The politics of Hindu identity has changed remarkably now. Hindus have asked the inner-identity question perennially, the political question is now being asked afresh
Darshan and Puja by PM Narendra Modi"s at Kedarnath Temple, Uttarakhand
Up to a few years ago, no intellectual or political leader, or any member of such privileged classes, would proudly call oneself a Hindu. If they came from a Christian background, they would clearly state that they were Christians. If from an Islamic background they would proudly claim to be Muslims.
If asked about their religion those from a Hindu background would claim to be secular – as if secularism was a new superior form of religion. Or it would claim to follow all religions and be universal as if being a Hindu had no identity of its own. Some might identify themselves according to the particular guru or sampradaya they followed, but not call themselves Hindus overall. If they did use the Hindu word, it was in a negative connotation of Hindu
majoritarianism that they promised not to allow, or Hindu terror that they vowed to exterminate.
In short, to succeed as a politician in Bharat up to recently, Hindus had to be secular, this meant ignoring or denying their Hindu background. Muslims and Christians, on the other hand, would be regarded as secular even if being orthodox or fundamentalist in their beliefs. It seems that Hindus were inherently unsecular and had to prove their secular credentials by distancing themselves from their Hindu background. Meanwhile, Muslims and Christians were inherently secular and need not be questioned about the nature of their beliefs, whatever these happened to be – as such questioning itself would be a violation of secularism, which was meant only to criticise majority Hindu practices.
Today in Bharat we find a very different situation arising with politicians of various persuasions who previously downplayed their Hindu background visiting Hindu temples, participating in Hindu celebrations, lending support to at least a few Hindu causes or communities, and suddenly calling themselves Hindu in a public manner – at least on suitable occasions relative to crucial election campaigns.
What has brought about this dramatic behavioural transformation? Is it is a new Hindu spiritual awakening or expression of devotion? Are such leaders now taking up Yoga sadhanas to improve themselves?
No, it is simply the political expediency of the Narendra Modi era, in which the old vote bank strategies based upon dividing Hindus by caste and region and consolidating minority votes by promoting anti-Hindu sentiments, are no longer winning.
The old anti-Hindu political rhetoric has been redesigned to target Hindutva groups as “false Hindus”, such as Modi, BJP and RSS.
The Modi Era
Narendra Modi was the first PM to proudly acknowledge himself as a Hindu in his work and campaigns inside Bharat, and in his expansive global diplomacy that began with promoting International Yoga Day and includes taking foreign dignitaries to Hindu temples like those of Varanasi. Unlike previous leaders Modi is not afraid of losing his secular image by going to temples, encouraging Hindu tourism, or observing Hindu practice.
Modi’s election certainly owed a lot to a consolidation of the Hindu vote and the support of the Hindu community that had long been politically neglected by other political parties. The landslide Modi victory suddenly turned Hindus into a sought for electoral vote bank, much as the long consolidated Muslim vote bank had been a perennial electoral cause for decades.
To gain the attention of the new Hindu vote bank, the old rhetoric of attacking Hindus as Saffron terror to mobilise anti-Hindu vote banks has to be tempered with occasional regard for the Hindu community, so that they do not vote en masse against parties like Congress that has gained the reputation, largely rightly so, of being a Muslim Party.
Of course, this new Hindu image has to be balanced with continued favours for anti-Hindu and casteist forces to hold their diverse electoral constituencies intact as well. It means that such new political Hindus may still appear as anti-Hindu on alternate days when the campaign provides better electoral results for portraying Hindus as dangerous, particularly for targeting Brahmins.
Also, the old anti-Hindu political rhetoric has been redesigned to target Hindutva groups as “false Hindus”, such as Modi, BJP and RSS denigrated, as if the old secular anti-Hindu brigade has suddenly gained the right to speak for what true Hindutva is.
Where were these newly christened Hindus in the political field when to be called a Hindu was anathema, a term of denigration? Theirs is a Hinduism of political convenience only, which masks the same old anti-Hindu policies and places dynasty over dharma.
(The writer is a Vedacharya, author, and Yoga, Ayurveda and Jyotish teacher)