“The greatest war of Indian history – the war between the liberal and the fanatical in Hinduism on four core issues – caste, gender, property and tolerance – has raged for 5000 years and its end is not yet in sight… It is responsible for most of the happenings in the country…But, no attempt has been made to make of this war the loom on which India’s history could be woven.”
“…The liberal alone can unite the country… No force can unite it except the voluntary human will. Fanatical Hinduism cannot by its nature mould such a will, while liberal Hinduism can…I do not know of a single period of Indian history when fanatical Hinduism was able to give India unity or well-being. Whenever India has been united and prosperous, the liberal in Hinduism in respect of caste, woman, property and tolerance has always predominated…”
“…Fanatical Hindus, no matter what their motives are, must break up the Indian State, should they ever succeed, not only from the Hindu-Muslim point of view, but also from that of caste and provinces… As long as caste is not completely erased from the Hindu mind or woman treated as an equal being with man, or property dissociated from the concept of order, the fanatical will from time to time play havoc with Indian history…”
“…Gandhiji’s murderer was the fanatical element that always lies embedded in the Hindu mind, sometimes quiescent and sometimes pronounced, in some Hindus dominant and in others passive… The fanatical claimed the murder was to save Hindus from Muslims, but the fact is that Mahatma Gandhi was killed because never had a Hindu delivered greater blows on fanaticism in respect of caste, woman, property or tolerance as he did…”(sic)
If you don’t read the date and writer’s name, these excerpts from the seminal essay `Hinduism’ (Hindi translation Hindu Banam Hindu) would appear to be a commentary on the sad state of affairs in contemporary India.
Socialist ideologue Ram Manohar Lohia penned this treatise in July 1950 – three years after bloody partition of the country on religious grounds and two years after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by a Hindu extremist. But, despite the two tragedies, which Lohia described as a fallout of fanaticism, India did manage to establish a secular and democratic nation.
When Lohia wrote the essay, he was hopeful that liberalism would triumph sooner or later, but 70 years after, the war still rages on and contrary to his wish, the fanatical elements seem to be having the last laugh, pushing the society towards fragmentation.
The difference between Lohia’s time and now is that, when Hinduism is under siege with fanaticism poisoning every bit of our lives and majoritarianism posing threat to the democracy, there is no tall leader who can explain with moral authority why our founding fathers – from Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Shaheed Bhagat Singh – wanted “liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism” to be the cornerstone of our Republic and vehemently opposed a theocratic state proposed by Hindutva.
On Lohia’s birth anniversary today, a revisit to the document will help us understand not only the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva, but also why Hindu liberalism is failing and what liberals need to do to survive and defeat fanaticism within.
WHY LOHIA MATTERS
Lohia’s multifaceted life, achievements and even mistakes teach us how to protect our democracy.
As a student in Germany, Lohia saw the devastating impact of Fascism and extreme nationalism to humankind.
As a researcher, he deduced that economic models of mass production espoused by capitalism and communism were not suitable for India. Besides, both can produce dictatorship.
As a freedom fighter, he realised that independence from Britishers was not enough unless people are free from social and mental subjugation.
As a social activist, he learnt how inhuman practices and hypocrisy embedded in caste and patriarchy have degenerated Hinduism.
As a political worker, he discovered that democracy is not complete without dissent, civil disobedience and criticism and that a strong nation and balanced world order can be built only with the feeling of kinship.
As an original thinker, he concluded that democratic socialism that guarantees rule of law, social justice and individual freedom to every person is the best form of governance.
A humanist, Lohia was among the handful leaders who stood with Bapu to douse post-independence communal flames in riot-torn Kolkata and Delhi, while others were vying for fruits of power, won after a long freedom struggle.
A true patriot whose contribution in India’s freedom struggle was no less than his contemporaries’, Lohia refused a ministerial berth in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet and chose to risk his life by fearlessly standing up against the bloodthirsty mobs blinded by religious intolerance.
A great dissenter, Lohia shaped Indian democracy by exhibiting the importance of Opposition at a time when Nehru had acquired the status of a demigod with a massive cult following, which, if had been allowed to roll on unhindered, may have undermined the hard-won freedom.
A human being, Lohia erred in his political judgements. He taught people to work for change with patience, but turned impatient in his pursuit for anti-Congressism and compromised with followers of the ideology that killed Mahatma. Perhaps, like Bapu, he too believed in hating the sin, not the sinner.
