Abstraction and Rigour
“What is Hindutva?” I’m sure reams have been written answering this one question and by scholars whose knowledge I can’t even begin to fathom. But, the real answer to this question is quite irrelevant. The more important question would be “What does Hindutva mean to you?” And I’m just as sure that for most voters, the answers differ vastly depending on their perspectives. To me, as a layman in the history of Hindu culture and nationalism, the word itself seems quite vague.
Its vagueness might help BJP score points in intellectual debates as its spokespersons can sidestep the accusations of being against minorities, but the same vagueness will help its opponents in creating a caricature of BJP which they proceed to demolish with great gusto winning the admiration of their constituencies.
It is in this context that I find terms like “Integral humanism” or “Shweta Chhatra” even worse. These are terms that have zero meaning to most of the voters. If you are making an elevator pitch to a voter, spending all your time defining the very principle you claim to stand for isn’t going to win you any converts. So, what should (can) a political party like BJP do?
It can both completely rid itself of its roots and alienate its natural constituency or it can be more honest about where it stands. It is in this context that Mr. Narendra Modi’s answer “I’m a Hindu,” seems more natural, honest, and one that I feel will connect to more people. One would find wider consensus in defining the term “Hindu” than the term “Hindutva”. So, you can’t create a caricature out of a “Hindu” that will alienate a voter in the middle of the distribution in the same way you can do with “Hindutvawaadi”. (If it does alienate such a voter in any given constituency, you can be certain that no amount of persuasion is going to fetch you her vote in the first place).
Perhaps I’m wrong, but Indians (whatever be their religion) are at home with people and cultures having religious roots. Therefore, I believe most of us would be fine with a person of another faith representing us, as long as he doesn’t claim to stand for a vague idea that may (or may not) pose a danger to our community. So, what would I have BJP do? If they are asked “What do you stand for?” they should eschew Hindutva, and focus on (in order)
2) National integrity and
3) Hindu identity
This way, you give the voters a much more honest representation of yourself and let them make a better decision.
The second part of my post is only peripherally related to the first. In basic epistemology, we were taught to always argue against the strongest claim made by your opponent, not the weakest (which can always be given up). If only this were to be followed in real life discussions and debates, we would have more fruitful debates. However, the easiest way to “win” a debate would be to attack the weakest argument made by your opponents and sometimes attack even peripheral arguments which aren’t really supported by the majority of your opponents anyway. Unfortunately, this is what most high decibel shouting matches debates have descended into.
In such a scenario, sacrificing quality for quantity of arguments, just hoping that quantity or arguments are retained better in the public memory is a foolish strategy. Blame it on the polarization or on passion, but in recent days I have seen brilliant people on the right fall into this trap and sacrifice rigour in fact-checking or argument construction for flowery language or simply because they were playing to the gallery. Case in point: Dr. Amartya Sen’s impact on India: There are enough potent arguments against his views without having to resort to peripheral (borderline irrelevant) ones like the awards conferred by Indian government, his place of residence, his history of voting or the track record of his supporters. These weak arguments only allow the cornered to escape.
Please, let us leave the sloppy constructions and substitution of logic with flowery language to the congress spokespersons (both official and unofficial). There is already a paucity of right wing voices in the mainstream. Established brands like the left-liberal may not need ambassadors, but the right wing voices who have made it to the stage – be it journalists, intellectuals or even social media stars, are our ambassadors for now, and they need to weigh their words more carefully. A General fighting alongside troops might raise the morale of his troops, but the risk of being sniped off and the resultant disarray is too great.