Continued Distortions of Hindutva: Clubbing Hindutva with Nazism, Fascism, and Phobia

Figure 1. Banyan tree is considered especially auspicious in Hinduism; this photo is reproduced from https://www.isrgrajan.com/the-bargad-and-the-pipal-tree-what-is-so-great-about-them.html.

What is Hindutva? What is Hindu Rashtra?

Several recent books, articles, and podcasts qualify as an ill-informed hate speech against Hindutva. Some of these detractors view VD Savarkar’s “Essentials of Hindutva”, published in 1923, as the foundation of Hindutva; some others view the texts of MS Golwalkar and others as the main texts of Hindutva. The detractors present Hindutva quite vividly as an archetype of hidebound mentality championed by religious fanatics with a sumptuous dash of saffron colour, temples, idols, sadhus, and hordes of people thrown in. Such is how, over the last 7 decades, Hindutva has been maligned and distorted by the scripture-led and leftists scholars/media. The ground reality, however, is in stark contrast. To bring it across clearly, succinctly, and unambiguously, Hindutva may be defined as follows:

Hindutva is a scientific and experience-based approach towards (i) understanding self and the universe, and (ii) living one’s life.

The distinguishing features of Hindutva are as follows:

  1. Truth as the basis: Hindutva believes that truth alone triumphs. In Hindutva, the truth, i.e., the reality, is not necessarily what is claimed in some scripture but can be ascertained using 3 tests, as stated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.7: (1) pratyaksha (प्रत्यक्ष): direct experience, (2) anumaan (अनुमान): inference, (3) aagam (आगम): scriptural authority. Here, direct experience and inference are both given more importance than scriptural authority.
  2. Multiple paths: Unlike the Abrahmic way of thinking, Hindutva believes that many paths lead to the same reality and the same reality can be expressed in different manners & forms.
  3. Scriptures are not sacrosanct: Due to the items 1 and 2 above, at its core, although Hindutva may give importance to some scriptures due to historical and cultural reasons, it does not believe that the scriptures are sacrosanct. Indeed, Bhagavat Gita states that “just as a well has no significance when there is water everywhere, the scriptures have no significance when one becomes enlightened” (Bhagavat Gita 2.46).
  4. Freedom of choice: Due to the items 1-3 above, aware of the limitations of scriptural dogmas, Hindutva adopts a scientific and creative approach: it allows people to experiment and to determine the reality and the course of life for themselves. This is further elaborated in item 6 below.
  5. No belief in conversion: Due to the items 1-4 above, the very notion of conversion is foreign to Hindutva because, unlike the followers of some other religions, a Hindu simply cannot believe that the act of converting people of other religion to his/her religion has any merit. This freedom of choice has created many sects within Hinduism together with apparently conflicting practices adopted by those sects. Of course, to a Hindu mind, those present no conflict and are understood to be simply different ways of approaching the same reality.
  6. Acceptance of other religions and competing philosophies: Due to the items 1-4 above, Hindutva holds nothing against new religions and philosophies that developed out of its basic philosophical framework summarised in items 1-4 above – e.g., Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Their founders and masters, together with their literature and customs, are accorded respect in Hindutva. In fact, for 2+ millennia, Lord Buddha and Mahavira Jain have been revered by millions of Hindus as incarnations of God; hundreds of temples have been dedicated to them in the Indian subcontinent and Buddha’s Dhamma Chakra has the central place of honour in India’s national flag. Just as Hindutva reveres the scientific Kanaad and the great ascetic scholar Shankaracharya, it also awards a place and importance to the materialistic Charvaka who says (Sarvasiddhanta Sangraha, Ch. 2, verses 8, 11, 12):

“There is no other world other than this; There is no heaven and no hell.
The realm of Shiva and similar regions are fabricated by stupid imposters.
One should not strive for a salvation and an afterlife – those do not exist.
Only a fool wears himself out by penances, charities, and fasts for a salvation.
Chastity and such ordinances are laid down by cunning weaklings for such fools.”

– Charvak’s philosophy summarised in Sarvasiddhanta Sangraha, Ch. 2, verses 8, 11, 12

The seven fundamental tenets of Hindutva

In 1901, Lokamanya BG Tilak (1856-1920), who could be viewed as the fountainhead of Hindutva, argued that such an inherently evolving Hindu way of life is akin to Darwinism and discussed its similarities with Social Darwinism hypothesized by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), a well-known British philosopher. Tilak tried to coin the word उत्क्रमणवाद to describe this characteristic but then opted to adopt the term “evolution” on the grounds that उत्क्रमण is an inadequate substitute for what the term “evolution” represents [1].

