Today there are real threats to the idea of India- more from within than from without. In the competitive politics, the fault lines in the Indian society are being overplayed by the politicians to extract electoral advantages; it doesn’t matter to them even if this affects the fabric of India primarily identified by unity in diversity. For acquiring the seat of power, the politicians are out to do  disservice to the country by posing one caste against the other, one religion against the other and one ideology against the other without any space for a healthy debate on the idea of India, difference between Hinduism and Hindutva; secularism and appeasement; participatory democracy and authoritarianism; shared national dreams and ultra nationalism, role of education and conformism, discipline and right to criticism, self examination etc. Tolerance has become the main victim of headstrong irrationality and people are turning into crowd from thinking beings.

The idea of India is vast and varied, but still there are some eternal traits that define India. One of the greatest masters of India’s history and culture, Swami Vivekanand said, “Our sacred Motherland is a land of religion and philosophy – the birthplace of spiritual giants – the land of renunciation, where and where alone, from the most ancient to the most modern times, there has been the highest ideal of life open to man. Each nation has a theme; everything else is secondary. India’s theme is religion. Social reform and everything else are secondary.”  For Mark Twain  “India is the cradle of human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the grandmother of tradition.” India was viewed as a great nation where deep knowledge and great wisdom about life was nurtured and cherished from ancient times.   It is an ancient society and culture and its contributions to the humanity are immense in religion, spiritualism, education and science. Albert Einstein rightly said that the world owes a lot to Indians who taught it how to count without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been possible. Another important aspect of Indian society was its open and free environment where problems were discussed (shastratha) and (samadhana) solutions were found with collective efforts and with open mind. Max Mueller was very impressed by the innate wisdom and intellectual fibre of the Indians. He has gone to the extent to say that ‘if I were asked under what sky human mind has fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and found solutions, I should point to India.’

Is India decaying?

Shashi Tharoor succinctly articulates what India is –   “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.” The stage of decay is quite visible in the way Indian discourses have narrowed down to caste, creed and religion and the place for humanism and especially women and children, all said and done, is on decline. The country has been fast turning into a hedonist crowd where the crudest meaning of individual and national development has become an overarching consideration while the new Indian crowd has developed a habit of looking away socio-economic ills such as poverty, inequality, violence against the women, downtrodden and minorities. The place for alternative thinking, questioning, dissenting etc. is shrinking. Electoral victories are being used as certificates of morality and ethics while in winning elections all benchmarks of grace and discipline is broken. And the most confused class is the middle class, which not only indulges in white collar crimes and siphoning off of development money but also indulges into the hypocrisy of fighting against corruption and poverty. There is no difference in the left and right side of political spectrum. If a sex scandal happens under the nose of the left party rule in Kerala, it too happens in Naliya in Gujarat and it becomes passing news.

India is inherently immortal, threats are artificial

One thing which needs to be noted that in the past India faced many challenges and aggressions, but every time it rose from ashes and that its flexibility and great power of assimilation   defined it. From Alexander the great to Muslim invaders and later to the British and other European conquerors, India survived by its very inherent cultural  and spiritual resilience. India is great because of its power of assimilation and accommodation without diluting its originality, viz, Indianness. Even western historians agree on this thesis. William Dalrymple in his White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India says rightly that India has always had a strange way with her conquerors. “In defeat, she beckons them in, then slowly seduces, assimilates and transforms them.” And this is a unique feature of resilience in Indian culture which enables it to live beyond the decay that time brings. It is not palpability, but strength. We should not forget that India has produced great emperors like Chandragupta, Asoka, Samudrgupta and Akbar, all of them were not just great warriors but more than that! They thought about peace and harmony, art and culture as well as just and fair system.Great religions were born in India, viz, Hinduism, Budhism, Jainism, Sikhism ans sufi movement.In fact the concept of democracy and welfare state has many of the seeds traceable to ancient India’s religion and culture.

