Hindutva Re­vis­ited

Southasia - - CONTENTS - The writer works as a re­searcher for ma­ter­nal and child health projects.

Book Ti­tle: Bharatiya Janata Party and the In­dian Mus­lims

Au­thor: Muham­mad Mujeeb Afzal

Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press

Pages: 484, Hard­back

Price: Rs.995

ISBN: 9780199069972

Re­viewed by Dr. Omar Fa­rooq

To most peo­ple, the name of the Bharatiya Janata Party - one of the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties of In­dia - is syn­ony­mous with Hindu na­tion­al­ism (Hindutva), lit­tle re­gard for mi­nori­ties, shun­ning of sec­u­lar­ism and en­cour­age­ment of Hindu mil­i­tant doc­trines, es­pe­cially in the con­text of its as­so­ci­a­tion with the rightwing Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS).

Re­gard­less of the preva­lent im­age of the BJP over the years, the party has proved it­self a wor­thy po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­sary for the Congress, par­tic­u­larly in the elec­tions, and has man­aged to find its way into the power cor­ri­dors of New Delhi. The BJP’s rise has given birth to nu­mer­ous ques­tions in the minds of po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts, re­searchers and the gen­eral pub­lic. What is the party’s out­look? Is it a threat to In­dia’s sec­u­lar­ism, its com­pos­ite cul­ture and no­tions of a lib­eral democ­racy? What is its re­la­tion­ship with mi­nor­ity groups of In­dia? Does it want the Mus­lims and other In­dian mi­nori­ties (Sikhs and Chris­tians, etc.) to adopt ‘Hindu’ cul­ture? Muham­mad Mujeeb Afzal has tried to an­swer th­ese ques­tions (in ad­di­tion to many more) in his book ‘Bharatiya Janata Party and the In­dian Mus­lims.’

Afzal’s book is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it con­tains use­ful facts, fig­ures and ref­er­ences and also for its well-or­ga­nized con­tent. The au­thor has touched on three phases of In­dian pol­i­tics - the Bri­tish Raj, the post-in­de­pen­dence Con­gress­dom­i­nated pe­riod and the postin­de­pen­dence BJP-dom­i­nated time. The book sys­tem­at­i­cally nar­rates facts, start­ing with the first chap­ter ti­tled ‘Con­struc­tion of In­dian iden­ti­ties’. There is a de­tailed over­view of the party’s out­look, its iden­tity, how it views the Mus­lims and fi­nally its stints in power.

The book also of­fers a unique in­sight into the mind­set of the In­dian Mus­lims, es­pe­cially their think­ing dur­ing the long years of Bri­tish rule, the views of the Mus­lim no­bil­ity of that time, the over­all per­cep­tion (of both the no­bil­ity and the com­mon­ers), of their role in In­dian pol­i­tics and where they see them­selves in the con­text of the Mus­lim Ummah.

The book high­lights three schools of thought. The first be­lieves that the Mus­lims and Hin­dus are two com­pletely dif­fer­ent na­tions with dif­fer­ent ways of life. The sec­ond con­cen­trates more on the rea­sons for an­tag­o­nism be­tween the two re­li­gions. This school re­gards Is­lam as the re­li­gion that was in­tro­duced by Mus­lim in­vaders who en­slaved and sub­ju­gated the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

The third school ad­vo­cates that re­li­gion and tra­di­tional val­ues were used by both Hin­dus and Mus­lims as ‘tools’ to fur­ther ad­vance their in­ter­ests and to re-es­tab­lish their hold over the ever-chang­ing po­lit­i­cal land­scape of the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent.

Afzal very cor­rectly high­lights a ma­jor game-changer for both com­mu­ni­ties - the Bri­tish Raj. Bri­tish rule and its laws had a very def­i­nite ef­fect on the way things were run in the sub­con­ti­nent. English be­came the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment lan­guage in 1837. The Bri­tish Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­quired well-ed­u­cated, English-speak­ing In­di­ans to run many of their ser­vices, es­pe­cially at the cler­i­cal and mid-of­fice lev­els. This re­sulted in the emer­gence of English-ori­ented schools and in­sti­tutes all over the sub­con­ti­nent with a large num­ber of In­di­ans en­rolling in them en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. Although the Hin­dus were more ea­ger to take up th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties, the Mus­lims also joined the fray soon, mainly due to the ef­forts of Mus­lim schol­ars like Syed Ahmed Khan.

