09/15/2023, 19.36
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Hindu nationalists weaponising Sanātana Dharma ahead of the 2024 vote

by Nirmala Carvalho

At a rally, a minister in the Modi government threatened to tear out the tongue and gouge out the eyes of those who threaten the Hindu order. He was reacting to the call by an opposition politician to eradicate it like dengue to overcome caste distinctions. Fr Joseph told AsiaNews that hyper-Hinduism is politically bankrupt; India’s true tradition is pluralism. Meanwhile, India’s parliament will start a special session of parliament to hold general and local elections together.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Indians go to the poll next year. Next Monday, the Union (federal) parliament will start a special session to discuss a proposal to simultaneously hold the general and local elections. To this end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week set up a high-level committee to look into the matter.

Notwithstanding the specifics of the issue, it is clear that Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will play identity politics in order to win a third, consecutive term in office,

A first salvo came when Modi spoke about Sanātana Dharma ("eternal dharma or order). The expression is another name in Sanskrit for Hinduism, an “unshakeable and venerable order" or "ancient and continuous guideline".

Since the 19th century, the expression has been used to evoke a certain idea of homogeneity in Hinduism. And Hindu nationalist groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) increasingly tend to refer to it as an exclusivist doctrine.

In August 2022, at the inauguration of a temple in Tripura, RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat declared that, “There are many food habits, culture and traditions in India and, despite all these, we all share a sense of kinship. All communities have Indianness in thought; they praise the Sanātana Dharma. We have to protect Sanātana Dharma."

Udhayanidhi Stalin, the son of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin, a major leader in the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), a coalition that aims to unite all the oppositions against Modi in a common front in the next elections, lashed out at this notion.

Speaking at a rally, Stalin turned to issues like caste discrimination, which survives in the country despite the laws that ban it, describing Sanātana Dharma as a form of “dengue, COVID-19, malaria and mosquitoes” that “should not simply be opposed, but eradicated.”

A senior BJP official, Union (federal) Minister of Jal Shakti (Water Resources) Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, reacted to Stalin’s jab at another rally. In a video that went viral, he is seen attacking all those who speak out against Sanātana Dharma. “We will pull out the tongue of anyone who speaks against Sanātana. We will also gouge out those eyes raised against Sanātana,” he said.

“They try to attack our culture and history," he added, claiming that many invaders tried to weaken Indian culture for 2,000 years. “Rulers like Alauddin Khilji and Aurangzeb tried but ancestors of yours and mine were capable and protected the culture.”

Despite the controversy caused by the minister's language, Modi spoke yesterday at a rally in Madhya Pradesh labelling the INDIA coalition as a "Ghamandiya" (arrogant) alliance that "wants to destroy the Sanātana Dharma". He warned, "Everyone should be alert,” for “these people want to push us back thousands of years."

For its part, the Indian National Congress (INC), India’s main opposition party, distanced itself from Udhayanidhi, stating that it believes in Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava (equal respect for all religions).

"We do not want certificates from the BJP on nationalism, on Sanātana Dharma and on the contribution to our freedom movement. Because, on all these their score is zero," IDC spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said on Tuesday.

FR Babu Joseph, former spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and director of the Sadbhavana Institute of Intercultural Studies and Communication in New Delhi, spoke to AsiaNews about the controversy.

“The alleged remarks made by Union Minister Mr Shekawat at a public rally in Rajasthan smacks of political bankruptcy and moral depravity,” he said.

"The intellectual tradition in India is replete with multiple viewpoints on social, religious and political matters, and each of the differing and even outrightly opposing points of view were advanced freely and each of them respected by all."

For Fr Jospeh, “if a person expresses his different view on a religion, it must be countered not in a violent and primitive manner but in a more civilised way,”

“One earnestly wishes that public figures like Mr Shekawat exercise more restraint in his outbursts against someone who holds a different point of view on his religion.”


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