The idea of India

 When we think about the idea of India today, we see India as a rising power and emerging economy with potential to become the next super power, as clearly exemplified by the efforts of other powers to do both – a necessity to collaborate with India at one level and at another level to contain it. In modern India the idea of India has been articulated in the Indian constitution (both preamble and directive principles) offering equality before law and freedom to every citizen irrespective of religion, caste, race and region. The Preamble of the Indian constitution says: WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, have solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HERE BY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

Directive Principles of State Policy (Article 38 to Article 51 of the Indian constitution) aim to create social and economic conditions under which the citizens can lead a good life. They also aim to establish social and economic democracy through a welfare state. These principles on the other hand ensure that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by promoting a social order in which social, economic and political justice is informed in all institutions of life. Also, the State shall work towards reducing economic inequality as well as inequalities in status and opportunities, not only among individuals, but also among groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.

Both of these – the preamble and the directive principles of state policy act as a check on the government, provide a yardstick in the hands of the people to measure the performance of the government and vote it out of power if it does not fulfill the promises made during the elections. But today if the voting patterns are anlysed, the effect of these yardsticks is less than the impact of caste, religion, propaganda, emotive issues and personality cult. People either do not know or they are simply not bothered. Career, wealth, fun and frolic remain to be the highest measures of success, a meaningful and purposeful contribution to the nation and society takes the back seat. People caste their votes on the issues  which maximize their own benefit than collective benefits and shared dreams of India.

Competitive politics of vote bank: Secularism andHindutva

 Although the idea of India represents a modern state and a liberal democracy where state aims at development and welfare of all its citizens with liberty, equality, justice and fraternity, today India is observing many divisive forces in operation due to electoral compulsions and competitive politics.  These tendencies are operating at caste, religion and region levels and sometimes also expressed through sub-national aspirations. Such tendencies were found even in the pre-independent India. At that time some Muslim leaders felt that since Hindus were in majority, they would ignore the interest of minority if India won freedom. Two leaders led the group that had such apprehensions – Muhammad Ali Jinna and Iqbal- and they articulated “two- nation theory”. The ‘two- nation theory’ was the basis of partition of India and creation of the state of Pakistan. But Indian leaders like Mahatama Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan etc. articulated a cohesive vision for a democratic and secular India and a country with unity in diversity with the provision of directive principles of state and fundamental rights firmly rooted in the idea of liberty, equality, justice and fraternity. There was anger due to two nation theory and demand for partition of India- both before and after India got independence. Mahatma Gandhi was against the Mac Donald Award for separate electorate and boycotted the first Round Table Conference. The Hindu Nationalist leaders even during freedom struggle wanted to respond to two- nation theory in the same coin, i.e., isolating Muslims and making India a “Hindu Rashtra.” But they could not succeed in their agenda.

Once again there is an effort to assert “Hindu Rashtra” construct and impose it in different manners. Secularism, one of the most demarcating features of Indian republic is under threat. It is happening partly because the the practice of secularism in India has been discredited over a period of time due to its misuse for electoral gains through appeasement of minorities and vote bank politics of Congress, especially after Indira Gandhi came to power. There is an iota of truth, but appeasement of the minorities has neither led to the improvement in their living standard nor in their dominance in business and power structure. Therefore appeasement of minority as well as criticism of appeasement- both are based on empty claims and lies. One group claims to favour the minorities for votes and the other group criticizes minority appeasement to polarize Hindu votes.

Confusing times and overwhelming propaganda

The times are rife with confusion created by politicians of all hue and colours- right, left or centre. While the rightist -Hindu politicians have successfully run propaganda against the concept of secularism and socialism, the Centre and Left politicians have failed to develop a counter- narrative because of loss of their credibility.  There was no doubt vote bank politics in the past was based on secularism and caste groups. But the beauty of idea of secularism itself cannot be sullied because it was misused. Still the social media and traditional media- both are helping such propaganda against the very notion of secularism by citing appeasement policy of the Congress Party in the past and over blowing it. They shower praises on hard core Hindu leaders and even run news and articles to support the thesis that the Hindus and Hinduism are under threat of minorities, especially the Muslims.

