PODCAST: Hindu Lives Matter?

In this podcast Shabih - Ul- Hassan breaks down what exactly Hindu nationalism is and how Hindutva found fertile ground in India and what this all means for the future of India.
7th July 202218 min

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[00:00:00] Adnan: Welcome to geopolitical horizons, the podcast from the geopolity.com. My name’s Adnan and I’ll be your host today. India has for long been described at the world’s largest democracy. But the recent controversy where the spokesman for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made offensive remarks about the wife of the prophet of Islam (saw). It belies India’s drift to the right. Violence against minorities in India has grown in parallel to calls for a Hindu rashtra, a Hindu nation. Where is this all heading? What does the future of the Indian subcontinent hold in order to explore this all, I have with me today Shabih-ul-Hasan, who is our Asia analyst and is also from India. How are you shabih?

[00:00:52] Shabih: I’m very good Adnan, how are you?

[00:00:54] Adnan: I’m good. I’m I’m good. It’s uh, good to have you here today. Um, for this, uh, very pertinent discussion of what’s taking place in India. So I think Shabih probably the best place to start is can you outline what are the origins of Hindu nationalism and how has it all of a sudden becomes so mainstream in India?

[00:01:11] Shabih: Yeah. Okay. That’s a good question to start with Adnan. So, before we talk about Hindu nationalism, let me just say a few words about Hinduism itself. So there has never been a common definition of who is a Hindu because there’s no common thought or, or text as we, as we. Or even a common way of life which it defines a Hindu. So essentially Hindu the word Hindu originated from the word Indus and the Persians used to call the people who lived the south of the Indus river as Hindus. And that’s the origin of the word Hindu. So, essentially it’s a geographical nature of a bunch of people live together in a certain area. They were called Hindus by the outsiders. And this is the term that got adopted by the Britishers and that is what started to be used to describe Hindus. Otherwise there’s no common thought or text or even even a common God to describe who are the Hindus. So now coming to Hindu nationalism, now Hindu nationalism is an idea basically to politically unite all of the Hindus who live in that part of the land. Remember this part of the world was in the last 1000 years, 800 years, it was ruled by the Muslims. It was under Islam and last 200 years it was ruled by the Britishers or when it turned into a secular democratic state in 1947. So essentially Hindus as a political entity, they never ruled India and that is essentially the urge for the Hindus to unite themselves into a common identity and rule over India. They think of themselves like the Zionist who got a land for the Jews and exclusively for the Jews, in, in the name of Israel. And so they derive a lot of ideas from Zionism. this is what essentially Hindu nationalism is all about.

[00:03:03] Adnan: Okay thanks for that, that’s actually very interesting. So you know Shabih is Hindu nationalism just an identity, or is it more than that? You know, what are the key ideas and does Hinduism or Hindu nationalism, does it offer a template for state and society?

[00:03:19] Shabih: Uh, Hindu nationalism is an attempt to provide a political identity to the Hindus, a common political identity to the Hindus. It’s very different from Hinduism which as I said, it doesn’t have any, any definition. It doesn’t have any common text. It doesn’t have any common one. God, it doesn’t have any common, even tradition. So, now what this movement called Hindutva has done or tried to do is give a political identity to the Hindus which is known as a Hindutva. So essentially it has fused Hinduism and nationalism to create a national identity for the Hindus. I mean, it basically it’s a reactionary ideology. It was born out of hatred for Muslims and Christians who were considered, as foreigners who had occupied the land of the native Hindus. The Hindus essentially considered themselves as the native of those lands. And for them, Muslims and Christians are the ones who came from outside and that’s why they’re not Hindu. You can be Theist and be a Hindu. You can be a Gujrati or a Buddhist or a Jain and be a Hindhu because you are native to that land, but Muslims and Christians are considered to have come from outside the land. That’s why they’re not considered Hindus by the Hindutva Ideologue. So it is an exclusionary ideology. It is not bound out of a common idea, but. From a, hatred of a common enemy and this, hatred was implanted by the Britishers during the famous divide and rule policy where they pit Hindus and Muslims against each other so that they can rule over themselves and continue the colonial rule and history was written showing Muslims as foreign invaders and that thought has permeated into the masses now who who essentially just want to drive Muslims out of the lands. So coming back to your question yes, now it has now Hindhutva is an identity and the success of this Hindutva movement indicates that this idea has got mainstream and Hindus now consider themselves as one entity, this is essentially the reality. So the second question was that what are risky ideas and does it differ offer a template for state and society? So the key ideas are about who a Hindu is and, and they essentially evolve around three basic aspects, belonging to that native land of India, having a common language, which they call Sanskrit and then having a common culture, which basically, worshiping many gods. It doesn’t matter who we worship, but worshiping gods and following some common rituals, like idol worship or following some certain practices like the caste system. So that’s something that that forms the, the core of this ideas. And does it offer any template for state and society? To my mind and from how I read it, and no it doesn’t. I like to think of it as basically capitalism with a saffron coloring a saffron color, which is associated with Hinduism. So when it offers a model for state and society, it essentially borrows all its ideas from the west. The the concept of a nation state, the concept of a, even, even they consider themselves of a secular, they don’t, say that we are going to create our template out of some Hindu text. They, they believe that that the religion should be kept out outside of ruling. So essentially from that perspective, they’re secular. So so I mean that their template of ruling is same as what we have seen in other national or ethnic states or national states. So I think they don’t offer in terms of solutions, frameworks to solve the problems of Indians. There’s nothing to, for them to offer.

