Saturday, 13 July 2013

What's So Wrong With Modi Calling Himself a Hindu Nationalist?

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said in his interview to Reuters on June 25: "I'm nationalist, I'm patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I'm a born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So I'm a Hindu nationalist. So yes, you can say I'm a Hindu Nationalist because I'm a born Hindu". BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi on NDTV yesterday said that 'Hindu nationalist' has wrongly been made into a 'dirty word' by people with a malicious agenda. She said, 'If anybody calling himself a Muslim and a nationalist is not being questioned, why should anybody calling himself a Hindu and a nationalist be questioned?". She asserted that the right to practice one's religion is a constitutional right, 'so why should the same right not be available to Hindus?'

There are at least two things here which need debunking. One, there is a difference between a Hindu nationalist and a nationalist Hindu. Hindu nationalism is an ideology that crystallised almost a hundred years ago. Its founder, V.D. Savarkar, wrote a monograph called 'Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?' in 1922 in which he outlined the definition of the Hindu nation. He wrote that Hindus were those people who loved the territory of Hindustan, shared common blood (this was the Indian version of racism), possessed the same culture and worshiped Hindustan as their fatherland and their holyland. These were the four essential criteria of citizenship of the Hindu nation. This meant that Muslims and Christians - whose holylands were outside India - were automatically excluded from the very definition of the Hindu nation. Muslims and Christians - even if their ancestors had been born in India, and even if they loved it as their own - could never claim full citizenship. According to the ideology of Hindu nationalism, they must live in India as second class citizens and must completely assimilate everything that is Hindu - they must worship Hindu gods, participate in Hindu festivals, give up their customs and even their language; they must not ask for any rights and freedoms because they live on the sufferance of Hindus.

On the contrary, a person who is a nationalist Hindu need not necessarily possess such an ideology: he or she may simply be a Hindu who believes in the ideology of secular nationalism, which does not give any supremacy to Hindu-ness. A nationalist Hindu does not necessarily foreground Hindu identity as an essential criteria for citizenship. He or she can accept that the nation does not just consist of Hindus but also of Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs and others - who may all have distinct religious identities but yet are equal citizens of the same Indian nation. So when Modi makes the argument of 'Hindu + nationalist = Hindu nationalist, whats wrong with that?', we might ask why he cant instead choose to be 'Hindu + nationalist = nationalist Hindu'? Whats wrong with the former is that it stems from an ideology that has a long lineage of seeing the Indian nation as being exclusively composed only of Hindus. The very definition of the Hindu nation excludes those who belong to other religious communities, people who have every right to call themselves Indian  as much as any Hindu.

The second issue is the following. Yes, Muslims are allowed to proclaim that they are nationalists. But so are Hindus. People are not disturbed by Modi claiming to be a nationalist, it is because they know he is a particular type of nationalist. Lekhi speaks as if Modi is being unjustly denied his constitutional right to practice his religion. But the alarm at his statement does not spring from his assertion that he is Hindu. He proudly proclaimed that he is not just a Hindu but a Hindu nationalist. Lekhi would have us confuse Hindu nationalism with Hinduism, but the two are not the same. Hindu nationalism is not a religion; it's an ideology which  has historically aimed to turn India into a 'pure' Hindu nation at the exclusion of others. This is not guaranteed by the Indian constitution; on the contrary, it is diametrically opposed to its ideals. It is this ideology which made the organisation from which Modi springs (i.e. the RSS) support the colonial state, participate in violent riots, and ultimately assassinate Gandhi. Its history is what makes Hindu nationalism a 'dirty word', not some malicious propaganda by anyone else.


Shaunna Rodrigues said...

This piece was so beautifully argued.

Nilofer K said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nilofer K said...

It reads really well! Your style is straight, and your writing lucid and well-informed.
I am sure you get hate mail though:)

Aruna Roy said...

I am glad you have differentiated and drawn the obvious distinction between a hindu nationalist , and a nationalist Hindu. What appears like semantics and an academic exercise, has an insidious way of reaching areas of prejudice and re-enforcing them, leading often to unfortunate and violent consequences.

You must write an article for a mainstream newspaper expanding this concept.

Anonymous said...

Hindus don't "force" other religions to follow their beliefs, or tax them for following their own. If anything, the process of ethnic cleansing or jaziah taxes are symbolic of either Pakistan or Islamic rule over not only India, but any other kingdom in the past. The beauty behind being Hindu, is that we don't impose our beliefs on others.

Thus, the now fashionable trend of the dramatized description of a "Hindu Nationalist" seems to pander to a UPA-media propagated idea of shaming those who love their country and are proud of their Hindu heritage by equating us to fundamentalists. Therein lies the real danger.

Vanya said...

All Hindus don't force people to follow their religion. But neither do all Muslims. Hindu nationalists do. That is the very definition of Hindu nationalism. I would urge you to read Savarkar and Golwalkar - the two ideologues of Hindu nationalism. This is their ideology and it was formulated way before any UPA came into power :).

Please also read my blog again - i made a clear distinction between Hindus and Hindu nationalists. And I would make the same distinction between Muslims and Muslim nationalists. Muslim nationalists and Hindu nationalists are remarkably similar in their thinking.

One can be proud of India and of Indian culture and even of Hindu culture (which I AM) and still not be a Hindu nationalist.

Shabana Masi said...

Its very well argued- rational but not shrill and that is its strength.

Alok R said...

I think this is exactly right - but I'm afraid that I don't know how to convince Meenakshi Lekhi that she is wrong.

I think that the valid point that you are making turns on a
grammatical ambiguity. In the expression "Hindu nationalist", the term Hindu functions both as a noun and an adjective. As the latter, it qualifies the kind of "nation" you are a nationalist of. But Meenakshi slimes out of that by saying that "Hindu" is only present there as a noun. Nonsense - or nounsense!

PS said...

FRIVOLOUS, that is how best your article can be described.

You do not know the “H” of Hinduism and have started writing blogs about a tradition and religion which is 10000 years old.
Let me help you with a speech which may throw some light to you on what Hinduism is because you are too young to be doubted about your intentions.

It is the speech given by Swami Vivekananda at the parliament of religion at Chicago.
Read it patiently, it is a drop in the ocean of Hinduism but hopefully should be enough to enlighten you.

Vanya said...

I would urge you to'patiently' read my article first. I am not talking about Hinduism at all, I am talking about a particular brand of nationalism.

Col Shivraj said...

Nothing is Good or Bad but thinking makes it so. Similarly, no act is good or bad but the intention makes it so. In the War when I ( as a soldier ) kill an enemy, I am rewarded but in peace if I kill some one I will be sent to Gallows though the act is the same that I have taken the life of another individual. Hence, let's not split hairs in defining HINDU NATIONALIST OR A NATIONALIST HINDU. Let the Politicians make statements and explain themselves as to what they mean as no one else can read their mind. Hindu is not a religion but a way of life. India has accepted all settlers and given them full rights. Please educate me as to which sect / group of settlers etc had not attained the high positions in the Govt / Business or Public Life. My humble request is to unite the country at this difficult time as "UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL". Please use your good talent in showing the countrymen the good virtues we have to feel proud to be an Indian. Col Shivraj