Salam Khurshid reignited an age-old debate by invoking a distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism. Mr Khurshid seemed to have taken a lesson or two from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial magnum opus “Padmavat”. The difference between Hindutva and Hinduism in the mind of Mr Khurshid was as “in your face” as the difference between Alauddin Khilji and Rana Ratan Singh in the film. Hinduism for Mr Khurshid was pure and peaceful, while Hindutva was vile, violent, and vicious. While Mr Khurshid’s thoughts will find a lot of takers among those that view pre-2014 India with a lot of nostalgia, others are unlikely to find Mr Khurshid’s thoughts palatable.
Hindutva is going to play a pivotal cultural role in the lives of Indians in the years to come and it is important to understand the Hindutva phenomenon Sans politically tinted glasses. At the outset, Hinduism and Hinduvta are not parallel lines. If India’s political history from the 1990s is a barometer, Hindutva is Hinduism’s latest upgrade. The upgrade emerged in post independent India because of constant interference by the Indian state in activities governing the practice of the Hindu religion. Hinduism became the specimen on which tests to fathom the affinity of faith in India to the principles of liberal democracy were carried out. This was done by minimizing the role of the Hindu religion in governing the daily life of its adherents. The British started the practice by passaging the Madras Regulation VII of 1817, which brought temples in South India under the control of the British. Laws passed subsequently in the pre-independence period ensured that Hindu institutions, customs and traditions were malleable to government control and judicial review. The Indian state did not try to undo these practices in post-independence India.
If that was not enough, Hinduism has been involuntarily given the burden of adapting its traditions to suit contemporary requirements. The most recent manifestation of this has been to gradually discourage public displays of the Hindu faith. On Diwali, Hindus are encouraged to not burst crackers for the sheer harm it causes to the environment and the distress it causes to animals. Such progressive voices disappear during a festival in which needless sacrifice of goats is a divine necessity or when fireworks boom all over the world to ring in the New Year. The sheer absence of constructive criticism of the practices governing Islam and Christianity vis-à-vis Hinduism over many years made Hindus feel they were targeted. There was a growing sentiment among Hindus that there was a concerned attempt to whittle down the Hindu religion in the cultural sphere. Popular culture also further strengthened this sentiment. It took a leaf out of the playbook of the Indian state and used Hindu traditions to score progressive brownie points and receive accolades for being brave.
Hindutva emerged in this context. It is Hinduism’s response to the lack of a level playing field among religions in India. Contrary to Mr Khurshid’s views, Hindutva’s strategy to perceived cultural injustice has been a civilized one, with one exception. It has not engaged in vicious displays of street power and held the Indian state to ransom to enforce its goals. Rather, Hindutva has used the BJP as a political vehicle to democratically implement its objectives by turning cultural Hindus into political Hindus. Hindutva and ISIS are as similar as chalk and cheese. The methods used by the former are in sync with the principles of democracy, while the latter has no qualms about using inhibited street power to enforce barbarism. Any talk of equating the two is just politics and nothing else.