In­di­vid­ual free­dom is cen­tral to Hindu ethos

Hin­duness is di­alec­ti­cal, but im­pe­rial de­sire does not come nat­u­rally to the Hindu.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

Go­ing by his re­cent state­ments to the me­dia, it ap­pears that Shashi Tha­roor has not taken the trou­ble to un­der­stand Hin­dutva or Hin­duism. He calls the lat­ter “an in­clu­sive faith”. In­clu­sive, ac­cord­ing to the Ox­ford Dictionary means “not ex­clud­ing any sec­tion of so­ci­ety or any party”. Hin­dutva, which means Hin­duness, as an ex­pres­sion, be­gan to be used first by Raj Narain Bose, the ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther of Sri Aurobindo, re­port­edly in 1863. But this should not lead any­one to be­lieve that it is so re­cent a con­cept. Its seed was sown 3,400 years ago by Sri Kr­ishna, who dreamt of a united In­dia and who sent his mes­sage as far as the present day Waziris­tan in the north, Ma­nipur in the east and Tamil Nadu in the south. The ba­sic in­spi­ra­tion be­hind it was that the whole of In­dia, de­spite its di­ver­sity, was es- sen­tially one. Hin­dutva is of­ten re­ferred to as cul­tural na­tion­al­ism to dis­tin­guish it from any re­li­gious im­pli­ca­tions. The cen­tral thrust of this con­cept is na­tional unity.

There is, as yet, no ac­cepted method of con­vert­ing a Mus­lim, Chris­tian or a Jew to Hin­duism. It was only in the 19th cen­tury that Swami Dayanand Saraswati re­vived the “shud­dhi move­ment” whereby any­one, who or whose fore­fa­ther was a Hindu but had got con­verted, could be brought back to his orig­i­nal faith—which is lately re­ferred to as ghar wapsi. Many an ob­sta­cle was placed in the path of shud­dhi so that it would not suc­ceed. For ex­am­ple, Swami Dayanand’s dis­tin­guished suc­ces­sor Swami Shrad­dhanand was stabbed to death in his sickbed by one Ab­dul Rashid in 1927. Gand­hiji de­scribed Rashid, af­ter his crime, as “my brother”. Dr Asaf Ali, a ded­i­cated Con­gress­man and a friend of Jawa­har­lal Nehru, was de­puted to de­fend Rashid in court. Nev­er­the­less, Rashid was con­demned to death by hang­ing. Tha­roor’s claim of Hindu faith be­ing in­clu­sive could be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion if he were to mean that Hin­dutva is di­alec­ti­cal, be­cause even state poli­cies can be drawn from its core, rather like yarn and cloth from a sliver of cot­ton. That is how very re­cently this writer and his col­league were able to pro­duce a book on “Kr­ishna Ra­jya”.

The Hindu ethos con­sid­ers the in­di­vid­ual as supremely im­por­tant. So­ci­ety and the state ex­ist for the in­di­vid­ual. Two of the three well known Hindu paths for the pur­suit of mukti or sal­va­tion, namely the bhakti and the jnana yo­gas, by­pass so­ci­ety. For, one can be pur­sued through de­vo­tion or wor­ship, with or with­out a tem­ple; whereas the other can be prac­tised by thought and meditation within or with­out an ashram. Karma yoga is the only path which must tran­sit through so­ci­ety. Hin­duism does not need a com­pre­hen­sive code or mes­sage, or, for that mat­ter, an au­thor­i­ta­tive scrip­ture, nei­ther book nor manifesto.

Self ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion (self improve­ment or ful­fil­ment), rather than so­cial per­for­mance, is the cen­tral theme of Hin­duism. The in­di­vid­ual is free not only to pur­sue his own goal, but also to cul­ti­vate any of his own ap­ti­tudes and in or­der to ful­fil him­self he may com­pete with his fel­low be­ings or he may not. Nei­ther com­par­i­son nor com­pe­ti­tion is in­duced by his faith. In other words, he does not have to run the rat race of suc­cess. He can eas­ily make hap­pi­ness his goal through self-ful­fil­ment, as dis­tinct from suc­cess.