So, Hindutva may be said to be defined by 7 fundamental tenets: (1) the reality (i.e., truth) should overrule what is stated in a scripture, (2) the reality can be ascertained in 3 ways, listed in the decreasing order of importance: direct perception, inference, and scriptural authority, (3) one should be given freedom to experiment and to determine the reality, (4) there are different ways of approaching the same reality, (5) there are different ways of expressing the same reality, (6) there is no point in converting someone to one’s own religion, and (7) one’s understanding, beliefs, and practices should evolve with place and time.

Hindutva defined like so is in the context of an individual. The society based on its 7 tenets could be referred to as Hindu Rashtra. The operational policies, strategies, and techniques that must be implemented to realise these tenets in a societal setting would vary with place, time, and circumstances. That is an important but a separate topic. For this reason, Hindutva should not be confused with Hindu Rashtra.

Hindutva has nothing to do with Fascism and Nazism

Rather than take such a well-informed and grounded viewpoint as the starting point and then discuss the merits and demerits of Hindutva or Hindu Nationalism as it exists today, the detractors of Hindutva have created biased narratives by hanging onto sentences scattered across volumes and volumes of literature. A former Prime Minister of Pakistan was fond of labelling the current Govt of India and RSS as fascists. One author has tried to show that the militancy of Hindutva was inspired by, and modelled after, Mussolini’s fascism and Germany’s Nazism. The author states that Dr Balkrishna Munje, Subhash Chandra Bose, VD Savarkar, and some others were responsible for Hindutva doctrine. It is then claimed that they received inspiration and organizational knowledge from Mussolini and Hitler. This argument holds no water since people such as Dr BS Munje, Dr KB Hedgewar, and VD Savarkar – who are viewed as the key Hindutva figures by these detractors – were scarcely the sort of people to think too highly of the westerners. For example, in his influential book “History’s Seven Golden Pages”, VD Savarkar has argued why Chandragupta Mourya should be placed on a higher pedestal than Alexander the Great, whom Savarkar himself admired. In reality, the militancy of Dr BS Munje and VD Savarkar had much more to do with their own indigenous role models such as Shivaji Maharaj (1630-1680) and Swami Ramdas (1608-1681). None of these two find any mention in the prevalent anti-Hindutva narratives.

It is also strange that while the anti-Hindutva brigades try hard to equate Hindutva with Mussolini’s fascism, they do not stress the fact that the Church was a strong supporter of Mussolini. Mussolini was inspired by Islam and called himself the “Protector of Islam” [2]. In 1937, Muslims honoured him with a “Sword of Islam” [3]. In response, Mussolini reaffirmed his closeness to the Muslim population, guaranteeing “peace, justice, wellness and respect for the laws of the Prophet” [3]. So, a narrow-minded person might choose to class Christianity and Islam with Mussolini’s fascism, based on such well-documented evidence approved by Mussolini himself. The anti-Hindutva brigades have been silent on this issue.

Rabid motivated propaganda against Hindutva

A targeted and amplified false propaganda builds a strong narrative that can be hard to counter. Let us consider its two recent examples.

