Nationalisms: Hindu versus Indian

Isn’t a Muslim in India free to convert and become a Hindu? Why should you enforce what he is already free to do, provided you could persuade him to see the wisdom and validity of your point of view?

In 1994, Dave, my friend from Switzerland, was in a train from New Delhi to Varanasi. Noticing one of his fellow travelers with a German book and an English–German dictionary, he introduced himself:

Dave: Hi! I’m Dave from Zurich. I see you are studying my language

The traveler smiled and replied in German: “My name is Om. I’m a student in the Banaras Hindu University. I like your language.”

Dave: Thank you. Many Indians are friendly when they find out that I’m German-Swiss. But you’re the first Indian I’ve met here who is actually studying German. What do you like about it? Do you plan to work in Germany?

Om: (laughs) Oh, no! As you can see from the swadeshi (Indian) clothes I’m wearing, I’m a nationalist. My mission is to make India at least as great as Germany. I’m looking for connections between Sanskrit and German, but my main desire is to be able to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the original.

Dave: That’s an unusual explanation. What do you hope to learn from Hitler?

Om: How to make India great and strong again.

Dave: But didn’t Hitler all but destroy Germany?

Om: Not at all. He succeeded in transforming Germany into the greatest single nation in Europe. The English-speaking world ridicules Hitler unjustly. The irony is that although it was the English who colonized us, we still think of Hitler as the bad guy. This is because we read English language and propaganda. English literature continuously brainwashes us. That’s why I’m learning German. My guruji says that Hitler failed only because he was ahead of his time and started fighting simultaneously on too many fronts. Hitler may have been hasty; but his ideas were scientific. They will succeed more easily in India than they did in Germany, because they are not alien to our culture. We’ve always believed in some of his ideas.

Dave: Such as?

Om: Evolution. Species evolve because souls evolve. Some souls are more evolved than others. Aryans, which might include you, are the most evolved. The stronger and wiser must lead the weaker and the ignorant. We undermine our own development when – in the name of a non-existent “equality” – we allow the weak and the foolish to lead us. Plato said that the philosopher-kings must rule in a Republic.

Dave: I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I thought Indians were proud of their democracy.

Om: Of course we are. But why should Britain decide what our democracy would look like? Should we follow their example of aggressive imperialism? That has never been our tradition. Their system is not working in our country. I came to Delhi at the invitation of Shri . . . who should be the Prime Minister of India. He invited some of us to discuss the political mess in our state.

I am a student leader in my university; my party had put me up as a candidate for the election of our Student Union; no one denied that our panel was the best, yet we lost the election. The panel that won had neither political experience nor merit. They won purely because of their Backward-caste connections. Muslim voters also supported them. The same thing happened at the state level. 

The same could happen at the national level.

What if illiterate voters formed a party of their own and decided to get one of their members elected as the prime minister? In theory they could do it, because they do have the numerical majority.

Dave: So, what alternative do you propose?

Om: Our so-called “democratic” Constitution, patterned after the Westminster system, is a legacy of the British Raj. It is a symbol of our mental slavery. It is also naïve. It gives preferential treatment to Muslims who colonized us for a much longer period than the British. 

Also, the pseudo-secular Constitution is alien to our cultural tradition, which does not subscribe to the bogus ideas of equality of the literate and the illiterate, the less evolved and the more evolved. We have to acquire the political power to change our Constitution. 

Dave: So, you don’t believe in the equality of all human beings?

Om: The British talked about equality. They condemned Hitler as a racist. But this is sheer hypocrisy. We have experienced British racism first hand. Their own writers have described it in great detail. No scientist – natural or social – can prove equality because no one can observe it. No two human beings are identical anywhere in the world. A leader is a leader, and a follower is a follower. A follower must follow the leader, not vice versa.

Dave: Are you saying that the leader must not be accountable to the people?

Om: By the time this train reaches Benares it will be four to six hours behind schedule. How do you account for our inefficiency, loss of man-hours, lack of production, poor sanitation and economic backwardness? Under this imitative democratic system, no one obeys anyone anymore. Citizens and workers want to hold the rulers accountable, but, in the name of equality, they don’t obey anyone.

Benares, one of the holiest cities in India, has also become one of our dirtiest. Why? Because our rulers can’t even get the sweepers to do their work. The sweepers now want to be rulers. The result is that while in the 1960s and ’70s hundreds of thousands of  Westerners came to Benares to find enlightenment, now very few come. Benares have become better known around the world for its dirt and squalor than for its spirituality. The Banaras Hindu University was founded to preserve the richness of the Hindu heritage. Now – thanks to this Constitution – our standards have hit rock bottom. Some who were not fit to be peons have become professors, and a buffoon that should be grazing buffaloes has become the chief minister of our state.

Dave: Excuse me! But isn’t your perspective coloured by your personal political frustration?

Om: When your watch tells you that our train is running several hours late, when your nose tells you that our holy city stinks, when you cannot get your cooking gas without a bribe, then, because of your personal frustrations, you too will become a critic of our democratic system. 

Dave: But a similar democratic system works fine in my country. You can set your watch by our train schedules.

Om: That’s the whole point. Your system is an outworking of your genius. We have to have a system that suits our culture: something that will work here. Why do you impose your system on us? Are we still a colony? Many of our gurus have made up their minds to throw out this Constitution that is only a hangover from the colonial era. It is only a matter of time now. I am studying Nazism to see how India can write a new constitution for itself.

Dave: Catholics and Protestants fought many wars in Europe; the state-church in many countries persecuted those who dissented from its religious traditions; eventually we realized that in the name of Christ we were doing the very opposite of what he had asked us to do – “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Our differences continue. However, we have learned to live together with civility, equality and freedom. Wasn’t that the goal your Constitution set for your nation?

