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It's Bharatiyata, not Hindutva!

By Colonel ANIL A ATHALE (retd)
January 30, 2020 19:23 IST
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It is time the current leaders who swear by 'cultural nationalism', that is religion neutral, assert that Bharatiyata is at the core of our nationalism and India was never a 'Hindu Rashtra', argues Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

Photograph: Ajay Verma/Reuters.

The real shot in the arm for and wide propagation of the concept of a 'Hindu Rashtra' began in 1942 at the height of World War II.

The Allied powers faced their most critical moment of the war in August 1942.

The Germans were at the gates of Stalingrad in the USSR.

All of Europe was already under the Germans.

Hitler had formed a battle group India, to reach India via Afghanistan.

The Japanese were the masters of the Pacific Ocean and the Bay of Bengal had become a Japanese lake.

Many political leaders, including Gandhi, felt that the Axis may well be victors and did not wish India to be on the losing side.

At that critical moment, he launched his Quit India movement.

It was at that time that Mohammed Ali Jinnah seized the opportunity, promised full support to the British war effort in return for Pakistan.

The Pakistan that Jinnah envisaged consisted of most of North India, with an unbroken link between Muslim majority Punjab and Bengal.

It was to counter this prospect that organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh raised the demand for a Hindu Rashtra, that was to consist of Hindu majority areas.

The demand for a Hindu Rashtra was clearly a reaction to the demand for Pakistan.

The ideology of a Hindu Rashtra and a demand for it was clearly in the context of the events of the 1940s or, as the Germans describe it, zeitgeist or 'spirit of the times'.

For all intents and purposes, the separation of Muslim majority provinces in the west and east was a done deal the moment Jinnah came to the rescue of Allied powers at a critical time.

The tide of war soon turned with the German defeat at Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and the Allied victory in the battle of the Midway islands where American airpower destroyed most Japanese aircraft carriers.

After 1943, it was not whether but when the superior resources of the Allies would lead to victory.

It is one of the big 'ifs' of recent history: Should Gandhi and Congress have accepted the Cripps Mission (and the Colonel Johnson proposal sent by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and possibly averted the separation of Punjab and Bengal?

The answer is not unambiguous.

Possibly the events of 1947 could have been delayed, but not averted.

Even more insidiously, the British granted 'freedom' to 462 princely states as well.

As per Winston Churchill's calculation, in that scenario Pakistan would have emerged as the strongest State on the Indian subcontinent and in Churchill's words, the eventual conquest of the south by the Muslim dominated north.

It is thanks to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel that the rest of India was unified and has remained so for more than 72 years while Pakistan broke into two nations.

Post-1947, India continued be a non-denominational republic. The word 'secular' was only added in 1976.

The Indian State, by remaining 'secular' in 1947, was a continuation of its civilisational ethos and not because of some great wisdom of the founding fathers.

Unlike Kemal Ataturk's Turkey, it was not an imposition from above, but an expression of the grassroots way of life.

India has a diverse mix of ethnicities, yet a distinct subcontinental identity is visible.

Nations and States are formed on the basis of ethnicity, language, religion, culture, geography, shared historical memories, and ideology. Each of these factors has a different value at different times.

At the time of the separation of Muslim majority provinces in 1947, religion dominated to the exclusion of all other factors.

In 1971, in the case of undivided Pakistan, language, culture and geography led to the separation of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh.

Another interesting facet of the Indian past are strong regional identities -- Sindhis, Telugus, Tamils, Bengalis, which are older than Christianity and Islam.

Many of these distinct identities go back to the Mahabharat era (accepted to be around 1500 BC). That war was fought not between the Kauravas and Pandavas, but between two coalitions.

India has seldom been a centralised State unlike China which is its civilisational counterpart. The Indian concept of political unity was rule by Chakravarti or head of the strongest state exercising suzerainty. Digvijay or Ashwamedh were peaceful methods to integrate the subcontinent.

The federal State structure in India partially mimics this past. But keeping in view the cost of a lack of a powerful central military, the Indian Republic has maintained a strong central military force.

Given these historical facts and an intelligent reading of Indian history, why does the false bogey of a 'Hindu Rashtra' keep raising its head periodically?

The answer to that is that the successors to Veer Savarkar's ideology have failed to accept that the concept of a Hindu Rashtra was a need of the time and has long gone past its date of expiry.

Savarkar himself led by example by disbanding Abhinav Bharat post-Independence, saying there was no need any more for a revolutionary armed organisation like it.

The ruling ideology of independent India is Bharatiyata, whereby anyone who is born here and is loyal to the country is a Bharatiya.

The Indian concept of nationalism is territorial as ideological.

Some of the current crop of leaders have gone around calling all Indians, born here, as Hindus.

The reluctance to accept the territorial concept of Bharat is due to the long period of being in the intellectual dog house and the rigidity born out of a defensive mentality.

Unfortunately, that term Hindu, rightly or wrongly, has acquired religious overtones today. Forget Christians and Muslims, even followers of Indic faiths like Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs, do not accept being called Hindus.

To hark back to the ancient past and say at one time all Indians were Hindus is like the Israelis saying all Middle Easterners are Jews because at one time they were so. By that token, at an even older time we were all cavemen!

It is time that the current leaders who swear by cultural nationalism, that is religion neutral, assert that Bharatiyata is at the core of our nationalism and India was never a 'Hindu Rashtra' and never will be in future and lay the ghost of the past to rest.

Thus, they will be showing themselves true to the Vedic concepts of Vishva Bandhutva (universal brotherhood) -- India's gift to the world.

With inputs from Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd).

Colonel Anil A Athale is a military historian.

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Colonel ANIL A ATHALE (retd)