Will India become a Hindu rashtra?

Is the Hindu rashtra already here, marking the end of Nehruvian secularism? Just as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to be keen on reviving the Islamic Ottoman empire, forsaking Kemal Ataturk’s secularism, is Modi leading India towards the pre-Muslim period of ancient India?, writes Amulya Ganguli for South Asia Monitor 

Amulya Ganguli Aug 06, 2020

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can congratulate itself that within a year of the beginning of its second term at the Centre, it has been able to achieve two of the major objectives on its Hindutva agenda. These are the laying the foundation stone of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and the abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution that conferred a special status on Jammu and Kashmir. 

A third item – the introduction of a uniform civil code – still remains to be achieved. But it doesn’t have the vim and vigour of the first two, which unequivocally emphasize the Sangh Parivar's cherished project of converting India from a secular republic to a  Hindu 'rashtra' (nation).

To many, the temple is the first step towards this religion-based goal. Although the speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asserted that the temple will usher in an era of communal peace, the 161 feet tall structure cannot but serve as a constant reminder of the momentous events behind its construction.

Violent history 

Notwithstanding all the claims about the temple’s role in fostering amity, its history has not only been singularly violent, but also intensely political. The original ungodly act was the building of a mosque by the invading Mughal emperor Babur in 1528 on the site in Ayodhya which was reputed to be the birthplace of the Hindu god, Ram, obviously as a deliberate act of asserting the rights of the new Muslim rulers of the land.

But this impious act was followed in 1949 by yet another one when a group of Hindus smuggled in the idols of Lord Ram and installed them in the mosque. Consequently, the place was put under lock and key lest it should become a bone of contention between the two communities. But, then, politics entered the supposedly religious discourse to complicate matters.

After the BJP was reduced to only two seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) raised the issue of “liberating” Lord Ram’s birthplace from the grasp of the Muslims. The BJP’s president at the time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, also said that perhaps it was time for the party to consider whether its ideology of the time, Gandhian socialism, was leading it in the right direction. As a result of this rethinking, the BJP took up in 1989 the question that had been raised by the VHP.

This was also the time when the mosque was unlocked by Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in order to placate Hindus to compensate for having appeased fundamentalist Muslims by negating a Supreme court verdict in favour of a divorced Muslim woman.

The ifs and buts of history tell us, therefore, that if the BJP’s fortunes hadn’t nosedived in 1984, it might not have raised the issue of Lord Ram’s birthplace, especially when it never featured in all of its manifestos from the 1950s despite its post-1989 claims that the temple issue constituted the party’s “soul”.

And if Rajiv Gandhi hadn’t tried to mollify  bigoted Muslims, the BJP wouldn’t have been able to launch its highly effective Muslim "appeasement" campaign against Congress.

There is another aspect. Just as the Muslim League realized after its comprehensive electoral defeat at the Congress’s hands in 1937 that normal politics will not suffice and that there was a need for an extremist, Islam "khatre mein hai" (Islam is in danger) line, the BJP, too, apparently woke up in the mid-1980s to the fact that only a religious/cultural approach will help it recover lost ground.

From the early 1990s, therefore, the BJP adopted an aggressive, pro-Hindu stance, which led to the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya in 1991, followed by countrywide riots and continuous anti-Muslim propaganda by the Parivar, blaming them for all the ills starting from invading the country in the eighth century to destroying temples, partitioning the subcontinent and remaining here as a fifth column.

End of Nehruvian secularism?

The VHP’s brainwave of focussing on the desecration of Lord Ram’s birthplace by the alien invaders worked electoral wonders for the BJP. It has been almost uniformly successful since then, winning power at the centre and in several states.

The BJP’s parliamentary majority and the ability to win friends and influence people outside the National Democratic Alliance led by it have helped it to push through its Hindutva agenda, as in Kashmir and on the temple issue which had the Supreme court’s imprimatur, even if the judgment was deemed, by some, to be in conformity with the pro-Hindu “mood” of the time.

What, then, of the future? Is the Hindu rashtra already here, marking the end of Nehruvian secularism ? Just as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to be keen on reviving the Islamic Ottoman empire, forsaking Kemal Ataturk’s secularism, is Modi leading India towards the pre-Muslim period of ancient India?

But such predictions of dramatic changes are probably wide off the mark. For one, India’s secularism goes back to Emperors Asoka (273-232 B.C) and Akbar (1556-1605) and is too firmly rooted in the nation’s psyche to be easily uprooted.

For another, India’s electoral record has shown that the voters have a mind of their own and do not hesitate to oust seemingly powerful incumbents, as Indira Gandhi’s 1977 defeat showed.

Few can say for certain, therefore, that the present dispensation can continue to reap an electoral harvest by pandering to Hindu sentiments alone and ignoring the views of the silent liberals among Hindus as well as the sizeable minorities.

For the present, they may have mostly gone along with the BJP on the temple issue for the sake of not disturbing a settled matter which has judicial approval. But, as the imposition of a curfew in Kashmir on the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 shows, the Union government is aware that it is nowhere near winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris for all the support it may have received from its allies and friends in the rest of the country.

For the BJP, therefore, it is a case of winning some and losing some. And the losses can upset its pro-Hindu apple cart.

 (The writer is a current affairs analyst. The views expressed are personal)

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