Struggle Between Hindu and Secular Nationalisms in India
India holds a prominent place in the history of imperialism and decolonization, making recent events in this country of nearly one billion especially important to the current day citizen. India also faces problems associated with accommodating religion and diversity within a large federal republic, making their experience important for Americans concerned with these issues. India faces growing action of governing which invites the use of violence to achieve political objectives. In spite of India's size and importance, it is hard for an American to gain an understanding of the issues and conflicts which have set the stage for the most recent revival of Hindu nationalism. The central feature of this new reform in Indian federal politics is the clash between Hindu and secular nationalists. The overview of this situation comes from the perspective of an American born Indian student interested in Indian history and federal systems, so the observations are intended as suggestions designed to encourage more progressive work both in India and the United States. While the prominence of Hindu themes affects many levels of Indian government, this paper will focus only on India's central government on Hindu Nationalism. This conflict is crucial to understanding the current situation in India. Indian democracy and secularism face a menace from the forces of militant Hinduism which hope to turn India into a Hindu state. What is the nature of the present challenge to secularism in India? What do Hindu nationalists hope to achieve by making their government more assertively Hindu? One can begin to answer these questions by examining the large body of writing on secularism recently produced by Indians. Academics, lawyers, journalists, and political citizens have explored the many facets of Indian secularism. These works provide clues to the nature of Hindu nationalism's appeal in contemporary Indian politics. These writings are interesting for what they reveal about India and its versions of nationalism. Sudipta Kaviraj, a scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, admits that, "among those who consider themselves secular individuals there is an intensifying sense of crisis". What are the criticisms of secularism which lead to the perception of a predicament? At first glance, the challenge appears minuscule, since all political parties, even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accept secularism in some form. As government official P.K. Nijhawan remarks, "the contending sides swear by secularism." However, secularism as it has come to be practiced by the Congress Party and the Indian government (hereafter referred to simply as secularism) comes under scrutiny for four general reasons: the unequal treatment of different religious groups, the implied hostility to religion, the poor translation of secularism from the West to India and the inability of secularism to create a national identity for India. That both sides attempt to appropriate the term secularism can lead to confusion; even the U.S. government had some problems in its effort to catagorize the debate about secularism. In the opinion of the Hindu nationalist, the Congress commitment to secularism does not bring about the tolerance, the Sarva Dharma Sambhava to be expected of Hindu rulers. P.N. Joshi, President of the Rashtriya Hindu Manch, a militant Hindu organization, explains in his 150 page pamphlet, Secularism in Action: A Fraud, A Conspiracy to Destroy Hinduism that in reality, the picture of secularism in action in this country is neither beautiful not presentable
in fact, it is ugly and abominable and the produce even though so well packed in gorgeous colours is foul and stinking'.ii The concept of secularism in this country, in fact, means to ignore the Hindus, to sell the rights and interests of the Hindus with a view to appeasing the Muslims, Sikhs and Christians for buying their votes. The BJP also...
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