Om: For two parties to get along, efforts have to be made by both sides. How can Hindus and Muslims live together when Islam is an incurably fundamentalist and expansionist religion? A deeper problem is that we are not really talking about two religious communities living together in one nation. The basic drawback with our Constitution is that it wants two distinct nations to live together as one nation. Hindus and Muslims are two separate nationalities.

Dave: I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Hinduism is a religion, not a nation.

Om: No such entity as Hinduism exists anywhere in the world. It is an artificial name, given to a wide range of divergent and even contradictory religious beliefs, practices and sects. What we talk about is not Hinduism but Hindutva, that is, Hindu-ness. That makes it possible to think of Hindu as a “nation”. If Hindus want to prevent their re-colonization; if they want to strengthen themselves; they have no choice but to replace the pseudo-secular “Indian nationalism” with “Hindu nationalism”.

Dave: I frequently come across phrases such as, “Hindu nationalism”, “Cultural nationalism”, and “Hindu Rashtra”. To me, they sound like “Germany for Lutherans” and “England for High-Church Anglicans”. Is that what these phrases mean?

Om: It’s surprising that you’re a German from Zurich and yet you don’t understand the concept. The idea came to India from this Zurich-born German – Johanan Kaspar Bluntschli – via our Hindu patriots M. S. Golwalkar and Vir Savarkar. In his 1875 book, Bluntschli defined a “nation” as a:

union of masses of men of different occupation and social states, in a hereditary society of common spirit, feeling and race bound together especially by a language and customs in a common civilization which gives them a sense of unity and distinctions from all foreigners, quite apart from the bond of the state.

That is the correct etymological definition of “nation”.  The “natio” which comes from “nasci” points to birth and race, not to a political state. Bluntschli points out that the English language has confused the issue. The word “nation” means a people and their civilization. The English use the word “people” and French use “peuple” to mean what the word “nation” ought to mean. Hindus and Muslims are two distinct “people” or nations.

Dave: Doesn’t this definition smack of racism?

Om: We talk of “cultural nationalism” precisely to distinguish it from racism. We do not want a Muslim to stop worshipping Allah; but if he wants to live in Hindustan he ought to be a Hindu Muslim.

Dave: I still don’t understand how a Muslim can also be a Hindu. Why can’t he be an “Indian Muslim”?

Om: Understanding this will not be a problem if you consider Bluntschli’s definition. It is just a different paradigm from what you are used to. This definition was the key to the strength of the Third Reich in Germany. It has nothing to do with religion per se. Vir Savarkar, the president of the Hindu Mahasabha and one of the most important theorists of Hindu nationalism, himself had atheistic leanings. Even some Hindus misunderstood his mission of cultivating Hindu Nationalism. He clarified their misunderstanding in one of his presidential addresses, pointing out that while Hinduism is concerned with Hindu dogmas and rituals, Hindutva leaves those issues with individuals and groups, and unites all Hindus around the common denominator of culture.

Dave: If the Hindutva movement is not seeking to promote Hinduism, then what exactly does it promote?

Om: That’s what I’ve been trying to explain. Our mission is not to promote a particular religious belief, but to strengthen the Hindu Nation, that is, the Hindu people.

Dave: Wouldn’t that happen automatically if you made India a strong nation?

Om: To begin with, “India” is not a nation but a British fiction that some of our confused secularists want to perpetuate. But more importantly, the Indian subcontinent had been enslaved for so long because the Hindus did not see themselves as a nation separate from Muslims or Christians. Consequently, the Hindus did not build up their collective strength. Just as a small population of the Jews – who clung to their Jewish identity –became a threat to a much larger Aryan-German nation, so have the Muslims become a threat here to the Aryan-Hindus. Our Constitution needs to be destroyed, because, based as it is on a confused British perspective, it perpetuates a separate Muslim identity by protecting “Muslim personal law,” “minority institutions,” et cetera. To become one nation, to turn Muslims into “Hindu Muslims” we need to have a uniform civil code. Lord Macaulay codified distinct “personal laws” for each religious community, because the British wanted to keep India divided and weak.

Dave: I’m beginning to understand what you mean. Have you ever researched as to why the meaning of the word “nation” changed in the English language from signifying a particular race or a “people-group”, to a state?

Om: No, I haven’t. Why did it change?

Dave: I don’t actually know. I am not a scholar like you but your arguments have given me an insight that is worth investigating. The definition of the word nation must have changed because the reality itself changed. Britain was an intolerant society. The state-church persecuted the Puritans and other minority Christian dissenters. But after the Puritans came to power and tolerance was institutionalized, different groups learned to live together. The state-church continued, but without the power to impose its belief and culture on others, since they accepted the fact that the Bible taught that God was creating one “body” out of all the “nations” and languages. Jesus – the Jewish Messiah – had come as the Light of the whole world. Therefore, it was right to love your neighbors as yourself. Christians who migrated to North America took with them this spirit of tolerance. In America they had greater freedom to develop the implications of this idea of tolerance. The concept of the state-church itself was abolished. Individuals and ethnic groups were declared free to form their own associations, and to retain and develop their own cultures.

America became a melting pot where different nationalities could retain their cultural diversity, and yet become a strong united nation, bound together not by an imposed culture, but by morality, a constitution and institutions of political freedom. Could it be that what Lord Macaulay was trying to give to India was individual and cultural freedom that would strengthen rather than fragment India, by coupling that freedom with moral, legal and political unity?

Isn’t a Muslim in India free to convert and become a Hindu? Why should you enforce what he is already free to do, provided you could persuade him to see the wisdom and validity of your point of view? Is enforced “cultural nationalism” anything different than cultural fascism which we knew all too well in Europe earlier?

Published in the February 2012 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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