The Communists gave a needlessly bad name to "revisionism". What should have been welcomed as a continuous exercise in critical inquiry was made a term of abuse.
This tendency of some ideological formations (and religions) to fall back on certitudes is inimical to creative politics.
When I asked the question, "Is Hindutva a millstone round the BJP's neck?" various people equated it with heresy. Some of the comments to the earlier posting reflected this rigidity. It was even suggested that people who could even ask such a question should join the Congress.
It reminded me of one of Lenin's more outrageous formulations: "Better fewer but better."
Hindutva did capture the political imagination in the period 1988-1996. It helped BJP move from 2 seats in 1984 to 161 in 1996. Its momentum created the groundwork for regional alliances that saw Vajpayee govern for 6 years.
Hindutva emerged as an alternative view of India amid the debris of the Nehruvian consensus.
- The Congress was seen to be unable to deal with threats to nationhood in Kashmir and Punjab.
- It was seen to accommodate regressive Muslim demands, viz. Shah Bano case.
- The licence-permit-quota raj had run out of steam but it wasn't till 1991 that an alternative model was put in place.
- The BJP was fresh, untested and promised to be a party with a difference.
Hindutva appealed to a large swathe of Hindu society, particularly middle classes, the youth and Middle India. It promised a new beginning.
Have things changed?
- The global terrorist threat has brought home the ugly face of Islamist bigotry. But this has also bred an intolerance of hate speech and moral policing which are now associated with Hindu groups. Hindutva has become ugly. It has repelled Hindus.
- India has become far more globalised and cosmopolitan than it was in the 1990s. There is a greater sense of cultural absorption.
- India has witnessed staggering economic success. This has turned the beleaguered Hindu of the 1990s into a self-confident Hindu willing to take on global challenges and accept global opportunities.
- As a doctrine, Hindutva has been intellectually stagnant. It still harks back to Savarkar or historical examples.
- The energies of religious Hinduism vests with the gurus who tend to be patriotic but propagate universalism.
- The BJP is seen as a bunch of fuddy-duddies unable to relate to India's modernity. It is seen as too preoccupied with narrow religious issues.
- BJP's integrity quotient has taken a nosedive.
Hindutva is posing a serious image problem which distracts attention from the other attributes of the party. Hindutva may be a backdrop but if the backdrop grabs all the (negative) attention, the everyday message of the party is lost.
There are times when a term becomes a block and an obstacle. Clause 4 became a block for the Labour Party and "dictatorship of the proletariat" for the Communists. Both were shelved.
The BJP should quietly shelve Hindutva in the same way as Nehru shelved Gandhism and Narasimha Rao dispensed with socialism.
Enlightened nationalism and modernity should become the two defining attributes of the BJP. Otherwise the party faces a growing marginalisation for its inability to move with the times.