Why Does Mohan Bhagwat insist all Indians are Hindus?
Know the category error behind the ontological misrepresentation of all Indians as Hindus.
Moreover, the Shudras were explicitly excluded from Vedic rituals. They were autochthons, but probably the defeated locals, and they were systematically excluded from the Vedic society. Which means, that the Shudras, the Buddhist & Jains, and the forest people, comprising perhaps 50% or more of the population, were not Vedic people, let alone “Hindu.”
With this background, we enter the Gupta age, the so called Golden Age of Indian history, when the Vedic people came into their own under the Gupta rule, after 500 years of being under Buddhist sway. Mathematics, philosophy, Hindu culture flowered, Philosophy made strides. Vedic rituals were reformed. Trade and commerce prospered. But the dominant identities used were still Vedic people vs Buddhist and Jains, with Shudras being outcasts from both traditions, and the forest people largely left to their own devices, except when their forests were needed for expansion.
The Guptas went down circa 550 CE. Their empire unravelled. With a brief respite provided by King Harsha circa 760, the period was one of political chaos. The Arabs invaded Sind in 715 CE bringing Islam to our shores. With their coming, Buddhists began to convert to Islam in Sindh to escape invidious taxes, or simply to enhance their trading prospects.
Into this void stepped in Adi Shankra circa 780 CE. His effort was to revive the Vedic culture, rituals, and philosophy. He was a man of towering intellect, demagogic oratorical skills, and extensive exegetical knowledge of the Vedas. He denounced all 6 schools of Indian philosophy, accusing them of importing impurities from the Jain and Buddhist traditions, and propounded his own Advaita Vedanta which held only the Brahman or the atman was real, and the rest of the world was an illusion. In debates, he crushed the Buddhist and Jain philosophers. It is his efforts that restored primacy to Vedic rituals in northern India. He also did a lot of harm though; crushing the metaphysics of Samkhya and Vaisheshika schools that had advanced to evolution, atoms, space and time conceptually.
Nevertheless, Adi Shankra, the savior of modern day Vedic people, never mentioned the word “Hindu”, nor does he address his concerns to anybody outside the 3 Vedic castes of Brahmins, Khastriyas, and Vaishyas. The rest were out, beyond the pale.
The next 200 years after Adi Shankra saw much internecine warfare among the Pallas, the Pratiharas, and the Rashtrakutas, that left the Northern Indian plains greatly devastated. Starting 1001 CE, Mahmud of Ghazni, taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the trio of infighting clans, entered India 23 times: to loot, plunder, and take slaves. He was followed by the Ghouris. Then, from 1250 CE to 1550 CE, we had the Delhi Sultanate. The turks had truly arrived in India, and the Turkic identity became well known all over northern India.
The arrival of Turks, with a distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity [Persian] sparked a lot of churn in society. It is their discrimination between those who opposed them, and those who joined them, that facilitated the rise of rival political, religious and cultural identity, which we today call the “Hindu.”
Turks first inspired hatred, and then accommodation. I won’t go into the history except to say that this churn under the Delhi Sultanate gave a huge impetus to the late 8th century Bhakti Movement from the South, which spread like wild fire in North India from the 14th Century onwards.
The Bhakti movement of the South had a profound social flavor under the influence of its poets and social reformers of the Saiva Nayanars and the Vaisnava Alvars. What distinguished these reformers from others, was use of local language and idiom, to take their teachings to the masses, and secondly, their efforts to reach out to Shudras and women, who were excluded from Vedic rituals by Brahmins, and bring them into the Bhakti fold.
In Northern India, the movement flowered from the 14th century onwards. The Northern leaders of the Bhakti Movement included Kabir Das, Ravi Das, Tukaram, Dhanna, Jayadeva, Surdas, Nanak Dev and many more. They were generally from the lower castes, [which is one reason why RSS ignores them,] used local languages in their poetry, and of course included the Shudras and women into their fold, opening the way to salvation for them for the first time in history since the arrival of the Aryans. The Brahmin role in the Bhakti Movement was minimal.
What RSS will not tell you, is that it is the Bhakti Movement that not only founded the Hindu Identity, in contrast to the Turkic or Muslim identity, but also that the movement was the only thing that prevented the lower castes from converting to Islam. The enormity of this realization hits you in the solar plexus. But there is considerable logic and evidence for this proposition.