[00:06:56] Adnan: So Shabi where does the RSS come into all of this?

[00:07:01] Shabih: Yes at the start of the century there were some Hindu ideologues who, who basically came up with this idea of uniting creating a common identity who are Hindus. As I said, there was, there was never a common identity and they always considered them this aspect as one of the biggest weaknesses, which led to first Muslims rule over them and and then Britishers rule over them. So they thought that always divided along cast lines, ethnic lines, regional lines. So basically they wanted to erase this and create a common Indian identity entity. Around revolving around who is a Hindu. So there was the few ideologues like Savarkar, Golwalker and Hedgewar there were three names which continuously keep coming up if we study about RSS and Hindutva. So RSS was born around 1924 and Savarkar was the first person who coined the term Hindutva. So from there it was a fringe movement. It was always a fringe moment. Its original ideologues were inspired by what happened in Hitlers Germany. Golwalker openly wrote about that he was inspired by how Hitler treated the problem of the Jews. And they wanted to basically use the template to in their words, treat the problem the Muslims in India. Now they publicly disowned Golwalker uh, but their essential aim is the same they want to either get rid of Muslims or put them in a second class citizen where their existence is totally reliant on the wims of the majority of Hindus and they can rule as an ethnic democracy. Now political commentators call India under Hindutva as an essentially an ethnic democracy where one ethnic group is now ruling because of its majority in parliament over all of Indians.

[00:08:42] Adnan: Okay. So Hindu nationalism seems to be interlinked with the BJP and Nira Modi without them would it be correct to say that Hindu nationalism would remain a fringe Idea?

[00:08:55] Shabih: Hindu nationalism was a fringe idea maybe 60 years ago, 70 years ago it has taken time to evolve initially when India got independence it’s founding fathers who are influenced by the European ideas of secular democracy, they create they tried to fashion new country on secular and democratic lines and Indian constitution is considered a role model of what a constitution should look like for a secular democracy and this this was adopted by the Congress. So Congress, the rulers the main leaders in the Congress were all inspired by European ideas, liberal democracy. So for the first, almost 60 years or 70 years, it was ruled by the Congress during that period Congress willfully, unwillingly allowed the RSS to grow, it was a fringe movement 70 years earlier, but since it was allowed to exist, it was allowed to grow it has, it is no longer a fringe movement simply because now it has achieve political power and BJP, which is the political wing of RSS and Narendra Modi who now currently heads the BJP he has been elected as the prime minister of India and with the thumping majority in the first time, in the last 20 years of Indian history, we have a government which is not a coalition government BJP has an absolute majority and which, which indicates that now the idea is no longer fringe and it has now accepted politically. It is political legitimacy amongst the mass of Indians from north to south.

[00:10:23] Adnan: So Sabih you mentioned the Congress party, the All India Congress party played a major role in the independence movement. And like you said, they’ve dominated India’s critical landscape. So how come they’ve been unable to spread? How come they’ve been unable to stop the spread of Hindu nationalism?

[00:10:42] Shabih: That’s a very good question, actually. And you find very little commentary on this part. The only book I have actually read, which comes close to explaining this is Christophe Jaffrelot book that came out last year. [Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy]

