Ayodhya Marks the Twilight of the First Republic | Opinion
Hindu nationalism has been the bedrock of the Indian State and polity. Nehruvian secularism was the fringe
Abhinav Prakash Singh
Originally published in the Hindustan Times, dated August 6, 2020
After centuries, Hindus were the dominant power. Despite self-denial, the post-colonial State was essentially a Hindu State. The misleading secular-communal debate blinded us to the obvious; the Republic of India is a Hindu reformist State. It abolished the caste system, integrated and Sanskritised the Dalits and large sections of tribals, codified Hindu social laws, revived classical and folk art forms and replaced Urdu-Persian with Hindi and native languages, controlled Hindu temples, introduced an element of uniformity in temple laws and even harmonised rituals and continues to intervene in Hindu social and religious matters with popular legitimacy. At the same time, it has left Islam outside its ambit in the guise of minority rights and freedom of religion. The Indian state intensified the historical process of Hindu consolidation even as Nehruvian elites denied that India is a Hindu polity above all.
Hindu nationalism has never been fringe; it is Nehruvian secularism that was the fringe. And with the fall of the old English-speaking elites, the system they created is also collapsing along with accompanying myths like Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb and Hindu-Muslim unity. The fact is that Hindus and Muslims lived together, but separately. And they share a violent and cataclysmic past with each other, which has never been put to rest.
Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb was an urban-feudal construct with no serious takers outside a limited circle. In villages, whatever unity existed was because the caste identities of both Hindu and Muslims dominated instead of religious identities or because Hindu converts to Islam maintained earlier customs and old social links with Hindus like common gotra and caste. But all that evaporated quickly with the Islamic revivalist movements such as the Tabligh and pan-Islamism from 19th century onwards. It never takes much for Hindu-Muslim riots to erupt. There was nothing surprising about the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests and widespread riots. As political communities, Hindus and Muslims have hardly ever agreed on the big questions of the day.
What we are witnessing today is twilight of the first Republic. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is but a modern vehicle of the historical process of the rise of the Hindu rashtra. In the north, Jammu and Kashmir is fully integrated. In the south, Dravidianism is melting away. In the east, Bengal is turning saffron. In the west, secular parties must ally with a local Hindutva party to survive. The political debate has decisively shifted from the pseudo- secular paradigm to the Hindu-pseudo Hindu one. The Ram mandir is reborn. The CAA is the law. The National Population Register is underway. And the National Register of Citizens will happen sooner or later. Although history is never linear, it is time to face the truth: Hindu nationalism has always been the bedrock of the Indian State and polity. However, as we witness the rise of a new republic, the question which we must ask is what its shape will be? Is becoming a Hindu State India’s destiny?
There are no clear answers given the lack of precedent, barring a few instances such as the Vijayanagara empire.
Even the Hindutva movement has concerned itself with the Hindu rashtra and not Hindu rajya.