Indian politics not long ago was dominated by left-leaning ideological discourse. This discourse got actively promoted by Marxists who wanted to establish a communist utopia by dismantling Indianness from society and liberals who followed Macaulayism, an ideology left behind by the British. Macaulayism refers to the ideology of the British through which they aimed to create an elite power yielding class of Indians who were “Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals, and intellect. “
Hinduism was abhorred to be medieval, unscientific, patriarchal, and de-humanizing while at the same time both of these classes of left-leaning liberals practiced pseudo-secularism concerning other religions for political relevancy. Nehru was against the then President Rajendra Prasad going to the Somnath temple in his official capacity as the President of the Republic for its resurrection, who otherwise was at the forefront of fighting historical injustices.
Political Pundits often point out that no ideology is untouchable in Indian politics but Hindutva was a no-go area to all the parties except BJP until 2014. This changed after Modi, who wore the Hindu religion on his sleeve and never lost an opportunity to project himself as a leader who is constantly working for the betterment of the Hindus and Indianness. He and his team creatively used social media to bring out the message that Hinduism was being downgraded in politics to enforce western superiority and create vote banks of other religions. He spread this message with no ill to other religions creating a message of ” Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas. “
The initial reaction of the opposition was to attack Hinduism and Hindus even further under the guise of attacking Hindutva. This attack on Hindutva was sometimes combined with an attack on Nationalism and India’s cultural history too. People saw through the fallacies of the opposition and the end result was BJP gaining a foothold in states where it never existed years before like Assam, Telangana, West Bengal, etc.
The opposition most of which is led by nepotistic leaders failed to sense the tectonic shift of Indian politics at the grassroots from socialist secularism to inclusive Hindutva. Soon, after a series of debacles, they realized their mistake and started appropriating a lite version of Hindutva or soft Hindutva into their politics and campaigns.
Visits to temples, calling themselves ” bhaktas ” of Indian god and goddesses, reciting hymns, symbolic PR photos with religious seers & symbols, sporting tilaks, etc which were considered as political taboo in pre-2014 India soon became common cutting across party lines.
The first party to adopt this soft Hindutva approach was Congress in 2017 which went from denying the historical existence of Lord Ram due to Nehruvian Secularism to calling its president Rahul Gandhi a ” Janeudhari Ram Bhakt “& ” Shiv-Bhakt ” who visits Manasarovar regularly.
Its manifestos started carrying promises of cow protection and revival of the Sanskrit Language. Rahul Gandhi started his Gujarat, UP, and MP assembly poll campaigns by visiting Dwarka, Dugdheshwarnath temple, and Omkareshwar Jyortling respectively. Photos of him sporting tilaks and wearing a dhoti while taking blessings from the deities were shared by Congress’s social media team all over the internet. This did help them win some state elections (except Gujarat where they lost narrowly & UP) by a certain extent proving that even though BJP lost the elections its ideology won. Recently too Rahul Gandhi was seen visiting Mata Vaishnav Devi temple and even called himself as ” Kashmiri Pandit ” while visiting the temple.
But the one party which has gone miles ahead in appropriating Hindutva in a form that cannot even be called the lite version of Hindutva is AAP. This change of heart is sudden too, just a few years back in 2018 Deputy CM of Delhi Manish Sisodia wanted to construct a university in the place of a temple at the Birth place of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. But with an eye on the upcoming UP polls, he is going to visit Ayodhya and pray at Lord Ram’s birthplace in the hope of a ” Ram Rajya ” soon.
In a tweet, Sisodia wrote, “I am going to offer my prayers to Ram Lalla today. In Ayodhya, Lord Shri Ram set such a standard for the happiness of the people that even today ‘Ram Raj’ is considered to be the highest inspiration of clean governance and administration. I request the Lord to always preserve the purity in our thoughts.”
Last year during the Delhi assembly elections CM Arvind Kejriwal declared himself a devotee of Lord Hanuman. He also claimed that since Lord Hanuman is a devotee of Lord Ram, therefore he too is a devotee of Lord Ram. Kejriwal also spent crores to live telecast a choreographed grand pooja event for Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi in which he participated along with his wife sporting tilaks and traditional Hindu attire.
Kejriwal on the floor of the assembly this year also vowed to take the elderly people from Delhi to Ayodhya for darshan after the Ram Mandir is constructed under the ”Mukhyamantri Teerth Yatra Yojana” that allows senior citizens from Delhi to undertake a free pilgrimage. All expenses related to travel, food, and accommodation are borne by the Delhi government under this scheme.
He has also promised to turn Uttarakhand into a ” spiritual capital for Hindus ” if voted to power their and call’s the state unit of his party as ” Bhole Ki Fauj “.