Hindutva versus Hinduism

Contrary to the vote bank politics based on secularism in the past, today there is vote bank politics based on Hindutva, which is, despite being different from Hinduism,   branded as same.  Analysts differentiate between Hindutva and Hinduism. Hindutva or political Hinduism is about using Hindu identity to grab power and hegemony. Hinduism is also known as Sanatan Dharma and it is different from Hindutva. Hinduism is a great religion with huge philosophical and spiritual wealth about life, living, ethics and virtues.  There is need for Indians to know this, and especially for the young India that Hindutva and Hinduism are not one and the same. Rather than becoming violent “mobs” indulging in religious superiority and inferiority squabbles, as desired by the Hindutva bandwagon, Hinduism makes one wiser, saner and rational. It is necessary for the young India to understand this difference for the sake of Hinduism as well as unity and integrity of the country. They should form an educated opinion and not be like dumb driven cattle misled by today’s political propaganda.  There is overwhelming trend among intelligentsia and the fourth state to support the Hindutva wave in confusion or vested interest in the name of Hinduism. This is dangerous to the very idea of India. An effort is being made to confuse Sanatam Dharma with Hindutva, but they are different.

Sanatan Dharma

Sanatam Dharma or Hindu religion in its noblest form is an eternal way of virtuous living. It is different from political Hinduism or hindutwa. The Sanatan Dharma form of Hinduism is loved and cherished by both- the hindus and non-hindus. But Hindutva is a political formation, a category which is being used as a means for political mobilization through hidden or explicit aim of polarization; so the idea of India is facing new challenges. The same kind of situation arose during the freedom movement when two broad streams- Gandhaian method and hindu nationalists approach-to freedom movement came almost at loggerheads. Although the goals were same, i.e., mobilisation of Indian people against the injustice of the British empire in India, the two approaches were different in method and implications. Today Hindus are in numerical majority as well as in commanding position of power and authority (due to majority in parliament and government in more than a dozen states). This has given a fillip to the idea of Hindutva. It is colliding on many occasions with the hard earned idea of India.

Hindu Rashtra

According to liberals, the Hindu Rashtra can be imagined as a cultural system evolved due to synthesis of various cultural and religious traditions and reforms over thousands of years. However, today the rampant version of Hindu Rashtra is based on ultra nationalism and an idea of existence of an “enemy” community and a “perceived and created threat to Hinduism”. The latter school believes in the dictum of an eye for eye or tit for tat keeping in reference the ultra fundamentalist or divisive minority leaders, which in fact do not represent all of minority community. But doing so helps the right wing political parties in political mobilization and winning elections.

Hindutva: Current trends

The recent trends are disturbing because there is a widespread unquestioning support to hard headed divisive idea of Hindutva. Look at the remarks of the supporter of new UP CM.   “Agar UP mein rehana hai to yogi yogi kehna hai” (If you want to live in UP, you have to utter Yogi yogi). Announcement of reward on harming Mamata Benerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal by a youth leader of BJP or other kinds of vigilantism are some of the examples of ominous signs today. But media appears today trying to promote Hindutva rather than Hinduism. The coverage of misdemeanors of headstrong Muslim leaders is given wide and immense coverage to create bitterness among majority Hindus and help the right wing’s “concept of enemy and threat to Hinduism” thesis.

