FIRST, A fact and a disclaimer: UR Ananthamurthy (URA) was a renowned Kannada litterateur. Since I have not read any of his other works, I am not qualified to comment on his writings in general and his stature as a writer, and will, instead, limit my comment only to the work currently under review.
Hindutva or Hind Swaraj is not exactly a book that qualifies as a piece of researched, literary work. It is more in the nature of a manifesto, at best an essay, at worst a rant. Before one sets out to dissect it, it is important to know in what context it was penned by the author, who passed away on August 22, 2014.
In the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections, when it had more or less become clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be led by Narendra Modi, who stood a chance to become the country’s next prime minister, an incensed URA announced that he will not live in an India ruled by Modi. “Modi can neither reflect ancient India nor can he build a model India. I will have no belongingness to India represented by Modi. I, in fact, will not like to live in India during that period,” URA had then said.
To have likes and dislikes is normal for human beings, but to exhibit personal preferences in this form is a sure sign of intolerance. However, one is free to express personal views. As was likely to happen, the right-wingers denounced URA, while the liberal-Left tried to justify his position. In May 2014, not only did Modi become the PM, he became so with a huge majority.
Rather than dwell on whether he had gone overboard in making such statements of dislike or intolerance, URA decided to pen down his explanation, the result of which is the current book.
Likes, dislikes and preferences are common in a democracy, but whether one should pronounce distaste with such venom depends on who is making the statement and against whom. Our current public discourse is so polarised that this is the state where we have reached.
URA’s basic thesis is that strong and centralised rule is not good. To prove this, he quotes from European history and says the Napoleonic way of nation-building was not the right one, as it brought miseries to Europe. In the Indian context, he worships Mahatma Gandhi, but is no lover of Jawaharlal Nehru or Sardar Patel. As per him, Gandhi did not want to build a nation-state or a modern economy, which his disciples Nehru and Patel went on to do.
More specifically, he’s critical of Modi, alleging that he follows the Savarkar model of Hindutva and not Gandhi’s model of Hind Swaraj. The former is exclusivist and the latter inclusive, as per URA. He says, in the Savarkar model, it is not enough for a non-Hindu to adopt India as his motherland; it has to be his punyabhoomi also. The Gandhi model does not stress on any such thing. It was the Savarkar model that led to Nathuram Godse killing Gandhi, and it is the Savarkar model that is espoused by the BJP and Modi. Hence, we are doomed.
Obviously, when you hit out at a leader or party so extremely, you are bound to be questioned on other parties, too, which are no different. URA tries to balance his monologue by simply saying that the Congress and Left have also failed, and have disappointed him.
He’s also critical of the economy and, in a sense, sounds like a Luddite. Sadly, he never offers an alternative form of economy that should be built. On issues like Islamic terrorism, the explanation is simple: it is because of Israel and America’s support to Israel. So, if there was no Israel and American support of it, the world would have been free of the scourge of terrorism.
The book is a fine read if one is interested in reading some saintly prose, but if examined in the context of history, politics, economics or sociology, it is a big disappointment because it fails to build a well-argued case. The arguments are not well-knit and meander from European to Indian and Russian history; to poetry, prose, mythology, Gandhism and Savarkar; only to proclaim that Modi is bad.
All the book offers is a sense of nostalgia when URA’s comrades keep preaching us day in and day out that there’s never a golden age in the past.
Though it is a slim volume, what is far more eminently readable than the book itself is the foreword written by sociologist Shiv Viswanathan. There’s no need to read further.