Who is a ‘Hindu’? What is ‘Hindutva’? Time for the Opposition to fight BJP's 'Hindutva'

While Rahul Gandhi was berated in the media for drawing a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, Hinduism preached by the BJP today is unrecognizable from what Vivekananda and Kabir believed in

Who is a ‘Hindu’? What is ‘Hindutva’? Time for the Opposition to fight BJP's 'Hindutva'
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Avay Shukla

At a public rally in Jaipur in December Rahul Gandhi made a distinction between Hindu and Hindutvawadi. The former, he explained, was the real believer in the values of Hinduism--tolerant, inclusive, peaceful and the pursuer of satya [truth]. The latter were those who weaponised the faith to instil hatred, intolerance and violence in the pursuit of Satta [power]: the reference to the BJP/ RSS was unmistakeable.

It was as if he had pulled the pin on a grenade-- TV channels and social media exploded into paroxysms of outrage and/or support, depending on where one stood on this new Radcliffe line in our sorry history. Political pundits, from the neighbourhood chaiwallah to the lofty editor, all opined that this was a suicidal mistake on Mr. Gandhi’s part as it would consolidate Hindu votes behind the BJP: UP was now all but lost for the Congress. Even his own party, barring Salman Khurshid, maintained a discreet silence.

Most people are perhaps not aware that Rahul Gandhi is not the first to differentiate between the two ideas. Savarkar had articulated it first in 1923 in his book ‘Hindutva- Who Is A Hindu?’ He had stated that Hinduism is but a fraction and small part of the larger Hindutva ideology which goes beyond religion. Hindutva, according to him, comprised of Rashtra (nation), Jaati (common race), and Sanskriti (common culture). It was a nationalistic, rather than a religious, concept, one that excluded rather than included. In other words, precisely what the BJP is attempting to ram through. This little slice of history validates what Mr. Gandhi has claimed.

It took courage to make such a statement in the current, religiously surcharged atmosphere. By making it publicly, Rahul Gandhi has finally crossed the Rubicon in our troubled political waters. From a purely philosophical and cultural perspective, it was time someone of note belled this cat, or, to mix metaphors, called out this elephant in the room.

For the fact is, the Hinduism now preached by the BJP is unrecognizable from the religion of Kabir, Prem Chand and Vivekananda; it has become a political doctrine rather than an easy-going way of life; its places of worship being converted into frontiers of war even when there is no visible enemy to defend them against. Faux enemies are being created and history is being exhumed and rewritten to provide legitimacy to a monstrous lie. The refusal to confront it was only making this stronger by the day. Even without the politics, purely on cultural grounds, someone had to make this point. For the biggest threat to Hinduism today is Hindutva, the militarised vision of Savarkar.

Rahul Gandhi has also shown an acute sense of electoral strategy by carving out this distinction. Hindutva is the nucleus of the BJP/RSS ideology, its core strength and battering ram in all elections. The Opposition can never defeat the BJP unless it is prepared to take it on face to face, eye ball to eye ball. One may win battles on one’s own ground, but if you want to win the war you will have to take on the enemy in his own territory.

Politics is not just about governance and delivery, it is also about the clash of competing ideas and ideology. The BJP’s resurrected doctrine of Hindutva is a powerful driving force. The Opposition has to challenge it with a counter ideology, and Rahul Gandhi may just have found one.

Even at the best of times the BJP has never got more than 40% of the Hindu votes. By not taking the war into the Hindutva minefield the Opposition risks losing the remaining 60% over time, as the BJP increases its stranglehold and people resign themselves to a TINA logic. Rahul Gandhi appears to have realised this, and that it is time to reach out to that other 60% in the name of the very idea that Modi has invokedreligion- specifically the Hindu way of life and culture. For not only is this greatest of all religions being distorted and brutalised, it is being used to subvert and destroy the very basis of our nation, its Constitution. There have been examples aplenty of this in the last seven years, but let us take just the latest one.

The Kashi-Vishwanath inauguration extravaganza last week has crossed the Laxman Rekha of any secular country and Constitution. Not only was a government function converted into a political, Hindutva rally, but the Prime Minister himself assumed the role of a head priest. He had done this earlier also- at Ayodhya, Kedarnath, Badrinath, all paid for by the exchequer of a secular state. Mr. Modi, confident that he will not be challenged and is invincible in the “kavach” (carapace or armour) of Hindutva is gradually metastasising into some kind of Inca or Maya emperor, the fount of all temporal and spiritual power. At great cost to the nation and its well-being.

The bills have started coming in: the pathetic human development indices, the highest inflation in the last 30 years, unemployment and LPR (Labour Participation Rates) at record levels, social disharmony, one of the worst countries in the world in the inequality index, selling off of public assets built painstakingly over decades, the closure of more than 400,000 SMEs, another 120 million pushed below the poverty line, 12000 farmers committing suicide every year.


The bills will continue mounting, for the BJP’s toxic obsession with the politics of Hindutva is pushing the country to the brink of destruction in every sense of the term. In the BJP’s model, governance cannot be separated from its idea of Hindutva. You cannot challenge one and not the other.

It is no longer enough for the Opposition to fight Messrs Modi, Shah or Yogi Adityanath; it has to fight the very idea of Hindutva, the fearful creature that has been hibernating for the last 70 years and has now found an environment conducive enough for it to emerge into the open. It can no longer be ignored, avoided or wished away- it has to be engaged. That is what Rahul Gandhi has done. It is a risk, but then one is reminded of the wise words of the philosopher, Kierkegaard:

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily, but not to dare is to lose oneself.”

And, may I add, one’s country.

(The writer is a retired civil servant and blogs at ‘View from Greater Kailash’. Views are personal)

This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.