THE GREAT WAR
The war is raging not only between adherents of the two streams, but also inside the Hindu mind, Lohia wrote.
He said that the caste never died because Hindu mind is habitual of living with it. During liberal eras, people claim that they are against caste, but do not work against it. They are not vocal about caste by birth, but construct castes by vocations.
Similarly, liberal men indulge in vices, but want women to be virtuous. As long as law or custom and habits of thinking discriminate between man and woman with respect to property and marriage, the fanatical in Hinduism will not quite die out, he said.
Regarding property, Lohia said the sense of property in Hinduism is liberalised by its faith in non-accumulation and non-attachment, but fanatical interprets the theory of Karma in a way to give superior status to men of wealth, high caste and power.
Lohia rejected the notion that Hindus are inherently tolerant, but said the element of tolerance in Hinduism has always been stronger because it’s based on the principle of “unity in diversity” which believes that difference of opinion is to express a truth in different ways.
He also says that all these four core issues are intertwined.
WHY LIBERAL IN HINDU LOSING?
Lohia cites four major factors why liberal could not score a decisive victory over fanatical so far.
First – When fanaticism starts losing, it sneaks into liberal thoughts. As a result, liberals talk about liberalism, but the fanatical hiding in their minds prevents them from practicing what they preach.
Second – Liberalism is rich, but also lethargic and does not care about continuous splitting of the Hinduism into various sects, producing weakness in corporate living of the state, thus providing fanatical a chance to rise again
Third – Liberal had been open to thoughts within the country, but not to ideas from outside.
Fourth – The habit of thinking of an average Hindu mind with respect to caste, women, property and tolerance never changed.
Lohia also saw Gandhi’s assassination as the biggest gamble played by the retreating fanatical.
In the hindsight, we can now say that the liberal in Hindu mind was dominating at the time of independence and brought lasting social transformation through affirmative action for Dalits, equal rights for Hindu women, equitable distribution of property and rights to protect an individual from intolerance.
However, after Gandhi, only a handful of leaders worked to weed out fanatical from the Hindu mind. As “the habit of thinking” mind never changed, the fanatical survived, gradually taking control of minds and today making Hindus demolish liberal constitutional values that defined our independence movement. It has infiltrated into all sections of the society and pillars of democracy.
In politics, comforts of power turned liberal mind `lethargic’, even hypocritical. The liberal in the mind spoke in favour of women and tolerance and against caste and property to catch votes, while “fanatical within” used everything – from money and muscle to majoritarianism and from caste and communalism to crony capitalism – to retain or grab power.
On the social front, the liberal split into numerous groups. Debates were around Gandhi versus Ambedkar, Gandhi versus Bhagat Singh, Nehru versus Patel and Nehru versus Bose, forgetting that the common factor in all these great minds is liberalism. Often warring groups colluded with fanaticism to score over the adversary.
As far as openness to ideas from outside is concerned, the economic model of the West was blindly emulated, while turning a blind eye to their devotion to Constitutionalism.
The education system too ditched the liberal cause, particularly after the 90s’ economic reforms, which brought economic prosperity to a section of people, but increased inequalities and converted universities into suppliers of skilled workers and consumers for the bazaar. The decline of humanities and social sciences, left little scope for debates that once sensitised minds in their formative years. Cut throat competition for survival or for that matter fulfilling desires spared no time in life to reflect and analyse.
Such a situation produced a mindset that mistook corporate and upper-class lifestyle for liberalism. The `habit of thinking’ of an average Hindu mind never changed. It allowed lower castes in schools, but always questioned their talent. It lured Dalit voters, but never accepted upper-lower caste marriages. It advocated women emancipation, but always asked Caesar’s wife to be above suspicion and not Caesar, even though history tells us that it was Caesar who was unfaithful and not his wife. It talked about inadequacies of materialism, but commercialised religion, commodified women and monetised hate. It praised tolerance, but did not lose any opportunity to prove himself superior (right) and the other inferior (wrong). It used Gandhi’s name to get world recognition, but iconised his murderers. It took part in movements for social and gender justice, but also turned blood thirsty during communal riots, be it 1984 anti-Sikh, 2002 anti-Muslim or 2008 anti-Christian. It called for – ‘Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat, Kashmiriyat’ in 2000, but 20 years later robbed Kashmir of its identity.
