There have been a number of opinion pieces published in the past few days in which the authors, some of whom have considerable foothold in the current establishment, have declared that there is a new version of Hindutva in place now – one that is focused solely on the safety and material welfare of the people of this country. Some others have opined that this neo-Hindutva is all about eliminating societal ills and caring for material welfare of people. A similar strand of opinion is being increasingly noticed in various social media platforms.
While one response to such claims could be to simply brush them aside, especially when it is possible to explain such a redefinition as backup for possible inaction from the Government in the current term in spite of heightened expectations, it is also an occasion to revisit the concept of Hindutva and try and analyze if nothing more than material progress is required in this generation, as is being claimed. We can also attempt to see if the asks from the Government by those on the ‘cultural right’ are so outrageous that a radical redefinition of the term Hindutva itself has become necessary.
The vikas or development of a human being cannot just be all about the well-being and comfort of his physical body. Of course, improvement in his economic situation and satisfaction of material needs and comforts is always important, and a precursory requirement too. However, a human being is not just a physical body. He is a complex being comprising the body, mind and soul – the shareera, manas and atma.
The progress of man at any point in time has got to be measured from a physical, mental and spiritual frame of reference. It is of course true that a person whose basic material needs are lacking may not have the time, energy or motivation to seek spiritual meaning in life. But the moment his physical (chiefly economic) condition improves, he moves towards mental and spiritual pursuits.
A nation comprises of people who are at various levels of social standing and economic prosperity. A majority of our people may, currently, be on the lower scale of material affluence. But there is no doubt that the country is rising economically and there is reason to believe we will achieve prosperity in the near future. What happens to the spiritual hunger of these very people then? Secondarily, what about the substantial number of people who are already on the lookout for spiritual meaning?
It is not possible for a human being to retain his manas and atma totally disinterested from mental and spiritual pursuits. When the times comes, and when the need arises, he will go after the higher questions. He will seek to quell his spiritual hunger.
Maintaining the cultural, religious and spiritual heritage of our rashtra, therefore, is a permanent need. It is not something that can be ‘postponed’ to a post-vikas era.
Hindutva stalwarts on cultural rejuvenation
Given that the opinion about redefining Hindutva has come from those close to the RW establishment, it is perhaps relevant to revisit the stance of various Hindu/Hindutva ideologues and role-models on the importance of cultural development and rejuvenation. A detailed look at the theories propounded by these stalwarts would be out of scope for an article like this one. Hence let us look at some key insights only.
Veer Savarkar, in his presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, expands on this question and provides a clear direction. He warns against the danger of mere geographical ‘swarajya’. He states that it could even be a dangerous type of ‘swarajya’ to be had.
“Therefore Indian swarajya or Indian swatantrya means, as far as the Hindu Nation is concerned, the political independence of the Hindus, the freedom which would enable them to grow to their full height. Only geographically speaking India as a land and a state was absolutely independent of any other non‐Indian powers when an Allauddin Khilajee or an Aurangzeb ruled over her. But that kind of independence of India proved a veritable death‐warrant to the Hindu Nation….”
Savarkar then asserts that true independence – true swarajya – can only happen when the religious and spiritual identity of the nation can be ensured.
“The real meaning of swarajya then, is not merely the geographical independence of the bit of earth called India. To the Hindus independence of Hindusthan can only be worth having if that ensures their Hindutva‐their religious, racial and cultural identity. We are not out to fight and die for a ‘swarajya’ which could only be had at the cost of our ‘swatva’ our Hindutva itself!”
The great Hindutva thinker and intellectual Guru Dutt, in his classic ‘Hindutva Ki Yatra‘ elaborates a great deal about the importance of development of a nation that goes beyond material prosperity. They key attributes of Hindutva, according to him, are (a) Belief in paramatma or Supreme Being (b) Realization of the diminutive status of an individual when compared with paramatma (c) acceptance of the concept of karma and punarjanma (d) Enhancement of the 10 key attributes of Dharma such as kshama, daya, indriya-nigraha and so on (e) Adherence to social norms as a group but exercise of great freedom at the individual level (f) Importance to duty more than rights (g) Belief in a system that values patience, hard work and tapasya.
