17 AUGUST 1956, Page 9

Hindu Nationalism Today

By L. F. RUSHBROOK WILLIAMS THE constitution of the Indian Republic forbids discrimination against the individual citizen on the score of religion, caste or creed. How does this work out in practice? Under Mr. Nehru's guidance, a steady war is being waged against the kind of discrimination which the con- stitution forbids. This so impressed King Saud during his recent visit that he exhorted Indian Muslims (of whom there are some thirty-five millions) to be loyal to Mr. Nehru as their great protector. It was good advice; for Mr. Nehru sincerely supports the ideal of the religiously neutral State; indeed his feelings about Pakistan, and about the Kashmir question, are coloured by his conviction that religion is a matter for the private citizen rather than for the State, and that it ought not to enter into the considerations determining political allegiance. It is clear, however, that Mr. Nehru's war is not yet won; so much is shown by his own emphatic denunciations of the communal spirit which still persists in Indian political life. Moreover in Pakistan there is fear that the prevailing temper of India runs counter to the efforts of Mr. Nehru and of those who think with him.

A recent Pakistani writer* has remarked that the history of Hinduism in the last century is a record of revivalist move- ments which have turned the Hindu mind to the ancient pre- Muslim glories of India. He proceeds to argue that it was these movements which shattered the synthesis of Hindu- Muslim culture built up during the centuries of Muslim rule in India, and, by inspiring the Hindu majority of the popula- tion with the ambition to create a Hindu raj, ultimately com- pelled most of the Muslims, who saw no future for themselves in such a policy, to withdraw into a State of their own. This thesis is certainly widely supported in Pakistan; the moderate and perspicacious manner in which Dr. Qureshi presents it undoubtedly increases its force; and his exposition of the differences in outlook between his own country and India is very illuminating. How far is he right in his belief that in a hundred years the Muslim community in India will have ceased to exist?

If Mr. Nehru succeeds in converting the masses of his countrymen to his own way of thinking, Dr. Qureshi's fear will prove groundless; and even the founding fathers of Pakistan may be convicted before the bar of history of basing their political calculations upon suspicions which later proved unjustified. But the process of conversion must, at best, be protracted, because Hinduism is a social system as well as a religion, and the mere enforcement of equality before the law between Hindus and non-Hindus does not necessarily meet the difficulties of non-Hindus who are outside the closely knit Hindu social organisation, with its powerful influences in politics, finance, commerce and industry. While there are many Muslims who occupy high positions in all four spheres, and who are deeply loyal to the new India, it is a matter of observation that in dress, language, architecture, art, science and ideas, it is the Hindus who set the pace.

Hinduism, both as a religion and as a way of life, seems to be drawing new vitality from political freedom. Now that untouchability has been abolished by law, and the stigma imposed upon the caste system by its existence has been removed, the system itself flourishes anew as an index of social gradations. It figures even in the admirably conducted elections, which are India's legitimate pride; many voters prefer to vote for candidates of their own caste, sometimes in disregard of political affiliations. Moreover, no one who travels widely in India can overlook the evidences of some- thing like a religious revival. The religiously neutral State has no irreligious or atheistic connotations. The major Hindu festivals are celebrated with greater pomp than ever; the crowds attending them are larger; they derive added impor- tance from the countenance of the official world. The place of the Brahman astrologer in family life is secure. The influence of religious mystics upon secular affairs, as the example of Vinoba Bhave shows—to say nothing of the reversal of Government policy over Andhra State following a 'fast to death'—continues formidable. Even more significant, perhaps, is the close association between the Hindu religion and the latest and most progressive manifestations of the State's activities. In the new community projects, in the national extension blocks, each programme of rebuilding provides for temples to meet the needs of worshippers of particular deities. In the larger centres, these temples are impressive examples of modern Indian architecture, the ancient Hindu trabeate tradi- tion being admirably adapted to the requirements of light, space and noble proportions. Certain of the shrines which * THE PAKISTAN WAY OF LIFE. By lshtiaq Husain Qureshi. (The Way of Life Series : Heinemann, 12s. 6d.) contain portions of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, surrounded as they are by beautifully planned gardens, seem to be the very heart and inspiration of the new settlements growing up around them. There is certainly a religious element in the value which the Indian people now attach to the presence of lawns, trees, flowers and shrubs as settings for their industrial. as well as their educational and religious construc- tion. Nor does India discern any incongruity in the inaugura- tion of a new factory, a new dam, a new canal, with the formal Hindu ritual derived from immemorial antiquity.

It is true that some individuals are impatient of this practice. Not long ago. one of India's best-known leaders brushed aside the waiting Brahmins, who were preparing to affix the ritual tilak on his forehead, with the brusque order: 'Don't worry me with all this nonsense!' The wide publicity given to this incident pointed the contrast between his mood of the moment and the main trends of public opinion, which are better illus- trated by the growing practice of „returning to sacred uses some of the finest examples of Indian iconography to be found in private collections. These priceless bronzes, exquisitely patinated by the centuries, seem to sain new beauty from the hallowed setting for which they were originally designed; but there is no reason to doubt that the motives underlying their donation are pious rather than msthetic. - Among many of the Indian leaders of today this revival of the Hindu religion takes the form of a renewed interest in the 'value of Hindu philosophy as a guide to the formulation of national policies in foreign as well as in domestic affairs. Patriotic pride in newly won political independence, confirmed by India's steady rise to moral leadership in the larger Asian effort to remove the last traces of Western dominance, is giving an added meaning to ancient Hindu political traditions. It is in these traditions that the panch shila—lndia's panacea for the cold war—are firmly rooted. It is these same traditions which inspire the feeling, now very plain to the foreign observer who encounters the leaders of India in thought and in action, that Western, and more particularly American, statecraft is primitive, almost childish, in its practice of straining at gnats and swallowing camels, in its conviction that affection can be bought with gifts, and in its blindness to the delicate patterns of Asian psychology.

In India today, men of all castes and creeds are equal before the law and there are statesmen who are determined to ensure that this legal equality is so respected that everyone, without distinction of religion, enjoys equal opportunities for attain- ing a fair share of happiness, progress and prosperity. Yet at the same time many foreign observers maintain that the cement which holds the country together, in face of its diversity of cultuial and racial elements, is the power of Hinduism. The withdrawal of some seventy million Muslims to Pakistan, even though so many remain inside Indian territory, has suspended the remnant. as it were, in a surround- ing medium which is predominantly, apparently unalterably, Hindu. To say this is not to argue that the Muslims of India are a repressed minority—which would be untrue. But they seem, somehow, to be apart from the main stream of national affairs. Senior Muslim officials—and of these there are many outstanding examples—tend to be happiest when they are either at the centres of government or abroad. In both situa- tions, distinctions of religion vanish in the prevailing atmo- sphere of fervent patriotism and shared responsibilities, and the precepts of the Indian constitution are fully implemented —and vindicated. Even so, in spite of the noble ideal of the religiously neutral State, it is on the bond of the revived Hindu tradition that India must for some time, at least; rely in her efforts to control the forces of provincialism. which have been newly loosed, as well as sharply differentiated from each other and from the larger whole to which all belong, by the pro- posals to reorganise statal boundaries on a cultural and linguistic basis. Had Dr. Qureshi this in mind?