It is fanatical nationalism when a dogmatic and disruptive ideology – one which caused the tragic and violent death of a country’s “Father” – manages to maintain prominence within the country’s socio-economic circles even after seven decades of modernisation, it indicates that history did not swerve in the right direction, and the ones holding the strings did not tackle the forces perpetuating this particular ideology as firmly as they should have.
“Hindu Mahasabha to install Godse statue in temples on January 30”. When I came across this newspaper headline as a middle-schooler a few years ago, it bewildered me. Having been fed tales of Gandhi’s virtue and courage since childhood, from an English chapter of him being kicked out of a first-class coach in South Africa back in second grade to a History lesson of him leading the Quit India movement in eighth grade, I was programmed to consider the Mahatma as a mortal of supernatural proportions, and the person who shot him, Nathuram Godse, as the very epitome of evil.
Being acquainted with the fact that there were people in this country who respected, and even celebrated Godse’s life, disrupted the perception that I had of Gandhi’s death and legacy. Little did I know that these disruptions would become a mundane occurrence in the immediate future. Over the next years, strengthened with the apparent protection, if not direct patronisation, by the ruling government regime, the proponents of fanatical Hindu nationalism have grown in confidence and number, and such headlines – some more extreme and violent in nature than the ones reporting the installations of statues of denounced men – have become more frequent.
Hinduism is an exceedingly ancient concept, with roots and customs stretching back to more than four millenniums. I use the word “concept” because the basic essence of Hinduism presents it as a way of life, and not as a label to identify a human being with, or bifurcate and differentiate him/her from someone who doesn’t fall under its purview.
In the second half of the 18th century, led by visionaries such as Swami Vivekananda and Raja Rammohan Roy, a “global” and “modern” brand of Hinduism emerged, one which emphasized universal values such as social justice, peace, harmony. self-fulfilment and the spiritual transformation of humanity. Most importantly, it sidelined the orthodox and Tantric elements of Hinduism and adopted a rational form which was compatible with the functioning of the modern world.
A few decades later, another ideology emerged – Hindutva, and it reeked of extremist, forceful, violent and hegemonic elements. However its initial origins were disputed, and some observers claim that it morphed from an inclusive and progressive set of ideas to an exclusive and restrictive one, over time.
In recent memory, the “global” brand of Hinduism, one which promoted acceptance, has slipped off the radar, while Hindu nationalism has quietly yet quickly gained prominence after several years of negligible existence amidst the social wilderness. And as we stare at another three-and-a-half years of the ruling party’s regime, the threat of these scattered elements snowballing into a major force of socio-political power is immense. One which is capable of directing the country to a sphere of functioning entirely divergent from the ideals envisaged by the Father of the Nation.
Image Caption: MF Husain’s iconic painting, “Gandhi-Man of Piece”
Image Credits: Christie’s