Secular Claims, Communal Realities
This book, substantially expanded and revised from a 1997 study, argues that to properly understand why and how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar have risen to where they are in India today, we need to critically re-evaluate the claims made about the virtues of Indian secularism and of its historical emergence. In the necessary battle of ideas, mainstream liberal discourse does not sufficiently counter Hindutva because both share some common ground regarding India’s ‘civilizational durability’, and how the nexus of religion (primarily Hinduism) and culture has shaped today’s social order. The book seeks to theoretically rebut such perspectives, advocating not just strengthening the secularity of the Indian state but promoting greater secularization of civil society.
The Sangh Parivar is a far right force, whether seen as fascist or fascistic, that has longstanding, cadre-based roots in civil society and is determined to bring about a Hindu rashtra. This would mean a Hindu state in all but name, the permanent inferiorization of certain religious minorities, severe curtailment of rights more generally, the monitoring and isolation of those who would oppose by words and actions the forces of Hindutva. Since the conditions enabling this trajectory are not just cultural but materially grounded in the current iniquities of economic, social and political life in the country, to defeat this communalism we have to fight against much more than communalism, namely against the neoliberal order generating these conditions. Even as all those opposed to Hindutva need to work together for their own sakes, for the building of an Anti-Neoliberal Platform, the revitalization of the Left in India is vital.
"Listing issues that get lost in the ceaseless anti-communal discourse is clearly the book's strength. . . . Mr Vanaik points that the greatest challenge Mr Modi faces – jobs, the slowing economy – arise from the pursuit of neoliberal economic policies and not because he personally leads the Hindutva charge. He provides a blueprint for countering the Sangh Parivar, both in the short term and in the long run." – Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Business Standard
WHEN DARK CLOUDS GATHER
In Hindutva Rising, Vanaik restates his concern about the rise of Hindu communalism, under the changed circumstances of an incumbent BJP government that won an absolute majority in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Hindutva Rising depicts Achin Vanaik’s continued engagement with the churn of Indian politics. Resting upon his theorisation of political transitions in India eloquently espoused in The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India (1990) and reiterating his arguments put forth in The Furies of Indian Communalism: Religion, Modernity and Secularisation (1997), Hindutva Rising (2017) is an extension of his analysis to Modi’s India characterised by a further movement to the right.
In The Painful Transition, Vanaik, an avowed Marxist, highlighted the contradictory processes at work in India’s move towards a capitalist economy and bourgeois democracy. Her transition to liberal democracy was set in a frame of inequality, instability, authoritarian strains, institutional erosion and the rise of communalism.
The Furies of Indian Communalism came seven years later, elaborating Vanaik’s concern with the rise of the “communal phoenix”. While theorising Hindu nationalism and Hindu communalism in The Furies… he highlighted the production and dissemination of a Brahminical version of Hinduism which, according to him, also existed in official Indian nationalism, making it easy for the Hindu right to make inroads into the popular psyche.
In The Furies…, Vanaik discussed his “secularisation-as-decline” thesis where “decline” stands for the lowering of religious influence and religious identity in people’s lives in a context where the process of secularisation is already underway.
In Hindutva Rising, Vanaik restates his concern about the rise of Hindu communalism, under the changed circumstances of an incumbent BJP government that won an absolute majority in the 2014 parliamentary elections. The book, drawing heavily on his arguments in The Furies…, is divided into three parts where diverse but overlapping themes like communalisation of the Indian polity; religion, modernity and secularisation; communalism, Hindutva and anti-secularists; the threat of Hindu communalism; and, the new Modi regime are discussed, and present an incisive analysis of the rise of Hindutva.
Vanaik’s argues that, “…the longer-term battle to defeat communalisms and fundamentalisms must be waged on the terrain of civil society, where the democratic process must be stabilised and secularisation deepened”. He believes in the continued secularisation of Indian life, something that is immanent but not linear or smooth within the capitalist mode of development in an immensely diverse country.
The theme that unites the book’s essays is the secularisation of civil society, which, as he rightly points out, has not got its academic due as research continues to focus on “secularism” and not “secularisation”. This lack of attention, according to Vanaik, exists despite the ongoing secularisation of Indian life.
Vanaik retraces the debate of the 1990s and joins issue with the anti-secularist, anti-modern and post-modern positions. He emphasises that though modernity makes communalism possible, it also carries the antidote for it. Vanaik, however, refrains from linking this debate to the processes of secularisation and the transformed politics of the 2000s.
In espousing the need for further secularisation as well as research on it, Vanaik exhorts one to acknowledge not only the weaknesses but also the strengths of religion. But he warns us against placing religion as unavoidably central to culture and society. Religion, culture, society and their inter-relationships must be scrutinised for a better understanding of the rise of communalism.
For Vanaik, secularisation is the antidote to the spread of vicious Hindu communalism. He says, “Hindutva is the intellectual anchor of the ideology pursued by the most vicious form of Hindu nationalism, which is itself a major part of the overall project of Hindu communalism”.
Comparing the case of secularisation in Britain, the US and India, he highlights that the chances of slipping into religious conservatism is easier for a less secular civil society, though he does not elaborate upon the kind or levels of secularisation needed to avoid it.
For him, secularisation has to be combined with a fight against neoliberalism to counter Hindutva decisively. He also suggests building of secular counter-institutions in civil society and promoting a more secular popular culture through a “multiplicity of localised struggles, and single and multiple-issue movements,” coordinated by action networks.”
He says, “The short-term task of de-communalising the purely political terrain and preserving the secular state has become all important.” Vanaik places the responsibility of this short-term task of de-communalisation in the political arena and the long term task of secularisation in civil society.
Hindutva Rising persuasively sums up Vanaik’s main arguments in his earlier two books regarding the rise of Hindutva in a liberal democratic setting. It would be useful to scholars and students of Indian politics, sociology and comparative politics, besides the general reader.
– Manjari Katju, The Indian Express
Achin Vanaik is a writer and social activist, a former Professor of Political Science at the University of Delhi, and a Delhi-based Fellow of the Transnational Institute, Amsterdam. He is the author of numerous books, including The Furies of Indian Communalism (1997) and The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India (1990).