  1. Propaganda against India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019: Since 2019, the anti-Hindutva brigades have run continued campaigns maligning India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 as anti-Muslim. Such campaigns are baseless because the Act is specifically for providing fast-track citizenship to the tormented religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, which are Islamic nations. Therefore, Muslims from those nations cannot qualify for the fast-track citizenship under this Act – after all, how can Muslims be tormented religious minorities in Islamic nations? But the propaganda continues unabated even after the Govt of India clarified that it harbours no discrimination against Muslims from those nations and they are welcome to apply for an Indian citizenship through the normal route.
    • Quite noticeably, the anti-Hindutva brigades have never condemned the oppression of minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh even though a systematic eradication of non-Muslim culture and non-Muslim population has taken place over there. They have not acknowledged the humanitarian aid efforts of Hindutva groups to help hundreds of thousands of people, belonging to a range of religions and ethnicities, that got displaced in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Numerous such instances of spreading deliberate lies and misinformation show that fascism exists in the anti-Hindutva brigades themselves.
  2. Propaganda against BJP and its spokesperson Nupur Sharma: In May 2022, a party spokesperson Nupur Sharma of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently in power in India, was severely attacked by the Muslims in India and world-over for making some statements concerning Prophet Mohammed. In reality, what happened was as follows:
    • Nupur Sharma quoted from some authentic texts of Islam. The day after this debate, she invited Islamic scholars to talk to her and promised to take back her words and apologise if they could prove that what she said was false. That invitation did not accepted by anyone.
    • Her remarks were made during a heated panel discussion when she was provoked by some panelists who made derogatory statements on live TV concerning Lord Shiva, who is idolised by her and by millions of Hindus worldwide. Quran itself advises its followers that “And do not insult the ones they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge” (Quran 6:108). So, these panelists had transgressed Quran and ought to have been condemned by the Islamic scholars – however, that did not happen.
    • BJP suspended Nupur Sharma from the party. The BJP decision was accepted by her without any protest. She published a written apology for having hurt the feelings of anyone who might have got hurt by her statements and mentioned that she had been provoked in the extreme by how her own faith was being ridiculed by some other panelists during that live debate.
    • On the other hand, people who mocked and ridiculed Lord Shiva on live TV escaped scott-free and did not render an apology: primarily because the Hindus viewed those statements as simply an expression of freedom. Quran itself advises its followers that “And do not insult the ones they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge” (Quran 6:108). So, these panelists had transgressed Quran and ought to have been condemned by the Islamic scholars – however, that did not happen either.
    • Nupur Sharma has been threatened to be raped and killed by the Islamic fanatics despite rendering the unconditional written apology. Some organisations offered cash award for anyone who beheads her: Pakistan-based Tehreek-e-Labbaik party announced on its Twitter account that “Ghustaak-e-Rasool Nupur Sharma beheader will be given Rs 5 million reward -Labbaikians TV” (Rs 5 million = USD 25,000/-).
    • Many people have come out on social media, both within and outside India, in Nupur Sharma’s support. The questions raised by them are simple: “Why should someone be punished for speaking the truth? If this person is to be punished then why doesn’t the government arrest people who ridicule and defile Hindu Gods?”

What is the cause of the hatred against Hindutva?

The discomfort with, and the enmity towards, Hindutva that is exhibited by its opponents can be easily understood to be a product of their desire for a society wherein they receive special privileges. In principle, Hindutva does not grant such privileges since it stands for a merit-based society wherein no one is entitled to something just because they belong to a certain religion. To Hindutva, the notion of someone receiving, or being denied, a certain position in the society just because of their religion is as ridiculous as that of someone receiving it, or being denied, just because their height or weight is within a certain range.

So, who are the main opponents and adversaries of Hindutva? Those can be classified in 3 main categories as follows.

  1. Opposition to Hindutva due to financial and power reasons: Given that 20% of the world population is concentrated in the Indian subcontinent, if the people in that region work together in harmony, then that region can become a super-power in the world. Besides geography, Hindutva is the only basis for that unity. So, certain nations have a vested interest in opposing Hindutva.
  2. Opposition to Hindutva due to religious reasons: It is logical why the proponents of scripture-based religions, esp. Islam, have enmity towards Hindutva – this enmity mirrors the case of the Church versus Galileo wherein one party was adamantly hanging on to its scriptures which were demonstrably falsified by scientific evidence. The opposition is quite acute in the Indian subcontinent. Many Muslims in India refuse to utter even innocuous nationalistic slogans such as “वंदे मातरम्” (I respectfully salute mother) and “भारतमाता की जय” (Victory to Mother India) on the grounds that those are against Islam. In Masjids, prayers are made for victory over kafirs (non-believers), aware that 85% population of India comprises such non-believers. The opposition is not so much from an individual Muslim but from the powers that gather and control the Muslims as a community.
  3. Opposition to Hindutva due to political reasons: The leftists thrive by splitting the society into fragments and then posing as the champions of the disadvantaged fragments, secure in the belief that there are always unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished. They oppose Hindutva because it sees oneness in everything and stresses that the fragments exist in the minds of mischievous people because, as per its tenets, the same reality exists everywhere on a fundamental level so that the world essentially manifests a diversity of unity. So, a leftist who must take the viewpoint that a particular community is oppressed in India is naturally unhappy with the government that would rather take a holistic viewpoint that it is really a case of some Indians being oppressed and then work towards implementing a remedy that addresses the causes and not just the symptoms.

Challenges faced by Hindutva today

So, what are the challenges for Hindutva and how should it resolve those? The real challenge for Hindutva does not stem from any shortcoming of its fundamental tenets – those are as sound, universal, and comprehensive as those can possibly be. The real challenge concerns how to synthesize and implement the policies that are needed to realise those noble tenets in everyday life in an adversarial setting wherein Hindutva must face the enmity and misinformation levelled against it by the powers described above.

