Hinduphobia: Deconstructing The Anti-Hindu Hindu
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With PM Modi's first in-person bilateral meeting with the United States President Joe Biden in Washington this week, expect a surge in Modiphobia and Hinduphobia.
I'm not a Hindu but never cease to be astonished at the venom certain Hindus spew at Hinduism.
In a liberal democracy, self-criticism is an asset, not a liability. But Hinduphobia is not self-criticism. It is an extreme, anarchic form of hate.
The online conference "Dismantling Global Hindutva" would have deserved little or no attention but for its attempt to mainstream anti-Hinduism.
Had Ivy League universities in the US allowed their forums to be used to advocate "dismantling" Islam or Christianity through such a conference, it would have been shut down before the first phobic speaker clambered onto the lectern.
The same vicious abuse directed at Jews or Muslims would be termed unacceptably anti-Semitic or Islamophobic, punishable by applicable local laws. Civil society, academia, political leaders and media across the world would have condemned it.
Apart from facing legal and punitive action, those who practised it would be ostracised, publicly hounded and declared persona non grata.
Some argue that Hindutva is not Hinduism. The conference attacked only Hindutva, not Hinduism. Therefore, they say, this is as acceptable as attacking radical Islam, not Islam itself. One preaches violence, the other peace.
The analogy obviously is false.
Hindutva has its unsavoury votaries such as the Bajrang Dal, but the fount of Hindutva ideology, the RSS, does not pose a danger to India or the world. Radical Islam does.
This is how the Supreme Court defined Hindutva in a landmark December 1995 judgment which still stands: "No precise meaning can be ascribed to the term 'Hindu', 'Hindutva' and 'Hinduism' and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage."
"The term 'Hindutva' is related more to the way of life of the people in the subcontinent. It is difficult to appreciate how the terms' Hindutva' or 'Hinduism' per se, in the abstract, can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow, fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry, or be construed to fall within the prohibition in Sub-sections (3) and/or (3A) of Section 123."
Is Hindutva under a BJP government more sinister than the Supreme Court believed it was in 1995 when it delivered its judgment and when the PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress government was in power?
The fear among India's minorities is that a more muscular version of Hindutva under Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inevitably lead to a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra.
The fear is exaggerated. India has one billion Hindus. At the height of his power, when he led the BJP to 303 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2019, Modi could muster less than half the Hindu vote.
Were India a majoritarian country, the BJP would have won a far greater vote share than it did: 37 per cent. India's diversity – across religion, caste and region – ensures that majoritarianism remains an enduring political myth under even a "Hindu" government like the BJP.
So what drives manic Hinduphobia? The answer: a combination of domestic politics and a malicious Left-Islamist global ecosystem.
Since Modi took office in May 2014, this ecosystem has linked up seamlessly with Opposition parties in India. NGOs, activists, journalists, retired army officers and former bureaucrats have been deployed to use media and the courts to construct a narrative of how India is sinking into an abyss of Hindu majoritarianism.
Most news portals that have sprung up after 2014 offer a smorgasbord of slanted stories and motivated reportage.
With Modi winning two successive Lok Sabha elections and having weathered the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Left-Islamist global ecosystem and sections of the febrile Indian Opposition have decided to attack the core ideological base of the Modi-led BJP.
The logic is seductive: the Prime Minister may have a coat of Teflon that makes him impervious to public criticism despite missteps. But if Hindutva can be demonised globally, Modi may feel the pressure.
This ecosystem knows how keen Modi is on protecting his global reputation. The new line of attack targets this supposed Achilles heel on the eve of the Prime Minister's first in-person bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington this week.
The strategy could backfire. The more you attack Hindutva and by corollary Hinduism, the more you strengthen Modi's "Hindu" credentials.
Over the past two years, Modi has been under fierce attack by a section of the Sangh Parivar faithful for not being "Hindu" enough and embracing secularism in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee mould to attract global praise.
For this angry BJP constituency, an attack on Hindutva will draw them back towards Modi rather than further away from him: if Modi is being attacked for being too "Hindu" by global Leftists and Islamists, he must be doing something right.
In strategic terms, this could be the tipping point in the run-up to the 2024 general election.
The odd jumble of people who gathered recently in the United States to "dismantle" global Hindutva thought they were laying a trap for Modi. Instead, they could have walked into one themselves.