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The Hindu Soul In Search Of Its Body

The Hindu Soul In Search Of Its Body

Author: Balbir K. Punj
Publication: Outlook
Date: September 30, 2002

Introduction: Contrary to what the Left insinuates, Hinduism can't exist sans Hindutva, says Balbir K. Punj

Crisis in Hinduism (Outlook, July 8) repeats the cliches and half-truths usually used by the Indian Left to tar the Sangh parivar. What's surprising is that it was written not by a Communist campaigner, but by a senior staffer of this prestigious weekly. The writer also seemed to have disregarded the elementary journalistic principle of presenting both ends of the argument. The article, with assistance from some well- known and not-so-well-known Sangh-baiters and their misleading remarks, condemns the Hindutva forces.

Needless to say, it doesn't contain any counter- argument or comment from the Sangh leadership. That the piece was prejudiced was obvious right from the start. It referred to We or Our Nationhood, allegedly authored by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar in 1939.
The book has been the Left's favourite weapon, whenever it has sought to malign the Sangh and the BJP. It conveniently ignores the fact that it was not Guru Golwalkar's original work but a free English rendering by G.D. Savarkar of his original Marathi tract Rashtra Mimansa (Discourse on Nation). In any case, Guru Golwalkar later distanced himself from this radical work, a product of his formative days in the RSS.

And now for the tactical, though, subtle shift in the Left's strategy that ought not to go unnoticed. The piece begins with a quotation from S. Radhakrishnan's The Hindu View of Life. From their incipient days, and right up to 1992, the Marxists berated everything associated with the word 'Hindu'.

For the Marxists, Hindu society was caste-ridden and rigidly hierarchical, whereas Islam was an egalitarian creed. No wonder, they supplied all the intellectual arguments M.A. Jinnah needed to justify the vivisection of India. Though they believed that religion was the opium of the masses, the Marxists simultaneously worked for the creation of a theocratic state.
I do not know how they reconciled this contradiction. Their contempt for Hinduism was manifest in many ways. In the 1960s, Leftist economist Raj Krishna coined the expression the 'Hindu rate of growth', denoting miserly (around 3.5 per cent) growth rate of the Indian economy. 'Cow belt', another Leftist coinage with derogatory connotations, is today commonly used by the media to refer to Hindi-speaking states.

But the Left quickly changed tack in the 1990s when the Hindutva resurgence began. Fearing they would be blown off like straws, the Leftists began propagating that tolerant and toothless Hinduism is a boon, but aggressive Hindutva a bane. This propaganda was aimed at clinically separating the Hindutva forces from their mass base.

Exclusivism and intolerance in matters of faith are features of Semitic religions-Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Islam, in fact, had an empire-building agenda from day one. Contrary to these desert-born religions, intolerance and persecution were alien to Hinduism. It's also not correct to say that pre-Muslim India was not predominantly Hindu, that Buddhism was the dominant religion for many centuries, and that Jainism has an equally long history. By Hinduism one perhaps implies the Vedic faith. Otherwise, Buddhism and Jainism, like Sikhism, Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, are equally Hindu. Their respective founders as well as their patrons and subscribers were Hindus.

Before you ask how I dare to term Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs as Hindus, let me quote from Encyclopaedia Brittannica: "In principle, Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship without necessitating the selection or elimination of any.

The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant.... A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu...he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well being of the world and the mankind."

The above was cited by a Supreme Court constitution bench in 1977 when it declared that Hinduism was a non-conflicting religion. Again, in 1994 another such constitution bench quoted the same excerpt to uphold the fact that Hindutva was a non- conflicting and secular idea. The clear-cut and exclusive religious identities of Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism and perceiving them as separate religions are recent phenomena. Otherwise, they were overlapping and mutually inclusive throughout. Most of the Jains and several Sikhs even today consider themselves Hindus. Many Hindus worship Buddha as a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, visit Jain and Buddhist temples with devotion and pay obeisance at gurudwaras. Small wonder then that the all-India convenor of Bajrang Dal, bugbear of secularists, is Surendra Jain.

The relationship between Hinduism and Hindutva is similar to one between the soul and the body. A Hindutva divorced from the eternal principles of Hinduism is dead. But can the soul express itself without the body? When I pass through New Delhi's Mandir Marg, I see the building of Arya Samaj, Anarkali. Few care to remember that it's the famous Arya Samaj branch of Anarkali Road in Lahore, which shifted here once the Partition riots began. I don't know how many such Arya Samaj branches had to relocate during Partition, never to return despite their hallowed principles of tolerance and universal brotherhood.

