We are living in an age of reaffirmation and revival of religious/national and cultural identities as a reaction to the sweeping onslaught of socio-economic, cultural and technological globalization. In India the demand for a definition of national identity based on Hinduism or on Hindutva (Hinduness) predates the achievement of independence in 1947 and it was gradually reinforced by successive political crises, such as the partition between India and Pakistan, successive wars with Pakistan, the continuing separatist agitation in the Kashmir Valley and the rise of large-scale Islamist terrorism since the 11th of September 2001 if not before.
Historically a distinction has been made between Hinduism, as the religion and way of life of more than a billion people in India and in other countries and Hindutva, a cultural ideology and a socio-political doctrine which defines a modernized version of Hindu or in broader sense Indic civilisation (encompassing Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other indigenous minority religions). Many Hindus do not accept the premises or least the political theory of Hindutva whereas Hindutva proponents may not be ‘believers’ in the ritual and theological aspects of Hindu Dharma and may define themselves as sceptics, materialists or atheists.
However they conceive of the common Hindu national civilisation and millenary historical heritage as the cement that can bind the country’s diverse people together and they usually reject the ‘secular’ view that India is the home of a composite culture forged out of many domestic and foreign elements and consisting of diverse ethnic groups which were brought together as a nation by British colonization. This paper succinctly retraces the evolution and expansion of Hindu nationalism in the politics of the country and distinguishes between the various nuances of the ideology which is now the source of inspiration for the National Democratic Alliance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It strives to answer the often asked question: Is India becoming a Hindu State?
The Rise of the Hindu Religious Factor in Indian Politics and State Theory
By Côme Carpentier de GOURDON
Convener of the International Board of WORLD AFFAIRS – The Journal of International Issues (India).
The current Indian Government could amend the Constitution to declare the country a Hindu State or Republic and no longer a secular, socialist one, it is necessary to consider the possible consequences of such a reform both at home and abroad, even if little changes in reality and in practice. A formally Hindu India would constitute a long delayed response to Pakistan’s self-proclamation as a Muslim nation and would join smaller neighbours such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, officially Buddhist States in affirming a foundational civilisational identity. Further afield, Japan’s Imperial head embodies the nation’s Buddhist-Shinto identity whereas Russia is a Christian orthodox country. In the West the british monarch remains the head of the national church and “protector of the faith’ as is the case nominally for the other Kings of Europe. Germany and the USA among many others define themselves as Christian countries although, like the monarchies mentioned above they guarantee freedom of conscience and worship and enshrine in their constitutions the separation of religion from the exercise of governance. Yet it must be observed that until recently the relative tolerance of Christian and of some Muslim states in matters of religions extended only to monotheistic (abrahamic) faiths and to atheism (still frowned upon in the USA) and had no formal space for ‘paganism’.
Hindu India obviously never enforced such discrimination as the notion of paganism is alien to the Indic religious universe, even if certain schools of thought (such as lokayata) fell into disrepute and are still rejected by the majority of the population. The various communities were entitled to their own religious traditions and practices even though the Brahminical castes held a hierarchical superiority in the social order but had to negotiate their role with other communities, mainly the royal and aristocratic khsatriya families and the merchant (vaisya or bania) clans from which they usually drew their livelihood. If handled well and appropriately defined, the assumption of its Hindu heritage as the foundation of its civilization should not be seen as a challenge to Bharat-India’s organic unity and social stability.
As various voices, even within the minorities communities have noted, the essential quality of India’s native, universalistic secularism (vasudhaiva kutumbakam: ‘the world is a family’), its openness and lack of dogmatism, its respect for all spiritual traditions and teachings and its generally non-violent attitude to differences and contradictions lies precisely in the Sanathana Dharma which the Hindutva doctrine must faithfully preserve without taking cues from the more rigid and hierarchical religions (whether monotheistic or atheistic) that see it as their enemy because of its resistance to their projects for conversion and expansion.
CITATION: de Gourdon C.C. (2018) The Rise of the Hindu Religious Factor in Indian Politics and State Theory. Outlines of Global Transformations: Politics, Economics, Law, vol. 11, no 4, pp. 219–232. DOI: 10.23932/2542-0240-2018-11-4-219-232