The Brahmins were by and large accommodated by Muslim rulers in their administrations. This continued under the Moguls as well. Brahmins were exempt from the discriminatory Jazia tax. They thus played little role in resisting conversions. Just like under the British, the Brahmins were with the rulers, rather than with the masses. [So you shouldn’t be surprised if now they are with the RSS. They know where power is.]
Most of the conversions from Buddhists as well as the Vedic people were from the lower castes. The Buddhists had left the Vedic fold centuries ago, and saw little point in returning to the Vedic fold. They converted if the conditions so warranted. Many lower castes from the Vedic fold, particularly the Shudras who were outcasts, would have been tempted to convert as well. It was the Bhakti Movement, led by the lower castes themselves, that embraced the Shudras in their fold, along with women, and this is one very under-appreciated reason, why the sub-continent did not fall under the sway of Islam in toto.
What of the Hindu identity? In the works of Kabir Das, [1398-1440 CE] we first find two identities, Hindus and Muslims, in contrast to each other, with their own language, religion, and culture. They are rivals, and Kabir is for ever trying to reconcile the two. Kabir was a weaver. Folklore says, but for Kabir, the entire weaver community of UP would have converted to Islam. But RSS’ Nationalist Brahmins have no kind word for Kabir Das.
This Hindu vs Muslim Binary is even more clear in the work & preaching of Nanak Dev [1469-1539 CE] in Punjab. Of course Nanak himself spanned both the religious in his following, and was heavily influenced by the Sufis. But then again, he saved the Punjab from wholly walking over to Islam. He too brought the Shudras and the lower castes into his movement’s folds, and opened the doors to women as equals. Modern day Sikhs unfortunately no longer follow his teachings on either caste or women.
So two things standout from the Bhakti Movement. Firstly, it created what we today call the Hindu identity, by contesting the sway of Islam on the lower castes, by it reformulation of Vedic teachings in local languages, and opening its doors to lower castes particularly, Shudras; and women. Secondly, it was the key reason for preventing lower castes from converting to Islam. The Brahmins do a great disservice to the genius of the Bhakti Movement in ignoring the key role it played in evolving, nurturing, and protecting the Hindu identity as we know it. If anybody owns Hinduism, it the dozens of poets, social reformers, and leaders of this under-appreciated Bhakti Movement.
The story of evolution of Hindi, along with the Hindu identity, confirms this story. The Bazaar language under the Sultanate, in and around Delhi, was what came to be called Hindustani, and it was heavily laced with Persian loan words, because Persian was the court language under the Sultanate.
As the Hindu identity evolved, a concerted effort was made by Hindus to inject Sanskrit into the Hindustani instead of Persian, and this precursor of modern Hindi was known as “khadi-boli” meaning the “ready-to-hand” or “standing” language. So Hindu and Hindi evolved from the same impetus, to create an identity for those who opposed conversions to Islam, and were in favor of preserving their own cultural heritage.
So it is thanks to the Bhakti Movement, and its political genius, that we still have Hindus today. The present day self-appointed guardians of Hinduism, had no role to play in evolution of the Hindu identity or Hindi. But as is their usual strategy, they wait for others to slave and win, and then step in to appropriate credit.
That hasn’t changed to date, as you can see from RSS’ appropriation of Sardar Patel, or Dr B R Ambedkar. Logic isn’t exactly something that bothers them. They rely on their exegetical genius to rationalize anything and everything, failing which they have the lumpen to enforce their writ.
So who were the Hindus?
By and large they are the very people that the Vedic people ignored: the Shudras, then as now about 20 to 30% of all Indians, to which you must add the forest dwellers, whose numbers would have been far greater than the 12% that we estimate today. To this core number of 30%, you can add other backwards castes, etc and it is safe to say that about that the non- Vedic people outnumbered the Vedic people 40:30. The rest were Buddhists etc [30%] who probably went over to Islam. Those excluded by the Vedic People are the real Hindus, and its they who saved the Vedic Culture more than the Vedic People themselves, thanks to the genius of the Bhakti Movement.
Given this background, that no RSS leader will dare debate openly, why is RSS so keen on calling everyone a Hindu in India?
The answer lies in the priests’ quintessential quest for intellectual hegemony over the masses, their key to power and influence over society, and hence the key to their income and wealth. Quite simply, given the religiosity of our masses, RSS wants to be sole arbiter of religion in the country.