Con­cep­tu­ally then, the av­er­age Hindu has lit­tle or lim­ited in­ter­est in su­per­in­tend­ing or con­trol­ling his com­mu­nity or, for that mat­ter, any­one else’s. This ex­plains why Hin­duism has never had, un­like Chris­tian­ity, a net­work or hi­er­ar­chy of priests. Priests, or pu­jaris are usu­ally con­fined to the in­di­vid­ual tem­ple. Nor is there any mode or method of in­duc­ing oth­ers to be­come Hin­dus. The ques­tion of Hin­duism con­trol­ling the state or gov­ern­ment can never, there­fore, arise. The ques­tion of con­quer­ing and colonis­ing the ter­ri­tory of oth­ers is ir­rel­e­vant. Im­pe­rial am­bi­tions do not come nat­u­rally to the Hindu.

The Hindu in­cli­na­tion is to leave peo­ple alone. This pref­er­ence for non-in­ter­fer­ence dis­cour­ages any ten­dency in the Hindu to­wards au­toc­racy or dic­ta­tor­ship. To that ex­tent, the av­er­age Hindu is amenable to democ­racy. He is ready to con­cede the free­dom of oth­ers to have a say in their af­fairs. It fol­lows that he dis­ap­proves of in­ter­ven­tion in his style of life. Nor does cen­tral­i­sa­tion fit in with the Hindu psy­che.

The Hindu’s pref­er­ence for non-vi­o­lence, how­ever, is rooted in the be­lief that ev­ery liv­ing be­ing car­ries a part, how­ever minute, of the par­matma. The the­ory of sam­sara or trans­mi­gra­tion only re­in­forces the Hindu re­luc­tance to hurt or to kill. Car­ried to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion, the jee­vatma of one’s de­parted par­ents or grand- par­ents could be re­sid­ing in the body of any an­i­mal, bird or hu­man be­ing. This makes vi­o­lence gen­er­ally re­pug­nant. The pref­er­ence for a vege­tar­ian diet is a corol­lary of this re­pug­nance. True, the op­po­site of vi­o­lence is more than just non-vi­o­lence. It is tol­er­ance or a ready ac­cep­tance of the rights of oth­ers to do their things in their own way. Vi­o­lence re­sults from in­tol­er­ance of the ways of oth­ers. This ex­plains why, in many ways, Hin­duness and tol­er­ance are syn­ony­mous.

Can state poli­cies flow from this phi­los­o­phy? The an­swer is yes, be­cause Hin­duness is di­alec­ti­cal. It has the po­ten­tial to be­come a main­spring from which can flow poli­cies ap­pro­pri­ate with chang­ing times. It has al­ready been said that im­pe­rial de­sire does not come nat­u­rally to the Hindu. A coun­try that does not have any de­sire to dom­i­nate an­other, can only have a for­eign pol­icy that is con­fined to the main­te­nance of cor­dial re­la­tions with other coun­tries so that no coun­try is eas­ily pro­voked to at­tack. Its cit­i­zens across the world can then en­joy re­spect and pro­tec­tion and its in­ter­na­tional com­merce would flow safely. Such a for­eign pol­icy needs a mil­i­tary back­ing de­signed essen­tially for de­fence, as dis­tinct from of­fen­sive wars. The borders, the coast­line and the skies over the coun­try only have to be se­cured against ag­gres­sion.

