Opinion

Truth, Love and Non-Violence: Rahul Gandhi’s Vision of Hinduism

Rahul Gandhi's recent remarks about Hinduism being rooted in non-violence and truth have led to widespread protests by BJP-RSS supporters. His statements challenge the aggressive and divisive nature of Hindutva, sparking a national debate

After the mandate of the recent Lok Sabha elections (2024), the parliament has become a real ground where the voice of the opposition also has space. In the debate following the President’s Address, Rahul Gandhi, the Leader of opposition responded by outlining the various problems facing the country. One part of his speech, which probably has been expunged from the proceedings related to the nature of Hinduism. As per him, Hinduism is based on truth and non-violence. “India is a country of non-violence, and not of fear. All our great men have spoken about non-violence and overcoming fear.” Gesturing towards the benches of BJP MPs, Gandhi added: “Those who call themselves Hindus speak all day about violence, hate and untruth.”

Since then many protests by Sadhus have taken place against Rahul’s statement. In Ahmedabad, the Congress office was attacked. RSS Combine is spreading that Rahul has called all Hindus violent etc. On the other side, Rahul has elaborated that what he means by Hinduism is based on truth, nonviolence and love. RSS ideologues are taking a sweep that Nehru to Rahul Gandhi’s ideology is out of touch with reality. As per them, they have restricted only to minority questions to preserve their vote bank.

As such from the INDIA block many have stood with Rahul’s elaboration of the humanistic view of Hinduism. There is some overlap between the use of the word Hinduism and Hindutva currently. As Uddhav Thackeray said his views on Hindutva are the same as Rahul elaborated (about Hinduism). RSS ideologues also criticize Nehru for starting his work of Sampradayikata Virodhi Abhiyan (Campaign against communalism) as being directed against RSS! They also take Nehru on for opposing President Rajendra Prasad’s inauguration at the Somnath temple. They claim that RSS Hindutva derives from Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekanand, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. As such RSS ideology does not have much to do with the ideologies of Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Vivekanand, except using their names to cover their ideology.

As Hinduism is not a prophet-based religion many interpretations of the same have been used. The very word Hindu is missing in the Holy Hindu scriptures, Vedas, Upanishad, Gita or Manu Smriti. The word was coined by those coming from the West of Sindhu, for whom the word S was used in a restricted manner and for S they used to pronounce H. Sindhu became Hindu and the word initially denoted the area spread from Sindhu river to sea. The earlier religious tendencies prevalent here were Vedic religion (which also can be labelled as Brahmanism), Ajivikas, Tantra, Nath, Shaiva, Buddhism and Jainism in the main.

Later the word Hindu became a conglomerate of different tendencies (barring Buddhism and Jainism) prevailing here. Except for Brahmanism, the other tendencies were called Shramans. The main difference between Brahmanism and Shramanism was the presence of caste and gender hierarchy in Brahmanism. The construction of the term Hinduism has been well explained by historian DN Jha in his Presidential address at the Indian History Congress 2006. He points out “Of Course the Word (Hindu, added) was in use in pre-colonial India, but it was not before late eighteen or early 19th Century that it was appropriated by British scholars.” Since then it has found wider use. From here on the term was used for all in the subcontinent except for those who were Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians.

As there were no rigid boundaries, the Brahmanical stream projected Vedas and Manusmriti as sacred scriptures. The major understandings of Hinduism also varied. For Ambedkar Hinduism is dominated by Brahmanism, a caste system. That’s what led him to burn Manusmriti. Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand called himself a Sanatani Hindu and wrote in Young India on 6th October 1921 “Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his faith or Dharma, and so it lives at peace with all the religions.” A unique concept for interfaith relations and pluralism! Now Rahul Gandhi while talking about Hinduism harps on truth, love and non-violence as being the core of Hinduism.

The word Hindutva was coined by Chandranath Basu in 1892 and linked it with the idealism of attaining spiritual heights. At the political level, the word Hindutva was introduced and defined by Savarkar in his book ‘Essentials of Hindutva’. (1923) His Hindutva is based on the Aryan race, this Holy land (from Sindhu to Seas) and Culture (Brahmanical). Savarkar was very critical of Buddhism’s non-violence and attributed India’s weakness to non-violence propagated by Buddhism. This is a warped understanding of our History. There was no country in the modern sense, and even if we grant Kingdoms equal to country we need to remember Emperor Asoka adopted Buddhism and his empire was the largest in Ancient India. He defined Hindu as one who regarded this land as his fatherland and Holy land.

RSS takes off from Savarkar and regards Islam and Christianity as foreign religions and upholds the ancient Holy Scriptures (Manu Smriti e.g.). RSS has made violence as part of its creed and its head office has an exhibition of various armaments, which are worshipped on the Dussehra day. RSS shakhas have spread Hate by demonizing Muslim kings like Khilji, Babar, and Aurangzeb and glorifying Hindu Kings like Rana Pratap, Shivaji and Prithviraj Chauhan. It had also been critical of the national movement as people of all religions participated in it. It claims to represent the Hindus, as it takes up emotive issues like temple destructions, Cow beef, and forcible conversions. The Hate spread by RSS was pointed out by none other than Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel after banning RSS in 1948, “All their speeches were full of communal poison, as a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji.”   

While leaders like Mahatma Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi have expanded and enhanced the humane aspect of Hinduism, the Savarkar-RSS have trodden the path of hate and consequent violence. While Ambedkar stands to oppose the Brahmanical domination of Hindu practice, Mahatma Gandhi to Rahul, is giving an inclusive and non-violent meaning to Hinduism.

Ram Puniyani

The former Professor, IIT Mumbai is a social activist and commentator

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