Hindutva is Hindu modernity - Hindustan Times
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Hindutva is Hindu modernity

ByAbhinav Prakash Singh
Aug 31, 2021 06:38 PM IST

Hindutva emerged as a response to imperialism, re-imagined the past and dreamt of a modern democratic State

With the rise of a medieval Taliban regime, some liberals have argued that the return of the Islamic Emirate to Afghanistan is somewhat akin to the rise of Hindutva in India. This is a mischievous and illiterate comparison. Unlike the undemocratic and violent Taliban, Hindutva envisages a democratic society based on equality and universal rights. Hindutva dreams of a modern future, the Taliban dreams of a regressive past. Hindutva works within a constitutional framework, while even the Taliban, unlike its apologists, won’t describe itself as constitutionalists.

The main intellectual challenge for Hindus was to justify their existence as a society. Who were they? Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Jat, Brahmins, Ahirs, Pasi, Rajputs, Vokkaligas? The coming together of various pagan traditions under the umbrella of Hinduism is a centuries-old process. But Hindutva consolidated it by welding Hindus into a political community and as a nation by emphasising the commonalities of a highly diverse Hindu society. (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
The main intellectual challenge for Hindus was to justify their existence as a society. Who were they? Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Jat, Brahmins, Ahirs, Pasi, Rajputs, Vokkaligas? The coming together of various pagan traditions under the umbrella of Hinduism is a centuries-old process. But Hindutva consolidated it by welding Hindus into a political community and as a nation by emphasising the commonalities of a highly diverse Hindu society. (Shutterstock)

But fundamentally, the comparison is based on ignorance of the roots, evolution, and values of Hindutva.

One of the most important developments of the last century is what Girilal Jain termed as “The Hindu Phenomenon”. It was a widely held belief that destiny of the Hindus was to fade away in the modern era and their homeland absorbed within the Islamic and Christian world. Yet, despite repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing over recent centuries, Hindus not only survived, but also created a powerful polity and State. While India had been invaded and colonised in the past, the challenge posed by British colonialism was unique. We often discount the traumatic and terrifying experience of the non-western world in its encounter with western colonialism, which was backed by modern industry, a new economic structure of capitalism, and a new political structure of nations and nation-States. Coupled with emerging modern academia, it also posed a formidable intellectual challenge.

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Hindu response to western imperialism emerged in the 19th century in the form of social and religious reform movements and political mobilisation seeking to draw inspiration from antiquity and Hindu philosophy. But reformers were not only imagining the future but also re-imagining the past. They argued that modern values such as social equality, political democracy, liberty, the idea of the nation are all rooted in Hindu tradition and philosophy. Hence, Hindu society and polity are naturally at home in the modern era.

These views were propagated by Hindu thinkers, writers, poets, religious leaders, and social and political leaders throughout the Indian subcontinent. The fact that these views found rapid and widespread acceptance demonstrate that these ideas were not alien to the Hindu society and changing social and economic structures favoured them.

The tantra movement in the medieval period and the Bhakti movement in the early modern period infused Hindu society with the ideas of social and gender equality. From the Nath Sampradaya and Vachana Sahitya to Ravidas and Kabir, Hindu society already had what could be called proto-modernity. Popular and highly symbolic oral epics such as Manteswamy Kavya even argued how technology must ultimately be liberated from its hereditary practitioners, i.e the practice of a birth-based caste system determining occupation needed to go for the progress of civilisation.

In the absence of corresponding social and economic conditions, these ideas remained largely confined to the respective Hindu sects. But under colonial rule, with changing socio-economic structures and the import of newly emerging western, modern ideas, such views entered the mainstream of Hindu political thought.

It is striking that all segments of the Hindu polity, from the Left to the Right, argued for a modern nation despite rooting their positions in the civilisational antiquity of India. None of them wanted a return to the past, unlike their counterparts in the Muslim polity, but wanted to learn from the values of a past and reinterpret it in a modern image. If one side was looking towards the West or the Soviet Union, the other was looking towards Japan and Korea to create a modern Hindu nation.

Hindutva was the Hindu response to western colonialism and resurgent Islamic imperialism in the Indian subcontinent, and emerged under the new economic order based on industry and capitalism. Hindutva inherited the legacy of the Hindu proto-modernity and contemporary social and religious reform movements to imagine a modern-industrial Hindu nation. It sought to dismantle the caste system, and create a democratic State with individual rights, freedom of expression and religion. Hindutva argued for a modern Hindu nation with primacy to science and technology. It imagined a centralised State with strong defence capabilities, yet part of the world commonwealth in pursuit of stability and peace. Hindutva always confined itself to the aim of a Hindu Rashtra (nation), and, at no point, did it argue for a Hindu Rajya (State). Even the Hindu Mahasabha proposed a secular State based on the principle of one-man, one-vote.

The main intellectual challenge for Hindus was to justify their existence as a society. Who were they? Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Jat, Brahmins, Ahirs, Pasi, Rajputs, Vokkaligas? The coming together of various pagan traditions under the umbrella of Hinduism is a centuries-old process. But Hindutva consolidated it by welding Hindus into a political community and as a nation by emphasising the commonalities of a highly diverse Hindu society.

Hindutva is both a product of the modern world and an argument for Hindu modernity. It sees itself as the protector of India’s religious and cultural diversity, which has been decimated in areas no longer part of India. Economic transformation dilutes caste and regional lines. Industrialisation and urbanisation are the precursors of modernity. And since Hindutva embodies the modern values and modern vision of Hindu society, the appeal and legitimacy of Hindutva have been increasing as India becomes more industrial and urbanised. The rise of a “Hindu Rashtra” and an industrial-urban developed India are two sides of the same coin. And this phenomenon is the opposite of what the new rulers of Afghanistan have envisioned for their Emirate.

Abhinav Prakash Singh is assistant professor of economics at SRCC and national vice-president, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha

The views expressed are personal

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