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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 42 New Delhi October 6, 2018

Understanding Mohanji Bhagwat’s Formulations

Sunday 7 October 2018, by Badri Raina


So perplexing have Shri Mohan Bhagwat’s formulations been with regard to the meaning of being “Hindu” that days after his lecture series one is still struggling to understand, if you like, make sense of what seem some convolutions and conundrums therein.

Since most of us live out our identities on a quotidian level from one day to another, it is important that our self-definitions must have such logical consistency as may enable us to function with a self-confidence born of clarity.

Shri Bhagwat tells us that all those resident within the territory of India, that is Bharat, are “Hindus”. Does this mean that were one to be born to a Hindu religious family outside the territory of India would not be “Hindu”? If so, this raises two questions: one, what of the notion of Akhand Bharat to which the Sangh, presumably, still subscribes? Akhand Bharat, we may recall, includes the territories of Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanamar as well. And two, what of the devoted Hindu NRIs who so vociferously back the Indian nation? Clearly, then, the argument that territory defines the “Hindu” identity does not seem to hold.

Consider the proposed Citizenship Amend-ment Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha, and awaiting passage in the Rajya Sabha. Here, the Bill makes a clear religious distinction between Hindus, Sikhs, Jains on the one hand and Muslims on the other. Its whole purpose is to welcome non-Muslims from “Muslim” countries to India to whom rights of citizenship will be granted, but explicitly denies this right to seek Indian citizenship to Muslim immigrants, however persecuted they be. In this episode, as we can see, being Muslim or non-Muslim is set forth as the crucial distinction of identity. The question then is: if non-Muslims born or living outside India may be easily assimilated into Indianhood, why not Muslims as well, since, anyway, whoever comes to be in India becomes a Hindu ipso facto? One can only conclude then that “Hindu” and “non-Hindu” are here seen as sharply demarcated religious categories after all.

This contradiction also afflicts another shrill aspect of the Sangh’s “cultural” concerns. Think how worked up the Sangh gets at the thought of the slightest demographic change in India favouring Indian Muslims; question: if everyone born and living in India is “Hindu” then how does one explain the logic of this anxiety? Why should a line be drawn between Hindus and Muslims as discretely countable opposites if we are all “Hindus”?

Perhaps the most breathtakingly baffling formulation that Shri Bhagwat has made concerns the meaning of “Hindutva”. He has baldly stated that “Hindutva” can have no meaning without Muslims. On the face of it, this is a volte-face on what Savarkar had stipulated in Hindutva:Who is a Hindu (1923). It was Savarkar’s view that those inhabitants within India whose chief places of worship lie outside the territories of India cannot be said to have claims to citizenship. From what we have seen of the operations of Hindutva in recent years, the majoritarian hate campaigns seem consistent with the suspicions implicit in Savarkar about non-Hindu Indians. So what can Shri Bhagwat have meant? Surely, Hindutva is anything but inclusive, and keeps reminding Muslims day in and out how they belong in Pakistan. Yet, Shri Bhagwat’s cryptic formulation may indeed lend itself to a meaning wholly different from what may have seemed a benign one. Think that Hindutva as militant, political Hinduism can, after all, have a role to play only when some hated “other” exists requiring to be excoriated. Thus, were there no so-called cow-baiters, love-jihadists, converters of Hindus, megaphone-sporting mosques and so on, Hindutva would indeed be without work and rationale. Did Shri Bhagwat mean to send this message? We do not know; but in the absence of any supporting argument, this seems a valid inference.

Mohan Bhagwatji has said that the Constitution of India comprises a national consensus and must be accepted as such. One might have been grateful for this enunciation but for the conundrum that the Sangh defines India as a “Hindu Rashtra” in the same breath. Now, by what stretch of imagination may one reconcile the Preamble of the Constitution of India with the notion of a “Hindu Rashtra”? You can either have the one or the other, not both. Likewise, Bhagwatji lauds the rule of law but has no hesitation in prognosticating that should a Ram Mandir not be built in Ayodhya, a “Mahabharata” would ensue; this when the case is sub-judice. What does he know that we do not?

