07 June 2014

Lurching toward theocracy

To conclude "Hinduism week" on this blog, here's a look at recent developments in the world's largest democracy.  While the media react to the emergence of secular nationalist parties in Europe with hysterical cries of "far right" and even "fascist", the rise to power of genuinely sinister religio-nationalist forces in India has drawn relatively little attention in the West.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won an absolute majority in India's Parliament last month, a rare event in a country where most governments have been coalitions of parties.  The BJP promotes Hindutva ("Hindu-ness"), a vague ideology which opposes the traditional secular character of India's government in favor of defining India in terms of the Hindu religion.  Over time Hindutva has taken the form of growing hostility toward Muslims, the largest non-Hindu religious minority (Hindus are 80% of the population, Muslims 13%).  The new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has a murky past in this regard; as governor of the state of Gujarat, he was suspected of passivity or worse in the face of mob violence there that killed 2,000 Muslims in 2002.  But an anti-Muslim stance carries little electoral cost in India, where repeated Islamic terrorist attacks have frayed tolerance and infuriated the public.

The BJP's rise to power has been helped by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a militant Hindu organization which first arose in 1925 under British rule, partly inspired by the rise of fascism in Europe.  The relationship between the BJP and the RSS is somewhat like the relationship between the US Republican party and the various fundamentalist organizations which have supported and helped define it since the late 1970s, starting with the Moral Majority -- except that the BJP always had a religious identity and did not need to be seduced in that direction.  The RSS has a history of mob violence against non-Hindus and attacks on mosques.

The Hindu religion itself has historically been rather vaguely defined; the militancy of the RSS and BJP has gradually reshaped it into an instrument of social order and potential theocratic domination, as our Christian Right and Dominionist movements have done with Protestant Christianity.  An RSS leader recently remarked that there is room in India for non-Hindus "who accept that India is a Hindu nation", echoing the chilling "Christian nation" rhetoric heard in some quarters here.

One shouldn't be too alarmist or push analogies too far.  India's democracy and official secularism will impose some constraints on the actions of the BJP.  Hinduism has historically not been as rigid or aggressive as Christianity.  But one also shouldn't be blind to the obvious signs of where this is heading.  If I were a secularist or non-Hindu Indian, I'd be terrified.

[Image at top:  RSS paramilitary]


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Thanks for the education on what's happening in India. I used to think of Hinduism as a rather harmless conglomerate of hundreds of gods and beliefs. But in the hands of extremists and militants that can turn ugly very quickly.

07 June, 2014 11:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: Unfortunately, the very fact that pagan religions are less doctrinally rigid than Abrahamic religions makes them more malleable in the hands of the malevolent. Japanese Shinto was originally a collection of harmless (and fascinating) myths and folk beliefs, but the fascist regime of the early 20th century quickly refashioned it into the murderous cult of war and emperor-worship we came to know so well during World War II. I do wonder how far the BJP will ultimately go.

07 June, 2014 15:41  
Anonymous The Baron said...

The world grows tired of Western "progressive" arrogance and disrepect for other traditions and worldviews. Looking at the most "advanced" Western societies, what do we see? Suicidal birthrates, moral degeneration, rampant depression, drug addiction, social atomization, mass immigration, nihilism -- all symptoms of a sick and dying civilization.

So instead of passing judgement on ancient civilizations like Hindu India, perhaps you should get your own house in order and stop trying to export your degenerate culture around the world. Atheism, individualism, liberalism, transhumanism and technology worship? Don't you understand that to much of the world, that is the ideology of an uncultured barbarian?

09 June, 2014 11:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I would normally have rejected a comment such as the one by "The Baron", but I'll let it stand in this case as a reminder of how cultural relativism leads to apologetics for thuggery, barbarism, and crypto-fascism.

10 June, 2014 02:20  

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