When parallels are drawn between Hindu and Hindutva, I’m reminded of my days in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in the early 1980s. My mentor then was Yashwant Rao Kelkar, who had earlier been a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak. He would say that Atal Bihari Vajpayee has his idea of Hindutva, L.K. Advani another, K. Sudarshan and Ashok Singhal have their own ideas of it, as do Vinay Katiyar and the Bajrang Dal, and so on and so forth. Why were these varying shades of the Hindutva spectrum at 180 degrees from each other? He said this would cause trouble in the future.
Kelkar said that we are all situated in our respective resolve to protect and nurture four facets of being Hindu: its dharma, culture, society and rashtra. If these facets are different, then their meanings and implications will also vary. When we talk of the danger, it’s not to dharma, because that is timeless. The danger is to Hindu society. This creates confusion, which spreads from the supporters of Hindutva to its opponents. He often said the Sangh Parivar should address and resolve this confusion.
Above all else, he said, the varying arms of the Parivar need unity and coordination along two values, self-sufficiency and cooperation. How are these to be achieved, through what means, and in which spheres? Answers to these were important because the divergence was set to increase with time.
That’s exactly what we see today. There is a feeling that Hindutva carries a universal message; at the same time, there is also the feeling that Hindutva is a kind of obsession that targets Muslims. If such contradictory impressions persist, it’s not without reason. Yet, we know that in politics one cannot assume that where there is smoke, there must be a fire. Politics can create smoke without a fire. This has a cascading effect in a media-saturated world.
I see Hindutva as a qualitative term; its English translation is ‘Hinduness’, not Hinduism, though it includes the latter. It signifies five qualities to me. One, an undivided respect towards all forms of faith and worship, because all prayers reach the same unified divine. Two, divinity pervades all and everything, living and non-living; this is a unity of understanding and belief. Three, humans are a part of the natural world, not its conquerors, because the world has not been created for human consumption. (This means it is not just humans who have rights, but all flora and fauna, and even land and water bodies and the atmosphere are entitled to their rights.)
Four, a recognition of the special place of women in society, given the unexceptional human dependence on mothering and motherhood. (I do not equate this with the arguments in favour or against women’s rights, because that comes from a Western context, and conflating the two creates a distortion, causing more problems than it resolves.) Five, a living sense that there is more to life than consumption and material satisfaction; non-material goals can vary from nirvana to moksha to innumerable others. All effort to create material prosperity should be based on these values of Hinduness. Such prosperity will reach all around.
Even the term Rashtra has to be understood in its cultural context. It’s not the same thing as the idea of nation, nationhood and nationalism that resulted from the 1648 treaty signed in Westphalia, Germany, by more than 100 European powers. That is Europe’s history and cultural background, not ours. Europe has its own ideas of individualism, of how the individual relates to the state. This results from what happened there over time. Hence the nation-state, hence democracy.
India didn’t function along similar lines through its long history. Here, society was a more powerful entity than either the individual or the state. The term rashtra is linked to the Sanskrit word raati; it means to give, to contribute. I learned this from Dr Fateh Singh during a bauddhik (intellectual) session in the 1960s in Uttar Pradesh. That’s the sense behind rashtra, it is not a synonym of ‘nation’, and to use it in the same sense is unfair to both the terms. Rashtra stands for an entity that has a surplus of material and non-material resources, which are invested for the betterment of all. That’s Bharat to me.
Rashtra is not nation-state. Instead, it draws from sanatan-timeless-traditions with their own values. It draws from a recognition of the divine-in parents, in the teacher, in guests, in the whole world and beyond. A society that lives by these values will produce a surplus, but will also distribute its resources in a just manner; it will practise moderation in consumption, tempering its aspirations. Its values cannot be merely materialistic. This is not a feudal state of being. Please remember, respect for teachers does not mean you are bound to their deeds. The poet Kabir was steeped in the guru-shishya tradition, but he wrote that the teacher will go by his deeds and the pupil by his.
Our societies absorbed and refined these ideas over centuries, and this folk heritage spans thousands of years. Why must we underplay this heritage? Why must we overplay only the past thousand years? Why can’t we understand ourselves from our perspectives, our values? Why must our terms, our reference points be borrowed from the Westphalia treaty? We have our own problems, we should have our own ways of tackling them. That’s Hindutva, that’s Hinduness, that’s Hindu rashtra.
So how do we go about achieving this? I see three ways. The first sees India as not a nation but a multi-national subcontinent. An example is the Communist Party mentioning 17 distinct nationalities in India around the time of independence. The second sees India as a new nation-state formed on August 15, 1947, and Mahatma Gandhi as the father of this nation. Under this, it’s not a nation in the making but a new nation, hence the call to make India anew. The third view sees India as one nation, which hasn’t yet built a state befitting its non-materialistic values. I believe in the third, that Bharat is one ancient Hindu rashtra-one people, one culture.
The two examples of this that I often cite are Gangaji and gau mata, two incomparable gifts of the divine to India and the world. I believe this because there isn’t a mountain higher than the Himalaya and there is no comparison for the kind slope that the mighty Ganga traverses. Likewise, the cow breeds found from the Himalaya to the tip of northern Africa, which have the prominent hump and dewlap. Traditional literature describes a special feature of our cattle, called the suryaketu naadi. People have believed that our cattle absorbs the power of the sun and turns it into a reagent called swarnapitta kshaar. Hence the yellowness of the milk and its ghee; hence the difference in cholesterol, hence the A2-type milk. You are what you eat, and such milk has the capacity to make you agile, prudent, wise and moral. Another example is the 127 agro-climatic zones that we have.
Bharat Mata to me is located to the south of the Himalayas, with the seas on three sides, including the islands. Rashtra is a combination of society, culture and a border. Its sense of values, its identity, its soul are formed over time. But time also damages this sense. The greatest shock to me on this count was the 2001 destruction of the Buddha monuments in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Madness causes people to chop off their own hands, and not pay attention to the pain. Why else would you destroy such a monument crafted by your ancestors? How did they begin to consider that as not their heritage? This indicates a diseased mindset, a lapse of memory and also a distortion of memory.
All the same, they are our own people, and we regard them as a part of Bharat. So how do we address them, how do we improve this situation? For starters, the part of Bharat that retains its memory and its sanity must strengthen itself in material and spiritual terms. This strength will keep bringing other people back into its fold. This will rectify the situation gradually.
We have a glorious past, we’ve given much to the world, in line with the idea of raati. Rashtra is the giver; that which takes or takes away is not worthy of being called a rashtra. I believe in reconstruction-not new construction-of that rashtra. Our future will be even more glorious than our past.
I do believe in keeping an open mind. There is no place for caste-based discrimination in this rashtra. It’s not that I don’t find desirable qualities outside Bharat. For example, in our preoccupation with oral traditions, we in India did not put an adequate stress on documentation. Europe has had that tradition, and it’s worth emulating. The West has the quality of staying up-to-date, contextual. Another is the ability to take risks, be courageous. For example, it’s one thing to criticise Christian missionaries and their inspirations, but one must appreciate the immense effort they undertook to live in difficult circumstances, for no material gain. We need to reconsider the reasons for our excessive introversion