For example Sonu Nigam’s tweets on Azaan and noise pollution have blown into a big controversy and media has tried to over blow it as it did in the case of Amir Khan and Shahrukh Khan for their personal views on vigilantism and minority bashing or even on Pakistani artists as if they were anti national. It helps in making a false perception of Muslims as enemy. This trend is ominous and dangerous, but popular media generally has no problems, it sees the new trend silently or even appreciatingly. It brings a bitter truth about media and intelligentsias’ lust to side with anybody in power, no matter what is at stake. The coverage and sympathy which Gaurakshaks get in media today is unprecedented. The assessment of the new Chief Minister of UP started from day one as a messianic leader for his anti Romeo squad, or measures against so called “illegal” (or minority) meat sellers, or talks about CM’s reactions on spitting pan or even sudden inspection of a police post – all these cosmetics was taken so seriously by the media as the proof of a “great leader’s avatara” that they devoted their main spaces on them keeping aside more important issues. The Economic Times remained ahead of all others in this messianic depiction of the central leadership and the new Chief Minister of UP.  They are afraid of losing clout with government by talking about violence against the lower caste and minorities; who knows the authorities may blame them   for sedition! They sometimes claim their journalism as courageous and truthful.

What happened in Puna, Dadri or recently in Alwar (bloody attack on minorities by gaurakshak mobs chanting Hindutva slogans) was given a scanty treatment with indifference, as if they do not matter.  It is difficult to understand why they do so in such a partisan manner. Perhaps it is because of the dominance of feudal and Brahmanical order (ruling elite) in media and power structures as well as  and vested interest of corporate sector, which owns a  big part of media.  If some Muslim headstrong says something, Indian media is today in the habit of making a mountain out of the molehill. But media not only shuts its eyes, it also glorifies the divisive and communal utterances of hindutva leaders.  See the utterances of the PM during UP elections – Gaon mein kabristan banta hai to shamshaan bhi banna chahiye, Ramzan me bijli aati hain to Diwali me bhi aani chahiye. Bhedbhav nahi hona chahiye (If a graveyard is constructed in a village, then a cremation ground should be also built, if electricity comes during Ramzan, it should come during Diwali too. Many of them applauded – look first Modi played development card and now in the third phase of UP election, he is playing Hindutva card! Such remarks are aimed at emotionally charging the majority Hindus by implicating other political parties in the name of discrimination. The Hindutva (not Hinduism) agenda was visible to a seer, but media continued to revel into Modi’s ability to play political cards. A Hindu seer of Mathura’s Goverdhan Peetham Shankaracharya Adhokshajanand Saraswati  termed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on desirability of similar power supply situation in the state during festivals of different religions as one leading to “communalisation of politics” and rued the poll panel’s alleged silence over it. Who could be in favour of discrimination? Will it pay any political party to do so? The narrative was simply meant for creating a schism between two communities in a shuttle way for political gains.

In this context, Amit Shah’s remark during Bihar election is worth remembering. He said: Do you want the return of Jungle Raaj-2? If by any mistake BJP loses, victory and defeat may be in Bihar but fire crackers will go off in Pakistan. Is it not a communal utterance dividing voters on the basis of religion? Is it not harmful for the idea of India. If the same logic is applied by different politicians to polarize their constituencies on the basis of narrow categories like caste, creed, religion, language and region, the very idea of India would come under threat. But the politicians today are in competition of degeneration and they are little bothered what happens to the unified fabric of modern India.

Like all other communities, every Hindu has a right to be as much political as others are. The problem is not in politics, but politics of bullying or mob hysteria. There is a continuuam from Puna to Dadri and to Alwar, when persons belonging to minority community faced brutal attacks of the majority vigilante groups for no solid reason. In Gujarat there were attacks on scheduled caste people by gaurakhshaks.  They are not “fringe elements” as claimed by the ruling party, but their ground workers getting full-fledged tacit or explicit support.  The political Hinduism today has become very aggressive as many political figures are over-trying to use their hindu identity and majority status to assert their legitimacy and right to be in command or power with regard to each and everything. They are daring even to question right to life by imposing restriction on food and clothing.

The major concern today is about those political Hindus who in the name of Gau Raksha (saving cows) or nationalism (describing all dissenting views as anti-Hindu or anti- India or terrorism or sedition) or bullying and subjugating minorities in the name of patriotism (chanting of vande mataram or Jai Shri Ram for example) through vigilantism, taking law in their hands to punish minorities in violent and undignified manner or creating fear among them. This trend is a very dangerous and ominous sign for the future of democracy in India. The middle class and media are also helping this trend to progress and take roots.

