By Kancha Ilaiah
Aug 22, 2014
If Sangh Parivar forces keep baying for cultural nationalist agendas, Narendra Modi will become helpless… he will not be able to stop these culture-vultures and his corporate development agenda will undergo a change
There is a slow but systematic attempt to change India’s name from Bharat to Hindustan — playing up the word “Hindu” in Hindustan and trying to repackage it as the abode of the Hindus. B.R. Ambedkar and his team that drafted the Constitution of India consciously avoided the term “Hindustan” as they could foresee its implications in a land that takes pride in its diversity.
Shortly after the Bharatiya Janata Party toppled the power equations in Delhi and Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister, a Shiv Sena MP, Prataprao Jadhav, remarked in the Lok Sabha that a saffron flag should be hoisted atop the historic Red Fort as “Hindustan” belongs to Hindus. His lone argument was that Hindu-sthan is a Hindu nation.
Goa’s deputy chief minister Francis D’Souza turned out to be more loyal than his master. “All Indians in Hindustan are Hindus,” he said in the Goa Assembly on July 25.
Pertinently these are not isolated demands as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s chief Mohan Bhagwat has also been repeatedly making such statements. Mr Bhagwat recently said that Hindustan is a Hindu nation and Hindutva is its identity. This led to a debate in Parliament and there were several protests in the Opposition benches regarding attempts to change the name of the country. But this has not deterred Mr Bhagwat.
Meanwhile, Subramanian Swamy, a rabid anti-Muslim intellectual of the BJP, took the debate to another level by stating on a TV channel that only those who own the Hindu heritage should be given the right to vote in Hindustan.
What is even more crucial is that Prime Minister Modi chose to employ the term “Hindustan” during his speech on India’s Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort. If my memory serves me right, Mr Modi would describe India as “Bharat” when making a speech in Hindi, or as “India” in English as he did on Independence Day with the catchphrase, “Come make in India”. The reference at the Red Fort of India as “Hindustan” seems to be a conscious deviation. This could be because of Mr Bhagwat’s message to his followers — including Mr Modi.
What is interesting is that the nomenclature — “Hind” or “Hindustan” — was given by Muslim scholars and rulers. It was Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1048), an Iranian historian, philosopher and astronomer, who studied Indian society in the 11th century, and first called the people who were living around the river Sindh Hindus.
Al-Biruni came with Mahmud of Ghazni and his classic work is titled Al-Hind (The Hind). Till then the Brahmins had preferred the terms Aryavarta or Bharata Khanda to describe the subcontinent. It was eventually Akbar the Great, whom the Hindutva forces do not like, who institutionalised India’s name as Hindustan, through his Farmans (orders), revenue records and military documents.
The sad part is that without fully comprehending the implication of the name — Hindustan — Muslims universally use it as an Urdu generic to describe the country. They fail to fathom that there is a religious connotation to the name, which can trap their own existence.
Later it were Raja Rammohan Roy and Vivekananda who used the term Hinduism. Before this there is no evidence of a Brahmin Pandit or a Rishi employing the name “Hinduism” for this Brahminic religion hitherto referred to as Varna dharma, Sanatan dharma or Arya dharma.
Till Mahatma Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in 1908, no Brahminic thinker had accepted the name “Hindu” for their religion. In fact, the Peetadi Pathis (Shivas or Vaishnavas) had refused to refer to their religion as “Hindu”. Even now they do not accept this term.
However, after Gandhi used the phrase “Hind Swaraj”, meaning “Free India”, a more rigorous Hindu ownership started with the establishment of a Hindu Mahasabha in 1914 by some upper caste leaders, who developed differences with the leadership of the Indian National Congress.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar added one more communal chapter to the history of the country by propagating the ideology of “Hindutva” and a “Hindu Rashtra” in the 1940s. Since then the term “Hindu” for the religion and “Hindutva” for their political propaganda — to intimidate Muslims and denigrate Islamic thought — has spread like wild fire. When Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of mainland India, a counter force — the Muslim League — emerged and that led to the Partition of India.
The Sangh Parivar’s strategy seems to be to fast-forward towards changing the name of the country in the Constitution of India. Let us not forget that they had made such an attempt when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The then National Democratic Alliance government constituted a Constitutional Review Commission (not a committee) with M.N. Venkatachaliah as its chairman. Only after protests, particularly by Dalits, they slackened the move.
Once again the incumbent government’s cultural nationalist agenda has come to the fore with full force. If these forces keep baying for cultural nationalist agendas that have massive implications on minority religions and also on the Dalit-Bahujans, Mr Modi will become helpless. Even his corporate development agenda will undergo a change and he will not be able to stop these culture-vultures from eating away the body politic of democracy.
The way the Hindutva forces are re-reading Indian history is amazing. They have a pathological hatred towards the contribution of Muslims as people and also their ancient scholars and rulers.
They claim their Brahminic intellectuals discovered everything — right from the aeroplane to knowledge about the stem cell. Ironically, they now want to accord a name — Hindustan — to the country, a name which was given by Muslim scholars.
They refuse to admit that knowledge can come from anybody and at any point of time. They refuse to accept that this country is what it is today because of multiple knowledge systems that crisscrossed centuries.
Brahminic knowledge alone would not have brought us where we are. In fact, it was never inclusive. The names that they adopted for this country would not have allowed unification of castes and religions during the freedom struggle.
The name “Hindu” sounded non-racist and non-casteist, therefore Dalits, the backward castes and tribals supported the upper castes. When Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj (it was banned in Bombay province) he must have been aware of the inclusiveness of the word “Hindu” and how it could benefit the caste-divided religion. Before this name was alluded to the Brahminic religion it was faceless against a unified Islam and Christianity.
If these forces are serious about development they must evolve an agenda of social reform following in the footsteps of Mahatma Phule or Ambedkar. Or they should allow the state structure to follow its developmental agenda — strictly confined to economic issues.
While those who run ministries talk about economic development, the sister organisations of the BJP keep setting agendas that create communal carnages. If this trend keeps up, the poor of the country will remain poor. The Prime Minister must put his foot down and say no more communal politics. A moratorium is not enough, Mr Prime Minister!
Kancha Ilaiah is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad