At the same time, I am heartened by the positive responses I have got for my article on the same theme in Times of India (May 4, 2009). I think it is worthwhile pointing out that my ideas weren't born in a vacuum. They have emerged from countless private discussions with BJP activists at all levels. It is their ideas which I have distilled and articulated.
The objections to my suggestions follow two broad streams:
- Those who attribute motives such as peer group pressure or an itch to join the Congress bandwagon or, worse, to fall in line with the Jaichand tradition. The abusive responses need not be addressed except with the observation that profanities are no substitute for argument. As for peer group pressure, it is worth pointing out that I have endured ostracism of a far worse kind in the early-1990s, during the Ayodhya movement. I don't want to harp on my own credentials but I was one of the two or three writers in the mainstream English language media who were supportive of the movement. Naturally, there was a professional price I paid for this stand. As such, some of the comments from those who attribute motives to my present stand are hurtful.
- Those who assert that the BJP will lose its "ideological" basis by straying away from Hindutva and become indistinguishable from the Congress. Many have claimed that there is nothing to be defensive about and that the problem is with the distortions of Hindutva by the "secular" media. What, I have also been asked, is my definition of Hindutva.
I will confine my comments to the second category of criticisms.
When someone is prompted to ask me what I mean by Hindutva, he/she bolsters my conclusion. When every second person has their own different version of the meaning of Hindutva, they underline the problems of using it for sustained political communication.
At one time, Hindutva was taken as the outpouring of Hindu pride and Hindu consciousness that accompanied the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Hindutva than meant the resurrection of a facet of India's personality that had been submerged by "pseudo-secularism". Advani articulated this quite forcefully and the theme resonated throughout India in varying degrees. Hindutva was not regarded as religious consciousness, although that too played a role in the Ram temple movement, but the political extrapolation from the agitation.
In time, these were reduced to the distinctive facets of the BJP programme, viz. building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and the formulation of a Uniform Civil Code. It is noteworthy that the 370 and UCC issues stemmed from a literalist reading of the Indian Constitution.
It is the Supreme Court judgment that has blunted the political thrust of Hindutva. By interpreting Hindutva as a "way of life", in the same way as Radhakrishnan defined Hinduism, the apex court saved the BJP from a political witch-hunt in the mid-1990s. At the same time, it blunted Hindutva as a political weapon.
If something is a "way of life", how does it become an plank of a political party? It becomes either a lifestyle statement (which is patently absurd) or it becomes an intellectual orientation. The BJP has suffered from this post-SC judgment confusion. Hindutva doesn't figure as a term in its manifestos or political documents and leaders routinely say it is "above politics". If Hindutva is "above politics", then why is its inclusion necessary in a political party.
The honest truth that no one wants to admit is that Hindutva has in effect been banished from politics by the judiciary. The Hindutva some of the respondents are talking about is either religious or cultural. The religious dimension creates the type of complications which accompanies the vitriolic exchanges over OBCs and their modes of worship. A rigid culturalist definition leads to an examination of why a particular version of Hindutva hasn't found favour in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal.
Hindutva in practice has come to mean exclusionary politics and assertions of Hindu superiority. This may well be a distortion of the real thing but that is the dominant perception. And Kandhamal, Ram Sene, the Malegaon mischief and Varun Gandhi merely confirms it. As Bhaskar Mitra put it in his comment, "Hindutva today stands for mobocracy" and worse.
Its nominal presence on the BJP platform deters the modern Hindu and frightens non-Hindu Indians. It raises a profound question in the minds of voters: "What sort of India does the BJP want?"
The answer, I am afraid, isn't very wholesome. Muthalik may be anti-BJP and Togadia may be on his own crazy trip but together they espouse Hindutva. The moment a political party has to explain that "their" Hindutva is different from "our" Hindutva, it has lost the plot.
Is it any wonder that BJP governments in the states want to dissociate themselves from Hindutva.
Finally, a comment on ideology. The term ideology suggests a codified set of beliefs which are constant. This may be true of religions based on textual certitudes but it can hardly serve as an intelligent guide to political action.
What is relevant is not ideology but ideas. Discussions are more meaningful when we get down to discuss concrete ideas and concrete issues of governance.
Postscript: Just in case anyone wants to read the article in Tehelka that the media has suddenly woken up to.