May 8, 2013

Triangulating Hindutva: The Fundamentalist, Reformist & Traditionalist

Some lessons can be learned from the electoral loss in Karnataka for forces purporting to represent 'Hindutva'. The loss of bastions like Mangalore is attributed by some to the foolhardiness of those leaders who reduced 'Hindutva' to moral policing and protecting old superstitions in the name of tradition.

It is also immediately relevant to point out that a slap in the face of 'traditionalist' activism is by no means equivalent to a defeat for 'Hindutva', but is rather a very welcome shift for its most dynamic vectors at the present time. Consider this post on another blog:
Kal Chiron's Blog: Rise of Narendra Modi - Return of Savarkar's stream of thought?
Time-binding Hindutva
It is not the place of 'traditionalists' to lead anything or set the tone for a movement like Hindutva. But they must always be carried along and their proper place is to act as strong 'buffers' to channel the stream, delineate its survival routes, and assert its beingness - Asmita. But it is the 'fundamentalists' who must lead Hindutva, intellectually as well as in terms of setting its social programme.

Without trying to pigeonhole any individual as a 'traditionalist', 'fundamentalist' or 'reformist', how can we define these terms in a schema of form and substance? A friend suggested (at BRF):

There are of course "traditionalists" who like to retain all the evolutionary changes that have taken place in their ideological framework over the years as well as in its implementation in society! Then there are "reformists" who accept the religious framework as it stands but say that the society should deprecate certain practices, making them congruent with current thinking on ethics. Then there are "secularists" who cannot wait to throw off their religion underpinning their civilization for a variety of reasons, shame for it being one of them, atheism another.  
... What about "fundamentalists"? Considering that Sanatan Dharma goes back to the dawn of human civilization itself, that kind of fundamentalism would mean reaching quite a bit back. It is going back to the Rishis themselves, and to try to understand their message! ... "Fundamentalism" on [any] issue however need not detract from the fact that one can still remain a traditionalist as far as culture, rituals and other spiritual and philosophical endeavors are concerned.
Unlike other species, General Semantics considers the human being to be a time-binding organism, i.e., humans transmit experience cumulatively from one generation to another, usually via symbols. Knowledge regarding material form and method is constantly to be revised and changing in present time, flowing eternally like a torrent (प्रवाहतः अनादि). Knowledge regarding spiritual principles is eternally unchanging and inherent in all 'being' and 'becoming' (कूटस्थ अनादि). When both are transmitted together, then the integrity of Dharma and her civilization is maintained.

Experience that is transmitted down generations is called Agama (आगम) in Sanskrit. The foregoing description of 'fundamentalists', 'reformists' and 'traditionalists' (apart from 'rejectionists'/'secularists') reminds one of the classification of Agama according to the Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra schools of the orthodox Vaishnavas. the Pancharatra says that Agamas are handed down in 3 forms:

1. दिव्य - Divine: Directly revealed by the Lord of all Mankind, Narayana, to Mankind via the Rishis.
2. मुनिभाषित - Spoken to Sages: Handed down and interpreted by the self-realized philosophers of different schools at different times, places and for different levels of cultural maturity.
3. आप्तमनुजप्रोक्त - Spoken by reliable and authentic persons: This has been written down and transmitted by individuals deemed trustworthy by virtue of their ethical character, intellectual acumen, clarity of memory, etc.

The first can be considered the fundamentals, such as the Veda. The fundamentalist harks back to those rudiments via meditation and epiphany. The second can be considered the speculative exegesis, such as the Upanishads and their extensions in the smritis. The reformist engages in this search as a process of managing the house politically at all times. The third can be considered pure traditionalism, which limits itself to duplication and admiration of what is written in the 'shastras' that were written at one time in pursuance of an Upanishadic method.

First Formalism, then Propaganda
In my humble opinion, as a precursor to propaganda, there is a need to create a greater awareness of a core ideological formalism of a high standard for Hindutva that can hold its own against any ideological adversary. Up until now, Hindutva ideologies have been individually propagated by fundamentalists (e.g., Swami Dayananda Saraswati), by reformists (e.g., Swami Vivekananda), or by traditionalists (e.g., Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada). Each one of these tried to subsume or derogate the other strands in order to mobilize certain sections of society that were ripe for their propaganda focus. The political philosophers of Hindutva, such as Sitaram Goel, Ram Swarup, the RSS ideologues, Savarkar, etc. must be extended in order to do a sound job of consolidating and managing these strands, which can sometimes appear divergent and sometimes complementary. It would help the general awareness of all proponents of Hindutva as well as its opponents, to have a clear picture of the political schema into which all these tendencies find a coherent place.

Good and Bad Fundamentalists - Context dependent
Unlike Abrahamic cultures (esp. Islam), in the Hindutva context, the 'fundamentalists' are best suited to define the mainstream public and political discourse of the civilization, because of its yogic rudiments and fundamentally liberal undercurrents. Whereas the 'traditionalists' are best suited in defining the extremes and populating the margins, and therefore its outer contours and different stages and schools of its spiritual  process. (For a schema of 'balance' verses unbalanced phases of growth, see previous blogpost: 'Can Hindutva do Yoga?')

Notice that the reverse is true in the context of non-Dharmic societies. E.g., in Abrahamic cultures, it is in the interest of sanity that the 'fundamentalists' are marginalized and not allowed to dominate the mainstream discourse or establish a rule by religious law. Because that will read to violent radicalization. (To some extent that is true of non-Vedic Dharmic religions also, such as Jainism, Buddhism, etc., though here the radicalization is non-violent and of abnegation.) In such cases, the 'reformists' or so-called 'moderates' must be helped to hold that fort, and the 'traditionalists' may be corralled into religious institutions that serve society. 'Secularism' may be encouraged as a temporary bridge to moving away from a deracinated, exclusivist cultism and discovering Dharma (via any of the 3 co-ordinates).

This is simply because there is a difference in the 'fundamentals' of the Vedic and non-Vedic, or more generally of the Dharmic and non-Dharmic. In Abrahamic societies, the irrational and violent 'right-wing' draws on scripture and the associated excitement of reliving the lives of its traditional exemplars, whereas the reasonable and pacifist left-wing appeals to rationalism, compassion, balance, etc. But it is seen that in Dharmic societies, the progressive, pacifist and reasonable leaders who advocate 'balance' typically draw on scripture and the religious exemplars, whereas the right-wingers appeal to a sense of outrage, national emergency, some grievance, or the need to preserve old traditional forms in this so-called 'Kaliyuga'. (This includes Lankan Buddhist extremist clergy or Dharmic clergy anywhere else).

But 'Hindutva' is best interpreted entirely in present time, from its rudiments, and taking all modern and existing currents in its sweep. It must also be open-ended, and not succumb to "definitions" demanded or imposed by others. Its programme should be to complete all incomplete civilizational iterations and strengthen the earlier fundamental iterations. (See previous blogpost on civilizational iterations: 'Identity and Learning: Worlds within worlds')

The Parting of the Waters 
It may be significant that the encrustation of the 'traditionalist' constituency for 'Hindutva' has received a well-deserved setback, opening the way for the 'fundamentalists' and 'reformist' vectors to take control at this point. Meanwhile, the Congress and its casteist litter find themselves increasingly veering towards the extremely shrill "secularist" or "rejectionist" end - a prelude to their ultimate irrelevance or subsumation within a Dharmic viewpoint. Could this polarization of extremes and their insanities be clearing a passage for the sane but strong Vedic fundamentalists to lead the wandering Bharatas across to their native land?


  1. Traditionalist, fundamentalist, reformist?

    Are you trying to compartmentalise dharmic thought process?.

    Traditionalist- fundamentalist contradiction for Abrahamics and Dharmics is not exactly accurate. In dharmic society, fundamentalist towards middle while traditionalist towards the extreme is not different from Abrahamics. The only thing in reality is there are no traditionalists in Abrahamics. The left in the west is not dharmic, while dharmic in India are not left leaning though Abhinandan Sekti in the news laundry interview with Ram Madhav tried to box dharma into the left leaning compartment.

    1. pandurangahari ji, if you observe K.N. Govindacharya's work you will notice that his ideology tends to be left of center. At the same time there are other Dharmic strands that are right of center. Therefore, a comprehensive hindutva ideology should not box ITSELF in as "right" or "left". It would be a mistake for Hindutva to sell itself out as an alternative vis a vis the Congress dispensation. Rather, Hindutva must work to shift the goalposts - change the political discourse of the nation. In doing this, no doubt a massive shift rightward from the current Libtard dispensation is necessary.

      About your other point - "traditionalists" certainly do exist in Abrahamic religions like Judaism and Islam. In Christianity less so, but they can be identified with conservatives in that case.