Two studiously ignored (by secularism-peddlers) but significant phenomenon marked what is yet to become a full-fledged paradigm shift in India’s polity: the President of India and the Prime Minister are both avowed and unapologetic religious Hindus; it is fortuitous that they are both holding office at the same time.
The President of India, year after year goes back to Miriti, his ancestral village in Bhirbhum District of West Bengal for Durga Puja. When he’s there, it is daily Puja for nine days during navratri, in every sense and in the full sense of the word – murti, music, aradhana, aarti and bhog followed by traditional and mandatory annadaanam. Dr. Pranab Mukherjee’s ancestral home is open house during the festive season when anyone can walk in to worship Durga Ma and participate in the festivities. And people from his village and neighbouring villages come to the President’s home in the hundreds every single day during navratri.
Dr. Pranab Mukherjee, a Congress man all his political life until he ascended to the highest constitutional position in the country, has always been a religious Hindu – as MP and as Cabinet Minister. A religious Hindu rising to leadership positions in the INC was an aberration but a phenomenon which the Gandhi-Nehru and now Sonia Gandhi Congress could not check or ignore. Eventually the Congress, driven by destiny, which it could neither control nor manipulate, which Hindus call karma, was forced to choose Dr. Pranab Mukherjee as the Presidential candidate.
Another President, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma began the movement in this direction when he confessed, quite endearingly, that one of the nicest privileges of being President of India was that he could seek darshan of Bhagwan Tirupathi Balaji as frequently as he desired. But there is a vast ideological difference between being a Hindu President visiting a temple for darshan and a religious Hindu President who not only performs puja publicly and with full religious solemnity but also officiates as priest, when occasion demands!
And visiting a church, a mosque or a dargah especially if the politician does not belong to the faith is the highest symbol of secularism in Indian politics. As is singing jingle bells and eating cake during Christmas and attending iftar parties during Ramzan. Hindu politicians do it for fear of being labelled communal Hindus and therefore flaunt the reassuring ‘tolerant Hindu’ clichéd image to the purveyors of spurious secularism.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke the mould. One of the first things that Prime Minister Modi did after winning Elections 2014 with a thumping majority was to perform ‘havan’ inside the hoary Kashi Vishwanath Temple followed by the stunningly beautiful Ganga puja in Varanasi. The same determination to bring about a civilisational change not only in his individual personal life as Prime Minister but also in his government’s foreign policy was demonstrated when the Prime Minister chose to make Nepal his government’s second destination to strengthen bilateral ties with countries of Asia.
India had abdicated its responsibility to the little Himalayan Hindu kingdom in the critical years between 2001 and 2008 and stood by and watched as Nepal was taken over by Maoist terror elements which, simultaneously with abolishing the monarchy also removed the word “Hindu” from any description of the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the Congress’ short-sighted and counter-productive “hands off” foreign policy towards Nepal and became the first Prime Minister in seventeen years to undertake a bilateral visit to the country on the 3rd and 4th of August, 2014. That India’s newly defined foreign policy too was inching towards reclaiming the Hindu soul of India was evident from what Narendra Modi said prior to his departure for Nepal. Among other things which Modi said India shared with Nepal, he said the two countries had a shared heritage of religion. While culture and spiritualism are comforting words which may be interpreted to mean anything, ‘religion’ provided no such secular comfort.
“My visit reflects our shared heritage of nature, history, culture, spiritualism and religion. It highlights the high priority that my Government attaches to our relations with Nepal and our determination to take our relationship to an entirely new level.”
On the second day of his visit to Nepal, Narendra Modi sent a strong signal to the world which was watching his every move–triggering a spate of feverish semiotic analysis, Narendra Modi, dressed in resplendent saffron, visited the 5th century Pashupathinath temple in Kathmandu and offered special prayers lasting 45 minutes. Prime Minister Modi also made an offering of 2500 kgs of sandalwood to the Pashupathinath Temple Trust. Emphasising the fact that India and Nepal are two Hindu nations with shared common history (not mythology as western ‘scholars’, Indian Marxists and eminent historians of the Bipin Chandra and Romila Thapar types label our ithihasa) going back thousands of years, Narendra Modi at the end of his two day visit, observed, “This is the land of Sita and Janak; Nepal-India relations are as old as the Himalayas and the Ganga”.
The Hindu nation watched with bated breath and with immense sense of fulfilment and pride as Narendra Modi performed the havan in the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the Ganga aarti and offered special prayers in Kathmandu. This was our religious, spiritual, and cultural heritage getting the public recognition and legitimacy denied by Gandhi, followed by Nehru and Nehruvian anti-Hindu secular polity. India was no longer showcasing Kashmir and Taj Mahal to the world as symbols of secularism and pluralism as if these were the defining characteristics of the ancient Hindu civilization. Hindu religion, temples, sacred rivers, and puja occupied centre stage and a stunned world watched as India’s Prime Minister offered Hindu worship.
