Would the ship of India be able to come out intact from the stormy waters it is caught in, is a question all those who love India are asking. They are not all necessarily Indians. For them, India has been an idea or experiment to find an idiom of sharing for a very diverse people. Existence of numerous religions, sects, languages, and customs was welcomed as a resource to build this commonality and never resented as a problem by the makers of the nation. They resisted the temptation of erasing differences to create oneness.
Indian secularism was not a mundane principle of statecraft. It was a bold attempt to negotiate the labyrinth of nation by rejecting the straight path of uniformity. Easiest thing for the Indian leaders would have been to say that Hindus were to be the benevolent patrons of Muslims and Christians for all of them were portrayed as Hindus by Jinnah. And Hindus they were, most of them at least; even Nehru called himself a Hindu.
The ambition of these leaders was to seek and realise the possibilities of transcendence latent in all of us. Transcendence does not demand dissolution of yourself but a realisation that all of us are incomplete. We strive for fullness with the agonising awareness that this is an unending journey. This is what Ramakrishna Paramhans or Lalan Fakir, Tagore or Gandhi strove for. It was always a spiritual quest. If we take liberty with the poet, India was visualised not really as an ocean in which different streams would lose themselves but as a Sagar-Teer where pilgrims of all kinds with their individualities assemble. Its beauty lay in its difficulty. India started out as a difficult experiment. The joy is in the journey and not in scoring a goal.
Indian leaders saw it as a message for the world. This is what Gandhi had in mind when he, invited by his friend Patel to douse the fire of anger and hatred devouring Delhi, told a friend that he could not give up on Delhi for if Delhi goes then India goes and then there remains no hope for the world.
The idea was not to integrate the small into the big but to create equal relationships. The scope and sweep of the imagination of India was broad, not only geographically, but psychologically too. It was to be a relaxed open space. In its beginning, it was inadequate, it had yet to develop the ability the long repressed voices of the Dalits and understand the Adivasis.There were also quarrels to happen along the way but it started off as an interesting hypothesis.
The biggest achievement of the Indian nation was its promise to the identities smaller in many ways to the Hindu identity, which loomed large over India because of the sheer number of its adherents, that they are not expected to follow it or be its vassals. Hinduism, be it religion or way of living was not to be the defining feature of India. It was this solemn promise which convinced crores of Muslims that despite Pakistan created in their name, they could find peace in India.
Why did this promise carry conviction with the Muslims who were under suspicion and attack in those turbulent days? Because they witnessed the sublime act of the leaders of the nascent nation , followers of Gandhi defending this promise with all the might of their body and soul. They fought with their co-religionists to defend this promise made to the Muslims and Christians.
It was this conviction which made Gandhi reject the proposal by Rajendra Prasad that cow slaughter should be prohibited in India in deference to the belief of the Hindus. Gandhi was very firm and unambiguous in his resolve not to let a law of this kind be made in India as it would mean imposition of a particular kind of way of life and privileging of it over other ways and habits and life styles. Gandhi, a sanatani , vegetarian and devotee of cow warned Hindus against falling in this trap of vegetarianism.
Today, when the chief minister of the state he was born in declares his intention of making Gujrat vegetarian or the home minister of India wants to make the neighbouring Bangla Deshis change their food habit, they break the promise that India was to those who live differently from the vegetarian Hindus. When the mutton shops are forcibly closed in Gurgaon under watch of the police, the constitutional principle of freedom is violated.
We do not have a Gandhi or Nehru or Patel here to chide the Hindus and make them see their folly of bullying their neighbours. The state itself has turned into a bully. Who then is to act as the safeguard? It was thought that the institutions created by the constitutional mandate would act as bulwark against any attack on this fundamental idea of India. We see them sadly inadequate to the challenge facing them.
That the Hindus take pleasure in the humiliation of Muslims and also relish the deception and duplicity with which all this done, in the name of hygiene, legality and economy, etc. reflects poorly on them. India is definitely in crisis but Hinduism is facing a greater crisis.
Muslims of India have often been lauded patronisingly for having rejected the call of Islamic state. They have invested heavily in the idea of secular India and stood by it. Can the same be said about Hindus in 2017? With them siding with a politics which marginalises minorities and seeks to subjugate them, they are losing their soul.
Gandhi had warned Hindus in his last days that if destroyed in India or Pakistan, Islam has other lands to realise its spiritual potential and flourish but if Hinduism is destroyed in India, it has no hope. By destroying others, it first destroyed itself. It can grow not by competing with others but by itself. For it to remain alive and creative spiritually it needed to constantly battle with itself and its protagonists. Gandhi was silenced not only because he favoured Pakistan or Muslims but also because he was constantly challenging Hindus. He considered it a weakness and sin for religion to align with state. For this was a lazy path. Outwardly strong but hollow of any spiritual content. Gandhi abhorred the idea of an insecure, deceptive and violent Hinduism.
After Gandhi this critical tradition in Hinduism stopped. Hinduism is not a source of creativity for literature and arts in India anymore. The references to religion we find in music and dance also demonstrate that there is no new imagination of Hinduism, it is largely a rehash or nostalgia of an imagined past. We do see modern philosophers using Islamic or Christian resources to address the dilemmas of our times. Hinduism has only pop philosophers giving sermons and churning out popular literature who ultimately build large statues of Gods or turn propagandists of the political Hindutva. It is exclusionary, inward looking and fears to engage with others.
The rise of Hindu state of India is thus also the decline and impoverishment of the promise of Hinduism. Corrosion of the state institutional structure would affect our worldly life but this unchallenged take over by the Hindutva would turn Hinduism soulless. The act of recovery of the Hindu self would not be easy then.
- Indian Express, April, 2017