Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hindutva or Hind Swaraj - U.R. Ananthamurthy

U. R.Ananthamurthy was a literary heavyweight, a Jnanpith award winner among many things. He was openly hostile to the rise of the Hindutva nationalism in India and was critical of Narendra Modi's pitch to become the Prime Minister of India riding on the Hindu nationalistic wave. URA said that he would leave India if Modi became the PM and was subject to much harassment after Modi won the elections in a landslide victory. URA would have been distressed by the turn of events and one last time before he passed away, he summoned up his ideas and put them together in this book. A manifesto, says Shiv Visvanathan.

The book looks at Savarkar's concept of Hindutva versus Gandhi's idea of a Hind Swaraj. URA says that the Modi manifesto is to follow the Savarkar idea of Hindutva which is different from Gandhi's idea of a Hind Swaraj. While both Gandhi and Savarkar seemed to agree upon things like removal of untouchability and removal of the caste system, Savarkar's idea of Hindutva is based on one's roots, one's nation, one's punyabhoomi. Only Hindus can lay right to their punyabhoomi and rule it and all else shall be subservient to them. Hindus will live as one happy lot with no untouchability and such caste stuff. All converts shall however be converted so the Hindu base will remain strong and will rule happily ever after. But what about the Muslims and others? What about the caste system? How can one wish these away by simply saying this is what I want? A bit idealistic.

Gandhi also said all Hindus can live together (one of the fundamental problems we have) but all others should also live happily with the Hindus as equals. Now how can we share our punyabhoomi with the Muslims seems to be the area of dissonance.

Both arguments are dreamy and romantic simply because these issues cannot be wished away like that. The idea of a united India came into existence only after Independence. We were a bunch of some 565 or so kingdoms and British establishments, each ruling his or her own kingdom as a separate country. Now there were Hindu and Muslim and Christian rulers (if we take the British into account) and each did what suited them best. Now would I have any great allegiance to one king or another is a question one must ponder over. They were not my kings, they did me no favour, One is as good as another or as bad as another. If the Hindus and Muslims fought on the basis of religion, they also fought together against the British. If the Hindus must get together they must also look at how they will repair some of the fundamental concepts that are laid down about the caste system. How will any parity ever be done? It's a royal mess that we are oversimplifying.

However the idea that one race is superior, that the land belongs to that one race, that other races must be shown their place or converted back or shown the door, that by building strong armies and attacking our neighbours we will develop as a super power is an old one that Hitler sold to his country. The idea did not work even after killing off some six million or so Jews, though they probably felt they were on track for a while. In a world that's coming together too fast too soon, these are ideas that are bound to fail faster and with more disastrous consequences. After so much progress, we are still talking of dividing, of separating, of rejecting, of fighting and killing. We are still trying to make sense of who is a Hindu and what is he or she entitled to, what will be practiced - the law or the scriptures - how will it be applied. When will we conveniently keep silent and when will we speak about nationalism. No one knows. But we're ready - for murder and for suicide.

The book is written as a set of ideas, concepts. I was more inclined to read it because I knew that my friend and editor Keerti Ramachandra, who is also a fantastic translator (Kannada and Marathi to English), translated the work.  URA's anguish pours forth and it is as if he is trying to get the point across and make us see the right path. But the path is clear and we have chosen it and we will have to bear the consequences of it as well. Modi won with a huge majority. He still enjoys immense popularity - people expect him to take the country to the high road of development where we will all be rich (or better than we were), some unwanted elements will be removed, some irritants will be silenced but its ok as long as we benefit. At a time when it looks like Trump will in all likelihood take over the White House, we all know that we are not in an age of reason. We are in an age of social media, of falsehoods, of instant fame, of wafer thin convictions. Anything can be sacrificed to stay in power, to get some money. We are in the age of short sighted pygmies and we all know it. No point fighting it. Enjoy the ride. Our leaders reflect us.

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