At home, the pol­icy would lend it­self to de­cen­tralised gov­er­nance. Just as the indi- vid­ual is free to self ac­tu­alise him­self/her­self, ev­ery lit­tle re­gion of the coun­try too should be al­lowed to ful­fil it­self. We have seen that one of the foun­da­tions of Hin­duness is lib­erty. It fol­lows nat­u­rally that it would favour de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion. Hindu wor­ship has set the ex­am­ple by, more or less, each tem­ple or muth be­ing self-man­aged. It is sel­dom part of an ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal net­work or hi­er­ar­chy of priests. Nor is there a pre­scribed or a com­mon for­mula of prayer. The mes­sage of Hin­dutva is in favour of a fed­eral struc­ture as well as small states and small dis­tricts.

As all liv­ing be­ings are con­sid­ered mem­bers of the Sanatani uni­verse, it fol­lows that the en­vi­ron­ment should be so pro­tected as to en­able all of them to flour­ish. The peepul tree as an ob­ject of wor­ship is sym­bolic of this con­cern for the ecol­ogy. And in its turn is the ba­sis of a pol­icy for en­vi­ron­ment. The dia­lec­tics of Hin­duness can lead one to a pref­er­ence for a free mar­ket, as dis­tinct from con­trols as­so­ci­ated with ei­ther wel­farism, so­cial­ism or com­mu­nism. Con­trol would mil­i­tate against the faith in lib­erty. There is an im­plicit prom­ise of lib­erty of each ci­ti­zen to par­tic­i­pate in the mar­ket freely. In other words, the duty of so­ci­ety, or its rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the state, is to en­sure that no ci­ti­zen takes the law into his hands and dis­turbs the lib­erty of any­one else. To this ex­tent, the state must take in­ter­est in the run­ning of the econ­omy. Ahead of the 2019 Par­lia­men­tary polls, the grow­ing clam­our for the con­struc­tion of a tem­ple at the dis­puted site in Ay­o­d­hya, clearly in­di­cates that the RSS re­poses more faith in Lord Ram than it has in the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is not with­out a rea­son that com­menc­ing from the Sarsanghcha­lak, Mo­han Bhag­wat, to the or­di­nary vol­un­teer of the Sangh, the pitch is be­com­ing shriller by the day. The sen­ti­ment is be­ing echoed even by some BJP lead­ers, who have been mak­ing para­dox­i­cal dec­la­ra­tions, by stat­ing that the Mandir would be built within the frame­work of the Con­sti­tu­tion, while de­mand­ing the set­tle­ment of the is­sue through an or­di­nance or an en­act­ment of a law by Par­lia­ment.

Ut­tar Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter, Yogi Adityanath has taken it upon him­self to spear­head the cam­paign and has with ready alacrity re­named Faiz­abad; it is now Ay­o­d­hya. On Deep­avali he was in the city re­it­er­at­ing that the Ram tem­ple al­ways ex­isted, notwith­stand­ing its des­e­cra­tion by Mus­lim in­vaders, led by Babur, the first Mughal Em­peror. He called upon all In­di­ans to light a diya in the name of Lord Ram, quite over­look­ing the fact that the sa­cred fes­ti­val of Di­wali is cel­e­brated to mark the Lord’s re­turn to Ay­o­d­hya af­ter van­quish­ing evil, rep­re­sented by Ra­van.

It is ev­i­dent that the Sangh Pari­var is un­der tremen­dous pres­sure from sad­hus and sants, who were given the as­sur­ance be­fore the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions, and later again prior to the Ut­tar Pradesh Assem­bly polls, that if elected to power, the BJP would ful­fil its long-stand­ing vow of con­struct­ing the Mandir. With four and a half years gone by and with the Par­lia­men­tary con­fronta­tion round the cor­ner, the Sangh has once again de­cided to high­light the is­sue, which was men­tioned as a foot­note in the BJP’s 2014 poll manifesto, that spoke about good gov­er­nance and de­vel­op­ment as its salient fea­tures.