In doing so, it seeks to delegitimize rival priesthoods that Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Sikhs have. By this I don’t mean it seeks to replace them. It simply wants hegemony; it should have the final say in all matters concerning religion. The other communities and their priesthood must recognize RSS as the leader of the majority, which in turn, helps the RSS actually command that status from Hindus. It is shrewd ploy and may just work. It may boomerang too; in Multiculturism & sub-nationalism, but RSS is blind as a bat to long term hazards that its quest for enduring hegemony creates.
The other reason for the insistence in calling all others Hindus is political. Most of our minorities are patriotic and loyal to India, if not the “Hindu Rashtra”, have an illustrious record of service to the nation, and despite the propaganda factories, it is difficult to sustain the charge of disloyalty against them. But by calling them Hindus, you are provoking them to resist your overture.
Identities are the core of who we think we are as a person, and they are not negotiable. You can either accept me for who I am or reject me. My identity is not up for any negotiation or compromise. So when you stick a Muslim or a Sikh, or a Christian, with a Hindu identity, that she doesn’t care for, she is going to reject you gratuitous overture.
This is the rejection that RSS wants to use as a test of fealty or loyalty to its nation - the Hindu Rashtra - not to India. It is a heads I win, tails you lose strategy. You are being offered a Hindu identity for free. If you embrace it, you accept RSS hegemony. If you reject it, RSS is then justified in treating you as second class citizen in the new Hindu Rashtra, because you yourself are not willing to integrate, and RSS is simply respecting your wish. Anybody objecting cannot win. Majoritarianism triumphs.
The Nationalist Brahmins of the RSS, carry a blind spot caused by the legacy of Shivaji and Maratha power. Unlike their Kashmiri, and UP counterparts, they were actually in power during the Peshwa rule. Maratha power at one point stretched from Kanyakumari in South East to Attock in the North West. Their appropriation of Shivaji’s legacy is a tale by itself.
Their Nationalist Movement itself was born circa 1880 after the fall of the Marathas to the British in 1818. Their express aim was revival of the Hindu society as a political movement to counter the British. Unfortunately, they saw preservation of caste as their foremost duty to protect Hinduism from the radicalization of the Shudras, and other lower castes, as evidenced by Jyotirao Phule.
Their ideological Guru is Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who opposed education of the lower castes in Legislative debates as something that would destroy the Hindu Smaj, and its way of life. [But then he couldn’t have imagined that Macaulay’s products could morph into Bhakts one day.] It is their caste blindspot that prevented them from full participation in the freedom movement. They weren’t fighting the British, or the Muslims; their real adversary was Jyotirao Phule, who openly advocated overthrowing the Brahmin hegemony, using the equality before law, and the rule of law that the British had brought to India. RSS still has not been able to shed its Raj-induced myopia.
Liberal scholars like Shashi Tharoor, Ram Guha, et al who are prolific writers, need go back to the Bhakti Movement, and trace the origin of the Hindu Identity, and Hindi as a language, as it actually happened between 1250 to 1150 CE. Without the hagiography.
The Movement was crafted and led by sub-alters who took a core of teachings from the Vedic culture, but transformed them completely, rejecting virtually every ritual except the love of the creator. And it is they who opened the doors to Shudras and other subalterns, but also women, thus saving them from walking over to Islam. Instead of honoring the Movement, we ignore it.
This is important because usurpation and appropriation of the Bhakti Movement by Nationalist Brahmins has never been studied in this perspective. And this lack of research is what gives currency to the Brahmanical claim of ownership of Hinduism, when it is actually a religion and cultural and political identity created by the subalterns.
When you embrace the Vedic rituals today, you are reinforcing a claim to ownership of Hinduism by the Brahmins that is not based in fact. The Brahmins are again playing bait and switch. They are speaking of Hinduism, - which is the Bhakti Movement - but foist the Vedic culture on you, that seeks to relegate the subaltern back into the wilds beyond the city’s periphery.
We have to prevent this tragic farce from succeeding. And the best way to do it is to ask hard questions. Who really is a Hindu? Tukaram, Kabir, or Adi Shankra?
Adi Shankra by his own admission was of the Vedas, and the Vedic culture, and he would never let an outcast cross his path. The true Hindu is your Tukaram, who tells a Shudra that God loves all equally, and the Shudra’s place in Heaven is as easily reserved as that of a Brahmin.
You do not have to be a Hindu to be an Indian. Being Indian is enough.