[00:10:54] Shabih: So what happened was that Congress was inspired by the secular liberal ideals, all its founding fathers, like Nehru, Gandhi even the ones who were Muslims like Mullana Azad and Jinnah, they wanted to create a secular democracy and obviously with its own local flavor so Congress and at that point of time, this idea was popular among the elites. Now, remember India was always a very traditional Hindu conservative society. So this idea of secularism and liberalism was did never, actually gain traction among the masses. It might have been popular with the elites who were foreign educated and who held sway over the upper echelons of the society, but liberalism never permeated to the ground. So what Congress had to do earlier, coming back to your question, why did it allow RSS. Now for Congress to actually rule over India. It had to make compromises with the its Hindu base on the ground, otherwise it would not have won elections and these are traditional Hindu voters there was kind of a tacit pact between Congress and the RSS that they will tolerate each other and they’ll continue to not interfere with each other. And that in that context, RSS will continued to grow. Now coupled this with the fact that Congress implemented a socialist economic model, which was a failure, after 60 years, especially after the collapse of the Soviet union, that economic model failed. So India as a nation, I mean, we all talk about, how great progress it has made, but essentially it continues to be a very poor country for the large masses economic policies have failed, 70% of Indians live on less than $2 a day, which indicates the level of failure that of economic policies of the Congress. So there have, or has all been, been discontent among the masses against Congress’, economic policies. And of course I talked about the social aspect where the masses, never really accepted the liberal idea. They might have tolerated it based on some promises, it made of making India a great nation, a great liberal democracy. But it was never accepted by the masses who were very traditionally rooted and a very conservative society. So these two failures one of the economic front. One on the social front, they combined and created the perfect situation for the rise of rightwing movements as has been the case across the world where mainstream liberal politicians and liberal parties have failed and the right-wing have risen to take the places, offering an alternative view to the people. And you can use the same template to understand the rise of the rightwing politics in India which is represented by RSS and BJP. Essentially people who got fed up with Congress and they did not deliver neither on the social front now on the economic front and people are now looking for alternatives. And then the only alternative now they have is is BGP and RSS because they have tried almost all of the parties from the liberal spectrum. Now , they’re switched over to the right thing, which is what RSS and BJP is all about.

[00:13:49] Adnan: So Shabih, the farward march of Hindhu nationalism, what does it mean for minorities, such as Muslims?

[00:13:57] Shabih: It has always been an open objective of the hindhutva movement to convert Muslims into second class citizens. The whole idea was to get rid of them, like Hitler tried with Jews. But now in this reality of the modern age the Hindutva ideologues have realised that it’s not possible to get rid of 200 million Muslims physically. So the next best thing is to convert them into second class citizens. So, which is what is essentially happening right now, which is had the pace has accelerated in the last six or seven years, especially after Modi came into power. So what this means is, Muslims, will unofficially be second class citizens and with limited rights and living at the mercy of the majority hindhi community, they’ll be allowed to exist, but in a very limited, with the rights stripped down, then continuously harassed by the state, , by the politicians and without an external support. They seem to have been left to fend for themselves, with prominent global organisation now warning of an impacting genocide against them.

[00:14:57] Adnan: So should we I’ve read. Quite a few arguments on the narrative against Muslims from the Hindu right wing.  A lot of the narrative seems to be rooted in history, the Arabs and then Muslims from Afghanistan, they came and occupied india for 800 years to a thousand years. It seems that there’s the narratives all about Muslims were bad. They were occupiers whilst the British are not seen as occupiers did this narrative. Does it, does it resonate with Hindus or is this quite a fringe idea?

[00:15:33] Shabih: It used to be a French idea earlier, but unfortunately now it resonates among the masses. The Britishers helped rewrite the history of India to pitch Muslims against Hindus. That idea has slowly, permeated at every level of society and be it secular, Hindu, or even , right wing Hindu. They have either internalised openly or grudgingly that Muslims have been outsiders and they have been occupiers and they are the ones who rule over us against our wishes. And they are the ones who destroyed our culture. Surprisingly this, this feeling doesn’t that express , itself against the Britishers who actually came to India and colonized the lands and looted it and plundered it. it’s important to notice under the the Muslim rule, India was one of the most pro prosperous lands in the world. Under Aurangzeb who’s now vilified as a perfect Muslim, Muslim enemy to have ruled India. Under Aurangzeb the economy of India was the GDP was calculated as 25% of the world economy, was the richest contain in the world. But and when the Britishers came they stripped away the land, they looted it and it reduced to a poor nation with its GDP now around 3% to 4% of the entire world economy. So yeah, that has been the result of the propaganda and the rewriting of history by the Britishers. So this has all led to this idea now getting mainstreamed where they hatred against Muslims is now rampant for for real perceived injustices that has been taught to them. And unfortunately we are now seeing the outcome in terms of open call for genocide against Muslims.

[00:17:15] Adnan: Shabi when I look at Hindu nationalism, what I see from where I am is lynchings, people being killed or beaten up for eating beef. Now this seems to be at complete odds. With this image India has. So India was for long held up as the world’s largest democracy. The world was looking forward to this integration into global liberal order. Now this shift to the right, does it not hurt india’s global image?

