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ELUSIVE SPIRIT

There is a perturbed spirit about. Its name is Hindutva. Nobody quite knows what it means. Even among its advocates, there is a difference about its definition. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has in his annual musings, defined it as an inclusive concept. According to the prime minister, believers in Hindutva should not discriminate against anybody, should not exclude anybody. Hindutva, Mr Vajpayee tried to tell the nation, celebrates unity in diversity as the core of Indian culture. He fortified this view with quotations from Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Aurobindo Ghosh — all of whom had written about the great variety of Indian culture. Mr Vajpayee regretted that an “all-encompassing view of human life” like Hindutva had been projected by some as a rigid and fundamentalist doctrine. The last point was a deliberate swipe at organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and sections of the Bharatiya Janata Party which have tried to convert Hindutva into a fanatical creed. The points made by Mr Vajpayee in his musings are significant because he has been a lifelong advocate of Hindutva through that ideology’s many political incarnations, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jan Sangh and the BJP. These cannot be treated as off-the-cuff remarks. On the contrary, they are his considered views on an ideology that is his weltanschaung.

It is clear, however, that other adherents of Hindutva belonging to the sangh parivar do not subscribe to the definition formulated by the prime minister. The vice-president of the VHP, Mr Giriraj Kishore, has denied the very idea of a narrow and dogmatic interpretation of Hindutva. He described Hindutva as the main power of the country. There appears to be a congruence here between the views of Mr Vajpayee and those of the objects of his criticism. Both agree that Hindutva is at the very core of Indian culture. The point of difference is regarding the viability of an extremist definition. It strikes neither Mr Vajpayee nor, of course, the hawks within the sangh parivar, that there are beliefs and practices pursued by large numbers of Indians which are not remotely derived from Hindutva, however defined. To make Hindutva the core is to exclude such people. Indian culture is a composite one and Hindutva is only one of the elements that go into its making.

In terms of politics Mr Vajpayee has a different kind of importance. He is obviously trying to distance himself and the BJP from the strand of Hindutva that propagates hatred and violence.His aim is not so much the interpretation of Hindutva as to announce to the people of India and to the BJP his disapproval of the kind of violence perpetrated in Gujarat in the name of Hindutva. Mr Vajpayee spoke, as is his wont, as the prime minister of India and not of the BJP. But by virtually equating Hindutva with toleration, he may have yielded ground to the hardliners in the sangh parivar who have always peddled a similar fiction. Hindutva is not amenable to a rigorous definition. This allows it to be interpreted according to political convenience.

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