Hinduism, Hindutva and the Indian Nation

Ambedkar’s Lessons, Ambedkar’s Challenges

R Ambedkar’s methodological and substantive insights on the nature of Hinduism, caste and Indian history anticipated much contemporary scholarship on the subject. Even so, from his writings there is much to learn about the energetic rigour required in the attunement of political will and scholastic analysis. His powerful and persuasive argument has been at variance not only with those of figures such as Lokmanya Tilak and S Radhakrishnan but also with what has become the larger common sense on these issues, a common sense that informs political as much as jurisprudential discourse. This paper raises questions on the relationship between conceptualisations of the constituent bases of the nation and history in India as much as the means for and the stakes involved in negotiating collective pasts and collective futures.

The Supreme Court in 2017 ruled by a four–three majo­rity that elections cannot be fought in the name of religion, caste or community. The press as well as political parties across the spectrum by and large hailed the ruling. However, in light of the fact that the seven-judge constitutional bench refused to revisit the 1995 Justice Verma “Hindutva” judgment, the implications of the maintained ruling are not clear. It should be remembered that the 1995 judgment “Hindutva,” Hinduism and “the way of life of the Indian people” as one; all three were in turn to be distinguished from “the strict practices of the Hindu religion as faith.” It therefore appears, in view of the recent ruling, that there is nothing wrong or illegal in demanding votes in the name of Hindutva or a Hindu, since these terms could be understood as interchangeable with India or Indian. But to ask for votes in the name of a (particular) caste or (particular) community would seemingly amount to contempt and interference in the secular activity of the elections. The above distinction between Hindutva/Hindu/Indian and caste/community may flow from the following section of the Verma judgment:

Thus, it cannot be doubted, particularly in view of the Constitution Bench decisions of this Court that the words “Hinduism” or “Hindutva” are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the people of India, depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith.1

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Updated On : 29th Jan, 2018

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