Hindu nationalists have long dreamt of a Greater India. They aspire to rebuild a nation matching the size and glory of ancient India – Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) and Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation). RSS and BJP leaders have often pushed for these aims much to the chagrin of India’s secularists. There is no doubt both projects are daring and excite many Hindus.
But both are doomed to failure. Recreating Akhand Bharat is unrealistic, and establishing a Hindu Rashtra is ultimately self-defeating. However, the ambition of creating a Greater India has some chance of success by forming a federation of like-minded nations, a Bharat Mahasangh.
Akhand Bharat, in its most expansive version, is envisioned to include territories that constituted the third century BC empire of Chandragupta Maurya. This would incorporate the modern day nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan and Bangladesh. One can immediately see that such an ambitious project is a chimera.
But RSS and BJP leaders have often spoken about reunifying India with Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 1965, Jansangh passed a resolution that “Akhand Bharat will be a reality, unifying India and Pakistan.” In 2012, before coming to office Prime Minister Narendra Modi clarified his party’s thinking, that Akhand Bharat “does not mean we wage war on any country … without war, through popular consent, it can happen … We call this Sanskritik Bharat (Cultural Bharat).”
As recently as December 2015, the issue turned into a major controversy. During Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan, BJP national secretary Ram Madhav declared that “RSS still believes that one day [Pakistan and Bangladesh] will again, through popular goodwill, come together and Akhand Bharat will be created.” BJP quickly distanced itself from Madhav’s statement.
Today, remarkably, both BJP and RSS have abandoned the goal altogether. Akhand Bharat finds no mention in the mission statements of either group. A clue as to why was provided by Modi in his 2012 interview: “It will only be good for Pakistan when they become a part of united India … if Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Hindustan become one, then the Muslim majority will increase and it will be easier for Hindustan to become an Islamic country.”
Now, making India a Hindu Rashtra is the nationalists’ limited new objective. “Our one supreme goal is to bring to life the all-round glory and greatness of our Hindu Rashtra,” says the current RSS mission statement. Last year 150 Hindu outfits met in Goa to discuss plans for a Hindu Rashtra by 2023.
Hindu Rashtra is easy to declare but its pitfalls are menacing. The chief danger is that it would turn India into a theocratic state similar to Pakistan. It would weaken our national unity, encourage fissiparous tendencies, cause greater internal strife, and hurt India’s image. Ironically, it would damage the spirit, practice and reputation of Hinduism, the one thing the move’s proponents want to showcase the most.
Even more importantly, Hindu Rashtra would forever kill the dream of establishing India as Vishwa Guru, a world leader. No sovereign nation would enter a union or follow India on a principle other than genuine secularism.
Hindu nationalists are going by two theories behind their push for Hindu Rashtra. One, Hinduism is inherently secular, hence India won’t become another Pakistan. And two, when Indian Muslims realise they must cower before the wishes of the majority, communal strife would end. But religious fervour is a terribly slippery slope, as we have seen recently in mob lynchings by cow vigilantes and open murders in the name of checking love jihad. We must remember how religious hatred took over Indians’ sanity during Partition.
Surely, Hindu nationalists don’t wish to create an India where a segment of the population lives in constant fear, as aliens. To a Muslim, or a Parsi, or a Christian, a Hindu Rashtra would never be his nation. Also, do we want an India, an age-old civilisation famous for its diversity and tolerance, to have to explain to the world how it is different from other religion-based countries, such as Pakistan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia?
Hindu nationalists can turn blue in their face trying to tell the world that Hindu Rashtra is based on Hindutva and hence not Hindu. But nobody is going to buy it. Hindutva is too intertwined with the religion of the majority. And on the ground, it has become just as fanatical as other religions.
Building a Greater India requires a more innovative approach. It would have to be envisioned along the lines of the European Union or United States of America, as a federation of sovereign states coming together voluntarily for greater common welfare.
Such a Bharat Mahasangh would have to be based on principles of liberty, egalitarianism, individualism and laissez-faire. Its structure must provide local autonomy with federal administration of specific duties delegated by member states.
Bharat Mahasangh would have to be rooted in genuine secularism. Not today’s pseudo variety that allows governments to freely interfere and engage with religions. But one that provides for full freedom of religion with strict separation of church and state.
Granted, at first Bharat Mahasangh may attract only Hindu-minded states, say Nepal and Bhutan. But if structured and pursued properly, it could interest neighbouring Buddhist-minded states of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In its full glory, Mahasangh could even attract Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
If Greater India is our dream we must take realistic steps towards it.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.