Why Bharatiyata, not Hindutva, defines India

Hinduism, as the Supreme Court said, allows you to be anything and everything - including an atheist.

 |  5-minute read |   21-09-2015
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The arrest of members of Sanatan Sanstha, a radical Hindu group, in connection with rationalist thinker Govind Pansare's murder has brought into sharp focus the difference between militant Hindutva and the softer, more inclusive Bharatiyata propounded by the BJP's philosophical mentor, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.

What exactly is that difference?

As former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, Bharatiyata encompasses India's entire religious pantheon - Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew and Parsi.

And Hindutva?

This is how a Supreme Court bench defined Hindutva in a historic three-bench judgement led by the late Justice JS Verma in December 1995. While a larger bench may be constituted to re-examine the judgement at a future date, the apex court's definition stands as of today: "No precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms 'Hindutva'; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. It is difficult to appreciate how in the face of these decisions, the term 'Hindutva' per se, in the abstract, can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry."

In short, the error is to conflate Hindutva with one religion rather than treat it as a philosophy encompassing all religions rooted in India.

In October 2004, five months after its shock defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha election, then BJP president LK Advani said that the party would follow Bharatiyata (Indianness) rather than Hindutva (Hinduness). To substantiate his point, Advani recalled that Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the former party chief revered by the cadre, had consistently preferred Bharatiyata to Hindutva in all his writings. "Several articles of his would bear out that he (Upadhyaya) preferred Bharatiyata to Hindutva," Advani added.

Hinduism is the world's most evolved religious philosophy. Hindutva in its early formulation was a response to the muscularity of Islam and Christianity in colonial India. Both were invasive. Both proselytised - by force or allurement. But as India and Hinduism regain their civilisational self-confidence, Hindutva must reshape itself into an inclusive philosophy based on Hinduism's own highly evolved precept. That precept is Bharatiyata.

Three murders - one ideology?

Pansare was a communist leader who had written a book on Shivaji titled "Shivaji Kon Hota" (Who is Shivaji). Sanatan Sanstha narrowly escaped being banned during the UPA-2 government. After a probe by Rakesh Maria, then chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), the Congress-led Maharashtra government sent a proposal to the centre to ban Sanatan Sanstha. Sushilkumar Shinde, then the UPA's Union home minister, declined to do so for reasons yet unknown.

On Sunday, September 20, officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) travelled to Kohlapur. They were briefed by the police team investigating Pansare's murder. A separate Karnataka police team probing the murder of Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi gave its inputs to the NIA. Meanwhile, a CBI team investigating the murder of another rationalist, Narendra Dhabholkar, is already in Kohlapur. There is, as yet, no conclusive evidence that the three murders are linked or Sanatan Sanstha organised them. However, the role of extremist ideology remains a plausible cause.

Whatever the outcome of these investigations, an inclusive, open-minded Bharatiyata should be the guiding force for the BJP. Bharatiyata accepts all faiths as equals and embraces them all. Hinduism, as the Supreme Court said, allows you to be anything and everything - including an atheist.

This liberal, broadminded philosophy underpins the essence of true Hinduism. It advocates a Bharat Rashtra rather than a Hindu Rashtra - and the difference is obvious. For within Bharat and Bharatiyata lie the syncretic wisdom and soul of India. In Bharatiyata every Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew and Parsi is Indian first and Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew or Parsi second. If religion supersedes nation, as it does in mainstream Islam and in fringe Hinduism, the concept of Bharatiyata stands violated.

Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma violated the first principle of Bharatiyata when he called Dr APJ Abdul Kalam a "nationalist" despite "being a Muslim". In Bharatiyata, you are Indian first. I wrote in this context at the time how disappointing it was to hear Omar Abdullah tell a packed Lok Sabha during the July 2008 trust vote on the India-US civil nuclear deal that he was "a proud Muslim and a proud Indian." A truly secular Indian would have instead reversed that order and said he was a proud Indian and a proud Muslim (or, as the case may be, a proud Hindu, Christian, Parsi or Jew).

Anirban Ganguly in an article in a daily on April 28, 2014 wrote this about the inclusive nature of Bharatiyata: "When Mirra Alfassa (The Mother) of Pondicherry (now Puducherry) declared that India was her 'true country, the country of my soul and spirit' and that though she was French 'by birth and early education' she was 'Indian by choice and predilection', the Mother was essentially speaking from a conviction that came from a deep and unconditional immersion into the essence of Bharatiyata. (And) when Sister Nivedita, wrote that it was 'by a gradual and loving study of how she [India] came to be, can we grow to understand what the country actually is, what the intention of her evolution and what her sleeping potentiality may be', she was essentially pointing at the practice of evolving or enhancing this sense of Bharatiyata, a sense that she had herself marvellously imbibed from her Master.

"It is in Nivedita's words that one finds the best description of the essential Bharatiyata that Swami Vivekananda's personality radiated. Describing the Swami's personality and how it held within its cradle the essence of Indianness, Nivedita movingly wrote, 'He had learnt, not only the hopes and ideals of every sect and group of the Indian people, but their memories also…The songs of Guru Nanak alternated with those of Mirabai and Tansen on his lips. Stories of Prithvi Raj and Delhi jostled against those of Chitore and Pratap Singh, Shiva and Uma, Radha, Krishna, Sita-Ram and Buddha…His whole heart and soul was a burning epic of the country, touched to an overflowing of mystic passion by her very name.' "

All this of course does not mean that Bharatiyata endorses a return to a fraudulent version of secularism which appeases rather than empowers minorities. True secularism treats all religions equally. It appeases none. That is the essence of Bharatiyata: India first, faith second.


Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

The writer is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor. He is the author of The New Clash of Civilizations

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