| Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Excerpts from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s New Year musings in Goa follow:
The sight of the sea and the sound of its waves can easily make one’s mind wonder about the eternal and the infinite. My wandering thoughts, however, return to India. How many waves of history have crashed at the shore of our motherland! How many New Year suns have dawned on its vast expanse! In our preoccupation with the here and now, we sometimes tend to forget how ancient, and yet how enduring and self-renewing, is our civilisation, indomitable, inclusive, absorbing all the positive influences brought ashore by the tides of history and making them its own.
I recall here the ringing words of Swami Vivekananda in his essay, The Future of India: “It is the same India which has withstood the shocks of centuries, of hundreds of foreign invasions, of hundreds of upheavals of manners and customs. It is the same land which stands firmer than any rock in the world, with its undying vigour, indestructible life. Its life is of the same nature as the soul, without beginning and without end, immortal; and we are the children of such a country.”
Our diversity is as much a source of India’s greatness — and of Indians’ pride in their nation — as her antiquity. Foreigners have always wondered how we can embrace so much diversity in religion, ethnicity, language and lifestyles, and yet remain a united nation. What they may not understand, and which we must never forget, is that living with diversity, and yet weaving a thread of unity and harmony through it, has been a way of life throughout India since time immemorial. This is as true in Goa as it is in Gujarat, in Jammu and Kashmir as much as in Kerala, in Manipur as much as in Madhya Pradesh.
From time to time, the theme of unity in diversity provokes intense debate, even controversies. I wish to comment on two distinct voices, which have become louder after the Gujarat elections. On the one hand, secularism is being pitted against Hindutva, under the belief that the two are antithetical to one another. This is incorrect and untenable.
Secularism is a concept of the state, enjoining upon it the duty to show respect for all faiths and to practise no discrimination among citizens on the basis of their beliefs. In this sense, India has been secular since the beginning of her known history. We chose to remain wedded to secularism even when Pakistan was carved out on the basis of the spurious and communal Two-Nation Theory. This could not have been possible if the majority of Indians were not secular.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore has explained it very well. “India has all along been trying experiments in evolving a social unity within which all the different peoples could be held together, while fully enjoying the freedom of maintaining their differences. The tie has been as loose as possible, yet as close as circumstances permitted. This has produced something like a united states of a social federation, whose common name is Hinduism.”
Hinduism’s acceptance of the diversity of faiths is the central feature of secularism in India. As Maharshi Aurobindo points out: “Indian religion has always felt that since the minds, the temperaments and the intellectual affinities of men are unlimited in their variety, a perfect liberty of thought and of worship must be allowed to the individual in his approach to the infinite.”
On the other hand, Hindutva, which presents a viraat darshan (broad, all-encompassing view) of human life, is being projected by some people in narrow, rigid and extremist manner — an unfortunate and unacceptable interpretation that runs totally contrary to its true spirit. Hindutva is an integral understanding of the entire creation, showing the way both to the here and the hereafter. It emphasises the inseparable relationship between the individual and society, as well as between man’s material and spiritual needs. Hindutva is liberal, liberating and brooks no ill-will, hatred or violence among different communities on any ground.
We need to affirm and promote that true understanding of Hindutva which is forward-looking, not one that seeks to take us back; that which makes us capable of meeting the challenges of the modern world, not one that is stuck in the grooves of the past; that which is reform-minded, and not one that protects obscurantism and injustice, against which all the reformers of the past have fought. If understood and practised in this enlightened sense, which is how Swami Vivekananda and other great patriots propounded it, the current controversy over Hindutva will be seen as wholly unnecessary.
There is no difference between such Hindutva and Bharateeyata, since both are expressions of the same chintan (thought). Both affirm that India belongs to all, and all belong to India. It means that all Indians have equal rights and equal responsibilities. It entails recognition of our common national culture, which is enriched by all the diverse religious and non-religious traditions in India. For centuries both have synonymously pointed to our national identity. Even the Supreme Court has held that Hindutva is neither a religious nor a political concept, but connotes a noble and elevating way of life.