Saturday, December 27, 2014

Coming of The Global Hindu

India, after sixty years of committed secularism, has turned a corner.

The founding assumptions of India was that in order to survive, it must become a secular country. Indeed, such thinking was shaped by the then recent battles with two-nation theory, which the Indian nationalists lost and the country was divided, and the persistent British argument that India couldn't be a viable country because of its diversity. It was all but natural to make diversity a central theme of the constitution that was drafted - it was avowedly secular and non-sectarian and allowed the Indian states to retain many powers - and the subsequent efforts of the nation's leaders were to commit to an 'idea of India' free of any religious or cultural definition.

We are now entering the second stage of the process, when the partition, and all the doubts about viability of India, are distant memories. A new confidence has now replaced the insecurities and doubts that shaped the responses of the founding brothers of Indian Independence, and the moral purpose that they chose as their only guide seem redundant in favour of a sense of entitlement as a great nation by virtue of economic importance. 

For many, this is a time to make a fresh start. This cause is helped by an unique demographic point that India is at - itself a result of hope in the future - that makes this country as young as ever. The fresh start, therefore, isn't just about making amends and leaping forward for the nation that was constructed for this purpose, but rather discovering a new purpose: One that would go beyond the aspirations of 'rebuilding' and claim India's 'rightful place' in the world.

This is now underway. A newly ascendant creed of Hindu politics has caught the imagination of the young, cloaked conveniently, and non-threateningly, as 'development politics' for many Western financiers whose backing was needed for its triumph. For an Indian though, the proposition is abundantly clear: The 'development' promised can only be realised after the social and political 'homogeneity' can be achieved. The diversity toolkit, including the secularist credo, underlying the modern Indian state has lost its relevance, as the nation has overcome its phase of reconstruction, claims the new leaders; they instead promote a willful historical amnesia - clever as this naturally suits the young - and endeavour to reclaim an ancient glory which, free of historical details, can now fashion a fantastic national identity.

Indian state, from this point on, will take a new road. The statue of Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, came up in Meerut, an Indian town, last month. This is perhaps more symbolic than just an aberration - a declaration of intent to break with the past, the announcement, if brash in tone, of a new nation. The government's cultural agenda, manifested in top-down moves in assertion of authority of Central Ministry over the Universities, or the stealthy moves to convert minorities to Hinduism, all point to a new agenda of homogeneity, legitimised by the promise of development. 

This, I shall argue, the form the basis for coming of the Global Hindu. Indeed, they are already there, much evidenced in the cities of London, New York and San Fransisco, but no less measure elsewhere. But Hindus were always suspicious of the global, mostly excommunicating those who dared to cross the sea, and maintaining a disdain for those who left the country. However, this redefinition of new India, which the Global Hindus played a lead role bring about, gives them the spiritual home that they sorely lacked. Hinduism, as this new form emerges, will not any longer be identified by magical but lethargic and poor India, but a wakeful land of spiritual expediency that could sustain a better business culture as any other. However, Global Hinduism, like the new India, wouldn't be just the ancient Hinduism reborn, but a new religion altogether.

The global spread of ideas, as closely entwined with the rise of the new Indian state, and indeed, powered by this, have to be necessarily based on what the French commentator Olivier Roy calls 'Holy Ignorance', a form of purer religion disconnected from its social and cultural context. It is only by creating that 'religion-lite' form, Hindu religion, whose central tenets are based on sacrifice and giving up, can adapt itself to the spiritual needs of the bankers and financiers in London and New York, whose conspicuous consumption will run counter to the austere ethic of the religion but whose support is crucial to its sponsor state. Roy's point, made in context of Islam, that globalisation of religion demands belief and not knowledge: To embrace ignorance and to submit to the wills of various Godmen might have been part of Hindu society for a while, but at this pivot point, this is likely to become mainstream.

What we could expect then is the rise of the Global Hindu, indistinguishable from the various cults that exist today but with an additional claim of being mainstream, with a particular doctrine of religious commitment and intolerance and with a sponsor state. This is, as with the new forms of Islam and various evangelist creeds, a new religion altogether, new in its theistic commitment, new in its social composition and philosophical creed. In the coming days, it would make various claims of authenticity by laying claims on ancient Hindu philosophy and ways of thinking, and yet diverge from its cultural basis, just as Global Islam did in the last few decades. Such a moment of emergence may be politically potent - as we have seen in Indian elections - but socially dangerous: It could become one of those things that may change in the world in the coming decades.

  



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