The Hindu Monologue
Classical Hinduism was politically backward and lacked capacity for mobilising its followers into a nation. This opened India’s floodgates for entry of Islam which established its rule, beginning with Sindh, in the eighth century. This was followed by Delhi Sultans and Muslim kingdoms at Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur and Golkonda
Hinduism originated in Vedic texts and evolved in changing historical conditions. Like any other religion it had classical and modern forms. Classical Hinduism imagined a layered cosmos inhabited by people differentiated on a karmic scale. The devlok above was ordained for devatas. Lower down was the karma bhumi, the site of eternal conflict between good and evil, symbolized by Ram-Ravan conflict. Further lower down was a patal lok. It was ordained to asuras drawn from the animal world. They cast a shadow of misfortune on chosen targets. The inner world of the soul was appropriated to Hinduism later at the behest of Upnishads and the Purans. Reconstituting the subjective truth was its purpose which got a boost when Buddhism and Jainism emerged. Different practioners invented different practices which were institutionalised within sant and ashram traditions initiated by Nanak, Kabir and Tulsidas and flourished to this day at the instance of new babas and their ashrams. But they never got a pan-Indian point of reference.
Classical Hinduism was politically backward and lacked capacity for mobilising its followers into a nation. This opened India’s flood gates for entry of Islam which established its rule, beginning with Sindh, in the eighth century. This was followed by Delhi Sultans and Muslim kingdoms at Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur and Golkonda. Babur understood the prevailing social equation and was reassured of it when leading Rajput kings, clan leaders and zamidars kneeled down to serve the empire as mansabdars and, given an opportunity, humbly offered daughters in marriage to Muslim rulers, not as much for celebrating love as for stealing a march over their local rivals in status and wealth. Brahmin priests too fell in line and offered advice to qazis in matters relating to Muslim-Hindu and inter-caste justice. And so the Sufi mystics, on Babur’s call, stepped forward to build bridges with Hindus. These histotical developments subjected Hindu norms relating to majhab, mahabbat and insaf to prudential modifications. Both the empire and Hindu crossovers played their role in bending this ‘invented India’ on empire-friendly ‘idea of India’. Erom a long term perspective, it was an intelligent way of relating to power.
This ‘idea of India’ was reformulated when the British came on the trail of private business led by East India Company. The nodal points of the Company’s business were the three Presidencies of Bombay, Bengal and Madras which the British Crown placed under the supervision of a Governor- General. The Governor-General eventually found it necessary to bring Hindu social norms in line with Company’s business interests and so launched a programme of social reform in the contested zone of Hindu tradition. While saying this here, the aim was not to deny the moral imperative for use of political power to stop the fast regression of the contemporary Hindu society into barbarity signified mainly by violence towards child widows and lower castes. The aim here was limited to suggesting that the Hindu elite were themselves, in a large number of cases, grounded on pre-liberal notions of family and social relations. The Company’s ‘idea of India’ was again reformulated when the ‘colonial state’ was established. The stability of its rule warranted a strategic shift towards ordering of inter-religious relations.
When Independence came, Jawaharlal Nehru was not paranoid about the continuing residence in India of Muslim and British professionals, spouses, students and others. In fact, he was enamoured of the secular effects of their presence especially in food, dress, architecture, language, literature and scholarship. He did not link these effects with religion or foreignness. So was the case with developmental activity of the empires which improved the material conditions of life. He wanted to conserve this legacy and take it forward. The post-colonial ‘idea of India’ was therefore translated into an academic agenda for social and cultural reform and economic prosperity. It brought the intellectual to the centre stage of this national project. The leading figures in business, politics, cinema, media, teaching, civil and military services were expected to go beyond routine activity and zestfully colour Nehru’s ‘idea’ of a ‘new India’.
The new historians and social sciences were drawn to it and sought to demolish exclusivist aspects of nationalist historiography. They prioritized post-national politics, society and culture. They positioned Islamic rule and ‘colonial modernisation’ as entry points of ‘civilisation’ in India. The nationalist historians, on the other hand, prioritised consolidation of national identity. Taking leads from European history, they objected to inversion of hisorical sequences. For example, they thought that national consolidation should have come first, as in Europe. The opening to cosmopolitan values should have come later.
These values helped only a handful of people to flourish with the nourishment they offered. The larger society remained untouched. It felt handicapped in relation to the more fortunate ones. Hence, they harnessed the emotive power of religion. They deviated from the classical form of Hinduism and so framed their position as to disown the history of domination and exploitation. They aimed at constituting their outside world, social, cultural, economic and political, to pave the way for autonomous development. This approach to the future was not acceptable to those who treated the empires as a case of paradigm change in the history of India. In short, the Hindu question today was complex. Was it possible to push Hinduism back into its classical form? Was the state in India a fortress capable of keeping outside influences out? Was it possible for Hindus to become agents of their hisory by devoting themselves politically to the singularity of their culture and civilisation? For answering these questions, the intellectual should again be invited to the pedestal. ( Writer is a retired professor of JNU, Delhi and ex-Fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.)
By Sushil Kumar
(The writer is retired professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Ex-Fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.)