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Defying the Hindutva canon

By Jyotirmaya Sharma

If Pramod Mahajan were to follow Savarkar's formulation, the nationality question of Sonia Gandhi and her children would be closed.

THE BJP leader, Pramod Mahajan's assertion that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra stand disqualified to hold high office in the country on account of their mother's foreign origin has reopened the debate on the nationality question. Mr. Mahajan's pronouncement is an emotive one and has little legal backing. While he admitted that Rahul and Priyanka's mother was not merely an Indian national, but married into a distinguished Indian family, she would be as unacceptable to the people as Prime Minister as her children. In saying so, Mr. Mahajan has defied the very canonical basis of Hindutva or Hinduness, especially since the Sangh Parivar has sought to define Indianness and nationality in terms of Hinduness.

The clearest formulation of the idea of Hindutva belongs to Savarkar. He formulated a three-fold test for determining Hinduness. A Hindu is one, he argued, who lives within the territorial limits of Hindustan. But this was not sufficient. A Hindu is to be identified by the existence of common blood ties; the blood of the Vedic fathers ought to be coursing in his or her veins. But most importantly, Savarkar asserted, a Hindu is one who affirms the common cultural and civilisational matrix of this land.

Towards the end of his most influential text, "Hindutva", Savarkar takes up the case of Sister Nivedita. Was she a Hindu? Yes, says Savarkar, because she had adopted this land as her Fatherland. This was, however, not enough. Had she married an Indian, her foreign origin would not be a disqualification at all. "The sacrament of marriage with a Hindu which really fuses and is universally admitted to do so, two beings into one," explains Savarkar, "may be said to remove this disqualification." Yet, this too was not reason enough to consider her a Hindu.

It was the third condition that qualified Sister Nivedita to attain Hinduness in an absolute sense. What was this all-important determinant? Sister Nivedita had adopted "our culture" and had come to "adore our land as her Holyland." She `felt' she was a Hindu. This was the most important test. Savarkar then proceeds to examine the status of the children born out of a marriage between a Hindu and a foreigner. "The children of such a union as that would, other things being equal," asserts Savarkar, "be most emphatically Hindus."

If Mr. Mahajan were to follow the letter and spirit of Savarkar's formulation, the nationality question of Sonia Gandhi and her children would be a closed one. However, Savarkar's third condition leaves the Hindutva votaries enough room for a subjective application of the rule. The argument about `our' culture and the mandatory adoration of the religious and cultural symbols of India as `Holyland' leave room for endless manipulation. What if a Hindu by birth refuses to partake of this culture? Is he not a Hindu and an Indian national? Further, are atheists to be disqualified from being recognised as Hindus and holding high office? While Savarkar took great care to disengage overtly institutionalised religious symbols from his definition of Hindu sanskriti, the cultural markers he suggests as the litmus test for being part of `our' culture are entirely Hindu and inspired by Hindu religious practices.

Even more contentious is the issue of who decides who is a Hindu. This question of legitimacy has hardly been seriously addressed. Since the BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have invariably sought to define nationality in terms of Hinduness, there has emerged a tendency to define an emotive issue like a `true' Hindu or a `true' patriot in a purely ideological and arbitrary fashion. The vandalism by Shiv Sainiks of M.F. Husain's works in the past or the recent desecration of the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune are instances of a growing trend to assume the guardianship of the cultural heritage of this country. The point is the ever-shrinking liberal space in society and in the public realm. The attempt to exclude Rahul and Priyanka from the democratic process is not, therefore, confined to the instance of their having an Italian as mother. It will eventually include all those who dare to defy a restrictive definition of Hinduness and an equally limiting notion of patriotism.

Savarkar was not alone in delineating a nationality test for the inhabitants of his utopia of a Hindu Nation. Golwalkar also pondered over the question and devised a test for nationality in the case of Muslims and Christians.

He went several steps ahead of Savarkar in his radicalism as well as his romantic notions of nationalism. The problem with Golwalkar's formulation, as it is with that of Savarkar, is that they hardly lend themselves to rational argument and quantification. Another common element is the strong subjective and emotional strain of both these arguments. The irony, however, is that neither of them serve Mr. Mahajan's purpose. Golwalkar's test of nationality needs to be quoted in full: "The mere fact of birth or nurture in a particular territory, without a corresponding mental pattern, can never give a person the status of a national in that land. Mental allegiance has been, in fact, the universal criterion for nationality."

Is Mr.Mahajan attempting to rewrite the Hindutva canon?

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