Th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties led to bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and job prospects for both groups and soon the mid­dle class Hin­dus and Mus­lims ended up de­riv­ing ben­e­fits from them. The Hindu and Mus­lim mid­dle classes also caught on to the Raj’s con­cepts and prin­ci­ples about the econ­omy, ed­u­ca­tion and pol­i­tics. The ear­lier dom­i­na­tion of Hindu Brah­mins and Mus­lim no­bles in the power cor­ri­dors (by virtue of hav­ing bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and jobs) was threat­ened by the emer­gence of this new mid­dle class. On both sides, this group was shap­ing its be­liefs around the Bri­tish/Euro­pean sys­tem of jus­tice, ed­u­ca­tion and pol­i­tics which had pro­vided them an op­por­tu­nity to make their pres­ence felt in In­dian pol­i­tics.

This emerg­ing mid­dle class tried to strengthen its po­si­tion by form­ing var­i­ous an­ju­mans and caste/ com­mu­nity-based as­so­ci­a­tions. The pur­pose of th­ese groups was to pro­tect the com­mu­nity’s in­ter­ests while em­pha­siz­ing on their tra­di­tional iden­ti­ties. The or­ga­ni­za­tions fur­ther de­vel­oped into pres­sure groups that would force the im­ple­men­ta­tion

of tra­di­tions that were con­sid­ered sa­cred to a spe­cific com­mu­nity. A prime ex­am­ple given in the book is that of the cow pro­tec­tion so­ci­eties in Ut­tar Pradesh which worked to­wards ban­ning slaugh­ter houses in the state. Fur­ther­more, the Raj’s in­sis­tence on re­main­ing neu­tral in re­li­gious mat­ters served as a ‘gap’ where th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions could step in, pa­tron­ize cer­tain so­cial, re­li­gious and tra­di­tional prac­tices and cre­ate a new foothold for them­selves.

The con­cept of ‘Hindutva’ ini­tially rose from the ef­forts of re­form­ers such as Raja Ram Mo­han Raj, Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo Gosh and Swami Dayanand Saraswati. They were in­stru­men­tal in sug­gest­ing that the emerg­ing mod­ern value sys­tem (in­tro­duced by the Raj) should be adapted to pre­serve the core Hindu tra­di­tions.

In or­der to add le­git­i­macy to this con­cept, a myth of the golden age of the Vedic era of Hin­duism was high­lighted. This phi­los­o­phy was used as a ref­er­ence to jus­tify a set of pro­posed so­cio-cul­tural re­forms. It was ar­gued that Hin­duism in its pure form de­nounced idol wor­ship­ping, caste sys­tem and ill treat­ment of women. More­over, th­ese were stated to be ac­cre­tions to the orig­i­nal ‘pure’ re­li­gion. It was fur­ther stated that Hin­duism in its pure form was equal to Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity, if not su­pe­rior. The con­cept of Shuddhi (pu­rifi­ca­tion) was also in­tro­duced to re­con­vert Mus­lims and Sikhs to the Hindu re­li­gion

Ex­cerpts from the Bhagvat Geeta and Upan­ishads scrip­tures were uti­lized as ref­er­ences while per­son­al­i­ties like Shivaji and Rana Pratab Singh were prop­a­gated as he­roes. Bod­ies like Arya Samaj were put to­gether by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who stressed that the orig­i­nal Hindu spir­i­tu­al­ity and cul­ture had all the ‘an­swers’ re­quired. The process had three cat­e­gories: 1) Se­lec­tion, 2) Ma­nip­u­la­tion and 3) Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Th­ese philoso­phies served as build­ing blocks of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) which fur­ther broad­ened its base and be­came the Bharatiya Janata Party. Un­der the lead­er­ship of Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee, the party based its ide­ol­ogy in five com­mit­ments: pro­mo­tion of In­dian na­tion­al­ism, na­tional in­te­gra­tion, democ­racy, pos­i­tive sec­u­lar­ism and value-based pol­i­tics.

The BJP un­der Va­j­payee also stressed on the con­cept of Gand­hian so­cial­ism and hu­man lib­er­al­ism. Later, with Lal Kr­ishna Ad­vani at the helm, the fo­cus was more on prag­ma­tism and pos­i­tive sec­u­lar­ism. Ad­vani ar­gued that Hindu phi­los­o­phy and re­li­gion was sec­u­lar in na­ture since it had no or­ga­nized church. This was to be high­lighted and no re­li­gious com­mu­nity was to get any spe­cial pref­er­ences of any sort.

It is through uti­liz­ing th­ese re­forms that the BJP has ex­panded its power base. It has fo­cused on the in­clu­sion of mid­dle class Hin­dus and ex­ploited the Congress’ weak­ness to gain fur­ther po­lit­i­cal ground. The party has in­deed be­come a ma­jor force in In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal do­main.

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