Modi, political Hindutva and the clash of worldviews

It takes no great power of observation to realise that the most vociferous supporters of Narendra Modi’s growth hyperbole are also the most ardent advocates of political Hindutva. Even a casual glance at the activities of the online Modi fan club members would make that obvious.

So far it is clear that his politics of growth and development is simply an add-on to his politics of Hindutva, not a complete departure from it. There has been no great change of heart—a la Ashoka, the Mauryan king—in his case as many in the commentariat would have us believe. A wily politician does not replace his heart, he changes colours, like a chameleon. And there’s no denying that Modi is a smart politician.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

However, this article is less about Modi and more about the two conflicting and competing perceptions of Indian nationhood which have been a constant in the politics of the country since the days of Independence. Both throw up players from time to time through whom the conflict plays out. Modi is the latest among them, but more of it later. Let’s begin at the beginning: the origin of the differing perceptions.

Both draw their logic and intellectual heft from the historical processes and accidents that have shaped the idea of India, however both tread different paths while trying to make sense of the past and end up formulating more or less contrasting worldviews. One of these could be broadly categorised, in the absence of a better expression, the Nehruvian worldview and the other, the Sangh Parivar worldview.

The first one treats the diverse character of the country and its underlying heterogenity as the immutable truth while the second seeks to find logical consistency and explanations in the developments of the past and tie these into an acceptable whole. The first finds it proper to tread cautiously over the many cultural fault lines and social-communal minefields by emphasising on the assimilative, syncretic and unifying aspects of the past while the other finds no hesitation in looking into many disruptions and conflicts in the course of the country’s history and treating these as part of some design.

The second one puts emphasis on cultural nationalism with Hinduism as the focal point; the first, a product of modern, liberal education, finds the exercise harmful to the concept of modern nationhood. India offers enough space for both constructs to co-exist despite their differences and that both have been around for long without killing off one another is proof that both have relevance.

However, the conflicts get sharpened and turn vicious when the expansive worldviews are forced into narrow political ideologies and made to serve limited electoral ends. Cultural nationalism gets reduced to a collective sense of Hindu victimhood and all about injustice meted out to the community throughout history. It gets exclusive and illiberal in character, invents enemies to take on and panders to religious passions. The other worldview does the same in reverse, albeit in a less open manner. To offset the challenges thrown by the political Hindutva, it goes on perpetuating the notion of victimhood among other religious communities.

It is no surprise that the growth of political Hindutva coincides with large scale anti-Muslim, anti-Christian developments in the country. Modi won’t be what he is if it were not for the 2002 riots or the Hindutva-centric political architecture he assiduously built along with others over the last two decades across Gujarat. In fact, the BJP won’t be what it is today without the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992. To believe that either can survive and grow without having religion as their dominant theme is downright foolish. It’s inevitable that the more the Hindutva forces consolidate, the more the so-called secular forces would bind together.

The template for confrontation has already been laid out by the wider worldviews spanning many decades. The course is getting more definite now with the emergence of the political spearheads. There have been many skirmishes, now the stage is being prepared for a wider battle. Modi could be the man leading the charge for the Hindutva brigade this time; it was LK Advani two decades ago. Both are players—one has been, the other is—in a bigger game being played out at an abstract level.

Modi’s development agenda is a clever ruse for something else. For some reason, the idea of political Hindutva has been rebuffed by the Indian population at large for a long time. Maybe this has to do with the Indian tendency to keep private faith and political choice apart, or maybe it is about keeping disruptive influences off their turf or maybe it is in tacit agreement with the Nehruvian worldview. Political Hindutva had to find something secular to break into that mindset and get wider acceptability. The ideas of development and growth fit in nicely here.

The big battle may not be far off. Let’s wait and watch.

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