An example of the misinformation is the oft-repeated slogan used by Hindutva opponents: “All religions are one and the same” – such is not the case because otherwise the followers of some other religions would not be active in conversion. Hindutva will have to devise a solution that (1) better educates people about itself, (2) better educates its followers about the beliefs, the methods, and the history of non-Hindutva people so that its followers can understand the lens through which Hindutva is being perceived by others, and (3) facilitates a relief to its adversaries who are compelled by the circumstances to oppose it against their personal wishes and convictions in the face of events such as [4]. Indeed, the classical Islamic jurisprudence calls for the death penalty of those who refuse to repent of apostasy from Islam [5].

Speaking about the Nupur Sharma incident that has been referred to above, the well-known author Robert Spencer has rationalised the outrage from the Muslim communities by noting that, as far as the Muslims are concerned, non-Muslims are not permitted to say certain things – this is in line with what is stated in Umdat as-Salik wa ‘Uddat an-Nasik (Reliance of the Traveller and Tools of the Worshipper, also commonly known by its shorter title Reliance of the Traveller), which is a classical manual of fiqh for the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence. As per Spencer, in this line of thought, the Muslims are to rule and the protection they offer to the non-Muslims is to be revoked if the non-Muslims say or do something that is not permitted by them concerning the Prophet or Islam or Quran.

  • So, the fact that Nupur Sharma had stated the truth had no relevance in the eyes of these protesters – as far as they were concerned, she had done something concerning which their texts said that (1) it was a taboo and she had no right to do it and (2) it was their duty to take a severe action against her as their response.
  • That left no room for the thought that if someone does not belong to their religion then they should not be expected to adhere to its faith-based dictates. Had this thought prevailed, they would have understood that only something had been said that was insensitive to their feelings. On that count, an apology could have been justifiably demanded and ensured – this has already happened since BJP suspended the concerned person and the concerned person apologised unconditionally on this count.

In view of the above two crucial observations, such conflicts can be minimised by making both sides of this dispute more cognizant of their point of views. Priority for the truth and for the principle of reciprocity must be asserted. Talking about a separate related incident on June 8, 2022, UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid stated the following: “I am very concerned about the growing cancel culture in this country. There’s people out there who think they have a right not to be offended and of course, no one has that right. You might not like what someone’s got to say, but they have a right to say it” [6].

Summary

Unlike what the anti-Hindutva brigades try to hammer home in their propaganda, fascism and phobia are in fact diametrically opposed to the core of Hindutva which believes “एकं सत् विप्राः बहुधा वदन्ति” (the wise describe the same reality in multiple and different ways – Rig Veda 1.164.46) and goes on to pray “आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः” (may good thoughts come to us from all over the world – Rig Veda 1.89.1). Hopefully, Hindutva proponents will adopt strategies, policies, and techniques that embody these noble principles in all walks of life.

References:

[1] Lokamanya BG Tilak (1901). Dnyeyadnyeya Mimansa – Part 1 and Part 2 (ज्ञेयाज्ञेयमीमांसा: पूर्वार्ध आणि उत्तरार्ध). Editorial in Kesari, May 7 and 14, 1901.
[2] Lanna, Luciano; Rossi, Filippo (2003). Vallecchi (ed.). Fascisti immaginari. Florence, Italy. ISBN 978-88-84270-57-3.
[3] Randazzo, Antonella (2008). Arterigere (ed.). L’Africa del Duce. I crimini fascisti in Africa. Varese, Italy. ISBN 978-88-89666-27-2.
[4] News report in OpIndia, “Babar Ali murder case in Kushinagar, UP: Azimullah, Salma, Tahid and Arif arrested”. March 29, 2022. URL: https://www.opindia.com/2022/03/babar-ali-murder-case-kushinagar-up-azimullah-salma-tahid-and-arif-arrested/.
[5] Poljarevic, Emin (2021). “Theology of Violence-oriented Takfirism as a Political Theory: The Case of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)”. In Cusack, Carole M.; Upal, M. Afzal (eds.). Handbook of Islamic Sects and Movements. Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion. Vol. 21. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers.

[6] Nadia Khomami (2022). “Sajid Javid attacks ‘cancel culture’ as UK cinemas pull ‘blasphemous’ film”. News report in The Guardian, June 8, 2022.