In September of last year, scholars from leading American universities held a Dismantling Global Hindutva conference. As an Indian, it was with a touch of shame that I saw Hindutva (or Hindu supremacy) getting so much global focus.
Hindutva, at least in India, is a reality today. Why the conference organizers decided to make this a global project is beyond me. There are about 1.2 billion Hindus in the world. India, which has a population of 1.4 billion, has 80 per cent of its population Hindu. This means that there are 1.1 billion Hindus in India or 93 per cent of the global Hindu population.
Wherever the Hindu goes in the world, he adjusts to his new environment and lives in peace and harmony. Just yesterday, a leading American literary agent told me she wanted to become a Hindu. Admittedly many Hindus in the US and the UK are fervent believers.
In fact, many were not so fervent in India. In the West, they feel lost and tend to cling to religion more. And yes, many of them support Prime Minister Modi of India and his dedication to Hindutva. How much is that because of Modi’s charisma and how much is that because of their love for their religion is debatable.
It was with further dismay that I saw that the conference had clubbed Hindutva with Islamophobia and white supremacy. White supremacy everyone knows about. Listing Islamophobia alone I cannot understand. Almost since the inception of Islam, there has been a struggle between Islam on the one hand and Christianity, Judaism, and yes even Hinduism on the other. We live in particularly gruesome times of the Islamic—Judeo-Christian battle. There have been Palestine, 9/11, and then entire countries like Afghanistan and Iraq laid waste.
Of course, there is prejudice against Islam in the West, but isn’t there more prejudice against minorities in Muslim countries? It would have been more appropriate to club Hindutva with Islamic supremacy and white supremacy. Proponents of Hindutva are now claiming that there is Hinduphobia around the world.
In his famous speech, Tryst with Destiny, given at the dawn of India’s independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, says that a moment comes when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance. What did Nehru mean by “nation” here? He meant all of India, but even then India was predominantly Hindu.
So was Nehru justifying the emergence of Hindutva? Nehru was the last man one could conceive of being partisan. He was widely seen as the protector of the besieged Mus- lim community in the aftermath of Partition. Nehru is hailed by many as the maker of modern India. To Hindutva partisans though, he has been the wrecker of India.
Nehru inherited a broken country coming out of servitude of close to a thousand years and built it brick by brick. Later prime ministers, including the first prime minister from the Hindu right, Atal Behari Vajpayee, continued his good work.
It is to be noted that the protagonists of Hindutva played little to no role in India’s freedom struggle and kept relatively dormant at least for another 50 years after Independence. As India grew strong and prosperous, a light bulb went off in the minds of the Hindutvadis. A nation was there for the taking, if only they would cloak their efforts in religion.
Modi has provided reasonable governance, but he has coupled it with devotion to Hindutva. He is 70 now and maybe in active politics only for 5-7 years. Already more ferocious devotees at the altar of Hindutva are rearing at the bit to take over. But do these men have the political nous and charisma of Modi?
Therefore it may not be correct to assume Hindutva will be a long-enduring phenomenon that needs to be dismantled. The Indian electorate self-corrects. Whenever a ruling dispensation seemed to be at the peak of its powers, it tended to become arrogant and was quickly brought down to earth.
This has happened with the Gandhi family, as well as with Vaj- payee. It will happen again. India is still a poor country. The population is growing dramatically, but the Indian economy is not keeping pace. It is growing at only about half the rate needed to take care of all its citizens. That is a tall ask. It has happened only once before, from 2004 to 2014, when the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh government delivered an astounding growth rate of about 10 per cent. Because of corruption charges, it too was brought to heel.
Can Hindutva then be dethroned from power? Yes, it can be and it will be, but perhaps not during Modi’s time. Even after him, it will play a significant role in Indian politics. Centuries of subjugation have given many Hindus a victim complex, which they use to rectify the wrongs of the past.
They will do well to remember a line from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Let the dead Past bury its dead!” Instead, they seem to be heeding William Faulkner when he wrote that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. True healing doesn’t come in revenge and resurrection; true healing comes in letting go.
By letting go of the wrongs and injustices of the past, India will not commit the same mistakes. The greatest man who was ever born, a man responsible directly and indirectly for the liberation of some seven billion people, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, said that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Thus will Hindutva be dismantled. It does not of course mean that we should stay passive against it. Gandhi was never passive.
(The writer is an expert on energy and contributes regularly to publications in India and overseas )