But what sets AAPs soft Hindutva from others is them trying to emulate “Hindu Nationalism “ and not just soft Hindutva. Recently, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government presented a ₹ 69,000-crore budget themed on “patriotism” under which installation of 500 flag masts and programs on the lives of freedom fighters are planned across the city. It also announced a “deshbhakti curriculum”. AAP has also decided to organize Tiranga rallies in various cities like Agra, Lucknow, Ayodhya across UP, just a few years back Kejriwal was demanding proof of the surgical strikes and was seen supporting anti-national elements in JNU.
During the second wave of the Pandemic, AAP’s official handle tweeted targeting BJP “Who did Narendra Modi take votes from? India. Who did Narendra Modi give vaccines to?”(what followed was a list of countries). This list only included Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Palestine, Iran, UAE, Syria, among others out of the entire list of countries to whom India sent vaccines.
Also, during the anti-CAA agitation, AAP leaders were diplomatic in their stance and did not support the Shaheen Bagh protests proactively. Though BJP lost the assembly election their ideology won again.
Mamata Banerjee had also declared herself as a ” Hindu girl ” during this year’s Bengal assembly elections. She read hymns from Chandipath, a very popular book of hymns dedicated to Goddess Durga at Nandigram, and also participated in Mahashivratri celebrations. She even gave donations to priests of temples and promised them grants. BJP was routed badly in the elections but their ideology which had no takers in Bengal 5 years back won and took center stage.
SP and BSP too are jumping on the bandwagon of practicing lite Hindutva with an eye on the upcoming UP assembly elections. But whether or not they will gain electorally from it remains to be seen, particularly when the BJP has an extreme right Hindutva candidate as its CM face. The fact that despite this stiff competition in the Hindutva domain still SP & BSP are putting political bets on it shows the importance of Hindutva politics.
The BSP chief Mayawati took part recently in a ‘Brahmin Sammelan’ in Ayodhya. Before Mayawati reached the stage, the slogan of “Hathi nahi Ganesh hai. Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hain. Bacha bacha Bhim ka, BSP ki team ka ” was heard in the hall. As she stepped on to the stage, she was welcomed by the chants of mantras and the sound of conches as well as slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Jai Siya Ram’ and ‘Har Har Mahadev’. Mayawati was first gifted a silver trident — which was described as a symbol of Maa Durga from the stage — and a conch, by Kalpana Mishra, wife of Rajya Sabha MP Satish Chandra Mishra, the BSP’s Brahmin face. This was met with chanting of ‘Har Har Mahadev’, ‘Jai Shiv Shambhu’ and ‘Jai Siya Ram’, and followed by Mishra gifting Mayawati a mini-idol of Lord Ganesha.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav claimed in a recent speech that Lord Ram belongs to his party too and they too are ” Ram Bhakts. ” Ironically, his father had ordered police firing on Kar Sevaks during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. He will visit Ayodhya soon with his family and has grandly announced the celebration of Diwali if his party comes to power.
What proves that Hindutva is truly cementing its place in Indian politics is the slow traction it is gaining down south in states like Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh where the BJP’s ideology of Hindutva found no takers for decades.
Tamil Nadu which was the cradle of atheist Dravidian politics where Hindu idols were broken, hate speeches were common against Hindu deities, and the word ” Hindu ” itself was a taboo is seeing unimaginable changes in the religious-political landscape.
DMK president M K Stalin during this year’s assembly elections was seen with the ‘Vel’ (a spear-like weapon of Lord Muruga) and had asserted that his party respects the beliefs of all the people and does not interfere in matters of faith of anyone. This was done due to the constant barbs against DMK by the BJP calling them anti-Hindu.
Telangana Chief Minister and TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) had claimed himself to be a “bigger Hindu than many other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, during the 2019 general elections. KCR also claimed that he performed many “Yagnam”s and visited more temples than any other BJP leader.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy visited the Tirumala temple to offer prayers soon after the massive electoral victory in 2019 even taking part in Gau pooja there. Last year he even took part in Brahmotsavam rituals in Tirumala.
Jagan and Chandrababu Naidu have constantly battled it out on the issue of the Christian faith of Jagan, Chandrababu Naidu is constantly trying to gain the whole Hindutva vote by projecting himself as a staunch follower of the Hindu religion and has been practicing aggressive Hindutva so that BJP does not make any inroads in the state.
BJP may win or lose the next general elections, but Modi singlehandedly has brought Hindutva from political oblivion and untouchability to center stage. The significance and importance of Hindutva have risen so much so in the last 8 years that no party can afford to go against it. Hindu rights and respect have to be considered by even the staunchest left-leaning political party. One hopes this Hindutva becomes inclusive and not exclusive in the times to come as more parties appropriate it.