Source: The Huffington Post
By Vamsee Juluri: USF professor; author, ‘Bollywood Nation: India through its Cinema’
Narendra Modi’s victory needs to be understood beyond the two commonly heard positions we have heard these past few months leading up to the election. Critics of Mr. Modi’s saw his rise as the march of Hindu nationalist fascism and the inevitable death of secularism in India. Supporters of Mr. Modi saw his rise as a sign of hope for India after years of corruption in high places, general ineptitude, and a sickening sense of venality in civic and public life.
But India’s vote for Mr. Modi needs to be understood beyond these two ideas. Even if Mr. Modi ran on a campaign of universal good governance rather than divisive anti-secular rhetoric, and even if his critics now assume that his victory means an end to something noble in India, the truth is that both positions only tiptoe around what his victory means from a modern, civilizational Hindu point of view today.
The mandate that Mr. Modi has won, in other words, is not just for either good governance, or for dismantling secularism, but for embodying a new, emerging idea of what it means to be Hindu, and Indian, in the world today. It is very different from thinking of it as a mandate for Hindu nationalism of the kind we witnessed in the late 1980s and 1990s.
This mandate, simply put, is about Hinduism even more than Hindu nationalism, or secularism. It might sound paradoxical, but by running on a promise of universal good, rather than on divisive identity-rhetoric, Mr. Modi has re-established a very Hindu way of looking at the world. This is important to recognize, because the anointed secular position against Mr. Modi, though seemingly a good thing–for secularism is a good thing in my view — has very little intellectual, emotional, or moral purchase in large sections of India’s young today. We need to recognize that, and to respect that.
Young people in India today, growing up in a rapidly globalizing cultural environment, aspiring perhaps to study or work in other countries, generally disposed favorably towards the United States and the West, and also, for the most part, accustomed to diverse, multi-religious coexistence in India and therefore not inherently hateful to other communities, find a tremendous contradiction between how they see themselves and how they are represented in the global discourse. Young Hindus see themselves as part of a great civilizational heritage, and value it not just for its ancient glory, but also because they see its spirituality as being the core of their civilizational ethic of coexistence and respect for all religions. If Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and so many different kind of Hindus divided by language, custom, caste and history still share a land and history so deeply, they know it is not simply because of India’s secular constitution, but because of Hinduism’s ancient legacy of respecting all faiths. There is a new sense of wanting to be Indian, and Hindu, in India’s young that is very different from the simplistic Hindu nationalist rhetoric we saw two decades ago.
Unfortunately, even if Hindus have moved on for the most part from the extremism and jingoistic pride of that period, the secular commentary has not. In fact, it has only become worse, if such a thing was possible. It should come as no surprise to anyone therefore that the numerous earnest and passionate appeals to Indian voters to reject Mr. Modi that populated the august pages of The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Economist in recent months probably had very little meaning for voters in India. To know why, it is worth recalling what else these publications had to say about Hindus, Hinduism, and India in the last few years, before they took up their outraged positions on behalf of India’s supposedly vanishing secularism.