Santan Dharma or Hinduism is different and great

 Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world predominantly being practiced in India. However, there are followers of Hinduism outside India. With almost a billion followers, it is also the world’s third largest religion; Hindus comprise about one-seventh of the world’s entire population. Its origins lie in the vast Indian subcontinent. While it remains the majority religion in India, with over 800 million adherents, its spiritual, cultural, social and linguistic influences extend across the globe; over 60 million Hindus live outside of India in 150 different countries, including in the UK (around 700,000) and North America (over 2 million).

“Hinduism, also known as the “Sanatana Dharma”, or an “Eternal Way”. Today it has four main denominations: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism, each with hundreds of lineages. They represent a broad range of beliefs, practices and mystic goals, but virtually all concur on certain bedrock concepts (Hinduism Today magazine)”.  “They represent a broad range of beliefs, practices and mystic goals, but virtually all concur on certain bedrock concepts. All Hindus worship one Supreme Reality, though they call it by many names. There is no eternal hell, no damnation, in Hinduism, and no intrinsic evil–no satanic force that opposes the will of God. Hindus believe that the cosmos was created out of God and is permeated by Him–a Supreme Being who both is form and pervades form, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe only to recreate it again in unending cycles. Each soul is free to find his own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation, yoga or selfless service (Swaminarayan temple, London).”

No monolithic form, yet there are core virtues and values

 When it comes to define Hinduism by monolithic character and static features, it seems impossible because in the course of its evolution Hinduism became wider and deeper in its faith and belief patterns as well as developed the capacity to be liberal and accommodative. It does not believe in fundamentalism, yet it has some basic virtues and values in its core found in all its strands. If we try to understand how Hinduism is practiced and understood in contemporary times, the two illustrations given below help us.

 Open to reforms is the power of Hinduism

There is wide gap, as in all other religions, in Hinduism between preaching and practice. In Hinduism God is in every particle and all living and non-living organisms are various expressions of the same parmatman (God). By this logic, exploitation of one human being by the other or misconduct with other animals or inanimate objects is a deviant behavior. In due course of time, the Hindu religion was excessively dominated by rituals and priests, which Mahatma Budhha criticized and gave an alternative vision of religion and its purpose. It must, nevertheless be noted that Hindu religion has never been closed to new ideas, discuss justice and fairness etc. But it cannot be denied that there were phases of misinterpretation and injustice in Hinduism in the past. The verna system might have been articulated as a judicious division of labour in society on the basis of skills and duties I the beginning, but in due course this gave birth to the notion of upper caste and untouchables and undeserving (shudras). A kind of racism within Hinduism started and it was practiced in certain phases. But Hinduism is well known for its Bhakti movements and religious reforms.People from the same religion fought against injustice and exploitation.

Hinduism bounced back by reforming, reinventing and accommodating new ideas and values. Das (servant) movement and sufi movements are excellent examples of capacity of Hinduism for self searching and growing. This has been one of the reasons of survival of Hinduism since ancient times, despite many attacks. Hinduism has immense innate quality to consider reforms and adopt it. Today once again novices, so called fringe elements and greedy politicians, are doing disservice to the great religion of Hinduism by confining it to their narrow and self seeking interests, especially political power.

Pluralism and secularism are the essence of India

The makers of modern India firmly believed in the pluralist and assimilative nature of Indian culture. They also believed that growth and development would bind India together and India’s road to progress lies in the modern “idea” of a “secular” nation built on the democratic structures and principles that post-Enlightenment Europe created for itself. Now there is an increasing tendency to challenge these premises. The glorification of past is important for any country to seek the roots of its identity. Nevertheless the glorification should not lead to justifying each and everything in the name of religion and culture even if they do not serve the utilitarian or practical purposes of our time or which do not stand the moral and ethical test. In extreme cases some people also advocate reversing the time machine back turning the wheels of history to a phase which was dominated by Hindus. They deny the fact that India was unified visibly along the line of modern state, partially during the British regime and later by the Indian constitution in post independent phase.

