The writer T.R.Jawahar is Group Editor of Chennai-based News Today, Maalai Sudar and Talk Media publications.
Tamilnadu, I can claim with absolute assurance, has always been the the most devout State in the country. This is also the State wherein the most virulent form of modern atheism took roots. By devotion and atheism, I speak in the context of Hinduism. I make this inference only from the atheists as for them atheism means anti-Hindu and not anti-religion as it should be.
DMK, the political progeny of Periyar, stormed to power in 1967 and has till date remained in electoral reckoning as a primary party. Logically it should mean that Periyar’s atheism has found favour. But we know that is not the case as Hinduism fills every nook and cranny and runs in the veins of the majority of TN populace. Religion revolves round the clock and calendar in all piety and gaiety. The ongoing 48-day Athi Varadhar festival in Kanchi is seeing unprecedented crowds everyday and this is just only one proof of the holy pudding. And a spoof on unholy Periyar.
The BJP’s DNA is Hindu nationalism. Its conquest of North India was attained through the steady consolidation and mobilisation of the Hindus as a political votebank predominantly on the basis of issues that concern them as a whole community. The party’s initial rise began with the temple run on a rath for Ram by L K Advani in the 1980s. In time one State after the other came under its flag. Today, while every region has some visible tint of saffron, there is not a hint of it in TN. This State with its booming Hinduism should have been the ideal foil and easy picking for the BJP but that is not so. The most pious State has no space for the most pious party.
TN thus presents a paradox. It has rejected both Periyar’s atheism as well as the Parivar’s Hindutva. First, the BJP’s political Hinduism has failed to resonate with the TN Hindus, though I would not rush to dub this the cliched ‘secularism’. Second, DMK was elected not because of atheism, but despite it; Hindi imposition and price rise were bigger issues that camouflaged the vicious Hindu bashing by the DMK.
BJP’s success with Hinduism in the North cannot be replicated in TN. Let us cut a long history short. Ever since the 10th century AD for close to 750 years, North India was under the rule of Sultans and Moghuls. It bore the brunt of Islamic religious wrath, the remnants of which are still littered all over the northern landscape and mindscape. The British, with their Divide & Rule policy, pushed India deeper into the communal pit. The Hindu-Muslim chasm and the resultant mutual suspicion became a perennial factor in North Indian politics, pre and post Independence. The Khilafat issue of 1919 (please Google) was ironically the first major flashpoint, dividing the Congress itself. And with Jinnah upping the ante on his two-nation theory, the freedom movement got a parallel script. North India was the primary playground for all these, as it was for the painful and bloody partitions of Bengal and Punjab earlier. And when the country itself was vivisected at the dawn of freedom in 1947, it was the north that was affected most by those horrors, the worst ever in human history.
The Khilafat set off a momentous side effect. Enter Savarkar in 1923 and we see the political birth of Hindutva. Though initially a reaction to Jinnah’s Islamic assertion, Savarkar, just released by the Brits from jail after serving term for sedition, gave Hindutva a stand alone purpose and prospect. Hedgewar launched the RSS in end 1925 after consultations with Savarkar. RSS is the biggest NGO in the world now and a self-declared non-political one at that, and along with its various offshoots, all under the umbrella nomenclature Sangh Parivar, is seen as the front end of Hindu consolidation. The RSS history is not relevant here, though Hindutva is.
Till the early 1980s hardly anyone in South would have heard the mention of the word ‘Hindutva’, even in the media. Terms like ‘Hindutva’, ‘pseudo-secularism’, ‘communal agenda’, ‘appeasement’, etc., entered the political lexicon with the blessings of Lord Ram, the BJP’s divine benefactor. It would surprise many that Savarkar, the pioneer of Hindutva, was a self-proclaimed atheist and his version of it was not religious in nature. He had little interest in Hindu metaphysical concepts like ‘moksha’, obsessed as he was with practical politics and related polemics. Motherland was his supreme deity, whose worship his followers dutifully adhere to till date.