One is constrained to say that it is never clear from any Sangh formulation as to when we are either cultural entities as “Hindus” or religious ones as well, or when Muslims in India are Hindus and when antagonists from another religious faith. Were one to speak of culture, it is obvious from any un-jaundiced study of India that we have been a melting pot from Vedic times to the present—something that the Sangh often also flaunts proudly as an expression of “Hindu” catholicity. As the “problematic” “Muslim” part of that history, let us recall that the word “Hindvi” came from Amir Khusro, born in Etah, Uttar Pradesh. We speak of a time when India came to be known as “Hind”—some say from a distortion of the word “Sindh”; and, as in Iqbal, “Hindi hein hum, watan hai Hindustan hamara”. Our modern Hindi language may be traced back to Khusro’s “Hindvi” or Khadi Boli in which he first gave us such verses as “Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki”. The best scholarship tells us that the word “Hindu” does not exist in any Sanatan text, and is first seen to appear in a Chaitanya script of the sixteenth century. As to culture, it is inconceivable that in any sphere of concrete social existence, be it in productive mechanisms of the economy, in the world of skills and art, literature and philosophical thought, or of routine community interface Indian culture as experienced by our people may be neatly divided between “Hindu” and “Muslim”. Indeed, there may be no more rich a skein of conjoint, indeed inseparable, historical commingling than Indian history provides to the world. Then why the endless contention which continues to inform the perorations of the Sangh, however these may be couched in sophistry?

The Sangh’s trenchancy of antagonism seems to derive from the circumstance that “Muslims” ruled this land for eight centuries or so. An alternate view of this is that many Sultans and Kings with “Muslim” names ruled bits and pieces of a feudal India, almost always in collaboration with “Hindu” Generals and satraps to the benefit of the then “clsses”—a pattern of rule consistent with most pre-democratic times.

It seems to us that ideally the Sangh would like nothing better than a framework of faith that informs the lives of Muslims: a sternly defined religious existence revolving round some countable imperatives that bind the community into a congregation ever ready to be one when the call comes. If Hindus could also have a steel frame of five points—, a Kalima or Catechism, Namaz, Roza, Zakat, Haj (indigent Muslims imaginatively exempted from Haj and Zakat), what a disciplined, even a martial race Hindus could also be. When Shri L.K. Advani set out on his famous/infamous Rath Yatra prior to the demolition of the Babri mosque, two years later, his odyssey was directed precisely at forging this sort of “semitisation” of Hinduism which would be centred on one martial god, one text, one place of pilgrimage and so on.

For good or for bad—we think decisively for the good—Hinduism offers a diverse tapestry of thought, a rich eclecticism in the human-to-deity/god relationship, an interpretative frame-work inimical to closure and monochromatic delimitation; so that, warts (and there are many warts—caste and gender oppression being two big ones) and altogether as an archive of speculaltions, it seems far more conducive to human agency and human intervention. The Sangh’s problem is that whereas on the one hand it is very proud of this fact, on the other its politics of militarism and male-dominance seeks a more unquestioning social world among Hindus in order that the realm is made safe from “others” who have succeeded in forging themselves into such unquestioning formations. What a pity!

The chief ideological contention, like it or not, in India then remains, Bhagwatji’s attempts at Glasnost notwithstanding, between a mono-chromatic, Western model of “nationalism” and a pluralist one which Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Ambedkar, and many others sought to make the basis of a long-lasting, harmonious and rich nationalism—one which only the Constitution would define and legitimate Indianness.

Not an easy project. America sought to do the same: “these truths are self-evident: that all men are created equal” etc. Jefferson wrote; and yet he remained oblivious to the grim fact that he was the owner of two human beings whom he did not free.

Our Indian contentions then may be seen still coterminous with strivings that internationally seek to realise those stipulated equalities on the ground. Would it not be nice if the Sangh became an honest agent in that endeavour?

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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