With such a weak base, liberal façade crumbled in the 2010s, when `entire political science’ was fed into the Hindu mind through an orchestrated campaign. The 24X7 lessons on social and `godi’ media brainwashed Hindus into believing that liberalism is inherently corrupt and colludes with religious minorities to stay in power, which in turn break the country (property of Hindus) through separatism, terrorism and religious conversion of gullible Hindu lower castes and innocent Hindu women. The `new India’ is correcting all historical mistakes, hence those in opposition deserve to be crushed.
This explains why many of our friends, who appeared `liberal’ till sometime back, today don’t find it revolting…
When the supreme leader blesses the misogynists, and the hate mongers by following them on social media.
When Shamshan is pitted against Kabristan with an open call to “goli maron s…ko”.
When farmer and tribal movements are vilified as a handiwork of tukde-tukde Gang.
When dissent is threatened with rape and murder, even jailed without a straw and a sipper cup.
When assertion of Dalit pride in Bhima Koregaon becomes a threat to the nation.
WHY LIBERAL IN HINDU NEEDS TO WIN
Lohia believed that a country as vast and old as India with rich cultural, lingual, regional and religious diversity can stay united only when everyone gets an equal space and equitable support to prosper without losing identity. Liberalism can create such a feeling through its board outlook, but when fanatical imposes uniformity of any kind – be it religious, sectarian, racial, cultural or lingual – it always leads to fragmentation of the country, he wrote.
In other words – To live and let live is in the heart of the liberalism, while cut throat competition is the staple of fanaticism; liberalism unites by avoiding conflicts, whereas fanaticism divides by creating binaries; liberalism liberates, while fanaticism discriminates; liberalism means freedom, whereas fanaticism demands surrender of freedom; and liberalism makes one love fellow citizens and thus her/his country, while fanatical tells you how to love your country.
Likewise, liberal loves diversity, while fanatical moulds all in one format; liberal inspires, while fanatical incites; liberal allows you to take decisions, whereas fanatical takes decisions for you; liberal supports one to develop capabilities, while fanatical decides what one is capable of; and liberal provides space to all school of thoughts in a faith whereas fanatical dubs every thought against its version of religion as blasphemy.
Last, but not the least – Liberalism protects your soul and makes you a human, while fanaticism fills one with rage and hatred that destroys the soul.
* To protect constitutional democracy
Centuries of experience and experiments across the world have proven that people of a country unite willingly when they feel that the identity of every individual will be protected and preserved. However, when unity is enforced through uniformity, it leads to systematic alienation and discrimination of those who refuse to surrender their identity, resulting in degeneration of the society. Anything that generates hate, causes animosity and discriminates among people is anti-national and anti-Hindu, hence worthy to be dumped, be it a piece of law, religious scripture, social practice or political discourse.
However, today, a Hindu mind has mistaken the call of uniformity with unity. He has been swayed by the fanatical’s motto ‘Ek Desh, Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan’. The call gives an impression that India has separate laws for different communities and states – a major factor that is disuniting the country, hence uniformity is required to unite people.
The fanatical cites also examples of separate personal laws for religious minorities and special status (now nullified) to Jammu & Kashmir to support its argument to make Hindus believes that the liberalism followed so far has been `unjust’ to them and only `Hindu majoritarianism’ can restore India’s past glory. The `victimhood’ thus cultivated in the Hindu mind has harvested hatred towards religious minorities, while pushing aside the four core issues.
However, the entire proposition of the fanatical is nothing but deception because Hindus not only played a major role in making of the Constitution, but also have been its major beneficiary. In fact, India is already one – it has one set of constitutional values, one form of governance (democracy) and one Parliament. Also, the past was never glorious for a huge population which was treated like animals in the name of caste and the women caged in patriarchy.
Indian Constitution aims to create an equal society through equitable means. For this purpose, it allows a diverse set of laws not only for religious minorities, but also for lingual, social and regional minorities to protect their identities. These laws also protect Hindus wherever they are in minority. The Constitution also has special provisions for emancipation of Hindu lower castes and women.
These mechanisms actually unite people by providing a level-playing field to all. If today, India has a standing in the world in various spheres including science, arts, sports and defence, it is because our Constitution provides space to all in national building. Even mass movements – be it for freedom, land rights, employment and women emancipation or against caste discrimination, corruption, female foeticide and IPC section 377 – have succeeded because of participation of all communities.
Similarly, the federal structure provided in the Constitution grants unique status to every state in the union. Special provisions have been given to several states located on the country’s border and some regions within have been given autonomous status to ensure India’s security and address area specific issues.
