Stephen Chan: Religion and World Politics part 14: The Hindu State. Or is there actu­al­ly any such thing as a Hindu state? Mr. Modi, the Prime Minister of India is the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the BJP, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which stands for Hindu val­ues. Hindu val­ues as foun­da­tion val­ues for the Indian state. And yet it’s very dif­fi­cult to talk about such foun­da­tion val­ues for an Indian state as if it had exist­ed since time immemo­r­i­al. But the very claim of the BJP and hin­dut­va, the ide­ol­o­gy of all-embracing, all-encompassing Hinduness, is very much that what we’re look­ing at in terms of an Indian iden­ti­ty is some­thing which is holis­tic, encom­pass­ing, and stretch­es back through time.

Trying to make this into a nation­al ide­ol­o­gy for the mod­ern age, but also using this as a mod­ern ide­ol­o­gy of exclu­sive­ness, of stand­ing apart­ness, of being in some way com­pet­i­tive with oth­er iden­ti­ties (for instance the Islamic iden­ti­ty of neigh­bor­ing Pakistan, and by direct exten­sion the Islamic minori­ties with­in India), pos­es all kinds of dif­fi­cul­ties for how we con­ceive of an inter­na­tion­al rela­tions and a cit­i­zen­ship built upon belief that has sev­er­al very very over­ar­ch­ing reli­gious ele­ments to it.

And yet when we look at the his­to­ry of India, we’re actu­al­ly look­ing at a his­to­ry of frag­men­ta­tion. Even the British Raj, the British colo­nial exper­i­ment over India, divid­ed India into two very very large por­tions. One was under­neath direct rule from the Raj. The oth­er was the indi­rect rule via 175 prince­ly states. With 175 prince­ly states, with many lan­guages being spo­ken, with many dif­fer­ent his­to­ries, the claim of one India is one which has to over­come and nav­i­gate a past his­to­ry full of mul­ti­plic­i­ty. And this mul­ti­plic­i­ty stretch­es back through time. So the idea of a Hinduness from time immemo­r­i­al is some­thing that deserves interrogation.

What you’re look­ing at in fact is an ear­li­est civ­i­liza­tion in India real­ly from about the 4th mil­len­ni­um BC. But real­ly it’s from about 2000 BC that we start to see some­thing which can be iden­ti­fied as a mark of Indian orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty. And that’s the foun­da­tion of cities all built along sim­i­lar lines. Cities built around rec­tan­gles and squares on low­er ground, and an acrop­o­lis or pub­lic space—an admin­is­tra­tive space—of gov­ern­ment build­ings, of tem­ples, of meet­ing halls, and pub­lic baths on upper ground.

So the orga­ni­za­tion of soci­ety, the orga­ni­za­tion of urban soci­ety, was a char­ac­ter­is­tic which was iden­ti­fi­able in many parts of India in 2000 BC. But those were not the Indians that sur­vived down unsul­lied until to the present day. Because what you had from about 1700 BC were major waves of migra­tion. Aryan migra­tions from Mesopotamia, from what is today Iran. And they brought with them all kinds of new influ­ences. They brought with them for instance ear­ly forms of Sanskrit. So that what is regard­ed as the her­itage lan­guage of India is in fact some­thing which was brought in in orig­i­nal form by out­siders, then dilut­ed, mixed, and devel­oped in terms of its inter­ac­tion with local influences.

It was real­ly only about 1000 BC, just 3,000 years ago, that the Vedas, the holy songs, the holy poems, are [?] char­ac­ter­is­tics of a Hinduness began to be com­posed and began to be sung, and began to form some­thing of a sacred canon. At each stage of Indian his­to­ry, one encoun­ters admix­tures of the exter­nal and the inter­nal. You have the advent of Buddhism in 400 BC fol­lowed very very quick­ly by the inva­sion in the Northwestern part of India of Alexander the Great and his Macedonian pha­lanx army. It was fol­lowed by the nation­wide adap­ta­tion and adop­tion of Buddhism under­neath the Emperor Ashoka.

Underneath Ashoka we have the very first man­i­fes­ta­tion of some­thing that resem­bled a unit­ed India. A polit­i­cal­ly United India won by con­quest, and giv­en a nation­al doc­trine (in this case Buddhism) adopt­ed by Ashoka because he was so hor­ri­fied at the car­nage he had caused in unit­ing India that he turned to the ways of peace in his late age. But that was as recent­ly as about 268 BC. So all of the great man­i­fes­ta­tions are recent and in fact the Indian pan­theon of gods like Shiva, gods like Vishnu, real­ly only took place at the turn of the mil­len­ni­um between 200 BC and 200 AD. The writ­ing of the great books, the Mahabarat, the Bhagavad Gita, all of those come from that point in time, con­sol­i­dat­ed final­ly into an insti­tu­tion­al­ized ethos in tem­ple Hinduism only about 1,000 years ago.

So look­ing back you see Hinduism as recent, even of course if 1,000 years is a long time for some­thing to set­tle and con­sol­i­date. But we’re not look­ing at some­thing his­tor­i­cal­ly mono­lith­ic. And the idea of using Hinduness as a nation­al ide­ol­o­gy, and its con­se­quences for inter­na­tion­al behav­ior against all of those with dif­fer­ent con­fes­sion­al beliefs, can be some­thing which is seen as prob­lem­at­ic. The rela­tion­ships with Pakistan for instance—Pakistan and India achiev­ing rival inde­pen­dences after much com­mu­nal blood­shed in 1947. Those two coun­tries con­tin­ued since that point in time to lead fraught com­pet­i­tive existences. 

The Indians devel­oped nuclear capac­i­ty and the bomb first, the Pakistanis some years lat­er. Particularly going onto a crash course after the wars with India over the inde­pen­dence of Bangladesh. So that now you have nuclear stock­piles in the two coun­tries of rough­ly about 120 nuclear war­heads for India and about 130 nuclear war­heads for Pakistan. It’s entire­ly pos­si­ble to artic­u­late the rela­tion­ships between the two coun­tries along the lines of bal­ance of pow­er. It’s also entire­ly pos­si­ble to inter­pret the Indian assis­tance for the inde­pen­dence strug­gle of Bangladesh in terms of weak­en­ing what was once a unit­ed Pakistan by sep­a­rat­ing from what is now Pakistan its Eastern por­tion and turn­ing that into a state which could be more eas­i­ly dom­i­nat­ed by India.

India in any case has had many prob­lems on its bor­ders quite apart from Pakistan. The 1962 war with China, which India resound­ing­ly lost, is a case in point. But what is the real prob­lem­at­ic aspect of rela­tion­ships between Pakistan and India remains today the sta­tus of Kashmir. There’ve been a num­ber of wars between the two coun­tries over Kashmir: 1947, 1965, 1999, each of the two met­ro­pol­i­tan states claim­ing that they should be the right­ful gov­ern­ment of the trou­bled province. But with­in the trou­bled province itself, a very very strong and very very vis­i­ble minor­i­ty but insur­gent group of Kashmiris, want­i­ng to go to learn and have inde­pen­dence under­neath their own rubric, under­neath their own identity.

What you have in the Indian sub­con­ti­nent are the pol­i­tics of con­tes­ta­tion. An unset­tled region after the depar­ture of com­mu­nism, after the end of the British Raj which once stretched as far as Burma, which tried to take Afghanistan. Which in the end gave inde­pen­dence to rival coun­tries eking out their rival­ry now almost as sacred totems, that rival­ry being almost as sacred a totem as Hindutva is claimed to be one for India.

Further Reference

Religion and World Politics course infor­ma­tion