It is intuitively clear the above attributes of Hindutva cannot be realized merely by focusing on material progress.
Guruji Golwalkar, one of the chief Sangh ideologues, and the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, had this to say in his work ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ (a collection of his articles, speeches and discussions):
“Our concept of Hindu Nation is not a mere bundle of political and economic rights. It is essentially cultural. Our ancient and sublime cultural values of life form its life-breath. And it is only an intense rejuvenation of the spirit of our culture that can give us the true vision of our national life, and a fruitful direction to all our efforts in solving the innumerable problems confronting our nation today”
He then elaborates the key attributes of such a cultural nation and includes elements such as belief in a Supreme God through a ‘Living God’, prioritizing duty over rights, catholicity of spirit in various walks of life, and so on. He then reiterates the importance of ‘watering the roots’ of our culture.
“The work of rejuvenating these ancient and life-giving features of our culture has assumed a new urgency and paramountcy not only in our present national context but in the international context as well……………Our cultural roots are too firm and too deeply struck into the spring of immortality to be easily dried up. They are bound to assert their age-old vigour and vitality and throw out the parasitic growth of the past few centuries and sprout forth once again in all their pristine purity and grandeur”
Sri Deen Dayal Upadhyay, another Sangh idealogue and important leader of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, in his classic work ‘Integral Humanism‘ talks about the work required to nurture the ‘Chiti’ of the nation.
“A human being is born with a soul. Human personality, Soul and character are all distinct from one another.. Personality results from a cumulative effect of all the actions, thoughts and impressions of an individual. But Soul is unaffected by this history, Similarly national culture is continuously modified and enlarged by the historic reasons and circumstances. Culture does include all those things which by the association, endeavors and the history of the society, have come to be held up as good and commendable. but these are not added on to Chiti. Chiti is fundamental and is central to the nation from its very beginning. Chiti determines the direction in which the nation is to advance culturally. Whatever is in accordance with Chiti, is included in culture“
Are Hindutvawadis making unreasonable demands?
A final aspect to touch upon in this post is related to key asks or demands being put forth by those seeking the attention of the establishment on cultural and religious matters. Although there are various groups and associations working on this resulting in a gamut of demands being put forth, there is a small subset of demands that are basic and which appear in all lists. Four of these demands, that are consistently at the top, are:
- Freedom to run religious and educational institutions without Government interference
- Freedom for temples from Government control
- Recognition of the diversity of the Hindu religion and freedom to practice rituals, festivals and traditions
- Fairness and non-discrimination in the matter of allocation of public resources
A simple analysis of these demands will intuitively reveal that the main theme is about wanting the Government to “get out of Hindu matters”. None of the demands actually ask anything from the Government in terms of investment – be it funds, time or effort.
Hindus are not asking the Government to pump thousands of crores into their institutions. They are not asking the Government to provide each temple with large budgets to run them. They are not asking the Government to grant official recognition and support for their festivals or pujas.
All that is being asked is for the Government to get out of all these matters and let Hindus be on their own!
Unless the Government, and the political establishment, has hidden benefits – monetarily and control and influence wise in interfering in all of these, the request by the community is as non-demanding(!) as they can get.
When a Ardha-Kumbhamela occurs in Prayagraj, 24 crore devout Hindus turn up to participate in the great tradition of the land. When the Sabarimala temple’s ancient custom is threatened by the judiciary’s position, lakhs of devout Hindus protest on the streets of Kerala. When an ancient rig-veda shakha is on the verge of going extinct, an IT engineer earning a handsome salary running into lakhs sacrifices it all, and plunges himself into saving the shakha!
All of these show that the religious and spiritual hunger of Hindus is still alive. Any attempt to carry the Hindus forward with a ‘material progress’ only version of Hindutva is bound to fail. The cultural element of Hindutva is non-negotiable.