The rise of Prime Minister Narandra Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader in 2014 and rise of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populist state, screams from the roof top that the Hindu religious nationalist vision has won the day and it is the true representation of the majority of Indians aspiration.
These pointers also suggest that India’s vision of Nehruvian secularism based on unity in diversity, peaceful coexistence, and no preferential treatment any religion is dead. What has now replaced is equating Hindu religion with Indian nationalism and its supremacy over the rest of the identities and the denominations in the country.
If this is a fact, then what could be the future trajectory of India? As it appears it could be the consolidation of Hindu religious nationalism model of governance and the subversion other religious and ethnic groups in the country.
In such case, this political trajectory may follow the rule of transition, and the next course could be the rejection of the religious nationalist political forces and the establishment of the caste matrix model of governance as conceived by the British government through the Government of India Act of 1935.
The third trajectory could be the religious nationalist model after undergoing systemic correction would be again replaced by the Nehruvian model of governance
Well what future has in store only a soothsayer can say, right now, the Laurel (Modi) and Hardy (Shah) are rejoicing at the fact they have changed the trajectory of Indian history and have buried the vision of India that was conceived when the country was making tryst with destiny.
If such is the case, it can be argued that why India took seventy years or so to come out of the secular slough to don the saffron apparel the mascot of which is the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
This can be answered with views that at the time of independence, India rejected the idea of being a religious society or a caste based society because doing so the loss to Hindu religion may far outweigh the gains. As a result secular identity was dished out as a façade to outmanoeuvre the two nation theory and to keep caste and religious groupings under the secular umbrella.
Now when India has become politically and economically strong and militarily powerful, and when there is no threat to Hindu religion, then the secular mask has been taken off and replaced by the religious nationalistic identity. As of now this reflects the correct aspirations of the majority Indians and earlier idea was just a velvet glove.
In fact around such ideas the case of Pakistan was contested. Muslim League that saw the unfolding of the Indian nationalism character from 1909 to 1936 argued that the idea of secularism preached by Congress was humbug and its core motive was to establish the supremacy of the Hindu religion. It therefore pleaded that religion alone should be the criteria of political formation in India and best way to run the country would be to get organized on religious lines.
However, the two nation theory was rejected by the Congress and it accepted the partitioning the country on religious lines. It would be an interesting scenario if that call may be taken by the RSS or the Jan Sangh or their current avatar the BJP, when India was gaining independence.
Well that’s a hyperbole and the fact is, India chose the ideals secularism and socialism as the future model of governance. Both, left and right forces were amalgamated into such ideological paradigm and steered the future course of governance.
In such world view unity in diversity among the religious community and socialism and secularism were the pillars of statecraft. In this model of governance religious interference in governance was abhorred. As such this idea had great appeal to the masses and it remained a dominant force for the next seventy years or so.
However, since 1970 when the society has moved from modernism to postmodernism that is characterised by consumerism, the ideas of socialism and secularism, started becoming weak. The failure of the secular and socialist forces to live up to the people’s expectations and floundering in performing political duties were the main reasons. Their ways of governance were filled with so much of incongruities that it paved way for the clamour to bring alternate model of governance.
The incongruities were being, preferential treatment towards certain group and specificities, appeasement policy with an eye to build vote banks etc. Empirically this may not be true, but such political discourse at the grassroots took assertive form and the BJP sprung up as a religious and nationalist political party to replace the secular model of governance.
Now when the BJP has come to acquire power both at the centre and several other states in India, how the future political discourse would pan up in the country.
Right now its honeymoon period for the BJP and its fortune is on the assent. After it pass through the motion of accumulation of power and pass the test of delivering the promises made it can cling to power. They face the challenge to control the assertive Hindu sentiments against the minorities and the deprived castes and to deliver of development front benefitting of all the segments of the society. If they flounder on such tests, they too would undergo a systematic correction for a political change.
In such case they would either be replaced by the secularist nationalist or the caste matrix, the core of Sanatan Dharma’s identity. In fact the second option was provided by the colonial rulers that thought about such framework in the Government of India act of 1935.
In this framework, Sanatan dharma was treated as an amalgamation of caste categories with each caste having separate identity and getting representation in the governance according to their numerical caste strength. The other religions categories were treated as a block and were to be represented as such in the political formation.
This idea was tooth and nail opposed by the Congress party and it provided a united front wearing the secular cloak. The Poona Pact between Gandhiji and Ambedkar was a part to counter the British design to organise the political future of the country based on caste and religious identity.
In the end, such ideas were defeated and the vision of secular India prevailed at the time of independence and Nehruvian secularism, was born as the idea of India. Now it appears that this idea is on its last leg and is poised to be replaced by the religious nationalist vision of India.
The way the religious nationalist have rose from the ashes of the secular frame work and trying to supplant it and establish its supremacy, the fear is the caste matrix which is now lumped under religious umbrella may rebel levelling the same acquisitions that Modi and Adityanath are levelling against the secularist.
Such fears are not unfounded because the history of Indian civilization caste matrix has always remained restless in the deep belly of Hinduism. Ask a Hindu if he is a Brahmin first or Hindu first, one may get the answer to the core of Indian identity.
The caste identity that has been bottled up under the religious nationalism is a civilizational fact and so is their restless to break free. Just like Modi, a tall leader from the caste group is needed that can come from behind and uncork the bottle of religious nationalism and organise the Indian politics on caste matrix.
The coming of the religious nationalists’ forces to power has opened that the floodgates for caste groupings to assert their identity and the possibilities looms large that the religious cloak will be overthrown just like the same way the secular cloak has been shed.
This is a very disturbing scenario and the much better option for the country would be to uphold the socialist and secularist credentials. This is only possible if all such forces unite against the religious nationalist group and save the country from the disruption of peace and tranquillity to ensure the path of progress.
In sum, the idea of India a secular democratic republic may have died as of now but it could be momentary phase and the fact is its rebirth remains imminent. This is because the layers of Indian social structure are so complex that it can only be protected through the Nehruvian secular ideals.
[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]