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Culture, religion and regression

Comparing the militant Hindutva ideology with `triumphalistic Western Christianity', VALSON THAMPU writes on how it is converting Hinduism `to a religion utterly contrary to its genius'.


ADVANI'S personal stamp on Hindutva is the shift he engineered in its strategy from cultural nationalism to religious jingoism. The political windfall that Hindutva enjoys today, as he has every right to claim, is on account of Ram Janmabhoomi movement that frenzied Hindu religious sentiments. In its genesis and genius, Hindutva was a project of cultural nationalism. It had nothing to do with religion. Its early ideologues and propagandists were, like Veer Savarkar, agnostics or atheists. Their role models were Hitler and Mussolini. The ethos of European nationalism, rather than the vision of the Vedas, or the spirit of Indian culture inspired them.

The irony inherent in cultural nationalism is that it signals and accelerates cultural regression. Re-hashing a culture along an ideological bias implies utter disrespect towards it. The Hindutva idea of Indian culture is an arbitrary and ahistorical construct.

The uniqueness of Indian culture is its composite and pluralistic nature. In no other part of the world has religious and cultural plurality co-existed and cross-fertilized each other so creatively. While Christians fought their denominational wars in the western hemisphere, Indian Christianity remained free from confessional conflicts and sectarian tensions. Shi'as and Sunnis in India do not kill each other as their counterparts do in our neighbourhood. Sikhism and Sufi mysticism witness the synergy of Hinduism and Islam. These, and not the communal outbursts of Hindutva, are the authentic signs of the vitality and creativity of Indian culture. Togetherness is the essential character of our way of life. It is this spirit of togetherness that welcomes and blends diverse elements that seem disparate outside of that framework. This mytho-spiritual character of the Indian ethos has never failed to mystify western observers. India is a spiritual-cultural unity-in-diversity that can host the different and the contrary. It was because Gandhiji was authentically Indian that he could blend Indian spirituality with western rationality and bamboozle the West. Swami Vivekananda, who embodied the spirit of India, advocated a synthesis of the East and the West: a possibility that did not present itself to western thinkers. The same spirit runs though Vivekananda's concept of the integrated Indian identity synthesising Vedantic soul with Islamic body. This is, by and large, true of the Asiatic cultural and spiritual ethos.

It is this communitarian — as against communal — spirit of togetherness and cooperative co-existence that also marks the so-called Semitic stock of religions in their scriptural and spiritual core; for they are Asiatic faiths. From its inception, the ideologues of Hindutva have, however, banked heavily on caricaturing Judaism, Christianity and Islam as intolerant religions. But, in India, they do coexist with others.

It is the West that degraded religion into a theatre of conflict. The great battle between Christianity and Islam and a thousand battles within Christianity were fought either within Europe or on account of Europe. Christianity, in particular, suffered gross distortions on account of its domestication in the western culture. There is nothing in common between the way of Jesus Christ and the spirit of western triumphalistic Christianity. Western culture degraded Christianity spiritually and choked that faith with earthly pomp and power. Hindutva has walked Hinduism to the brink of this spiritual precipice; and only spiritually enlightened Hindus can stand between this faith and its degradation.

With the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Hindutva hitched its wagon to the twin horses of culture and religion. The danger imminent in this has to be recognised. Culture is a domain of instability and decay. No culture has remained the same for any length of time. Spirituality, on the other hand, is eternal and unchanging. It was because Indian culture had a spiritual foundation that we have been able to hold our own, despite the upheavals in our history, including a thousand years of domination by external forces. Once religion is closely identified with culture, it becomes vulnerable to the decay that necessarily overtakes culture. The westernisation of Indian culture in the wake of globalisation is a clear warning. It is not an accident that the protagonists of cultural nationalism are also purveyors of globalisation that throws open the floodgates of cultural neo-colonialism. The irony written into Hindutva is that, even as it militates against individual conversions of dalits and adivasis to Christianity or Islam, it is converting Hinduism into a religion utterly contrary to its genius. Hindutva is closer to militant Islam and triumphalistic Christianity than it is to Vedic spirituality. Except to the wilfully blind, it is a project of western materialistic culture driven by the erstwhile European spirit of intolerance that paved the way for the spiritual regression of that continent. Hindutva has modelled itself on the decadent phenomena in European culture. Arnold Toybee in his A Study of History voiced his alarm at the signs of decay that were becoming evident in European culture from the early decades of the last century. Oswald Spengler in the Decline of the West laments the ossification or deadening of culture in Europe in the same period. Hitler and Mussolini, and the conflict that convulsed Europe during two World Wars were all symptoms of this twilight phenomenon. It is Hitler, and not Ram or Rahim, who comes to our mind when we see or hear Togadia and his comrades speak.

Sane Indian thinkers insisted all along that the glorification of conflict was a sign of cultural regression. Tagore dreamt of an India that would not be broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls and Gandhiji strove to promote Hindu-Muslim unity risking his life. Until a few decades ago, even thinkers sympathetic to the Hindutva cause were clear on this historical truth. In his lectures on "integrated humanism" (April, 1965) Deen Dayal Upadhyaya argued, "Unity in diversity and the expression of unity in various forms have remained the central thought of Bharatiya culture. Conflict is not a sign of culture or nature: rather it is a symptom of their degradation."

It is in this context that we need to see Hindutva's mission to infuse the heart of India with conflict and hate. The Gujarat riots are, in that sense, not a regional but a national tragedy to which those who cherish Indian culture and spirituality cannot remain indifferent. Gujarat was turned into a laboratory for the glorification of conflict. The trishul diksha that seeks to export this regressive experiment to the rest of India is an assault on our culture and Hindu spirituality. How alien the spirit of Hindutva is to the ethos of Indians is obvious from the fact that, even after six decades of relentless efforts, it did not take roots in their minds. Only when dressed up in the costumes of religion, backed by massive propaganda blitz and communal gimmicks, did it begin to seem acceptable to a section of the Hindu community.

Keeping Indo-Pak relations at the boiling point has been the survival kit for Hindutva as an ideology of conflict. In this, its protagonists are hugely indebted to their communal country cousins across the border. If only Pakistan were to act sensibly, that country would not aid and abet the Hindutva agenda. If the current quest for a breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations does not succeed, Pakistan may net an unwitting victory — not over our army but over the spirit of India. It would enable Hindutva to over-run India, plunge the sub-continent into bloodshed and poverty, and corrupt Hinduism and Indian culture beyond repair.

For that reason alone, if not for a thousand others, Vajpayee's initiative for disinfecting the subcontinent of conflict and violence needs to succeed. But only time will prove whether or not he has the stature and the freedom to pursue this agenda that is contrary to the Sangh's ideological bias. The PM today faces the ultimate test of his stature as the poet-statesman. A breakthrough in the Indo-Pak imbroglio has to be as much an exercise in creativity as in statesmanship.

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