of freedom that Tagore
    dreamt,let this country awake.

  5. 1. My queries in context of issues discussed in this article are as follows: (a) should Muslims in our country use religion for electoral politics? (b) Why can’t Muslims identify with the majority on issues like illiteracy, poverty or democratic rights or common civil laws? (c) Is it not a fact that so-called intellectuals in Indian Muslim communities have very little influence on Muslim masses? (d) Do our Muslim leaders display a strong desire to negate influence of modern education on lives of poor Muslims? 2. There cannot be sensible politics without involvement of a vast majority of Indians. Further, all of us must accept is that there cannot be sensible, secularism based politics, (which may or may not be with what author of this article calls ‘soft Hindutva’), without support of the Hindus. 3. If today, BJP has a huge following of citizen-voters who may not be called pro-Hindutva voters but who are certainly fans of PM Narendra Modi, this fact cannot be overlooked. These citizen-voters would continue to support Narendra Modi even if they do not approve of all policies of BJP.

  6. Hindutva is Hinduism of the goons and idiots. Symptons include stupidity, violence, trolling, alt facts, hatred and generally, life with the singular purpose of blind faith. In the contemporary version, it manifests into behaviors like jumping traffic lights, polluting mother earth, abusing women, beating up people that are weaker, exploiting labour, ridiculing science and such. Soft hindutva is likely the above with one or two virtues missing like jumping traffic lights. For the majority of practising Hindus, it is a pain to be associated with these idiots.

  7. Hindus, in their own country Hindustan, have been made to feel guilty for being Hindus under the so called Secular dispensation since Independence. For a thousand years, it was ,first he islamic rulers who looked down on the ‘KAFIRS’ then the Christians i.e. the RAJ relegated both Hindus and Muslims to be an inferior spices that could partially redeem them selves by emulating the SAHIBS. This produced the Brown Sahibs who ruled India since independence . The influence of Communists and assorted leftists, hostile to Hindus, was the result of closeness, some may say dependence, on USSR by the newly independent India.
    Now that Hindus have proudly asserted their rightful place, there is a large hue and cry from those who have lost their relative superior position of power.
    There are many muslims who are good citizens and live a honest and honourable life which they richly deserve.
    There are many Hindus who carryon their daily deals without bothering with all the politically inspired and media hyped Hindu Muslim quarrels.
    But when it comes to fundamental theological question of which community is more in tune with ‘Live and let live’ principal, there is no doubt about what is the answer.

    • Leftist and liberal! Leftists are no liberals, read history. Communists were some of the worst autocratic breed in the world.

      • They continue to be so in states like West Bengal, Tripua and Kerala of which the first two got emancipated and soon in Kerala too they would vanish!

  8. Agree. That’s why left has become irrelevant. When almost every Hindu is under the influence of some Baba or Maa religion can’t be wished away. After all end justifies the means.

  9. So according to this hypocrite “Mandal” is better than “Hindutva” . So “Dividing Hindus” is a wonderful “uniting” concept. Thats what is called pseudo secularism and thats why these silly hypocrites lose in any meaningful debate.

  10. Hindutva as an ideology is about establishing political supremacy of Hindus over non-Hindus, reducing non-Hindus, especially Muslims and Christians, to second-class citizens.

    Utter rubbish; who defined Hindutva to mean the above??
    Clearly, this plonker has nothing sensible to write about, other than peddling toxic drivel so he gets press presence.
    That said I’m not a BJP bhakt either.

  11. Hindutva definition needs clarification.

    It’s an appeal to identity and celebrate Hindu heritage. A culture which is rich in outlook in sync with nature and science despite it’s societal complexities.

    I don’t see Hindu rastra as becoming future calamity for India. Infact foreign culture historically got assimilated in this hindiness without us knowing the difference. Ask any Parsi Jew or Jain for that matter.

    This is just tragic that not just the country but name of religion was given to us by British just to identify who the heck are these people with different beliefs.

    Leftist ask you to ignore and be ashamed of this identity. The more you abuse this identity the more you are liberal and thus secular.

    People have grown out of this charade and calling a spade a spade.

  12. “Secular politicians going to temples are doing so to unite people. To disparage this as “soft Hindutva” is a despicable thing to do.” Wah! Kya baat hai. Secular politicians doing it all of a sudden, like claiming “I am a janeudhari” or “chanting Hanuman Chalisha” can be regarded as uniting people. What an argument dear! And what about the opportunists the leftists idea of going soft on Hinduism and asking cadres to do so in Bengal, how do you see it sir. Stop being so myopic.
    Raja Mohanty

  13. It is a twisted interpretation. I do not endorse BJP or RSS thinking. However, it is an undeniable fact that the Hindus are a majority population in India. As such, it is inevitable that the Hindus will dominate India’s polity. Nothing wrong in that. You don’t have to endorse the vexed two nation theory to accept this evident fact. Therefore, by the same token it but natural and inevitable that India’s politics will have Hindu-based party or parties. No political analyst worth his salt will be so blind to deny this factual position. So, the BJP, a major Hindutva based party in India is entitled to occupy its legitimate political space in India; not necessary that they should win political power every time. Only thing to consider is how Hindutva as a political ideology should express itself. Vajpayee was essentially ‘soft-Hindutva’- peace-loving, liberal, broad minded, modern and rational. The present BJP has diverted from Vajpayee’s path. A course correction is required.

  14. At least research the meaning of hindutva before writing about it. PRINT I lose a little respect for you daily. Guess you are being funded by some biased folk.

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