Mr S. M. Hali has become quite a prolific writer. His latest book “Rising Hindutva – and its impact on the Region” is a very useful historical and contemporary political record and analysis of Hindu chauvinism evolving from the margins of Indian politics to its mainstream, from being an Indian aberration in response to Muslim and colonial rule, it has now become the Indian norm and India’s main vehicle for the realization of its great power aspirations.
The coming Indian elections of 2019 will test this thesis. If Prime Minister Modi is again able to win a majority on his own, as he did in 2014, it will tend to confirm the credibility of Hindutva as a longer-term political phenomenon at the heart of Indian politics.
However, if, as many pundits expect, Modi will at best head a coalition government because the BJP after 5 years of his leadership will fail to win a majority on its own, the more liberal and secular segments of Indian political society, as well as many of India’s neighbors, will heave a sigh of relief in the belief that fascism has failed to develop deep and permanent roots in the political soil of India.
Reading Hali’s fine book, one is reminded that tragically the Hindutva advocates in India do have their counterparts in Pakistan.
This could be too optimistic a conclusion. It is within this context Mr Hali’s book takes on added significance and is a must read for all those seeking to understand an important aspect of the politics of contemporary India.
Beginning naturally enough from the early 20th century origin of the concept of Hindutva as part of the emergence of Indian nationalism, the desire for independence, and the political belief that only a Hindu with an extreme sense of his or her unique identity could be an Indian nationalist and freedom-fighter, the book goes on to discuss the decade by decade development of Hindutva under various leaders from a political-cultural ideology to an outright fascist ideology influenced by European fascism and Nazism.
Hali’s book shows in detail how political history – or history written with a political agenda in mind – distorts objective history, creates self-satisfying myths, and erects enemies and dangers with which to whip up a macho emotional frenzy against vulnerable targets to avenge centuries of imagined and real humiliations against “outsiders,” especially those who have long settled and become fellow-Indians but who have clung to the faith their ancestors brought to India, or to which they were later converted.
This feeling was not just confined to members of the RSS or Sangh Parivar (the Hindutva family). Self-styled secular socialists, like the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, exclaimed after the fall of Dhaka in 1971 that India had avenged a thousand years of history!
The book details how this antagonism towards the Muslims informed the Congress-led independence movement leading up to the unforgivable “batwara” or division of Bharat Mata in 1947 for which Mahatma Gandhi paid with his life at the hands of Godse – a hero to all Hindutva supporters.
Modi will at best head a coalition government because the BJP after 5 years of his leadership will fail to win a majority on its own.
Hali shows how this animosity has informed the bitter state of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan from Kashmir to Mumbai to the accession of Modi to power. It has resulted in four wars, both countries becoming nuclear weapons countries, and how it might yet trigger an ultimate disaster unless better sense prevails.
The author has shown how India’s foreign policy not just towards Pakistan but with its other neighbours has been influenced by Hindutva aspirations and its belief that India is destined to regain all the territories it believes it once ruled which of course includes the entire South Asian subcontinent and beyond.
This has made India a difficult neighbour to live with, even for a country like Bangladesh which it claims to have brought into existence at the expense of a united Pakistan. I recall asking a one-time colleague when I visited Dhaka a few years ago about the attitudes of the Bangladeshi youth towards Pakistan today.
He answered their recall of history, of course, casts Pakistan by and large in the role of a villain, but that is largely constructed memory which is gradually fading from memory since the two countries do not have much contact today.
However, he added the Bangladeshi youth is exasperated by their country’s everyday experience with India which treats their country more or less as an extension of West Bengal. India expects the Bangladeshis to be eternally grateful to it. This is not dissimilar to what many Afghans say about Pakistan which in their eyes expects them to be ever grateful to it for having liberated them from Soviet military occupation.
Hali shows how this animosity has informed the bitter state of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan from Kashmir to Mumbai to the accession of Modi to power.
The book details the activities of brave Indians who have stood up to the RSS and the BJP to challenge the authenticity of Hindutva as opposed to India’s self-image of being a land in which some of the world’s deepest philosophies took shape and where great thinkers left a moral legacy that the world to this day acknowledges and appreciates.
Hali expresses the wish that a new generation of Indians takes their inspiration from these traditions that bind people in mutual understanding and love rather than the divisive, violent and repressive ideologies that polarize and render the prospect of peace impossible.
Finally, the author urges both India and Pakistan – especially now that it has a new Prime Minister who has made generous statements about India-Pakistan relations and taken magnanimous initiatives towards the Sikh community of India – to consider specific steps to reduce and eliminate mutual misinformation and hatred. This would enable them to face the challenges of the present century which can only be done on the basis of bilateral and regional cooperation.
While the book presents an informed narrative from the Pakistani point of view regarding specific issues and developments in India-Pakistan relations, it recognizes the existence of more realistic and balanced narratives in both countries which given the challenges facing both countries should provide a basis for hope in a sustainable working relationship even if core issues may take longer to resolve to mutual satisfaction.
Reading Hali’s fine book, one is reminded that tragically the Hindutva advocates in India do have their counterparts in Pakistan. This underscores the need for the leadership in both countries to rise above their electoral politics and mutual antagonisms and reach out towards each other in a realistic and viable way for the sake of coming generations of Pakistanis and Indians. Modi should not be shy of grasping Imran’s outstretched hand.
Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi has held key positions in Pakistan’s foreign service. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Russia, China and High Commissioner to India. He also held charge as the special representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Sudan as well as head of the UN mission in Iraq.