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  Opinion   Columnists  23 Apr 2024  Aakar Patel | If India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, will there be any difference at all?

Aakar Patel | If India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, will there be any difference at all?

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Apr 23, 2024, 2:02 am IST
Updated : Apr 23, 2024, 2:02 am IST

Exploring the historical context and implications of the term "Hindu Rashtra" in light of constitutional and legal frameworks.

Devotees dressed as Hindu deities during a religious procession on the occasion of 'Ram Navami' festival at Durgiana Temple, in Amritsar, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (PTI Photo)
 Devotees dressed as Hindu deities during a religious procession on the occasion of 'Ram Navami' festival at Durgiana Temple, in Amritsar, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (PTI Photo)

At a civil society meeting in Bengaluru last week, the question was asked if a Hindu Rashtra was on the horizon with a third term of the Narendra Modi government impending. To see if it is possible, one must begin by asking what it is, and how Hindu Rashtra will be different from what we have now.

Till 2008, after which it became it republic like ours, Nepal was a Hindu Rashtra, the only one in the world. Why was it a Hindu Rashtra? Because executive power flowed from a Kshatriya (Chhetri) King as prescribed in the Manu Smriti. Nepal’s 1959 Constitution identifies the head of state as someone who is an “adherent of Aryan culture and Hindu religion”.

The 1962 Constitution defines Nepal as an “independent, indivisible and sovereign Hindu state” and repeats the formulation of the King as being Aryan and Hindu. The Raj Sabha, or governing council, includes the head Brahmin (Bada Gurujyu) and the officiating priest (Mool Purohit). 

Nepal’s 1990 Constitution defines the country as being “multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, Hindu and constitutional monarchical kingdom”. It restates the “Aryan-ness” and “Hinduness” of the King. The Raj Sabha was now called Raj Parishad and the Mool Purohit excluded though the Bada Gurujyu remained.

The 1959 Constitution had no religious freedom as such and “no person shall be entitled to convert another person to his religion”. A citizen may only “practice and profess his own religion as handed down from ancient times”, meaning no propagation was allowed, a principle still followed in Nepal.

The ban on conversion was rephrased to close the loophole surrounding the words “his religion” and the new text read: “No person shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another”.

To conclude, Nepal was a Hindu Rashtra because of three things. First, that rule was caste-based through a hereditary Kshatriya; second, this King had caste-based advisers in his court; three, that there is no religious freedom and propagation is banned.

Here Nepal was and is more honest than India. Our Constitution through Article 25 says that the right to freely propagate religion is a fundamental right, but across India’s states are laws which also make religious propagation a criminal offence. Therefore, the right exists mostly on paper.

Nepal was only to this extent a Hindu Rashtra. No other parts of the prescribed caste hierarchy and caste-based discriminations as required by the texts were applied to the State in Nepal and they could not have been. It would have gone against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and every single modern law and practice that gives individuals liberty and equality and freedom.

For this reason, it is difficult to see how it can be replicated here. We do not even have the hereditary King that Nepal did. But if this is not Hindu Rashtra, then what are the BJP and RSS talking about? Here we do not have a proper answer because they have never defined it, though they speak of it often. There is no draft or charter or constitution of the RSS Hindu Rashtra and what its laws would be and how they would differ from the present. The reason is that their only focus is on minorities.

A Hindu Rashtra of the type they speak of might mandate by law that no non-Hindu can become Prime Minister or chief minister, and only Hindus can hold certain offices. We should consider here that though we have no such law, it is not required. There is no Muslim chief minister in this country, that no Muslim has ever even served a full five-year term as CM in any state, besides Jammu and Kashmir, and of course there has never been a Muslim Prime Minister in India.

This type of Hindu Rashtra can also adopt some other discriminatory aspects against its religious minorities. Germany in the 1930s adopted a set of laws that prevented inter-marriage between communities. In India, after 2018, seven BJP states have passed laws that also criminalise marriage between Muslims and Hindus. German laws excluded Jews from citizenship, and India has of course adopted the CAA excluding Muslims.

Many of the things India has done, especially since 2019, with targeted laws and policy on namaz (in the National Capital Region in 2021), hijab (in Karnataka in 2021), beef (since 2015), bulldozers (across India now), talaq (in 2019) and so on would also be something that we can see in an exclusionary Hindu Rashtra.

So the question is, if we have already excluded Muslims from political office by default, and if we are already harassing our minorities daily through laws, like Nazi Germany did and like Pakistan did, then why do we need a Hindu Rashtra or a change from the present set of laws? The answer is that we do not. The present Constitution and laws give us enough freedom to apply discrimination against non-Hindus legally, while still pretending to be pluralist, democratic and secular. There appears to be no particular advantage or benefit that we get in officially changing our constitutional and legal state from a secular state to a Hindu Rashtra.

So, then what can we expect from the third term, if it should come? I must recount a reply, most likely apocryphal, given by the poet Ahmed Faraz, when someone asked him the classic question: “Yoon hi chalta raha to kya hoga?” (What will happen if things continue in this fashion).

Faraz’s reply was: “Darr to is baat ka hai ke kuch bhi nahin hoga, yoon hi chalta rahega” (The real fear is that nothing will happen: That what is around us will continue).

Tags: hindu rashtra, nepal, 2024 lok sabha elections