I wonder at the naivete of intellectuals who project Hindutva as the worst thing that happened to a liberal religion like Hinduism. Hindutva is not a new phenomenon. Its indelible impression on our freedom movement can be discerned quite easily. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's fictionalised account of the sanyasi uprising against the British in Bengal in Ananda Math, for instance, inspired a whole subsequent generation of revolutionaries. The song Vande Mataram (in the novel) showcases the sublimity and universality of Hindutva. Swami Dayanand's Arya Samaj spawned numerous reformers/ nationalists who overtly subscribed to Hindutva. Veer Savarkar, Bhai Parmanand, Swami Vivekanand, Sri Aurobindo, Rash Behari Bose (INA's supreme commander who founded the Hindu Mahasabha in Japan!) believed in Hindutva. Their nationalism was rooted in Hinduism, but was it ever out of sync with internationalism or universalism?

Post-Ayodhya, secularists have changed their strategy and easily invoke the well-respected icons of Hinduism to rubbish Hindutva. Since most of them had no faith in the creed in the first place, their study of these icons is superficial. Even the Outlook piece refers to Dayanand, Vivekanand and Aurobindo as "positive reformist leaders" divorced from Hindutva. Let's actually see what these illustrious personalities had to say about Christian missionaries and Islam.

In an interview with Prabuddha Bharata in 1899, Vivekanand said: "Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy more." Earlier, he had set this statement in the founding document of the Ramakrishna order in 1897. Here Vivekanand says, if India embraces a foreign religion, "the Indian civilisation will be destroyed. For whomever goes out of the Hindu religion is not only lost to us but also we have in him one more enemy".

Talking about Muslims, the monk says they "brought murder and slaughter in their train and until then peace prevailed in India". Again, speaking about what damage Christian missionaries have done to India, he says in a lecture reported in the Detroit Free Press (February 21, 1894): "They come to my country and abuse my forefathers, my religion, and everything; they walk near a temple and say 'you idolators, you will go to hell', but they dare not do this to the Mohammedans of India, for the sword will be out but the Hindu is too mild."

Here is what Sri Aurobindo had to say on Islam in a letter to a disciple on September 12, 1923: "The Mahomedan or Islamic culture hardly gave anything to the world which may be said to be of fundamental importance and typically its own.... I do not think it has done anything more in India of cultural value. It gave some new forms to art and poetry. Its political institutions were always semi-barbaric."

And wasn't the 'shuddhi' movement-initiated by Dayanand in 1877 to bring back to the Hindu fold those who had converted to other faiths-proof enough of his Hindutva? Even Gandhi's nationalism in that sense was not "secular" since he propagated the idea of freedom through his Ram dhun and idealised 'Ram rajya'. He was equally wary of the Church and its missionaries. Writing in Harijan (March 13, 1937) he said: "My fear is that, though Christian friends nowadays do not say or admit it that Hindu religion is untrue, they must harbour in their breast that Hinduism is an error and that Christianity, as they believe it, is the only true religion. So far, as one can understand the present (Christian) effort, it is to uproot Hinduism from her very foundation and replace it by another faith." He took great care to distinguish between his work and that of the Church: "The first distinction I would like to make...between your missionary work and mine is that while I am strengthening the faith of the people, you (missionaries) are undermining it." (Young India, March 1927)

Gandhiji is considered the greatest advocate of peace and Hinduism's creed of non-violence. But if he, with all his goodness, failed to stop the Partition and the ensuing bloodbath, what chance does liberal Hinduism stand? One may disagree with what Gandhi, Vivekanand, Aurobindo and Dayanand had said but nobody can say that these were not their views. And if their Hinduism is laudable, what possible objection can one have against the RSS?

The article has also referred to various reform movements of 19th century India-Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, and Satyasodhak Sabha etc- quite in tune with its new approach that Hinduism is good but Hindutva is bad. However, one wonders why these reform movements merely passed by the Muslim society and at best touched it tangentially.

The article infers that if Hindutva forces were not present, complete peace would have reigned in India. There's no Hindutva, not even Hindus in Pakistan. Does it have a peaceful history or peaceful present? Is there peace in Indonesia, Philippines, Algeria or Bangladesh? Was India a heaven of communal harmony before the emergence of RSS? There's something fundamentally wrong with the basic premise of the fundamentalism-secularism debate as we are pursuing it. The concept of secularism, that implies separation of the Church from the State, emerged in Renaissance Europe. Fortunately, we had no such problems in India. Except for Ashoka (who made Buddhism the state religion) and most of the Muslim monarchs, the state had no declared faith here.

India can never be a Hindu version of an Islamic Pakistan. We are a secular and plural society because of our Hindu character and we need Hindutva to protect it. The jingoistic reaction on the street is certainly wrong. It would not have come if there was an honest debate on the contours of the communal problem and there was frank discussion on the characters and roles of various faiths. While all beliefs in Hinduism have been, and continue to be, questioned, no debate has been possible on Islam owing to our intelligentsia's disingenuous position. Any questioning of Islam is seen as persecution of Muslims.

(The writer, a Rajya Sabha member and convenor of the BJP's think-tank, can be contacted at bpunj@email.com.)

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