* To prevent fragmentation
The fanatical in Hindu mind may rejoice today over the idea of Hindu majoritarianism, but he is shooting himself in the foot. The quest of uniformity will start a chain reaction wherein a bigger fish will eat the little ones. After doing away with religious minorities, the fanatical will make the group higher in numbers among Hindus to target lingual, regional and caste minorities within the community, thus leading to fragmentation of the society.
The process has already begun. People opposing CAA-NRC are called Pakistanis, farmers agitating against farm laws as Khalistanis and Hindus supporting these movements urban Naxal. Opposition to Hindi in the South and assertion of sub-nationalism in the East are dubbed as attempts to break the country. The recent law against `forced’ religious conversion is not just about `love jihad’ – restrictions on Hindu women’s freedom – but also to stop Dalit from religious conversion. Even Hindutva has two versions today – one is found in Mumbai and another in Nagpur.
* To save the country
The proponents of majoritarianism want India to be as powerful as the USA, but their actions are making the country a carbon copy of Pakistan. America is not an ideal and has supported fanatical worldover for profit. Even its own people have been a victim of the fanatical power. Racial and religious fault lines are also deep in the country. However, it is still the superpower because majority Americans celebrate diversity and liberalism. Also, all the American states have separate constitutions and flags, but the country is one because of the feeling of unity created by liberalism. On the other hand, the quest for majoritarian uniformity based on religion, sect and language has left Pakistan in tatters.
* To work for the welfare of all
The fanatical is also hurting Hindus by diverting public attention from the real issues and limiting their voting choices. When the economy was crashing, Hindus were rejoicing over the abolition of Instant Triple Talaq and abrogation of Article 370 and when prices of essential commodities were skyrocketing, they were celebrating Supreme Court verdict in favour of Ram Temple and promulgation CAA-NRC. Similarly, Covid-19 pandemic, migrant distress and Chinese aggression were drowned in divisive narratives manufactured around Tablighi Jamaat, Ram Temple shilanyas and Love Jihad. In fact, Hindus pursuing majoritarianism no longer remain Indian as preference to religious identity over country makes them guilty of the same crime with which they charge religious minorities.
* To take forward the legacy of freedom fighters
Those who justify Hindu majoritarianism by citing medieval era conflicts don’t realise that they are talking about the time when emperors decided people’s destiny, whereas today people decide the destiny of a nation. Empires that took help of fanaticism to sustain eventually crumbled. Even the concept of “a philosopher king” is now outdated.
Justification of Hindu dominance on grounds that democracy means rule of majority is also flawed. The progressive freedom fighters who fought against social, caste and patriarchal subjugation chose “social democracy based on rule of law” where every individual matters and not “democracy based on majority” where numbers reign. Today, Hindus have two choices – to remain prisoners of the past or follow freedom fighters who fought against caste and gender disparities and united people of all faiths by keeping aside historical conflicts.
THE WAY FORWARD
Lohia was convinced that only an ideological revolution – synthesis of spirituality and reality – can help liberal in Hindu mind defeat fanatical within and outside. The feeling of “spiritual oneness” – Hinduism’s best quality – that sees all life and things as one will remove inequalities, while scientific temper and secular thinking will resolve issues related to the “facts of the life” like food security, poverty, population control and equitable distribution of resources, even as the eclectic approach will help in adapting to the fast-changing world. He also believed that Hinduism is not a monolithic or political religion bound by doctrines or organisation. It is a confluence of memories, mythology, philosophies and customs, both good and evil. But, since no article of faith is compulsory, evil ones can be dispensed with.
In short, Lohia’s message is spiritualism enshrined in religion makes a man human, science helps mankind produce enough for everyone and secularism enables distribution of produce to all without discrimination. If anything in these is discriminatory, it needs to be dumped. This, if followed with sincerity, will defeat fanatical in Hindu mind once for all.
He also says that those calling themselves liberal cannot be genuinely tolerant towards Muslims if they do not fight against cast and property and in favour of women. A country cannot prosper without communal amity and unity. However, a mere political unity between Hindus and Muslim is not sufficient. A Hindu will have to emotionally identify himself with the Muslim or the Christian, not in religious practice, but by feeling their worries by putting themselves at their place. The path is full of dangers, but the long chain of action and reaction between communities can be broken only by forgiving and forgetting through this emotional bonding, he sums up.
The time has come for liberal Hindus to take up the challenge and fight the fanatical within before taking on the one raging outside.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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