Hindutva is facing a serious intellectual-political crisis. Despite dominating the horizon of Indian politics for almost a decade, it has reached a saturation point.
Two aspects of this Hindutva predicament are clearly visible: the crisis of ideas and the crisis of politics. The crisis of ideas is making it increasingly unresponsive, rigid and backward-looking. While the crisis of politics has almost demolished the assertion that Hindutva stands for democracy and governance.
Interestingly, this crisis of Hindutva is an outcome of its own success. The unprecedented electoral triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi has created an impression that Hindutva is invincible. This assumption is so powerful that many serious practitioners of Hindutva politics have started believing that their victory over others is an everlasting phenomenon.
Precisely for this reason, there is a need to go beyond this media-driven Hindutva arrogance simply to find out the magnitude of this evolving political upheaval.
Idea: Hindu diversity or Indian diversity?
The success of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in appropriating the term ‘Hindutva’ as well as its main protagonist, V.D. Savarkar is remarkable. It is a well-known fact that RSS was not fully comfortable using Hindutva for its own version of politics. It was only in the 1980s that Hindutva was accepted as a legitimate political expression by RSS-led Sangh Parivar.
RSS did not stop there. It made serious intellectual endeavours to reformulate a completely different version of political Hindutva. Mohan Bhagwat’s three lectures that he delivered in 2018 are very significant in this regard. Bhagwat said:
‘…सभी भारत से निकले सम्प्रदायों का जो सामूहिक मूल्य बोध है उसका नाम हिन्दुत्व है।… इसलिये हम जिसको हिन्दुत्व कहते हैं उस मूल्यबोध, उससे निकली हुई यह संस्कृति, उसके साथ दूसरा घटक है देशभक्ति। वो भारत की पहचान है। भारत इसके लिए है’
(… The collective notion of values belonging to the sects that have sprung from India is known as Hindutva. … Therefore, the idea which we describe as Hindutva is synonymous with the notion of patriotism, the other constituent of it, which is born out of the culture of that very precept of values. This is the mark of India. And, India belongs to it)
Unlike Savarkar, Bhagwat is more concerned with the idea of diversity. He does not want to define Hindu religion as one of the religions of India. Instead, he interprets India purely in Hindu terms. In fact, he follows the K.B. Hedgewar-M.S. Golwalkar thesis that the word ‘Rashtriya’ naturally means ‘Hindu’ and therefore the word ‘Hindu’ need not be used.
Bhagwat’s Hindu-centric formulation has been quite successful so far. Even the non-BJP parties including the Congress, find it difficult to ignore what RSS describes as Hindu sensibilities.
It, however, suffers from a different problem. The revised version of Hindutva does not accommodate all religions and cultures of India. Top RSS leaders have made positive statements about Muslims in the past. Bhagwat, in fact, once argued that Hindutva without Muslims is meaningless. Yet, the Sangh ideologues continue to evoke Indian religions-versus-foreign religions binary to reiterate old Hindu-essentialist arguments that Muslims and Christians have to prove their patriotism.
This selective use of diversity goes against the contemporary imaginations of Indian identity. Various studies conducted by Lokniti-CSDS and a recent survey by Pew Research Centre have shown that more than 90 per cent of Indians believe that India belongs to all religions and cultures.
This underlines a crucial weakness of Hindutva. It has nothing constructive to offer. Slogans such as ‘Akhand Bharat-vs-Partition’, ‘Nehru-vs-Patel’, and symbols such as cow and Ayodhya are almost overused. Reliability of the RSS and BJP on these symbols shows that they cannot go beyond the communal narrative Hindu victimhood.
Hindutva ideologues fail to offer an inclusive argument in favour of India’s deep diversity. The failure to produce such a narrative clearly reflects Hindutva’s intellectual bankruptcy—a manifestation of a crisis of ideas.
Politics: constitutionalism or authoritarianism
Contemporary Hindutva politics is no longer interested in replacing the Indian Constitution with any revised legal-framework for establishing the so-called Hindu Rashtra. Instead, they have succeeded in refashioning a new politics of the Constitution, which I call Hindutva Constitutionalism.
Hindutva Constitutionalism is based on three premises. First, the Constitution must be treated as a rule book, a sacred document so as to freeze its transformative potentials. Second, there is need to emphasize one nation-one Constitution simply to legitimise the growing political centralisation. And finally, a revised and expanded notion of minority in a broader South Asian context to underline relative powerlessness of Hindus. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the abrogation of Article 370 are the reflections of BJP’s active politics of Hindutva constitutionalism.
This highly successful career of Hindutva constitutionalism has its own limitations. It has actually emerged as an anti-thesis of parliamentary democracy itself.
It is worth noting that the BJP has a significant presence in Parliament. However, it does not rely entirely on its numerical strength. The established procedures to get a law passed are often disregarded, the autonomy of democratic institutions is undermined and the culture of open debate and discussions is seen as an anti-national activity. It simply means that BJP’s unease with constitutional democracy is still surviving. Hindutva constitutionalism, in this sense, is an inseparable constituent of a rather visible strategy to appropriate law and institutions.
This poses a crisis of a different kind. Democracy does not mean regular elections. It is about institutional stability and dignity of legal procedures. Various researchers have proved that Indian masses have great faith in parliamentary democracy. Despite knowing the complexities and corruption associated with the electoral process, they participate in it enthusiastically.
BJP’s version of Hindutva constitutionalism, it seems, does not reciprocate this popular faith in democracy. It is possible for the BJP to win elections in near future. But, the systematic erosion of democratic values will certainly lead to lawlessness and anarchy.
Ironically, the opponents of Hindutva don’t recognise its success; while Hindutva’s own practitioners are clueless about the growing political predicament inherent in it.
As a form of political conservatism, Hindutva has given a new direction to Indian politics. The crisis of Hindutva, in a way, also reflects the emerging flatlines of our polity.
Hilal Ahmed is a scholar of political Islam and associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. He tweets @Ahmed1Hilal. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)