By Humra Laeeq
On January 13, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Surendra Singh in Uttar Pradesh made a controversial statement that appears to shake the fundamental roots of the Indian Constitution. While the Preamble boasts that ‘India is a secular, sovereign nation’, the statement by Singh went as follows: “Once India becomes a Hindu ‘rashtra‘ (Hindu nation), Muslims who assimilate into our culture will stay in India. Those who will not are free to take asylum in any other country.” Additionally, Singh mentions that by 2024, India would be a ‘Hindu nation’ and thereby become a global superpower. Taking further his right-wing proclamations, Singh described PM Narendra Modi as an ‘avatari purush’, or reincarnation of a deity.
The patriotic sentiment today
India’s purported development as a ‘superpower’ Hindu state reflects the high and extreme nationalism and the nationalist sentiment harboured in the present atmosphere. The association between Hindu religion and governance is not new, especially for a party like the BJP that depends on the Hindu majority. The inception of BJP in 1980 itself is linked to the religiously-politically charged atmosphere of anti-Gandhian politics. With the party declaring itself a majoritarian Hindu nationalist, the question we need to ask ourselves is what are do we really need a state with a central religion and focused so profoundly with the proliferation of it, even at the expense of minority concerns?
Religious and nationalism-roots in history
The earliest connotation of ‘Hindustan’ solely referred to the land of the Hindus, defined not by religion but culture. India has had a huge diversity of cultural, regional and identity politics. With religion forming a central element of Indian life, masses were mobilised on faith as the unifying element. Because an overwhelmingly large population of India was Hindu, the idea of a Hindu nation gathered consensus.
As such, Hindu nationalism emerged when the concept of ‘nation’ emerged during the anti-colonial struggle that Indians engaged with. India was called ‘Bharat mata’. Taken from ancient Hindu texts, Bharata’s name defined the Indian state in the Hindi equivalent name, Bharat. Adding to it the Hindu reverence of goddesses as mothers, the maternisation of India in no way implied the country as the homeland of Sikh, Christian, Buddhist or Muslim identities. The alienation of identity along religion and national boundaries for minorities was inherent. The majority was favoured, trumpeting the minority to assert its cultural and religious visibility to picture India as ‘one nation of one culture, religion and identity’.
Hardline politics of Hindu religion
In 1925 one of the more prominent seeds of religious nationalism was sown that bears fruit today. The formation of the RSS was preceded by ‘Hindutva’ popularised by Hindu nationalist Vinayak Savarkar in 1923. This concept kept religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam outside its purview. Activists served to unify the nation by teaching Hindu practices to lower-castes, such as abstaining from eating beef. Efforts at propagating a single religion did not involve peaceful negotiations but a hard drawn political attempt that deployed force, violence and communal hatred.
Any attempt at harming the nation was viewed as a violation of religion. The partition of India saw the darkest period of communal riots in Indian history. National identity was divided on the lines of religion. Therefore, when Indira Gandhi’s politics received a biting critique in the late 70s, BJP’s Hindu majoritarian politics was not an unexpected uprising. RSS and its affiliated organisations asserted their influence across political, cultural and social lines. The Ayodhya dispute of 1993, the Bengali Hindu homeland uprising and the much controversial ‘Ghar Wapsi’ were likely part of a broader adopted strategy to forge an exclusive identity that is Hindu and harbours partisan and majoritarian politics.
Where do we lack today?
Amidst the presence of such glaring, hardline politics is the loss of a self-claiming secular nation. Throughout history, Hindu nationalism has enjoyed legitimacy primarily because it had a majority basis. Of course, ideas of patriotism depend on mass mobilisation and mob mentality that often translate into violence and extremist opinions, caring little for rational behaviour. The challenge for today’s politics is to decide where to draw the line between patriotism and extremist politics that becomes exclusionary. It violates the democratic fabric that we so proudly claim to weave.
The issue is particularly problematic in India because religion and culture are dominant, inalienable elements of life. Mutually influencing and encouraging each other, they are almost never divorced from politics. This blend of personal and political ambitions is dangerous. Nationalism does not just remain political, it becomes personal and instigates violence. Such hypernationalism that erases minorities, suggesting an inevitable ethnic cleansing like the ‘Hindu rashtra of 2024’ preempts an upcoming rupture of the societal fabric of the country we claim is the largest democracy in the world.
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