India Today - - EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

Iam not a very re­li­gious per­son, though I was born a Hindu. I do cel­e­brate the fes­ti­vals and follow most of the rit­u­als. My fa­ther was a fol­lower of the Arya Sa­maj and we had ha­vans on all aus­pi­cious oc­ca­sions, a tra­di­tion I con­tinue to this day. I was born in Pak­istan and grow­ing up in newly in­de­pen­dent India, dif­fer­ences of re­li­gion, caste or eth­nic­ity were not some­thing I was aware of. We were taught to re­spect ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of their roots. Some may call me de­ra­ci­nated, and I have to con­fess I still do not know my go­tra, but I be­lieve the great­est qual­ity of Hin­duism is its lib­er­al­ism and its plu­ral­ity. It is those qual­i­ties that are un­der threat to­day, as who we pray to and how we pray be­comes politi­cised.

Where there is re­li­gion, can pol­i­tics be far be­hind? This un­holy al­liance is ru­in­ing the world. Our democ­racy has been weak­ened by vote bank pol­i­tics. The most ob­vi­ous man­i­fes­ta­tion of this is the cul­ture of ap­pease­ment of mi­nori­ties prac­tised by the Congress party in the 49 years it ruled the coun­try since in­de­pen­dence. The ag­gres­sive as­ser­tion of Hin­duism, oth­er­wise termed as Hindutva, that we are wit­ness­ing to­day is a back­lash to this. As the BJP’s Vi­nay Sa­hasrabud­dhe writ­ing in this is­sue says, “it has spurred a mind­less com­pe­ti­tion to get the tag of mi­nori­ties”. This is not the way for­ward if we are to build an eq­ui­table so­ci­ety. The dis­ad­van­taged should be helped re­gard­less of caste, creed or re­li­gion. It will hap­pen only if we stop mix­ing pol­i­tics with re­li­gion and pre­vent ex­trem­ists from rad­i­cal­is­ing faith.

Congress MP Shashi Tha­roor’s new book, Why I am a Hindu, puts up­front a crit­i­cal is­sue of our time—the dif­fer­ence be­tween Hin­duism and Hindutva. While Hin­duism has a dis­tinct cul­tural ethos with a com­mon his­tory, com­mon lit­er­a­ture and com­mon civil­i­sa­tion, Hindutva be­lieves In­dian na­tion­al­ism is the same as Hindu na­tion­al­ism, and that non-Hin­dus must ac­knowl­edge their Hindu parent­age or con­vert to Hin­duism to re­turn to their true cul­tural roots. Hindutva main­tains that Hin­dus need to pre­serve and pro­tect their re­li­gion and cul­ture against the on­slaught of a hos­tile, alien world. It is in­se­cu­rity that drives this sen­ti­ment rather than strength, which is what Swami Vivekanand­a, who can only be de­scribed as the first rock star of Hin­duism, be­lieved in. I be­lieve Hin­duism teaches us to live amidst a va­ri­ety of other iden­ti­ties, and to do any­thing dif­fer­ently would be, as Tha­roor notes, a par­ti­tion of the soul, after the par­ti­tion of the soil.

In the best tra­di­tions of the re­li­gion, we have in­vited re­puted schol­ars, ide­o­logues and politi­cians to de­bate the is­sue. There is for­mer BJP gen­eral sec­re­tary, K.N. Govin­dacharya, who be­lieves Hindutva means Hin­duness and not Hindu na­tion­al­ism in the Western sense; for­mer West Ben­gal gover­nor Gopalkr­ishna Gandhi says the free­dom of a Hindu to self-de­fine his or her dharma is the great­est as­set of Hin­duism; nov­el­ist Ki­ran Na­garkar calls out the Sangh pari­var for oblit­er­at­ing the in­her­ent in­clu­sive values of Hin­duism; while the best­selling au­thor Dev­dutt Pat­tanaik ex­poses the myth of the wounded Hindu, tor­mented by a thou­sand years of slav­ery at the hands of the in­vaders.

There is much more. Some of it is de­spon­dent, such as au­thor and trans­la­tor Ar­shia Sat­tar’s ar­gu­ment that the dis­tinc­tion be­tween Hin­duism as plu­ral and Hindutva as sin­gu­lar is be­ing lost at the hands of the newly em­pow­ered lo­cal gate­keep­ers of Hin­duism and ac­tive pro­po­nents of a Hindu rash­tra. For a multi-cul­tural coun­try like India to be di­vided on the ba­sis of re­li­gion is a recipe for dis­as­ter. But I re­main hope­ful. After all, which other re­li­gion in the world can say that it does not claim to be the only true one?

India To­day cover, Feb 4, 2002

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