There is no deny­ing that since the BJP as­sumed power, a num­ber of pro­duc­tive pro­grammes have been put into ac­tion, yet in the Sangh’s es­ti­ma­tion, the only plank that would fur­nish them a fight­ing chance in the forth­com­ing elec­tions would be a Ram tem­ple. In or­der to as­sist the BJP, it would work in whip­ping up emo­tional fer­vour amongst the Hin­dus and lead to the to­tal po­lar­i­sa­tion of com­mu­ni­ties. The well-cal­cu­lated de­mand co­in­cides with the Maha Kumbh in Al­la­habad in early 2019 and thus the ex­pec­ta­tion is that the highly emo­tive quo­tient would clinch the polls for the Sangh Pari­var.

The over­all tenor and tone of Sangh rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­mand­ing the Ram tem­ple is both in­tim­i­dat­ing and por­trays po­lit­i­cal in­se­cu­rity. In the as­sess­ment of the Sangh, it is ob­vi­ous that “Brand Ram” would be far more al­lur­ing than any other mar­ket­ing la­bel and would pos­si­bly draw a wedge amongst op­po­si­tion par­ties and their pro­posed unity to com­bat the BJP. This cal­cu­la­tion, in a man­ner, is an open ad­mis­sion re­gard­ing the in­abil­ity of the BJP, as a party, to in­flu­ence the vot­ers on ac­count of their pro­jected achieve­ments and per­for­mance.

Adityanath cer­tainly is in a dilemma when he talks about the con­struc­tion of a mam­moth statue of Lord Ram in Ay­o­d­hya in ad­di­tion to the pro­posed Ram Mandir. Need­less to say, most In­di­ans would want that the Ram tem­ple should be built in the city near river Saryu. Once the tem­ple is in its place, it would de­ci­sively be­come a ven­er­ated des­ti­na­tion for pil­grims from around the globe. How­ever, the tem­ple alone would not be suf­fi­cient to cater to the other prac­ti­cal needs of the cit­i­zens. For that to hap­pen, the gov­ern­ments at the Cen­tre and in the states would need to have vi­ably work­able schemes for the gen­eral masses.

The pol­i­tics of stat­ues would re­quire the BJP state gov­ern­ment to have an idol of Lord Ram which would have to be the tallest in the world, and def­i­nitely many scales higher than that of Sar­dar Pa­tel, which was un­veiled on 31 Oc­to­ber, in mem­ory of In­de­pen­dent In­dia’s first Home Min­is­ter and an iconic free­dom fighter. How this would be ac­tu­alised, and how it would be funded, is a mat­ter that lies in the do­main of those who have been con­cep­tu­al­is­ing the project.

Un­doubt­edly, the Ram tem­ple in Ay­o­d­hya would ap­peal to the spir­i­tual side of most Hin­dus. The vi­tal bread and but­ter is­sues, be­sides other func­tional needs that con­cern us all, have to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously ad­dressed to make the con­struc­tion of Ram tem­ple rel­e­vant and con­se­quen­tial. Recog­nis­ing that Hin­dus revered Lord Ram as one of their most hal­lowed Gods, the Mus­lims in a good­will ges­ture should con­cede to this be­lief. The only prob­lem is that at this stage, the Supreme Court is seized of the case, and un­less it de­liv­ers its ver­dict, there is noth­ing that can be done about it.

The threat of re­cre­at­ing a 1992 type frenzy by drum­ming up the Ram tem­ple is­sue shortly be­fore 6 De­cem­ber, when the dis­puted struc­ture was razed to the ground by kar se­vaks, is solely go­ing to gen­er­ate al­ready height­ened ten­sions. The Sangh Pari­var is act­ing on the pre­sump­tion that it alone rep­re­sents the in­ter­ests of all Hin­dus and ev­ery­one else is in­signif­i­cant. At the same time, the Sangh vi­su­alises an ak­hand, ro­bust and united In­dia. In fact, the only method of strength­en­ing the co­he­sive­ness of the coun­try is to shun the dan­ger­ous pol­i­tics of com­mu­nal­ism and casteism by re­spect­ing and up­hold­ing di­ver­sity. If this were to hap­pen, it would be true Ram Ra­jya. Be­tween us.

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