Who is a Hindu?

By Dinesh Trivedi

The Gujarat elections will go down in history as one of the most important polls in India. Not only for who wins or loses, it could also be remembered as a micro Mahabharata. We still learn lessons from the Mahabharata — besides teaching us the art of warfare, it also teaches us the deeper values of life. But unlike the Mahabharata, this election, unfortunately, does not have great warriors and characters.

The Mahabharata is also known as the war of dharma (dharma yudh) whereas the Gujarat election is all about attaining political power by any means without bothering about the core spirit and values for which India has stood for for centuries. Then why do I call it a micro Mahabharata? Because this election also teaches us a lot in terms of the degradation of public discourse.

There is a competition over who is more devoted without really understanding Hindu philosophy. It was a lesson for me to learn that there exists a register in the great temple of Somnath for someone who is a “non-Hindu”. How do we prove who is a Hindu? If I say I am a Hindu (which I am), can anyone prove otherwise? What are the criteria of being a Hindu? Appearance? Name? Region? Belief? Food habits? It could be all of the above or none.

Advaita philosophy says “neti neti” (not this-not this) when describing the “Brahman” (the Supreme) and yet affirms it by saying yes this-yes this. The philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which is found in Mahopanishad and subsequently used in the Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, etc is also engraved at the entrance of the hall of the Parliament. It is the loftiest of Upanishadic thoughts — “the world is a family”. We often use this phrase and take pride in its concept of equality. It is said that in 1656, Dara Shikoh translated 50 Upanishads to Persian and prefaced it as the best book on religion. One could say that Dara was also a proponent of Hinduism.

The Ramakrishna Mission was founded by Swami Vivekanada in 1897. The Mission calls itself not a “Hindu movement” but a Ramakrishna movement based on principles of practical Vedanta without any distinction of creed, caste, race or nationality. In 1980, the Mission petitioned the courts to have itself declared a “Non Hindu Minority Religion”. While the Calcutta High Court accepted the plea, the Supreme Court ruled against it in 1995.

So liberal is Hindu philosophy that it is applicable to all. It could perhaps be best defined as a pure science which when applied to real life becomes applied science and could be termed as Hindu religion. This is the century of knowledge and India is blessed with a pool of knowledge which comes from the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas etc. The Vedas are called shruti — they have no author. They contain universal knowledge and nobody can claim a monopoly over them.

All of us, especially those in politics, swear by Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence, without living that philosophy. Gandhi and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan are leaders who not only understood Hindu philosophy but also propagated it through their actions. Gandhi halted the freedom movement when there was violence at Chauri Chaura. Compare this with the negativity in the present day in public discourse, be it in election rallies, Parliament or TV channels. India is at a crossroads of democratic values. This also presents an opportunity for us, especially in public life, to reflect and course correct so that the pool of young talent which is capable of changing the world for the better, can start doing so from India.

Elections will be won and lost but losing the basic ethos of India will be a loss to the country for some time to come. We got back India from the British, now we need to get our Indian-ness back.

(The article was first published on Indian Express written by Dinesh Trivedi)