In an obvious reference to any possible projection of Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate for the next parliamentary elections, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar recently said that the NDA should choose a candidate who has secular credentials. The BJP, meanwhile, spoke in various voices. One of its leaders said that ideologically, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Modi were of the same hue. Another pointed out that since Hindutva is secular and liberal, there was no reason why Modi could not be the prime ministerial candidate.
Kumar is no secular angel. When BJP became the single largest party in the Lok Sabha in 1996, no one dared ally with it as the party was regarded as communal and the part it played in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and consequent violence was still fresh in people's minds. In 1998, when a similar situation arose, many parties including Kumar's Janata Dal (United) could not resist the temptation of power and worked out a common minimum programme to share power with the BJP.
If one examines the statements made by the BJP, one can find some truth in them. The claim that Vajpayee, Advani and Modi are ideologically similar is true to a great extent. They are all committed swayamsevaks, working for the agenda of a Hindu rashtra, which is the goal of the RSS. They are dissimilar too, with a division of labour worked out among them. Since the BJP is probably not hoping to get a majority on its own strength, it has to keep a liberal façade. For this very reason, Vajpayee was its prime minister, while Advani, the prime mover of the chariot of communalism and the Ram Temple campaign, was forced to play second fiddle.
In that sense, though they are on the same ideological wavelength, they play different roles at any point of time. To say that Hindutva is secular and liberal is turning reality on its head. Hindutva is not Hinduism. Hinduism is an umbrella of various religious streams, which flowered and existed in this part of the world. Hindutva as a concept and political ideology was articulated by VD Savarkar. He defined it as the 'whole of Hinduness', a combination of the Aryan race, culture and language. The Brahminical stream of Hinduism is based on it, subtly promoting caste and gender hierarchy.
When the entire nation was coming together under the guiding principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, the upholders of Hindutva, belonging to a certain section of society like the rajas, zamindars and upper-caste Hindus, kept aloof from the struggle against the British. They came together as the Hindu Mahasabha and later founded and supported the RSS. Their politics was at once parallel and diametrically opposite to the politics of the Muslim League, which was arguing along similar lines for an Islamic State. The Muslim League had a similar class base. While the Hindu Mahasabha-RSS gloated over the glorious Hindu past and asserted that we were a Hindu nation from times immemorial, the Muslim League identified with Muslim kings. The freedom struggle under Mahatma Gandhi wanted to break free from the yoke of colonial rule and change caste and gender relations. His politics articulated that we were a 'nation in the making'.
This is a prime example of the use of religion as an instrument by a section of society which wanted to preserve their privileges in the changing social dynamics. The sharpest articulation of Hindutva politics came from MS Golwalkar, who in his We, Our Nationhood Defined, eulogised fascism and asked for second-class citizenship for Muslims and Christians. Today, the RSS is unable to deny either the blunt formulation of its politics by Golwalkar or the existence of this book.
The RSS-led forces want to keep a democratic face till they come to power and unleash their full agenda. Currently, their trained swayamsevaks are infiltrating different wings of the State, apart from joining organisations like the BJP. The BJP claims that it believes in justice for all and appeasement of none. A cleverly-worded sentence, it conceals its intention of continuing the discrimination against those suffering in the present scheme of things.
How does one understand the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva? Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu but not a follower of Hindutva. Nathuram Godse and the RSS are practitioners of 'Hindutva politics'. For the latter, a Hindu like Gandhi is ideologically unacceptable as he propagated a secular ethos while being the best of Hindus. The statement by Kumar only represents one of the aspects of the political reality being witnessed by the nation.
Ram Puniyani is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.