I recently saw a status message of a friend of mine on Facebook and it provoked me enough to give it a poke. It started a deep discussion which matured so well that it surprised me. It is a very pertinent debate seeing how India is shaping up today, and it would be great if you people can give your views of what you feel about it right here on the blog.
Original Status: What really appalls me is the fact that Hindu Nationalism is being equated with Fascism. Which part "Hindu" or "Nationalism" resembles fascism? Isn't secularism being mauled by appeasing a particular community rather than empowering them? I am no right winger but this shallow hypocrisy of Congress is an insult to every self-respecting secular Indian!
Me: One thing that both Fascism and Hindu Nationalism seek is so called "purifying" the nation state, proclaiming that the state belongs, relegating the reason for this to some unknown texts or maybe the fanatics' own wisdom, to one particular religion, community, class or race. For one it was race, for the other it is religion. What's actually appalling is the fact that we should question that who are these self-proclaimed righteous Hindu "leaders" to tell us that our great nation belongs to only one religion? Tell me, did Hinduism ever have "leaders"? Do we need an Ayatollah? India's differentiation and its very greatness lies in the fact that many faiths, multiple communities and various creeds cohabit peacefully, and nothing has been able to rupture that moral fabric. THAT is what India is about. (I'm not getting into the politics of it as I don't want to dip into the murky pool where every party is blemished, so I'm not taking sides there)
A: Let me preface this comment by making it very clear that I have no soft spot for Right wing elements in any religion, they have done more harm than good for the cause of religion per se. Having said that, I disagree with your analogy of Fascism with Hindu Nationalism. Would you consider Swami Vivekananda as a fascist who was a champion of secular ideals but at the same time not apologetic about being a Hindu? And I am quite sure his being a Nationalist requires no further mention.
Hinduism was never a religion to start with. It was and is a still a way of life. The plurality in our society is not a recent phenomenon but a part of our cultural ethos and based on "Vasudeva Kutumbhkam" (One World, One Family) which is a basic tenet of Hindu Philosophy.
My question is why is secularism which you rightly said is a part of our ethos being used to make one religion as the oppressor and other as the oppressed? Why is it not possible to be proud of your heritage without risked being called a "fascist". I strongly condemn this inverted secularism which instead of being indifferent towards religion[as defined in our constitution] is being shamelessly used to appease the minority community!
The assumption by the Congress that minorities will be appeased by these shallow gestures is an exercise in self defeat. I am quite sure the citizens of this country irrespective of their religious affiliations are intelligent enough to look past this shallow policy of appeasement where minorities are simply looked as a political tool rather than respectable citizens of this country!
Me: Let’s not confuse Hinduism, the religion, with Hindu Nationalism. These are two very different things. Hinduism, like you said, is a way of life. It's a culture, it was never a religion. Hinduism is the only religion which does not claim that those who are not following it are infidels, non-believers or kaffirs. Every other major religion in the world does that (Source: India: From Midnight, to Millennium and Beyond, Shashi Tharoor).
It's a shame if we talk of Swami Vivekananda in the same breath as we talk of these ignoramuses that we see today waving the Hindutva flag. Did Swami Vivekananda ever say that to reclaim our Hindu honour, we need to destroy a place of worship of another religion (read: Babri Masjid), and build a temple in its place? Did Swami Vivekananda in any of his works proclaim that India is a Hindu nation? Did Swami Vivekananda EVER ride a chariot to a mosque, break it down and feel glad to be a Hindu? Did he ever even feel the need to reinforce his Hinduism in this way? No. Never. Because this is not being a Hindu. This is not who Swami Vivekananda was. But this is who these people are.
Swami Aseemanand, who doesn't feel ashamed to call himself a "swami", admitted to planning, and carrying out Mecca Masjid blasts, Malegaon blasts, Samjhauta Express blasts and Ajmer Sharif blasts, killing hundreds of innocent people. After all this, do you think Hinduism stands any different from the blotched Islam? Don't you think these are the same terrorists, with just a different faith and a different tongue? My friend, these are the Hindu Nationalists today, as the reality is. Not Swami Vivekananda. He was a true Hindu, not those who claim India as theirs today. Think over it.
1st century BC - Buddhism was such a major religion in India, great Chinese scholars in their texts (remember China was a great flourishing civilization with countless erudite scholars) used to mention India as a "Buddhist Nation" for a whole millennium. (Source: The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Laureate 1998). Post that, for almost 4 centuries, India was ruled by Muslim rulers, where, again, Islam was a prominent religion, as it still is. Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Charvaka (the atheists)- so many religions and schools of thoughts have flourished in India. In all this, do you think India was ever a "Hindu Nation" as these stupid extremists do? Do you think India is "secular" because our 60 year old constitution says so? No my friend. India is secular because it has always been secular since, not centuries but, millennia. And India will remain so.
A: True, Hinduism is different from Hindu Nationalism but only in letter not in spirit. Unfortunately we are a nation obsessed with prefixes and suffixes (that explains why we have a term as a Hindu rate of growth, but that is okay because we are a secular nation). If you look at the history Hindu Revivalism (Championed by Rammohun Roy et al) was the base of Hindu Nationalism. This revivalism was to purge the ills which had plagued our religion. This revivalism somehow also set the context for renouncing the foreign rule, however in the due course this was hijacked by extreme fringe who were limited by their misunderstanding of India as a nation. I felt the context was important. Hindu Nationalism was not an instrument to polarise people but to empower them under a unifying identity of an Indian. It is unfortunate it now identified with the fringe these days. Politics of hate has no place in broader scheme of Hindu Philosophy.
Swami Vivekananda can never be compared to any terrorist. Period! In fact, Swamiji's speech in Chicago answers precisely to your second comment of the series:
"Upon us depends whether the name Hindu will stand for everything that is glorious, everything that is spiritual, or whether it will remain a name of opprobrium, one designating the downtrodden, the worthless, the heathen. If at present the word Hindu means anything bad, never mind; by our action let us be ready to show that this is the highest word that any language can invent. It has been one of the principles of my life not to be ashamed of my own ancestors. The more I have studied the past, the more I have looked back, more and more has this pride come to me, and it has given me the strength and courage of conviction, raised me up from the dust of the earth, and set me working out that great plan laid out by those great ancestors of ours."
Terrorism has no religion; the fringe has no space in our society! But that has nothing to do with Hindu Nationalism in its original and purest form.
You in your last comment (Amartya Sen's book) you have substantiated my view from the earlier comment. Why could Buddhists and Mughals assimilate in this alien land so effortlessly? How could have barbarians from western Asia (Mughals) turned into model administrators with deep respect for religious and cultural sensitivities (Cow Slaughter was banned during Akbar's reign)? This was a result of the ethos and not necessarily the religion which characterised this nation. And my submission is that this ethos was firmly held in Hindu Philosophy and not necessarily the codified Hindu religion.
Me: I would love to see Hindu Philosophy flourish, like a revivalism of some sort. But that's not even close to what’s been happening in the mainstream politics, is it? It's the wrong sort of militant nationalism that is being preached and practiced. I agree the ruling party at the center is guilty of using "secularism" to garner a vote bank. But then equally guilty is the opposition party of placing Hinduism as a religion in the hands of the terrorists in the name of revivalism, is it not? Vote bank politics has been a bane of Indian politics since the past few decades, and every party is to be blamed equally for it. We, the educated class, who can see things as they are, cannot afford to see one form of hypocrisy and ignore the other.