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Nationalism, Hindu and Rashtra

Sheshadri Chari

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The terms ‘Hindu’ and ‘nationalism’ have long been contested terms. Both terms are hoary and multidimensional. There is wide debate when we talk about Hinduism, Hindutva or nationalism.
It is no surprise that one encounters seemingly antithetical assertions about the relation between the two — for example, that nationalism is intrinsically secular, and that it is intrinsically religious; that nationalism is of a fairly recent origin, and that it emerged in a period of intensified religious feeling.
Hindu nationalism has been collectively referred to as the expressions of social and political thought, based on the native spiritual and cultural traditions of historical Indian subcontinent. Some scholars have argued that the use of the term “Hindu nationalism” to refer to Hindu Raṣhṭravad is a simplistic translation and is better described by the term “Hindu polity”.
Both nationalism and Hinduism can designate a whole world of different things, any attempt to conjoin both by references to Hindu nationalism or Hindu Rashtra, or the relation between the two, are likely to be tenable, interesting, or even meaningful. It needs to be specified that while the word Hindu is an adjective, rashtra is a noun.
We have to delineate, develop, and critically engage distinct ways of studying the connection between Hinduism and nationalism. The reason is that in the context of India, both are very ancient and have a history that dates millennia.
The term rashtra cannot be conflated with the Western concept of nation, which is of a fairly recent origin, possibly not more than two hundred years. On the other hand, the term rashtra in the Hindu ethos is several millennia old. Rashtra essentially meant the society with its cultural and civilizational mores, its core beliefs, traditions, practices and also prejudices. The earlier ignorance of the prehistoric sub-continent, and of course, European colonial rule meant that historical facts of oldest culture and civilisation were ignored. Hindus were looked upon as incapable of reflection and without history. It is probably this Western colonial worldview, so assiduously kept alive by their secular-Nehruvian-Marxist disciples long after independence, which has led to ignorance and misconceptions about Hinduism and Rashtravad in India.
Contrarian views have been sought to be suppressed by the Leftist cabal that is entrenched in the media and academia. Yet, all their efforts have been unable to obscure the fact that Hindu political thought has a spirit, a milieu, an atmosphere of its own as different from its Western counterpart. The Hindu personality, temperament, outlook and indeed ethos, are different from what one finds in the West. Hindu thought does not fall under any of the accepted categories of Western speculation. It stands by itself. So does the concept of rashtra.
Nationalism involves faith in some external power, feelings of awe and reverence, and ceremonial rites, focused on the flag. However, the concept of rashtravad in India, in marked contrast to its Western counterpart that stresses more in demarcation of boundaries and exclusion of people who do not subscribe to a particular worldview, is more inclusive. This follows from the Hindu ethos and wa y of life.
As far as the modern nationalism is concerned, it bears iteration that ethnicity and nationalism have been characterized as basic sources and forms of social and cultural identification. As such, they are ways of identifying oneself and others, of construing sameness and difference, and of situating and placing oneself in relation to others. Religion, too, can be understood in this manner. Religion too provides a way of identifying and naming fundamental social groups, a powerful framework for imagining community, and a set of schemas, templates, and metaphors for making sense of the social world. Like ethnicity and nationalism, secondly, religion can be understood as a mode of social organization, a way of framing, channeling, and organizing social relations. Religious nationalism is at work in a wide range of settings, including the U.S, India, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, and Pakistan. Contemporary discussion has Christian fundamentalism, Hindu nationalism and touches on Jewish nationalism, though sustained attention must be paid today to Islamist movements, for understandable reasons. Islamist movements invoke a putatively homogeneous pre-political identity (the ‘umma’ or community of Muslims) that ought, on some accounts, to have its own state, a restored Caliphate. They hold that public life should safeguard and promote the distinctive values of this community. They seek to awaken people to their ‘true’ identities and to bring culture and polity into close alignment. They protest against the ‘infidel’ rule of non-Muslims over Muslims or of governments that are only nominally Muslim; and they seek to purify the polity of corrupting forms of alien influence (moral, cultural, or economic). In these and other ways, Islamist movements partake of the underlying ‘grammar’ of modern nationalism even when they are ostensibly anti-nationalist or supra-national. Another important fact is that most Islamist movements, although they work through the state, are not oriented to the nation. In the Indian way of life, dharma plays an important role and the basis of our day-to-day life is dharma. Political leaders right from the beginning felt that if there is any possibility of retaining unity in India, it should be by remaining secular. That is why Gandhiji had been preaching brotherhood among the different re¬ligious groups. Nehru was a strong supporter of secularism. Their efforts could not divorce dharma from politics. Rather, in politics, vested interests started exploiting caste and religion for gaining political advantage. Even after the division of India into Pakistan and Bharat, because of the two-nation theory religious fervour could not be extinguished because the memories of Partition haunted the minds of the people. India has managed to avoid becoming a theocratic state solely because of the Hindu character of its culture and people. Theocratic states have been established in Pakistan and the Middle East, which have today become a threat to the world.
The term “Hindutva” is derived from the two terms “Hindu Tattva”, which literally mean “Hindu Principles”. Now the question is: what are Hindu Principles and what comprises the “Hindutva” Outlook? To answer this question we would have to begin with the history of the Hindus. The history of the Hindus is the history of a civilization which has developed in its natural state, without interruption, since antiquity. Its age is dated many thousands of years. Hence Hindu history is a prototype of how human civilization would have looked, if civilization all across the globe had been allowed to develop in its natural state. This is the relevance for us to study Hindu Civilization, Hindu History and Hindu Culture. The evolution of Hindu Civilization can be considered to be natural and continuing as there is no last messiah in the Hindu world view. In fact this is what distinguishes Hindu Civilization from the rest. And this is why Hinduism is called a Living Idea, guided by the sum total of human wisdom that is not considered to be embodied in one person, or one book, or one period of human history. Hence the term “Living”. Hindutva is the articulation of this idea of continuity of freedom of thought from which emerge the multifarious Hindu Principles.
Two instances of Hindu Principles that symbolize the outcome of freedom of thought are the pronouncements made not today, but four thousand years back by unnamed rishis that, “This world is one family” (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) and that “The Universal Reality is the same, but different people can call it by different names” (Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti). In these two proclamations made in ancient Hindu India, we see the seeds of globalism and freedom of thought, four thousand years before the world was to become the global village of today.Thus in its true essence, Hindutva is a stridently assertive rational-humanist line of reasoning. And it is this essence of Hindutva that we have kept in mind, while developing this website. At the level of practice, the Hindutva outlook boils down to upholding righteousness (Satguna) and fighting ignoble attitudes (Durguna). Taking the liberty of definition, we can describe the practitioners of this outlook as “Heenam Naashaayati iti Hinduhu” (Those who uphold righteousness and fight ignobleness are Hindus).
Thus, far from being a narrow nationalistic doctrine, Hindutva is in its true essence, “a timeless and universal compilation of human wisdom”. Hence it is also called “Sanatana” which means, something that is “forever continuing”. It is this Hindu way of life that sustains and guides its philosophy of rashtra.

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