As an agnostic, I am neither totally religious nor totally unbelieving. Yet there are times when the question of faith becomes urgent. On Christmas Day, I put aside the book I was reading and turned on the TV for the news. A debate on “dharam sansad” in Uttarakhand was ongoing. One of the participants, a daring Hindu Rashtra champion, shouted at the anchor: “Even Shivaji Maharaj had used the term ‘Hindu Rashtra’, so what’s wrong if I do? “
The book I had read was Who Was Shivaji? by Govind Pansare and I had just finished reading an AD 1657 letter from Shivaji to Aurangzeb attached to it. The main purpose of the letter was to challenge the infamous jizya tax, Shivaji’s anger being directed against the tax policy and not the emperor’s religion. He wrote: “The government of the Empire runs its day-to-day administration by collecting jizya from the Hindus. In fact, once upon a time, Emperor Akbar ruled with great serenity. Therefore, apart from Daudis and Mohammedis, the religious practices of Hindus such as Brahmins and Shevades (Shaivaites) were protected. The Emperor helped these religions. Hence, he was hailed as a jagatguru. The letter goes on to say that Jahangir and Shah Jahan also enabled the undisturbed practice of all religions: “These emperors always had their eyes fixed on the welfare of the people.” Shivaji pits the three emperors against Aurangzeb and warns him, “Under your rule you have lost many forts and provinces. The others are also likely to be lost. It is because you do not spare yourself by doing all that is vile. I am aware that the current dispensation will not like Shivaji Maharaj’s analysis that Akbar was called “jagatguru” by people because he protected everyone, regardless of their religion. Those who assassinated Pansare in 2015 did not like his portrayal of Shivaji as a leader interested in the welfare of all, regardless of faith.
Shivaji even questions Aurangzeb’s understanding of the Quran. He writes in the letter: “The Koran is a heavenly book. This is the declaration of God. It commands that God belongs to all Muslims and, in fact, to the whole world. And further: “In the mosques, it is Him whom we pray to. In the temples, it is He for whom the bells ring. Ever since I read those sentences just a few minutes ago, I didn’t know whether to laugh at the ignorance of the person on TV or feel sad for such a distortion of Shivaji’s idea of Hindu culture.
Just on Christmas Eve, the Karnataka Assembly introduced the Anti-Conversion Bill, euphemistically called the Religious Freedom Protection Bill, and on the night of December 25, an image of Jesus was desecrated by vandals in Ambala. In this context, the Hindutva propaganda machine had spread false information about the increase in the Christian population. According to census data, Christians in Karnataka made up 1.91% of the total population in 2001. A decade later, in 2011, they were 1.87%, reduced in their proportional population. But there is another website that comes up when searching for Karnataka Christian Census data. Its header displays an image of the assembly building in Bangalore, making it look like a government website. It shows that the Christian population is 3.1%. An internet search shows that the website was set up by the founder of a digital media organization responsible for Narendra Modi’s 2014 election campaign. As if intimidation and attacks on Christians and the threat of genocide launched against Muslims in the recent “dharam sansads” were not enough, there was the terrifying formulation by NSA Ajit Doval in November that fourth generation wars will be fought through civil society.
Recent events have left no doubt as to the nature of the essential elements of present-day Hindutva that are being promoted in thought and action. This ideology strives to establish that Hinduism is not the tolerant coexistence of religions as Shivaji had interpreted it or a way of life which recognizes Ishwar and Allah as essentially identical. Going through the articulation of the violence that the “dharam sansads” seek to unleash and the semi-official theorization of civil society as a weapon planted by the enemy, it is clear that Narendra Modi’s fantasy of the vishwaguru nation is poles apart from Shivaji’s idea of a jagatguru. – leader who professes no dharma but raj dharma.
Hindutva’s RSS ideology, in addition to being militaristic, is obsessed with biased historiography that sets aside all established scientific methods of reading the past and introduces untenable and savage claims as historical truth. This historiography resurfaced recently in a 2022 calendar released by IIT Kharagpur on December 18. It aims to “find the foundations of Indian knowledge systems”. It sounds good at first glance. But what it does do is present an unscientific account of India’s prehistory. It associates two unrelated postulates. One concerns the question of the origin and spread of Sanskrit, the other concerns the Indus Valley Civilization. All available linguistic and archaeological evidence shows that there was no Sanskrit in India before the Vedas and that our Indus Valley ancestors had no connection with Sanskrit half a millennium before its first appearance in India. The timeline also features Adolf Hitler, not to mention that Hitler was “elected to power.” He asserts that the Vedic civilization is the alpha and omega of Indian civilization. The concocted historical narrative and the militant vision of religion make this strong mark of Hindutva go against everything that Indian traditions of thought and spirituality hold precious in Buddha and Basaveshwara, in Kabir and Gandhi, in Charvaka and Ambedkar. Furthermore, if the ideas of Muslim genocide and harassment of Christians are part of Hindutva, they are against the Constitution and the law of the land.
The writer is a cultural activist