A young Indian demonstrator holds a placard at a rally in New Delhi, in protest over a spate of assaults against Muslims and low-caste Dalits by Hindu vigilantes in India. Photo: AFP

The Hindutva policy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has been debauching the Hindu religion to attract votes from the Hindu population as the world’s largest functioning democracy is set to hold a general election for the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) in seven phases from April 11 to May 19.

The Indian National Congress and other opposition parties and many prominent people of India have time and again accused Modi’s government of trying to dismantle the historically cherished Indian secularism, pluralism and multiculturalism envisaged in the Indian constitution since the BJP came to power in 2014. They have also been asking progressive Hindu voters to morph their electoral choice in the upcoming poll because if the BJP remains in power, the systemic persecution of minorities will continue, and to counter such actions, there will be a high likelihood of jihadist movements and other violent resistance in the world largest democratic republic.

Despite the emergence of the world’s three most significant Islamic jihadist movements – Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, Mullah Omar’s Taliban in Afghanistan, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria – and the fact that nearly 173 million Muslims (according to the 2011 census) –  the second-largest Muslim population on the globe after Indonesia – reside in India, it has been remarkably free from jihadist attacks. India is also less vulnerable to home-grown Islamic violent resistance than some of its neighbors, although it has been suffering from terrorist attacks in Kashmir that it blames on Pakistan. India has also claimed that Pakistan is culpable for providing its territory and funding for terrorist groups that are operative against India, such as the recent attack in Pulwama.

Surely scholars of international affairs and analysts of Islamic terrorism should find it mind-boggling how India has thus far been less prone to major jihadist attacks than some other countries. The most likely explanation goes as follows.

Unlike the monotheism of Christianity and Islam, Hinduism is polytheistic, with a multitude of cults within the religion. The Hindu religion has three godheads and 33 kinds of gods and goddesses. Although some anthropologists follow an evolutionary schema of the advancement of religious faith in a unilinear path from animism to polytheism and finally monotheism, we may or may not agree with this evolutionary model of religion. The Hindu religion, according to this schema, is less evolved than Christianity and Islam, but the adherence to pluralism and accepting diversity and tolerance of multiculturalism are naturally within the  polytheist Hindu Weltanschauung.

Such pluralism can be found everywhere in the Hindu scriptures such as the four Vedas, the 108 Upanishads, the 18 Puranas, and great epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagvatgita. In contrast, many note that even with Islam’s acceptance of Jesus as a prophet of Allah, Christians and Muslims have been hostile toward each other because monist religious and philosophical bases create no space for pluralism and diversity.

Political pundits having a meticulous accounting of India believe that the Hindu religion itself is plural and diverse, thus providing little room for radicalization from within. A single-line summary of the 18 holy Hindu texts, the Puranas, can be expressed in the beautiful sloka (verse) in the Sanskrit language “Ashtadash Puraneshu Vyasasya Vachanam, Paropkar Punyay Papay Parpeedanam.” The meaning of the sloka goes like this: “In the 18 Puranas, the sage Ved Vyas says only one thing, helping others without expecting something in return is meritorious, and hurting others is a sin.”

However, the BJP has been distorting the modesty of Hinduism and trying to radicalize Indian society. Except for a few politically motivated religious riots, diverse religious faiths have thrived in the vast country of India.

The Indian constitution is a landmark document, and it has made India a safe and livable place for every faith and sect. Harvard zoologist Edward O Wilson in his seminal 1975 work Sociobiology: The New Synthesis posits that the caste system – probably the darkest side of Hindu society in India – is nearly a fixation in the blood of Indians, but then it can also be said that pluralism and diversity are virtually a genetic fixation among the Hindus of India and the Himalayas.

However, the BJP, its political allies such as Shiv Sena, and its religious wings such as Rashtriya Swayamnsevak Sangha (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP) have been trying to demolish the very secular, diverse and multicultural nature of the republic for their vested political interests. With the Modi government’s crackdown on civil-society activists and human-rights defenders working for religious minorities, and their tolerance of mob lynchings of Muslims and Dalits by cow vigilantes, Indian society has been losing its tolerant character. The BJP has been intensifying the perversion of Hindu religion and accelerating radicalization. Consequently, deep resentments have been escalating among Muslims and other religious minorities, and violent manifestations are likely to happen.

Thirty-three prominent Indian scholars, artists and writers in protest of the murders of M M Kalburgi, Govinda Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar have returned their awards and state honors. They have accused the BJP of escalating intolerance and communal violence and rescinding secularism and pluralism in India in the name of nationalism so as to hold on to political power. They have accused the party of trying to distort Hinduism and Indian identity.

Political experts claim that the BJP’s exploitation of the Hindutva policy to cash in on a vote bank is wrong not because of the risk of resentment among minorities groups that could transform into religious and communal violence, as India’s opposition parties have been claiming, but because it runs counter to the great traditions, norms and values of Hindu religion and India’s secular constitution.

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Bhim Bhurtel

Bhim Bhurtel is visiting faculty for a master's in international relations and diplomacy, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, and faculty for a master's program of Development Economics, Nepal Open University. He was the executive director of the Nepal South Asia Center (2009-14), a Kathmandu-based South Asian development think-tank. Bhurtel can be reached at bhim.bhurtel@gmail.com.

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