Politics

What’s in a (Place) Name, Mohan Bhagwat?

Going by Mohan Bhagwat’s logic, everyone in Kazakhstan would have to be a nomad because that’s what Kazakh means. And Pakistanis would all be, by definition, pure.

We always knew Mohan Bhagwat was a man of faith. Now he has shown us he is a man capable of great leaps of faith. Credit: PTI

We always knew Mohan Bhagwat was a man of faith. Now he has shown us he is a man capable of great leaps of faith. Credit: PTI

It was the six blind men of Indostan
To learning much inclined
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind).

Mohan Bhagwat-ji is not blind. But he has identified the elephant in the room. It’s our national identity and how we choose to define it. Everyone has their own idea about what being Indian means. The RSS chief has his. He has told us, “Just as the English live in England, Americans in America and Germans in Germany, Hindus live in Hindustan.” Indeed. Many Hindus do live in Hindustan. But does that mean those who live in Hindustan must all necessarily be Hindus? What happened to Hindustanis? But Bhagwat prefers the ring of ‘hum Hindu’ to ‘hum Hindustani’.

In his world, the six blind men would be feeling up not the Indian elephant (elephas maximus indicus) but the Hindu elephant, because after all an elephant who makes Hindustan its home must be Hindu too.

We always knew Bhagwat-ji was a man of faith. Now he has shown us he is a man capable of great leaps of faith. He has explained that everyone born in India is a Hindu; some might happen to be Muslims by faith but they are Hindu by nationality. It’s like a fairness cream, rub on some Bhagwat and let the inner Hindu radiance glow.

This fusing of faith and nationality, the geographical entity of the subcontinent with the majority religion, is an old parlour game of the RSS. Is Hinduism a religion or a way of life or a culture, is a well-worn debate. It’s useful to get around court rulings about mixing religion and politics especially during elections. The Supreme Court has weighed in on it. Subramanian Swamy infamously wrote, “Declare India a Hindu rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge their ancestors were Hindus.” Bhagwat is trotting out the kinder, gentler version.

Bhagwat, while exhorting his listeners to rise above caste, religion and language, has adroitly wrapped one religion, Hinduism, around all of them. It’s taking the old mantra of unity in diversity and spinning a one-size-fits-all amazing technicolour dreamcoat out of it. The caveat is it only comes in one fabric – wash-and-wear RSS-Hindu. And India, he reminded his listeners, is the “only country for Hindus” thus making poor Nepal feel like chopped liver again.

But it would be fascinating to live in a world according to Bhagwat, where we could all live up to our place names. The Philippines is named after King Philip of Spain and Filipinos could all stake a claim to Spanish royalty. Ethiopia comes from a word meaning Land of the Blacks or Burnt-Faced, which would allow them to blacken the face of everyone deemed not dark enough. Everyone in Kazakhstan would have to be a nomad because that’s what Kazakh means. And Pakistanis would all be, by definition, pure.

Why stop at nations? We could even burrow down to more local levels. Everyone living in Mukherjee Nagar in Delhi, every last Sharma, Chatterjee, Gupta could be by default a Mukherjee. Some might regard that as a promotion. On the other hand some living in Hanuman Nagar might regard all this as monkey business.

We would run into a few unforeseen problems as well.

In that world, according to Bhagwat, Indians would not be allowed to puff up with pride at the achievements of Nikki Haley, Kalpana Chawla, Jhumpa Lahiri, Aziz Ansari and an assortment of spelling-bee champions. We cannot go ga-ga over the first Indian-American this and the first desi in Britain to do that. Americans must only be Americans because they were born in America. We must relinquish our Indra Nooyis and Har Gobind Khoranas and Sundar Pichais as well. They live in the US. And that goes for most of the people who filled up Madison Square Garden with such lusty cheers for Narendra Modi. They would have to be returned, by Bhagwat-logic, to America as Americans. The patriotic Overseas Friends of the BJP would become the “foreign hand”.

Oh and would we still be allowed to claim Mother Teresa’s Nobel as an Indian Nobel? Would her sari be enough for her to be granted an honorary Hindu certificate?

Also, if all Muslims and Jains and Sikhs and Christians in India were Hindu anyway, what’s the need for any ghar wapsi angst? Are they not home already, according to Bhagwat’s logic?

Sometimes we should be careful of what we wish for.

Sandip Roy is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata.