Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH), a three-day online conference (Sept 10-12) was organized by a bunch of academics and Left-leaning activists based in the USA and India. It attracted a lot of attention and triggered intense response world-wide.
The topic stirred many people like me who didn't hesitate to identify themselves as the Hindus. It compelled serious introspection.
For a long time, there has been a lot of debate around the use of the terms, 'Hinduism' and 'Hindutva' and everyone seemed to have his or her own take on them since the word 'Hindu' was common to both.
I believe the term 'Hinduism' came to us through the Western English language that contrasted it with other religions like Christianity or Islam and sought to put it in the category where other "isms" like Socialism, Fascism or Communism were listed. In a word, it had a political or ideological connotation. Whereas 'Hindutva' -- by virtue of having the suffix, 'tva' from the Sanskrit term 'tatva' (element) -- has a cultural or geographic connotation.
It's all known to us that the people, culture or civilization spanning from the Indus Valley/Hindu Kush to Indonesia were all identified as the Hindus having certain elements (tatva) in common. It's in this sense, the term Hindutva came into vogue. It must be understood and interpreted in the same way.
In that sense, we should all be proud of being Hindus, we may have different faiths.
However, the modern-day Leftist writers or the media, in general, have associated the term, Hindutva, with the Right-leaning nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, to imply as if Hindutva is the same as Fundamentalism is in relation to the Islamists or the Christians.
These writers or media persons derived their use of the term, Hindutva, among other sources, from a book with similar title written in 1923 by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a freedom fighter and an icon of the Hindu nationalists. But, for the record, nowhere in his book, Hindutva, has Savarkar written anything that could come close to the Fundamentalist proselytizing principles and practices of the Islamists or the Christians.
In the end, it appears the term Hindutva has mistakenly been added to the general political lexicon to convey the philosophy of the Right-wing extremist fringe of the ruling BJP.
It was apparent the organizers of this event brought their ideological and political war on a foreign US turf where they accused "the vast Hindu diaspora" had "contributed materially and ideologically to the strengthening of Hindutva in India."
Several individuals and Hindu diaspora organizations challenged the title and the concept of the conference, its sponsors felt the push back.
As the news came out later that several Universities had asked the organizers of the conference to remove their logos from their ads, a few sponsors distanced themselves from the conference.
However, the conference had supporters as well as opponents. Al Jazeera, a Qatari government-funded media conglomerate, featured an article accusing that the DGH organisers and speakers were facing “harassment and intimidation” by Hindu right-wing groups in the US and India. On the other hand, an Indian online news outlet, Firstpost found the conference unauthentic as its organizers were anonymous in the US. It characterized the three day seminar as “a partisan and politically-motivated event designed to malign an ancient religion and its adherents.”
The spokespersons of the Hindu diaspora alleged that the conference was deliberately timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 11 September attacks by the Islamist terrorists against the USA. The motive was to portray Hinduism as the same kind of violent religious ideology as the one practised by the Taliban.
I did watch and listen to the inaugural panel that had featured Anand Patwardhan, a documentary filmmaker and came away with the following impression:
Anand Patwardhan was associated with the anti-corruption movement launched under the leadership of JP in Bihar (1974) that culminated in the imposition of national Emergency (1975-77) by the PM, Indira Gandhi. The RSS and its political arm, the Jan Sangh (now the BJP) was then a part of that broad anti-'Indira-Congress' political front.
Through its sweat and toil since then, the BJP is now where it is today. Despite all the problems the Modi-led India might have at this time, majority of the Hindu diaspora in the West looked upon him as the only dependable leader. Absence of a credible leader of equal stature on the opposition side is a great contributory factor.
Moreover, Anand Patwardhan and his friends on the Left haven't been able to objectively set the context in which the RSS-BJP became successful: Lack of national will to surge ahead, social lethargy, economy in morass, corruption in highest places and above all a hostile regional geo-political environment.
The median 27- year young Indian generation is entrepreneurial and aspirational. They understand politics better than the generation preceding them. They not only share the grief that India was wronged by the partition, since there was no population transfer as B. R. Ambedkar proposed, but India is now the target of 'demographic invasion' by its neighboring countries. Coupled with Chinese expansionism, it will put the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India at risk.
The Leftist intellectuals on the campuses of North America and Europe don't talk about these issues. The duplicitous role of the Islamist politicians make the situation worse.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.