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Will Modi Make India A Hindu Rashtra In 3rd Term?

February 08, 2024 10:44 IST
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Those who continue to think that the 2024 election will see the BJP pursuing a more militant line are being alarmist, argues Rajeev Mantri.
The BJP, Mantri believes, is not about to shoot itself in the foot.
If anything, he says, the BJP may be more inclined to push a harder secularism.

A revealing excerpt from Rahul Shivshankar and Siddhartha Talya's book, Modi & India: 2024 and the Battle for Bharat.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat at the pran pratishta ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, January 22, 2024. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

In September 2018, Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS sarsangchalak, held a three-day lecture series in Delhi titled The Future of Bharat.

Bhagwat spoke of the RSS's acceptance of, and allegiance to, the Indian Constitution and its Preamble, which he read out, including the word 'secular' (introduced in 1976), before adding: 'Dr Ambedkar had said in the Constituent Assembly that it was because of our internecine fighting that the foreigners won and made us their slaves. I am only giving the gist of what he had said. You can very well read the details of it in his words. He [Dr Ambedkar] said: We are sitting in warring camps as mutual enemies. And the limitation of our system should be blamed for it. If we fail to create such a fraternal feeling, I can't say what sort of fate awaits us.'

Acknowledging the truth in Ambedkar's assessment and their implication for India's unity, Bhagwat went about reassuring his listeners while simultaneously positing a formulation to uphold fraternity:

'The Sangh is engaged in creating this fraternity and only unity in diversity can be the basis of this fraternity. This thought process that has come down to us by tradition is called Hindutva. Hence, we say that ours is a Hindu Rashtra.

'This does not mean that there should be no Muslims here. The day we say Muslims are not required here Hindutva will be lost.

'Hindutva speaks about viewing the entire world as a family. So, the moment we say only the Vedas are acceptable and the Buddhists, who do not recognize the Vedas, are not acceptable, Hindutva will be lost. Because, in our nation, we have incessantly been in the pursuit of truth and all these spiritual systems have arisen out of this process.

'So, all these are respectable and deserve to be respected. This is the conviction of all of us and it should be so.

'As Hindutva is the only source that provides the feeling of fraternity with an ideological foundation, we have been following it.'


IMAGE: Bhagwat applies tilak to the statue of Bharat Mata after hoisting the National Flag on Republic Day at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, January 26, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Bhagwat also sought to dispel any notion that there was an attempt to impose a larger Hindu identity on non-Hindus.

He said that they were free to refer to themselves as 'Bharatiya' if they so wished.

But he did say that the RSS would not hold back from referring to Indians as Hindus, as 'We feel, Hindu is the only word useful in creating the culture of our imagination and, hence, we are sticking to that word. Even if it proves a losing proposition, we are ready to bear it. Because we believe that till this word continues to exist, this nature of Bharat will never become moribund. And the people of Bharat will move forward, taking all along with them.'

And this shared Hindu identity, according to Bhagwat, was divorced from the concept of race and, most importantly, from Punyabhuu, or Holy Land.

The shared Hindu identity was instead premised on four principal meeting grounds: 'By tradition, by nationality (Rashtriyata), by our motherland and by our common ancestors, we say, we are all Hindus, and we will continue to say so. However, that does not mean that we don't treat you as our own. On the contrary, we are saying it so that we can claim you as our own.

'We cannot claim you as our own based on your religion, sect, language, caste, etc. It is only possible on the basis of the motherland, the culture and the ancestors. And so, we insist on that. We consider them as the organs of our Rashtriyata (nation).'

Armed with a Hindu dharmic calling card, the RSS, led by Bhagwat, has embarked on a period of active Muslim outreach.

IMAGE: Modi and Bhagwat in conversation after the pran pratishtha ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, January 22, 2024.

Bhagwat is said to have emphasised for his Muslim audiences that the Constitution is 'sacrosanct' (perhaps implying that the word 'secular' was here to stay) and that Hindutva is an 'inclusive concept' where 'all communities have equal room'.

The last phrase is an important one. Bhagwat was keen to underline that this kind of social accommodation needs to be a two-way street.

He was keen to impress upon Muslims that in states where cow slaughter is not banned, they should 'voluntarily shun beef '.

He encourages his Muslim interlocutors to call upon their community to stop using phrases like kafir, or non-believers, so that Hindus do not feel 'othered'.

For his part, Bhagwat agreed that equally offensive terms like 'jihadi' and 'Pakistani', used by some to malign Indian Muslims, should be done away with.

The more fluid Hindutva being patented under Bhagwat is a 'dynamic and continuing process' resting on three pillars: 'Patriotism, respect for ancestors and culture', which have contributed to the growing acceptance of the RSS.

It has found the doctrinal elbow room to proclaim that, 'Our call is rooted in Rashtriyata. It is about the tradition of the Muslims, the tradition of the Christians, and of all others in Bharat.'

Another factor here, which isn't talked about much, is that the RSS had to tone down because of expediency.

The RSS's political 'special purpose vehicle' is the Bharatiya Janata Party. As the world's largest political party, it has come to represent several caste and community interests.

The Sangh's leadership is aware that the BJP's continued electoral successes depend solely on its ability to carry as many people along as it possibly can.

IMAGE: Bhagwat seeks blessings from a sadhu after the pran pratishtha ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, January 22, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In 2015, following the publication of a government advertisement that carried the original Preamble to the Constitution without the words 'socialist' and 'secular', the Opposition was up in arms.

Several critics of the Modi administration became convinced that moves were afoot to strip India of its secular identity.

The government was quick to douse the fire, with the then parliamentary affairs minister, Venkaiah Naidu, declaring that 'secularism is there in the blood of the Indian people, that's part of our culture.

It was not there in the original Preamble and was inserted during the Emergency. But the government advertisement was about the original Preamble. We are committed to secularism, and we don't have any idea to drop it.'

The BJP idolizes (Vinayak Damodar 'Veer') Savarkar and is an ideological descendant of the RSS, which it looks up to as a paternal guide. But, as a political entity in the business of governance and fighting elections, its senior leadership has been guarded about overtly describing India as a Hindu Rashtra.

Even when prompted to specifically discuss Savarkar's views describing India as a Hindu Rashtra, and whether the BJP and the Modi government saw India as one, the Union home minister, Amit Shah, in a 2019 interview, was categorical: 'Absolutely not. We believe in the Constitution, and we accept the Constitution in its spirit. In this country, all sects have complete freedom. The government has only one religion and that's the Constitution and nothing else.'

The NDA, at least for now, believes that the Preamble to our Constitution is sacrosanct. But does this also mean that a Hindu Rashtra, in a cultural sense, would never find Constitutional expression under the current government?

Rajeev Mantri, who has co-authored A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State, is of the view that those who continue to think that the 2024 election will see the BJP pursuing a more militant line are being alarmist.

Mantri believes that the BJP is not about to shoot itself in the foot. If anything, he believes that the BJP may be more inclined to push a harder secularism:

'Any other course of action [modifying the Constitution to describe India as a Hindu Rashtra], while do-able will be prone to misrepresentation ... and frankly, my fear is that we will see a good idea getting hamstrung or diluted because of overwhelming pushback with people projecting it to be something which it is not, similar to what happened with CAA ...

'Ultimately, being a secular republic means to me having the same/equally applicable laws to all citizens of India, so that is what we should aspire towards ... let's become truly secular.'

Excerpted from Modi & India: 2024 and the Battle for Bharat by Rahul Shivshankar and Siddhartha Talya, with the kind permission of the publishers, Penguin Random House India.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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