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The Hindu Rashtra wasn't built in a day

Aakar Patel’s new book argues that India’s descent into Hindu majoritarianism is not merely a post-2014 phenomenon

The author attempts a critical examination of the foundational texts of the Sangh Parivar.
The author attempts a critical examination of the foundational texts of the Sangh Parivar. (Getty Images)

As a redoubtable columnist and commentator, Aakar Patel is known for blunt-speaking. An unsparing critic of the current regime, his opposition stems not from the personal, but the ideological. In Our Hindu Rashtra, written in a style similar to his op-ed columns, Patel builds his case brick-by-brick to substantiate two primary theses. One, that Hindu majoritarianism never had positive aspects but was perpetually “negative and aimed at India’s minorities”. Additionally, Hindutva is not an ideology but merely an anti-minority (chiefly targeting Muslims and Christians) programme.

The author’s second presumption is that India’s slide towards majoritarianism is not a post-2014 development, although this process was hastened thereafter. India embarked on this path immediately after independence and every regime shepherded, amply or modestly, the country away from its original post-colonial imagination. Worse, Indian polity has not metamorphosed into the Kafkaesque organism that it has become through “constitutional change”, but by use of “existing law and policy”.

Besides an Introduction, which lays out the overview, the book contains 14 chapters. Most of them qualify to stand as separate essays. Although Patel has not divided the book into sections, three clear segments are perceptible. The first, consisting of three chapters, goes into the genesis of Partition and how Pakistan moved away from the path of constitutionalism and eventually slid to its present state. In this, Patel adds his viewpoint, to countless pre-existing ones, on a historical process over which no unanimity exists. The author is of the opinion that it was the “inability of India’s Hindus, led by the Congress, to arrive at a power-sharing mechanism that would grant political rights to the world’s largest religious minority”. Patel is also kinder to Mohammed Ali Jinnah than most Indians: He “looked into the distant future of mankind and foresaw the falling away of all religious differences”. This section, however, is not the book’s core.

The second segment treads the territory that many, including this writer, have ventured into—a critical examination of the foundational texts of the Sangh Parivar and the ideas that drive the conglomerate. Patel does this with succinct recapitulation of the primary works of three iconic leaders within the Hindutva fraternity: V.D. Savarkar, M.S. Golwalkar and Deendayal Upadhyaya. Through citations from their principal texts, the chapter Hindutva’s Garbled Mantra contends that the primary objective was “putting India’s Muslims in their place”, and their “political defeat” was the primary “task with which the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) was charged by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)”. Each text—Savarkar’s Hindutva, Golwalkar’s Bunch Of Thoughts and Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism—is representative of the clan’s outlook. But Patel could have examined why sections of Golwalkar’s text are now being dubbed by the RSS leadership as “dated” because it was written within a “specific political context”. Does the Hindutva clan feel the need for a tactical gloss over its prejudice-filled core? The chapter And Then Came Advani is a brief history of various affiliates of the organisation, chiefly the Jana Sangh and the BJP, but is handicapped by limited space.

Our Hindu Rashtra—What It Is, How We Got Here: By Aakar Patel, Westland Books, 356 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>799.
Our Hindu Rashtra—What It Is, How We Got Here: By Aakar Patel, Westland Books, 356 pages, 799.

The book takes on a life of its own, making the reader sit up, with the chapter Keep The Faith (Or Else). With anti-conversion laws being enacted in recent days by one state after another, the subject of religious freedom is at the centre of much political contestation. This chapter establishes how the basic safeguards of citizens under Article 25, on the right to freedom of religion, began being undermined immediately after the adoption of the Constitution. This well-researched chapter lists how states followed one another in enacting laws preventing right to propagation of religions as guaranteed by our statutes. Patel also details how these laws were “cleared” by the judiciary whenever challenged.

Some of the polemical chapters are well argued. These include ones debunking the viewpoint that Muslims are “appeased”, and the hypocrisy surrounding cow slaughter and the laws governing the issue. The chapter on how the judiciary, Supreme Court downwards, was complicit in India arriving at this juncture in our path to majoritarianism through some notable judgements—be it the one stating that the “Om” insignia “was not a religious symbol” or ruling infamously that Hindutva was a way of life—is extremely significant. The issue of Kashmir and its “full integration” into the rest of the Union was central to the Hindutva project. Patel’s parting line in the chapter on the erstwhile state will haunt readers: “India started with a solution and ended up creating a problem.”

Mention Gujarat, and one is certain to recall the communal carnage in 2002 or the earlier riots in the state. But while most narratives recount social marginalisation and the increasing irrelevance of Muslims in the electoral process, no thought has been given to the forced ghettoisation by use of a law that allows local administrations to declare specific colonies as Disturbed Areas, at times indefinitely. The chapter Apartheid Ahmedabad provides a chilling account of land grab with official backing and legal clearance. Here again, this process predates the present dispensation and substantiates Patel’s initial premise that India’s embrace of majoritarianism has been a continuing process.

Despite the bleakness of contemporary India he has painted, Patel has found reasons to believe in US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr’s words, that the arc of the moral universe, howsoever long, eventually “bends towards justice”. With the ongoing farmers’ stir continuing to vex a government with a clear majority, Patel, and importantly readers, will find greater reason for his conviction.

Author and journalist, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay’s last book was The RSS: Icons Of The Indian Right. He is also the biographer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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