[00:17:43] Shabih: You are right Adnan, India was always presented as a shining example of the success of secular democratic model in a third world country. No third world country has ever got close to adopting in the Western liberal model and successfully implemented it for at least a few decades. And this is the reason India was didn’t get too much of a negative coverage in the world press. if you, review, the last years of coverage, uh, but what happened after 2014 when BJP under Modi won and the elections with this majority, and especially after 2016, two years after Modi, when, when these lynchings and mass violence against Muslim started now, the world has startedf to notice what’s happening, especially after the proliferation of social media the news is not hidden anymore to the outside world, so there’s a lot of negative coverage. Now you can read about what’s happening in India in the mainstream Western press. I mean, the Economists has talk about it in Time magazine, Washington Post New York times. Now they continually write cover this, this turn that India has taken. So yes, now there is a criticism of India, and India is increasingly getting negative coverage in the global media. And the news of violence is now openly reported now, but the, the reality is that India remains firmly in the Western camp in terms of being considered both a strategic and an ideological ally of America or the west. So India under Modi doesn’t challenge or threaten the global order. It is trying to find its rightful place in the global order. But it’s not, in a position to challenge it or threaten it and that may be one of the reasons that it is being tolerated. So you, you, you can see criticism from the west, but you don’t see real action, against the Indian government. And obviously, because of strategic and political reasons, the west will continue to back India, support it, keeping in mind in its long term objectives. So yeah, that’s, that’s what I would summarize it.

[00:19:39] Adnan: So Shabih would it be correct to say that Hindu nationalism it really stops at India’s borders, its purely for domestic purposes. Beyond India’s border India’s foreign policy seems to be very economics driven. Or regional driven Pakistan or China. So would it be correct to say the BJP they don’t plan to spread Hindu nationalism around the world. It’s it’s really, for internal purposes when it comes to external India has a different set of policies. It follows,

[00:20:05] Shabih: Yes, we’re right, hindutva is essentially just capitalism, with Saffron coloring. So the, the Hindutva ideologues or the politicians they don’t have ambitions beyond the border. For them, India has to be under Hindu rule. That’s the, the ultimate goal. And they want to find India’s rightful place as a Hindu nation in the existing world order. So the foreign policy we see is all based regional, is mostly focused around enmity to towards Pakistan, obviously due to historical reasons and that arose from partition and issues arising out of it. And that’s it. So and this is why India fits in the overall strategic plan of the US for the region. So, and there are a lot of Hindus now as a disapora they live in Western countries and they don’t talk about change in the land where they live in, they focus their activism about bringing change in India itself , and making India into a Hindu Rashtra. But the foreign policy, it is along the lines of any typical nation state, basically trying to preserve its national interest and then making sure that their conflict with the regional countries is, resolved or controlled to the favor.

[00:21:18] Adnan: Okay Shabih, so my final question, if we put nationalism aside and even secularism for that matter, what are India’s main challanges going forward? What do you see as the key issues India needs to be dealing with?

[00:21:33] Shabih: So India has as a huge list of challenges, aside from being a very poor country from all parameters, judging economic performance, it has been doing rather poorly, especially in the last few years where the GDP has been declining. There’s this massive increase in poverty the last few years. And then India has always hit own internal issues like the social cohesion. There has been so many insurgencies in India, in the Northeast, in Punjab, even in Jummu and Kashmir and there were some other states where, there were insurgency, but they were always kept in check. There’s the Maoist movement which is essentially fighting for the rights of the tribals against the Indian state. So India has its own problems. And then this Hindu society itself is so deeply divided around caste lines. Caste system is formalided under Hinduism,, it is accepted and, and this is something that is even considered by the Hindu ideologue itself as one of the weakest links.

[00:22:31] Shabih: So yeah, in India has a massive list of challenges and I don’t see any way that Hindutva is offering to fix those real issues, except for maybe turning attention of the masses towards Muslims as the the common enemy and turning them towards the Muslims and somehow feeling that if they got rid that the Muslims, the problems will be solved. So unfortunately I don’t see any way for India forward in terms of being able to solve their own problem. I mean, I think they will even increase in the coming days because India, as I said, was always a divided society means creating an Indian identity was a big experiment, which seems to have failed now. By this, the identity that was tried, , by to create by Nehru and the likes of Gandhi. So these fault lines that exist in India, they already existed in India will continue to worsen they’ll get graver and then I think they are going to threatening the long term survival of the state itself.

[00:23:34] Adnan: Shabih, thank you for your great insight today.

[00:23:37] Shabih: Thank you Adnan, it’s pleasure to talk to you.

[00:23:39] Adnan: If you wanna learn more about issues based today, please check our website, www.thegeopolity.com. All one word. You can also learn more on other issues by accessing our website where you’ll find comprehensive insights, analysis, articles, and deep dives. I’m Adnan, thank you for listening.

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