Hindutva: Back on the agenda
“When we say this is the Hindu nation, there are some who immediately come up with the question, ‘What about the Muslims and Christians dwelling in this land?’… But the crucial question is whether they remember that they are the children of this soil. No! Together with the change in their faith, gone is the spirit of love and devotion for the nation. They have also developed a feeling of identification with the enemies of this land. They look to some foreign lands as their holy places. It is not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity.”
-Guru Golwalkar, former RSS chief, in his treatise, Bunch of Thoughts.
Is Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi’s grand dream of ruling India’s first “Hindu state” any different from the Hindu nation of the RSS, in which the minorities are identified with the “enemies of the nation”? Does Joshi disagree with Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray, who promised during an election campaign that with the Shiv Sena in power everybody will have to take diksha (initiation) into the Hindu religion?
The Supreme Court apparently thinks so. In a landmark judgement last fortnight, it absolved Joshi of the charge of garnering votes in the name of Hindutva by ruling that his promise to establish the first “Hindu state” did not amount to appealing for votes in the name of religion. It also said that Hindutva and Hinduism are a way of life and not confined to religion, and therefore, its use in a speech did not amount to corrupt electoral practices.
It is a point of view that the Sangh brotherhood has been trying to promote for decades, equating nationalism with Hinduism. Said BJP Chief L.K. Advani: “The Court has lent its seal of judicial imprimatur to our ideology of Hindutva.”
The judgement has opened a Pandora’s box. Coming as it does barely a few months before the Lok Sabha election, the verdict from the apex Court can amount to a virtual licence to fundamentalist forces to conduct a shrill and communal election campaign. Never mind that the same Court has severely castigated Thackeray for making inflammatory speeches.
Never mind too that two days later the same Court found a prima facie case of corrupt practice against Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for mixing religion with politics.
The crux of the matter is that now any group of fanatics can mix religion with politics and carry on vicious, communal propaganda during election campaigns, even as the direct beneficiaries of such a campaign, the candidates riding the communal wave, can plead ignorance on the ground that the meetings organised to canvass support for them were held without their consent.
The Sangh brotherhood could not have asked for a better judgement. Said RSS chief Rajendra Singh: “We have always been of the view that the term Hindu connotes much more than a mere form of worship. “The RSS’ mouthpiece, Organiser, declared triumphantly: “No more will the champions of Hindutva be required to sound apologetic.”
The BJP can now afford to be more brazen. Advani sees in the verdict a licence for a Hindutva campaign: “If any party or candidate talks about religion, temples, Hindutva, Hinduism, etc., it cannot be seen as violating the electoral law.”
Said VHP chairperson V.H. Dalmia: “The legal hindrance in propagating Hindutva is over now.” And Thackeray, notwithstanding the Court’s strictures against him, believes the judgement is a clear message that Hindutva can now be openly propagated.
Senior leaders from the Sangh brotherhood who did not wish to be identified revealed that the BJP and its allies will now focus their campaign on the following issues:
- Total ban on cow slaughter: The Bajrang Dal is planning to launch a massive, aggressive movement from January 14 to forcibly stop cow and bull slaughter in the country.
- Uniform civil code: Under the Constitution, the states cannot introduce a common civil code. But the BJP/Shiv Sena governments will try to make political capital by pushing bills on the subject.
- Muslim population: During the past 40 years, the percentage of Muslims in the total population has risen from 9.93 to 11.67. The Sangh brotherhood will play on the anxiety that Hindus may eventually be reduced to a minority.
- The temple trio: The BJP will not take up the Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya issues directly. But the VHP will. The only problem is that the Sangh brotherhood is not sure whether the strategy will work this time.
- The appeasement of minorities: Issues like the Government’s reported decision to subsidies imams’ salaries and pensions by increasing grants to Wakf boards, which will increase the burden on the exchequer by Rs.243 crore this year and another Rs.405 crore over the next three years.
- Infiltration of foreign nationals: Between 1981 and 1991, the Muslim population has increased by nearly 40 percent in the border states of Rajasthan, Tripura, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
- Demand for scrapping the minority commissions: The BJP-Shiv Sena feels this is another example of appeasing the minorities.
The BJP will take up Hindutva as a campaign slogan because the party knows that it pays. Advani’s Rath Yatra to Ayodhya virtually changed the country’s political map five years ago.
But faced with the Congress(I)’s soft response to Hindutva and the hard line secularism of the Left and the Janata Dal (JD), the BJP walked away with an unprecedented 120 Lok Sabha seats in 1991 from merely two seats in 1984.
Religion sells. Advani affirms this: “The BJP’s principal success has been in making ideology relevant to electoral verdicts.”
The judgement has obviously gladdened the hearts of the Hindutva forces. But except for the National Front-Left Front (NF-LF) combine, all the other major political parties on the opposite side of the Hindutva fence seem to have adopted an ostrich-like attitude to the Supreme Court’s pronouncements last fortnight.
The ruling Congress(I) has so far made no official comment on the judgement. Says Congress(I) spokesperson V.N. Gadgil: “We are studying the judgement and will react only after fully reading it.” Even the rival Congress faction led by N.D. Tiwari and Arjun Singh is yet to take a stand on the issue. “We will react to the lengthy judgement after reading it thoroughly,” says Singh.
But the NF-LF p arties appear to have been shocked by the judgement. The communists came out on the streets of New Delhi in protest last fort night. “This judgement, unless challenged, will be used by those who are trying to divide society to garner votes on the basis of religion,” says CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta.
The NFLF are now considering going in for a review petition, and are also exploring the possibility of getting the matter dealt with by a larger Constitution bench. Said JD spokesperson Jaipal Reddy: “If it helps clear the confusion, we are in favour of going in for a constitutional amendment.”
CPI (M) politburo member Prakash Karat supported Reddy’s idea. The NFLF parties also plan to raise a public debate on the issue and exert pressure on the Government to initiate moves to suitably amend the Constitution.
Perhaps the most forthright reaction to the Supreme Court’s judgement came from former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. He not only termed the definition provided by the Supreme Court as “unnecessary”, but called it very harmful for the nation. “If the definition that they have given upholds the Hindutva being espoused by the VHP then I think the consequences for this country are very dangerous indeed,” he said.
The non-BJP parties have only one way out: to revive the 1994 Constitution (82nd Amendment) Bill and the Representation of Peoples Act (Amendment) Bill, which sought to delink religion from politics.
The reforms package, which was withdrawn by the Government, made provisions for the re-registration of a political party if its memorandum of rules and regulations did not conform to the oath of secularism and if it promoted or attempted to promote itself, “on grounds of religion, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will between different religious groups”.
-with Smruti Koppikar and Javed M. Ansari
India Today 15 Januuary 1996