Japan was the Prime Minister’s third destination and totally in keeping with what is now the core principle of foreign affairs and relations with countries of Asia, Kyoto, not Tokyo grabbed all the headlines. While bullet trains and smart cities were certainly on the bilateral agenda, what was emphasised was the Kyoto-Varanasi partnership.
Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abe signed an agreement which would bring Japan into India for the first time on a religious-cultural mission – to develop the temple town of Varanasi as a heritage city. Not surprisingly all newspapers carried the story and picture of Narendra Modi visiting two ancient Buddhist temples – the Toji and Kinkakuji temples in Kyoto as their lead story.
It cannot be gainsaid that the Prime Minister’s havan in Kashi Vishwanath temple and the Ganga aarti in Varanasi caused climate change in Indian public life and the winds of change impacted at least one sitting judge in the Supreme Court of India.
Speaking in Ahmedabad on 2nd August at a conference on “Contemporary issues and the challenge of human rights in the era of globalisation” organized by Gujarat Law Society, Justice AR Dave exhorted Indians to return to tradition and bring back the Guru-Sishya parampara which besides imparting knowledge, also conditioned the mind with good values necessary in every citizen of a democracy. These excellent values, emphasised Justice Dave, nurtured by the study of our history as narrated in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata would result in good citizens electing good governments which alone could deter violence and terrorism in our society. Justice Dave declared that if he were the dictator of India he would introduce Ramayana and Mahabharata into the syllabus of school children beginning with Class I.
Knowing well that his views on the importance of Hindu tradition and Hindu classical texts in shaping the character of young children was certain to raise a storm of protest, Justice Dave held firm and added, “Somebody who is very secular… so called secular will not agree… Had I been the dictator of India, I would have introduced Gita and Mahabharata in class one. That is the way you learn how to live life. I am sorry if somebody says I am secular or I am not secular. But if there is something good, we have to get it from anywhere.”
Coming from a sitting judge in the Supreme Court of India this had an electrifying effect on the Hindu nation whose religious sensibilities were mauled by the same Supreme Court which ordered the vaults in the Sree Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple to be opened with scant regard for the fact that ordinary temple going Hindu bhaktas viewed this as an act of terrible sacrilege.
Almost as if to punctuate Modi’s statement on foreign affairs and bilateral relations with a full-stop, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat declared that everybody living in Hindusthan are Hindus. As expected, Muslims, Christians and Khalistanis are exercised about Bhagwat’s assertion but are waking up to a new reality: Hindu leadership is finally speaking and acting in tandem. It is a heart-warming sight to see the secularists grappling with the syntax and etymology of Hindu Rashtra in their attempt to dismiss it or to bend it tortuously to fit it into their secular paradigm. Hindu nationalists know that Hindu Rashtra, like dharma, cannot be defined; it can at best be described.
Kautilya defined nation as people and territory. By Kautilya’s definition, Hindu Rashtra is a nation of Hindus and the nation’s territory is the Hindu bhumi. The Hindu bhumi is unique because it is dharma bhumi, karma bhumi and punya bhumi. While it is not in the ambit of this article to discuss the frenzied attempts to define Hindu and Hinduism, suffice it to state that Hinduism is sanatana dharma and Hindus are those who profess and practice Hinduism in any of its varied and multi-faceted dimensions. While sanatana dharma or Hinduism is more than religion, it is religion also. To discount religion from Hinduism to make it ‘accommodative’ or ‘inclusive’ of the indigestible elements in our society is to misrepresent and pervert Hinduism. Secular Hindu intellectuals, who parrot “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life”, are the best customers for this Abrahamic con.
Narendra Modi and Mohan Bhagwat have started the process of reclaiming India’s Hindu soul and core after centuries of systematic and sustained abuse, atrocity, and perversion. And this process has begun from the tip of the pyramid – the Hindu leadership. While the RSS has always maintained that this is a Hindu Rashtra, until recently, even the RSS was a willing customer of the “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life” canard.
The incumbent Sarsanghachalak may be a man of few words but he is known not to mince words and to speak bluntly when occasion demands it. Mohan Bhagwat realized that coming at this point in the nation’s history, his assertion that India is Hindu will give the ‘being and becoming Hindu’ political process a firm push in that direction. And so he did it.
The surprise is the current BJP leadership. The Prime Minister and the President or the party have accepted the fact that it was pervasive and intense Hindu anger against the anti-Hindu ideology of Sonia Gandhi’s Congress and UPA that gave the BJP its absolute majority in the elections. Being and becoming Hindu is their way of acknowledging the Hindu voter and his expectations. It now remains for the rest of the government and the party to become self-conscious Hindu political leaders.
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based political analyst. She is also author and animal activist.