You are here: Home » Beyond Business » Books
Business Standard

Hindu revivalism versus reform

C.P. Bhambhri  |  New Delhi 

Much confusion has been created by the among well-meaning secularists and rationalists who are trying to expose the Hindutva and Vedic Sanskritic-Brahminical Hinduism of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Parivar's parent organisation.
Many of these secularists have written treatises on the real Hinduism that needs to be protected from the interpretations of V D Savarkar, K B Hedgewar and M S Golwalkar and present custodians like K S Sudershan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Bal Thackerey.
Sharma is one among those progressive-looking authors who has undertaken a scholarly journey, narrating the meaning of Hinduism as given by Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
The major points of difference between Savarkar and the other three commentators on Hinduism has also been noted by Sharma because Savarkar created an organisation that was consolidated by Hedgewar and Golwalkar.
It is a pity that Sharma's valiant effort to rescue "true Hinduism" from the fails from the very beginning because he operates on the terms of debate and discussion laid down by the practitioners of "fake Hinduism".
Since the author's purpose is to expose the Sangh Parivar's "political Hindutva", he could have adopted two routes.
One route was shown by Karl Marx in his On the Jewish Question "" that in a fully formed state the issue of secularism lies in the realm of political/public life and not in theological interpretations of Judaism.
If Sharma had followed this approach in an unambiguous form, an examination of the dangers of the politics of religion as practised and preached by Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar would have been quite adequate.
The second route could have been the one shown by the philosopher K J Shah that any treatise on Hinduism should deal with five questions in an inter-related manner: Is Hinduism a religion? Is Hinduism a philosophy? Is Hinduism more a religion or more a philosophy? Is Hinduism both a religion and a philosophy? Who knows what Hinduism is?
Instead of making a comprehensive study of Hinduism, Sharma opts for the last question only "" i.e. the question of the legitimacy or adhikaar of these four writers on Hinduism as "self-appointed arbiters of faith".
Unfortunately, while discussing the writers of Hindu nationalism, the author mentions the different and conflicting views they have expressed in their writings; he is, however, unable to bring out the finer nuances of the "differences" among the four writers.
While it is correct to maintain that the can cleverly appropriate Dayanand, who had an extreme vision of a "unified, monochromatic and aggressive Hinduism", it would be wrong to ignore the fact that while his Arya Samaj as a movement had a progressive reformatory and moderate face, it had a rigid side in actual practice while confronting Sanatan Dharma or "pure religion".
Hindu revivalism has to be distinguished from the Sangh Parivar's because it is "revival" of a reformed Hinduism.
It is no accident that the Vedic-Brahmanical-Sanskritic Hindutva of Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar does not have any agenda for reforming Hinduism "" including the eradication of caste, which is seen as internal to Hinduism by Raja Rammohan Roy, the first Hindu reformist in modern India.
Similarly Aurobindo has to be properly contextualised. For him the "slavery of India" and its freedom from British colonial rule was the primary goal and this made him look at Hindu slavery and find its causes within a "deviant" Hinduism. Aurobindo's project of interpreting Hinduism compelled him to compare it with Christianity and Islam.
On Islam and Hinduism, he maintains that "discord between Hindus and Muslims...was the consequence of a series of misunderstandings" and "for better understanding and empathy, the prophet and Islam had to be better communicated to 'us' the Hindus".
How could Vivekananda be permitted to be used by fanatics of the Sangh Parivar who cannot build any nationalism without targeting Muslims and Christians?
Vivekananda stated that, "...We must show the spirituality of the Hindus, the mercifulness of the Buddhists, the activity of the Christians, [and] the brotherhood of the Mohammedan by our practical lives."
He also said that "Temples have no hold on the Hindu religion, if they were all destroyed religion would not be effected a grain."
How could such a thinker be convenient to Ram bhakts who destroyed the Babri masjid to teach the Muslims of India a lesson? It is Savarkar who constructed Hinduism and linked religion with nationalism by following Mazzini who inspires all historians of the Sangh Parivar. For Savarkar, the Hindus were the "bedrock on which an Indian independent state could be built".
An important opportunity has been missed by a scholar who is aware of the minute differences within the writings of Dayananda, Aurobindo and Vivekananda's construction of Hindu Nationalism which had many shades and grey areas unlike Savarkar and Sangh Parivar's Hindu Nationalism which has no place for pluralism, diversities and any kind of secular practice.
Like Sharma, many well-meaning commentators on Hinduism are unable to make the fine distinctions between the "revivalist" movements and the "reform" of decadent Hinduism as seen by Aurobindo or Vivekananda or Ramakrishna.
Revivalists and reformists were writing in the context of 18th, 19th and early 20th century in which a great contest was taking place between the colonisers who described Indians as "brutes" and "uncivilised".
The Hindu commentators, therefore, wrote in defence of their vibrant religion. And certainly, not everyone writing on Hinduism can be considered a communalist "" have mercy on Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Gandhi who also have been projected as Hindu. Sharma would have done better had he contextualised Hindutva within colonial rulers' racist supremacy.

Penguin Viking
Pages: 205/ Price: Rs 350

First Published: Thu, January 29 2004. 00:00 IST