Inclusive Hindutva: BJP in India

The Bharatiya Janata Party of India has realized that its hard-line brand of Hindutva politics doesn’t work anymore. And that’s a good news thanks to its defeat in the parliamentary polls

By Dinesh Wagle
as published in today’s Kathmandu Post

“There’s a fire raging in BJP,” said a headline in India the previous week. After the humiliating loss in the recently held parliamentary elections, the top leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party that propagates the idea of Hindutva has been involved in internal wrangling, blame game, finger pointing and leg pulling. The party, like all losers, has been trying to figure out the cause behind the unexpected wallop in the national polls that gave the rival Congress party an opportunity to continue in government with enhanced authority.

Amidst the mudslinging and backstabbing that is happening in the BJP, the largest party after the Congress in parliament, one very positive thing has come out. The party has realized that its hard-line brand of Hindutva politics doesn’t work anymore. The party, it appears, has understood that intolerance towards other religions was the key factor behind its debacle. That’s why L.K. Advani, its prime ministerial candidate during the polls who is now leader of the opposition despite some opposition from his own party colleagues, has started urging his party to follow a tolerant version of Hindutva. That request came after the party adopted a political resolution last week insisting that its Hindutva ideology was not exclusive of certain religions.

“Hinduism or Hindutva is not to be understood or construed narrowly confined only to religious practices or expressed in extreme forms,” the resolution said. “It is, therefore, inclusive representing the finest imprints of our cultural and civilisational ideas. This profound concept is the real inspiration for a resurgent India with which the BJP is proud to be associated.”

It’s an open secret that the BJP harbors deep dissatisfaction over the decision of our interim parliament to declare Nepal a secular state three years ago. It also dislikes the respectable recognition accorded by the Indian establishment to the atheist Maoists in Nepal. BJP leaders argue that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance mishandled India’s Nepal policy on those two issues by not voicing Indian concerns enough. If the Hindu religion is under attack in Nepal, that’s not just an issue of Nepal, the BJP thinks. It’s an issue that touches Hindus around the world, they feel. During the Pashupatinath priest crisis, the BJP believed the Maoists were out on a rampage against the Hindu religion in Nepal and that the Congress-led Indian government was doing nothing to stop it.

While it is next to impossible for them to have India declared a Hindu country in the foreseeable future, the gang of the BJP, their parent organization Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh and other fringe ultra-Hindu forces fantasize a “Hindu Rastra” Nepal as a source of inspiration for them to fight for their cause. That is why the defeat of the BJP and the subsequent realization by the party that hard-line Hindutva doesn’t work anymore is good news for Nepal too. Certain hard-line Hindu elements that are trying to fish in the muddy waters that is the current fluid situation in Nepal will be discouraged now.

Nepali culture, by and large, is inclusive and tolerant towards other religions. That is why one can say the recent bomb attack in a church in Kathmandu, allegedly done by Hindu fundamentalists, was not against a certain religion but the basic Nepali ethos itself. Just as Chinua Achebe said marriage was a private affair, I feel religion too is a personal matter. No other person should be disturbed while one is practicing his or her religion. This is precisely why I used to be so irritated when loudspeakers go on the rampage with bhajans/kirtans from an unseen house hundreds of metres away in my neighborhood in Kathmandu. Why do they have to disturb thousands of people in the locality when they can still pray to their God without those loudspeakers?

A few weeks ago I saw a blog post titled “Bhajan Terror” in which my sentiments were brilliantly expressed. The writer, herself a deeply faithful person with a sound knowledge of some bhajans and the greatest respect for God almighty, was so annoyed by the continuous disturbance from the bhajan-singing loudspeakers that she almost “cursed” the people who were doing that in the late hours of the night.
Coming from Nepal where one can still see a decent level of religious harmony, I feel India is a deeply divided society where people are judged based on their religious affiliation. Even in Delhi, the cosmopolitan capital city of India, I occasionally find some people, Indians, who have deep hatred towards other religions. “These Muslims should be deprived of the franchise,” said a so-called “educated” and English-speaking man from my neighborhood in south Delhi recently. “They are a threat to Indian democracy.” I was stunned. “I don’t go to a nearby salon because the barber is a Muslim and he plays anti-Hindu music,” he said. One thing that I do not agree with my Hindu landlords here is their radical views against a certain religion.

My impression is that many people in India do live in fear of possible persecution. An Indian Christian friend of mine from Bangalore who works with a TV network in Noida, a town attached to Delhi, said her mother gave her “a religiously neutral name so that I would not find problems in different parts of India.”

Policies and the politics of parties like the BJP play a key role in removing or increasing those fears among the Indian people. The outcome of the post-poll chaotic introspection in the BJP has been welcomed by some of its own prominent Muslim members and those stalwarts who are soft to Islam. It remains to be seen if the BJP can move ahead with its newfound realization of inclusive Hindutva or succumbs to the ultra-Hindutva ideology. If the party walks on the first path, it might not just restore itself to power in Delhi but also provide great relief to the people on the subcontinent.