The Rise of Political Hinduism

Image Source: Council on Foreign Relations

India is in the middle of a huge religious turmoil. The spoils of it produce socio-political consequences to all Indians. Religious Hinduism is on a decline and political Hinduism is rapidly taking its place then we can know and understand. How is this happening? It might be interesting to critically examine the thesis of Meera Nanda to get an insight into this the changing face of Hinduism. The title of her book, God of the Market: How globalization is making India more, makes it clear that there is an economic basis to the rise of a Hindu self assertion in contemporary India. She further deepens her position when she in the introduction of the same book states that globalization is making a world more religious and religions more political. She further states that globalization has been good for the gods as well as god’s warriors who incite violence and hate in the name of faith. This position suggests that globalization did not bring global peace but intensified conflict and strife. India is no exception to this global trend. An open economy brought about the rise of the political right almost all over the globe today. We can also notice the rise of BJP along with the pursuit of the neo-liberal economic policies in our country in the 1990s. As India liberalized and globalized itself, it opened itself to the floodgates of transformation of its religions and politics. In hindsight, we may see how post-1990s have brought about discernible changes in the texture of everyday expression of Hinduism.

India has taken its gods into a brave new world on the wings of liberalization, globalization and big communication technologies. The rising middle class of our country, belonging to the majoritarian religion, finds itself entangled into a religiosity that is adopted by the State-Temple-Corporate complex replacing the Neruvian Science, Technology and Industry led secular system. This has almost converted Hinduism as the de facto religion of a secular India which is constitutionally bound to have no official religion. In fact secularism is proudly mocked as sickular. Besides, nationalism is being narrowed down to mean simply Hindu nationalism. Somewhere along the road, religious Hinduism gave way to political Hinduism. Political Hinduism is both triumphant and intolerant in equal measures. While we wish that the global community admire our superior tolerance and non-violence of our civilisation, we seem to have left it aside and begun to tolerate intolerance and violence against religious minorities at home. This collective moral slump seems to have taken us on the road of adharma yet it has failed to disturb most among us. Meera Nanada says that the rise of this new shape of Hinduism has support from three sides: The state, temple and business. The socialist state of the Neruvian era is dead and the State-Temple-Corporate complex has filled its space. Today the cerebral Hinduism of the Vedas and the Upanishads has given way to ostentatious middle class driven ritualism which have moved from the privacy of the home and family to the public space, which is a domain of pride and prejudice, politics and pelf. Maybe we need a new upanisadian watershed to enlighten us.

All the periodic panic rants (Hinduism is in danger) of some Hindutva groups are misplaced but have their role in the re-invention of a new political Hinduism. This version of Hinduism makes room for an aggressive, triumphant and even violent self assertion. It means that one becomes more Hindu when one hates his/her other (followers of minority religion). Unfortunately, India has seen politics traded on the dead bodies. Riots and killings have failed to raise our moral quotient. Violence seems to have become a way of life that is accepted as normal by the rapidly growing new political Hinduism. We have exhibited a very high degree of toleration of poverty and indignities of castes inflicted on our masses for centuries. Sadly, the emerging new India seems to have smelt blood and increased its appetite to toleration of mob killings, riots and bloodshed of often innocent victims. This new found love of violence is not taking any one of us closer to our civilisational values that will convert India into a Visv Guru. Something has happened to us all. We have transformed our self. Meera Nanda studies our economics and lays the basis of all that is happening in our country at the door steps of our economic policies. Maybe we have to address why economic liberalism makes us all religiously conservative and violent. Perhaps, we will have to look for answers through an inter-disciplinary approach.

The rise of political Hinduism has rubbed on people of other religious persuasion and our society has become chiefly religiously political. Political Hinduism produces political Islam (other political minority religions) and vice versa. Most survey studies show that urban Indians (cutting across religions) are becoming more religious than their rural counterparts. It seems that rapid economic and technological growth produces religious fundamentalism. The issue is reaching alarming proportions as what may be called Hindukaran of the people of India is taking centre stage. Such a homogenization is certainly a loss of diversity and would eventually end into secularism without God as we saw in the West, since the monolithic Hindu self in that scenario will not have its other to recognize itself. Axel Honneth’s view on recognition may assist us here. He teaches that recognition is not atomistic. It is relational, mutual and moral. When we bury all differences/otherness and plunge into sameness, we are doomed both from the short as well as long term basis. We shall lack an inner reference point to recognise ourselves in the sea of sameness. It will provide grounds for secular otherness that stands and shines without God on the wings of economic prosperity and comforts of science and technology. This may eventually become waterloo of monoformic Hinduism. We do not have to have acumen of the prophets of doom to understand the gravity of the situation. We have an imperative to work to reverse it so as to save India and its plural conditions. God of the market is set to be exiled by the same market forces when we reach a monolithic saturation point. We may have to understand that it is only by saving the plural traditions of Hinduism that true Hinduism can be saved for the future. Moreover, it is true Hinduism that can save India. Otherwise the losses will be irreparable. We have to save Hinduism from monolithic Hindutva. It does not need it. It has and can survive without it.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao