Ayodhya marks the twilight of the first Republic | Opinion
Hindu nationalism has been the bedrock of the Indian State and polity. Nehruvian secularism was the fringe
The last time a temple existed in Ayodhya, Krishnadevaraya was emperor in the South ruling over the Vijayanagara empire, Nuno da Cunha was governor of Portuguese India, Spanish conquistadors were setting foot in Texas, and Suleiman the Magnificent was inaugurating the era of Ottoman supremacy in West Asia. With the bhoomi pujan on August 5, the long saga of struggle of a people has come to an end. This day falls on the first anniversary of the full constitutional integration of Jammu and Kashmir to India, making it a symbolic date in post-colonial India. This is the twilight of the first Republic.
The first Republic was founded on the myth of a secular-socialist India supposedly born out of the anti-colonial struggle. However, the Indian freedom movement was always a Hindu movement. From its origin, symbolism, language, and support base, it was the continuation of a Hindu resurgence already underway, but which was disrupted by the British conquest. The coming together of various pagan traditions in the Indian subcontinent under the umbrella of Hinduism is a long-drawn-out process. But it began to consolidate as a unified political entity in the colonial era in the form of Hindutva. The Hindutva concept is driven by an attempt by the older pagan traditions, united by a dharmic framework and intertwined by puranas, myths and folklore, to navigate the modern political and intellectual landscape dominated by nations and nation-states.
Hindutva is not Hinduism. Hindutva is a Hindu political response to political Islam and Western imperialism. It seeks to forge Hindus into a modern nation and create a powerful industrial State that can put an end to centuries of persecution that accelerated sharply over the past 100 years when the Hindu-Sikh presence was expunged in large swaths of the Indian subcontinent.
India’s freedom struggle was guided by the vision of Hindu nationalism and not by constitutional patriotism. The Congress brand of nationalism was but a subset of this broader Hindu nationalism with the Congress itself as the pre-eminent Hindu party. The Muslim question forced the Congress to adopt a more tempered language and symbolism later and to weave the myth of Hindu-Muslim unity. But it failed to prevent the Partition of India. The Congress was taken over by Left-leaning secular denialists under Jawaharlal Nehru who, instead of confronting reality, pretended it did not exist.
After centuries, Hindus were the dominant power. Despite self-denial, the post-colonial State was essentially a Hindu State. The misleading secular-communal debate blinded us to the obvious; the Republic of India is a Hindu reformist State. It abolished the caste system, integrated and Sanskritised the Dalits and large sections of tribals, codified Hindu social laws, revived classical and folk art forms and replaced Urdu-Persian with Hindi and native languages, controlled Hindu temples, introduced an element of uniformity in temple laws and even harmonised rituals and continues to intervene in Hindu social and religious matters with popular legitimacy. At the same time, it has left Islam outside its ambit in the guise of minority rights and freedom of religion. The Indian state intensified the historical process of Hindu consolidation even as Nehruvian elites denied that India is a Hindu polity above all.
Hindu nationalism has never been fringe; it is Nehruvian secularism that was the fringe. And with the fall of the old English-speaking elites, the system they created is also collapsing along with accompanying myths like Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb and Hindu-Muslim unity. The fact is that Hindus and Muslims lived together, but separately. And they share a violent and cataclysmic past with each other, which has never been put to rest.
Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb was an urban-feudal construct with no serious takers outside a limited circle. In villages, whatever unity existed was because the caste identities of both Hindu and Muslims dominated instead of religious identities or because Hindu converts to Islam maintained earlier customs and old social links with Hindus like common gotra and caste. But all that evaporated quickly with the Islamic revivalist movements such as the Tabligh and pan-Islamism from 19th century onwards. It never takes much for Hindu-Muslim riots to erupt. There was nothing surprising about the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests and widespread riots. As political communities, Hindus and Muslims have hardly ever agreed on the big questions of the day.
What we are witnessing today is twilight of the first Republic. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is but a modern vehicle of the historical process of the rise of the Hindu rashtra. In the north, Jammu and Kashmir is fully integrated. In the south, Dravidianism is melting away. In the east, Bengal is turning saffron. In the west, secular parties must ally with a local Hindutva party to survive. The political debate has decisively shifted from the pseudo- secular paradigm to the Hindu-pseudo Hindu one. The Ram mandir is reborn. The CAA is the law. The National Population Register is underway. And the National Register of Citizens will happen sooner or later. Although history is never linear, it is time to face the truth: Hindu nationalism has always been the bedrock of the Indian State and polity. However, as we witness the rise of a new republic, the question which we must ask is what its shape will be? Is becoming a Hindu State India’s destiny?
There are no clear answers given the lack of precedent, barring a few instances such as the Vijayanagara empire.
Even the Hindutva movement has concerned itself with the Hindu rashtra and not Hindu rajya.