Hindutva’s definition has continuously changed with the times or the diktats of social and political expediency. Savarkar himself expressed an intrinsic inability to define Hindutva and authored and authorised changes. His Hindutva described Hindu character in ethnic, political, geographic and cultural terms. It included ‘all those who considered Bharathvarsha as their holyland, belonged to the Hindu race and practised Hindu customs and traditions’. Then it was expanded to include all faiths that had their origins in this land, thus bringing in its fold Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and many other tribal sects. Later, the community angle was relaxed, with more stress on nation and ancestry, by which Christians, Muslims and Parsis born here too were deemed ‘Indic’.
In 1989 the BJP adopted Hindutva as its official ideology, with Advani declaring: ‘BJP is really the chosen instrument of the Divine to take our country out of its present problems and to lofty heights of all-round achievements’. It wrapped its entire focus around the Babri Masjid issue. And lo, from a paltry 2 LS seats in 1984, it netted a sizeable 85 in 1989! In 1995, the Supreme Court explained Hindutva thus: ‘Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism…’ Probably today, Hindutva would include in its sweep holders of Aadhaar card and payers of GST!
Hindutva is essentially a northern construct, a product of the experiences of the Hindus there and the expositions of staunch Hindu leaders. But as the bloody history and particularly the last few decades of electoral politics have borne out, communal polarisation, willy nilly, is at the core of Hindutva politics. And thanks to explosive issues like Ram Mandir, among others, and the Indian Muslims’ assertiveness on matters concerning them, the North Indian Hindu populace is an easy and vulnerable low hanging fruit. Nothing works like insecurity. The visible symbols of the past and vocal provocations of the present guarantee a perennial divide between the two communities. The BJP grew by preying on these incompatibilities as did the ‘pseudo-seculars’, earlier, with their minority vote-bank politics. Really, ‘secularism’ and ‘communalism’ are brothers by blood, born of the same ilk!
Hindutva, therefore, is a form of militant Hinduism. But TN is the land of Bakthi Hinduism. Northern Hinduism is overwhelmed by assertive Hindutva’s presence. Southern Hinduism has absolute devotion as the essence. TN is the fountainhead of the Bakthi movement that began in the very early Gregorian BCs though British historians tended to ante-date it to the late ADs to advance their imperial interests. At a time when Buddhism and Jainism, with their ‘sunyavadha’ (emptiness) were enveloping Bharath’s Hinduism of yore, the idea of absolute surrender to a personal God, propagated by early Tamil savants, Alwars and Nayanmars, etc., stopped those two faiths in their tracks.
Vaishnavism, Saivism and Shakthism of TN rejuvenated and repackaged Hinduism, that spread to the entire north, inspiring and producing some of the most profound saints there. Besides, it kept the people of those regions devout, tolerant and hopeful at a time when medieval invaders from afar west were running riot on their hallowed homeland. The slim peninsular India propped up the broad upper regions vis-a-vis Hinduism. Northern historians, bless them, too recognise the southern origin of Bakthi. Says S N Dasgupta: ‘Bakthi is the child of Dravidanadu.’
This State with its thousands of temples, copious religious literature, long lineages of gurus and mutts and a population besotted with its favourite deities, is totally immersed in Bakthi Hinduism. The south did have its share of Islamic incursions, but it was fairly insulated compared to the north, which faced greater brutalities and therefore had greater alibis for a communal divide. And that is precisely why the Hindutva formula of the BJP in the north, that lays much store by polarisation, does not work here. Even at the height of the Ayodhya movement that propelled BJP in north, it failed to make political mark in TN. It is not that Hindus of this devout land loved Lord Ram less or did not want a temple for him in Ayodhya. Only that Hindu voters of TN do not feel the need for political defenders of faith and instead prefer to revel in blissful belief in their own benevolent God. And with that winning card absent, the BJP is not in the game here.
