The rapid acceptance of Hindutva has evoked a sense of shock and awe among its fans and critics alike. While fans have largely been delirious with joy, critics have oscillated between dubbing India a “democracy in decay” or a “democracy in danger”. As we inch closer to the pivotal state election in Uttar Pradesh it is important to take stock of what Hindutva has accomplished, where it could go from here and how that will shape India’s destiny.
Hindutva’s biggest success has been to convince Indians to place their national and religious identity over their regional identity. This development is not confined to the Hindi heartland but has spread out to regions such as India’s Eastern and North Eastern belt. The victory of the BJP in Assam despite its support for the CAA is testament to this achievement. Voters in Assam placed ethnic identity on the backburner and strongly backed the idea that India must provide refuge to persecuted minorities fleeing Islamist violence in India’s neighbourhood.
Hindutva’s other big success has been in making Hinduism a vehicle of social mobility for India’s backward castes. The success of the BJP after 2014 has been driven by an OBC prime minister whose messaging has received strong backing from India’s backward castes. The BJP has responded to the support by implementing a slew of affirmative action measures for India’s backward castes. Grant of constitutional status to the OBC commission is one among the many measures undertaken by the BJP in pursuit of its objective of Indic unity. Furthermore despite these measures, support of the Upper Castes to the BJP has remained steadfast. This might point to a recognition of caste privilege and acceptance of the need for affirmative action. The gradual lowering of regional identity and tacit acceptance of caste privilege are monumental milestones in the journey of Hindutva so far. These two developments are good for India as it will boost regional and social cohesion. Hindutva, however has yet to answer on two major questions which in all probability will determine its trajectory in the future.
Hindutva’s view on the status of women and its view on inter caste marriage will play a key role in whether it wins the culture war in India. Support for the former will inevitably mean support for the latter. Hindutva must embrace the idea of personal & sexual freedom for women. The idea of personal and sexual freedom for people has been an integral part ancient Indian traditions. By embracing it, Hindutva can concretely affirm its commitment to eradicating value systems which India had regrettably internalized on account of colonial rule. Hindutva’s ambivalence on where it lies on the issue of personal and sexual freedom of women has been utilized by its opponents to draw absurd parallels with the Taliban. Liberals would prefer the existing status quo to continue because it prevents a torch being shown on some of their strange alliances. Liberals would it increasingly difficult to come up with a logical reason to oppose a liberal right wing coalition while being in bed with conservative Islamic groups on many ideological issues.
Hindutva’s support for women’s freedom will also be pivotal for future ideological success. A clarion call from a voter base of women and disadvantaged groups for measures such as a Uniform Civil Code cannot be opposed by courting the affection of religious conservatives from India’s largest religious minority. By doing so, Hindutva’s opponents will sink further into an already deep sinkhole. A liberal right wing coalition with women taking the lead is feasible because Hindutva’s philosophical roots of integral humanism are in sync with the idea of personal and sexual freedom for women.
Hindutva today stands at the mouth of diverging roads. One road will enable it to fundamentally alter India and its politics for the better. A liberal right wing coalition driven by muscular liberalism can be decisive in combatting the ideology of Islamist terrorism. On the other hand ambiguity regarding status of women will make Hindutva a second grade clone of the ideology it seeks to overcome.