It is time to remember what Swami Vivekanand, one of the greatest modern spiritual gurus and masters of Hinduism, said in a letter written to Alasinga Perumal (dated 20 August 1893) during his journey to the West – “No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism, and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism. The Lord has shown me that religion is not in fault, but it is the Pharisees and Sadducees in Hinduism, hypocrites, who invent all sorts of engines of tyranny in the shape of doctrines of Pâramârthika and Vyâvahârika. According to him the three essentials of Hinduism are belief in God, in the Vedas as revelation, in the doctrine of Karma and transmigration. Hinduism is a positive religion. It is not based on negativities. Swami ji has explained that one point of difference between Hinduism and other religions is that in Hinduism we pass from truth to truth—from a lower truth to a higher truth—and never from error to truth. Swami ji believed that any religion should be dynamic, growing and accommodative. He said- chemistry ceases to improve when one element is found from which all others are deductible. Physics ceases to progress when one force is found of which all others are manifestations. So religion ceases to progress when unity is reached, which is the case with Hinduism. In everything, there are two kinds of development—analytical and synthetical. In the former the Hindus excel other nations. In the latter they are nil. He explained the broad-heartedness in Hiduism thus- There is this difference between the love taught by Christianity and that taught by Hinduism: Christianity teaches us to love our neighbours as we should wish them to love us; Hinduism asks us to love them as ourselves, in fact to see ourselves in them. He was critical of authoritarian view of Hinduism. He explained this beautifully thus: All sectarian religions take for granted that all men are equal. This is not warranted by science. There is more difference between minds than between bodies. One fundamental doctrine of Hinduism is that all men are different, there being unity in variety. Even for a drunkard, there are some Mantras—even for a man going to a prostitute! The fault with all religions like Christianity is that they have one set of rules for all. But Hindu religion is suited to all grades of religious aspiration and progress. It contains all the ideals in their perfect form. For example, the ideal of Shanta or blessedness is to be found in Vasishtha; that of love in Krishna; that of duty in Rama and Sita; and that of intellect in Shukadeva. Study the characters of these and of other ideal men. Adopt one which suits you best. Lastly, Swamiji believed in oneness in the creation. He nicely explained it thus: Individuality in universality is the plan of creation. Each cell has its part in bringing about consciousness. Man is individual and at the same time universal. It is while realising our individual nature that we realise even our national and universal nature. Each is an infinite circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere. By practice one can feel universal Selfhood which is the essence of Hinduism. He who sees in every being his own Self is a Pandita (sage).

Choose your role models carefully

It is very important for the youth today to choose their icons and role models carefully. We do not need RSS or BJP or Congress or left parties to know the meaning of Hinduism or the idea of India. Nobody can be a better guru than Swami Vivekanand. Nobody can give a better idea of India than the brave heart and glorious son of India Sardar Bhagat Singh Who wrote in his prison diary- “The aim of life is no more to control the mind, but to develop it harmoniously; not to achieve salvation here after, but to make the best use of it here below; and not to realise truth, beauty and good only in contemplation, but also in the actual experience of daily life; social progress depends not upon the ennoblement of the few but on the enrichment of democracy; universal brotherhood can be achieved only when there is an equality of opportunity – of opportunity in the social, political and individual life.” The very notion of Hindutva is affront to the above mentioned ideas of Hinduism (Swami Vivekanand) and India of dream called India (Sardar Bhagat Singh). We have great people and great wisdom in our history. We should rely on them and not on the power hungry politician of any party.  At this juncture of critical time in the history of India youth cannot afford to be indifferent or ignorant, lest they would be driven by politicians as dumb cattle. Think, understand and progress on the right path, go for course correction if mistakes happen, that is Hinduism, substantially different from political, monolithic and violent Hindutva.

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