Former Congress president, Mr Rahul Gandhi stirred a hornet’s nest when he sought to distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutva. There could have been no better forum for him to rake up this debate than an All India Congress Committee (AICC) orientation programme as it would be an imperative to take the debate forward.
“We say there is a difference between Hindutva and Hindu religion. It is a simple logic – if you are a Hindu then why do you need Hindutva? Why do you need this new name?” was his poser to the party leaders and cadres and on a broader scale to the people.
After all the country is witnessing an aggressive rightwing surge under Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and many feel he has been able to capture imagination of a sizable section of the Hindus. It is another matter that those mesmerised by the Hindutva doctrine have perhaps read it more in terms of empowerment of Hindus than trying to understand the political or electoral intent behind it.
Notwithstanding his shortcomings and initial immature approach to counter the BJP’s Hindutva tirade launched more aggressively under Modi-Amit Shah duo, he has shown some courage to call for a Hinduism versus Hindutva debate. For the past seven years the BJP had a free run on this front and it looked as if the Congress and the other opposition parties had no clue to break BJP’s Hindutva jigsaw puzzle and instead fell in line to tow a soft-Hindutva line as a counter instead of creating an alternative narrative based on facts and not fiction.
It is certainly not to suggest that either Mr Gandhi or his party have found a clue to the puzzle through his brief statement as it would depend as to how he takes forward this debate. Yes, there is a dire need to discuss BJP’s Hindutva plank as a mark of ideology and he has pushed the right button though after considerable delay.
Without venturing into the sensitive religious realm of Hinduism versus Hindutva, it becomes imperative to understand the meaning of the two terms purely from the point of political debate. Given the current scenario and cause of this debate, it has purely a political context aimed at a particular vote bank rather than having a religion embedded motive. This needs to be understood more so by the electorates of the country and to help that a debate on Hinduism versus Hindutva is a must.
While Hinduism is a mediavel term, whereas Hindutva has recent origin. The latter came into public discourse only in the early 20th century. As is popularly known the term Hindutava was introduced by the “rightwing freedom fighter”, V D Savarkar.
According to a paper by Arvind Sharma published by Association of Asian Studies “Hindusim is the name given to the most ancient and persistent religion on the Indian subcontinent and Hindutva is the name that denotes the ideology of the Hindu right, represented by the BJP. It is also the ideology of the cultural body known as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which was founded in 1925, around the same time Mr Savarkar propounded the Hidutava theory.
In this backdrop Mr Gandhi’s upfront statement on distinguishing between Hinduism and Hindutva has assumed significance. It was bound to generate heat and controversy of a particular kind which immediately erupted after he aired his views. The political intent behind the term Hindutva was immediately confirmed by the ruling dispensation as its public faces lost no time in portraying his statement as another manifestation of “Congress’s pathological hatred against the Hindus.”
By doing so Mr Gandhi has managed to break the mindset of those within and outside the Congress who thought it to be a sensitive issue and that the party should swim with the tide no matter if it’s course is set by the arch rival BJP. There is no doubt that Hindutva is a strong ideological encore for the RSS-BJP which has been taken to the next level by the current dispensation where at times it has been seen running contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. The only way to check this upsurge was through a counter-ideological tirade.
The Congress and Mr Gandhi in particular owe an explanation to the country about the inordinate delay in questioning the ideological encore of the RSS-BJP which at times is seen as raising serious questions on the “Idea of India” as perceived by the Freedom Fighters and the framers of the Constitution. Nevertheless, better late than never with a hope that ideological battle will get intensified from here on in the right earnest manner.
The daggers are already drawn and the prophets of doom have started prophesying on the ill effects of Mr Gandhi’s attempt to question BJP’s Hindutva plank vis-a-vis Hinduism. There have been efforts both by well-wishers and adversaries to trap Mr Gandhi in a bubble of uncertainty on every issue. And how could it be different on a sensitive subject such as this. A dilemma is sought to be created by these elements for Mr Gandhi on whether he should have spoken on various issues including Hinduism versus Hindutva debate or not, or if silence was golden and waited for the issue to die its own death. Whether he spoke or not he would receive brickbats in both the cases to the great benefit of the Congress’s political adversaries. So, better he has set the tone.
Earlier, ostensibly, he was seen caving in to this unique lobby of dilemma creators and unknowingly followed their agenda. But by setting an ideological debate on the issue of Hindutva, he in all probability has set out on a new course. In order to take this debate forward to catch the public imagination, the Congress and its supporters need to strongly back Mr Gandhi as his statement should be seen in a larger national and political context.
It is a well known fact by now that during the seven-year rule of Mr Modi, he has been able to create a strong impression of pandering to the expectations of the majority Hindu community and in the process portray Hinduism and Hindutva as acronyms. This was amply reflected in the BJP spokespersons describing Mr Gandhi’s statement related to Hindutva as “attack on Hindus’ ‘.
Rather than falling in the trap of the BJP and being seen as following the soft-Hinduism line, the Congress and other opposition parties should develop a strong ideological plank to counter the BJP. It would be a misnomer not to question the BJP’s Hindutva plank as the party uses it as a strong protective gear against any attack. Merely going full steam against the Modi government’s failures on economic and other fronts in quest of electoral benefits will not serve the purpose.
Mr Gandhi by initiating the Hinduism versus Hindutva debate has broken the logjam, though a trifle late. This debate must go hand-in-hand with questioning the failures of the Government on policy fronts.