In retrospect, however, scope for polarisation and the possibility of political mobilisation on a Hindu platform did exist. There was a time since the 1940s to 1980s when the ‘truly’ atheistic Dravidians were on the rampage in TN, leaving Hindus without a political cover. But the north-centric Hindu political organisations of various vintages like Hindu Mahasabha, Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Jan Sangh and even just-born BJP failed to see, let alone seize, a legitimate opportunity to protect the Hindus, who were left to fend for themselves from the rhetorical abuse and idol-breaking spree of Periyar’s parivar. Today, however, TN people are aware that the so-called anti-God Dravidian parties are no longer so. While the DMK’s duplicity on this count is a much-memed, rumoured fact, Amma-fearing AIADMK is also most God-fearing. And alternating poll pacts with the two – the DMK which still puts up an anti-Hindu facade and J who arrested the Sankaracharya – is a mockery of BJP’s Hindutva credentials.
Hindutva in the North sponsors and supports a number of Hindu cultural, religious and historical initiatives. The idea is to retrieve and revive the glories of India’s Hindu past. Sanskrit and Hindi pundits are the toast of BJP regimes in Centre and States. Several projects by individuals, NGOs, institutions and organisations get liberal Government funding too. Nothing wrong, patently, because this is a feature across the globe, across regimes. But the point is, South which cradled the rebirth of Hinduism, is hardly in any such schemes of things. The impetus imitates the nation’s geography, narrowing as it comes down.
Again, almost all of Hindutva’s religious icons are north Indian. It has no Tamil titans to lay claim to, having abandoned them very early on, out of ignorance and arrogance. Any mention or recognition is mere lip service, too little and too late. Tamil’s religious greats, from Tholkappiar, Thirumoolar, Thiruvalluvar, Avvaiyyar, Alwars, Nayanmars, Ramanuja, Kambar to Bharati, are all taken. Various sectarian, political, caste, even celluloid and ironically non-Hindu groups have walked away with some of the most towering personalities of the South. Let alone Hindutva, even for politics, the BJP has no lapel or label to attach itself to.
The BJP’s obsession with ‘Hinditva’ as a vehicle for ‘Hindutva’ is another critical problem. Christian missionaries from Robert de Nobili to Robert Caldwell used language appropriation, Tamil here, as a prime tactic to spread the Gospel and gain converts. They were even accepted and honoured for their contributions to the language, despite their proselytising zeal in a Hindu land. Actually, they had also translated several ancient Tamil religious works like Thiruvasagam and popularised both Hinduism and its southern vehicle, Tamil, in many Western countries. However, the BJP has and is continuing to commit the cardinal error of ignoring the tested ‘Cardinal’ technique of using Tamil, or for that matter any regional tongue. All Indian lingos, more so Tamil, had carried the palanquin of Hinduism on their proud and practised shoulders. But for BJP, it is only Hindi, Hindi and more Hindi. And yes, Sanskrit. Well, Tamils are quite self-sufficient on that count, thanks. So, BJP, even if it decides to tap Bhakti here, must necessarily ride on the Tamil vehicle.
The aim of Hinduism is soul evolution, elevation and eventual salvation. Every Hindu can choose his/her own path, pace, process, preceptor and measure progress. It is not dogmatic but instead offers a wide latitude for all modes and forms of belief. Really, there are as many Hinduisms as there are Hindus. The South shows up this spirit of diversity, inner and external, most. The uniformity that Hindutva demands, reflected in its political character and Hindi obsession, will not work in this land that deems devotion to personal Godheads, not an ‘identity’ ideology, as real Hinduism.
Tail piece: The Bakthi movement that started in this State eons ago saved a Hinduism that was stagnating, sagging and sinking all over Bharath. North’s very recent Hindutva was possible because of TN Hinduism’s long and lasting reach and reign. Kicking this ladder is also a kind of atheism.
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