Firstly, it's important to define religious nationalism without any ambiguity. Basically, it refers to the relation of nationalism to a particular religious belief, dogma or affiliation; nationalism sponsored by religious beliefs.
Ideologically driven religious nationalism may not necessarily be targeted against other religions or detrimental to nationalist interests, but it is definitely in contrast to the idea of secular nationalism - nationalism that is uninfluenced by religious rule. Religious nationalism has taken on a Hindu idiom in contemporary India.
Though I don't agree that religious nationalism has established any kind of supremacy after UP election, but the question of religious nationalism in India cannot be outrightly rejected.
Post BJP's landslide victory in UP election, issues like religious nationalism, uniform civil code, ban on cow slaughter have gained momentum and various sections like to associate this with 'Hindu extremism'. Perhaps all the fuss about Hindu nationalism or fanaticism is because of the new UP CM Yogi Adityanath's saffron robes and the term 'Yogi' which sends down shivers through the spines of the pseudo-seculars who fear the extinction of secularism from India. It's important to note that what they fear the most is a complete shut-down on their shops selling imprudent divisive propaganda to the tender minds of the present generation.
In the 19th century, many Hindu socialist reform movements like BrahmoSamaj, AryaSamajendeavoured the creation of 'a rationalist modern India', free from dogmatic beliefs and superstitions and also led to the upsurge of patriotic ideals, crucial to India's freedom struggle. In 1995, the SC defined Hinduism as a way of life of the people in India and not just a religion.
In the context of UP, instead of finding a religious or a political angle to everything, we need to look at the larger picture - the efficient and effective administration of the state and the maintenance of communal harmony and internal peace. UP CM Yogi Adityanath's administration's crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses and bans on cow slaughter and cow smuggling, triggered panic and was immensely misreported. It wasn't directed against any particular caste or community but an administrative procedure to weed out illegal meat trade in the state. The cow slaughter ban honours animal rights and is a radical reform for a variety of reasons and has nothing to do with one's religion, just as alcohol ban in Gujarat and Bihar have nothing to do with one's religion or caste. The need of the hour is to stop politicising all government policies.
Let's take the instance of triple talaq (instant divorce). It has been banned in more than 20 Muslim countries of the world, including neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, because of its archaic and patriarchal nature that leaves women as destitute, with no claim whatsoever of any kind of alimony. So, if India talks about undoing or amending the practice of triple talaq, it's not an intrusion on Islamic faith or personal law, but a concrete measure of empowering women and giving them equal rights on a par with the other women divorcees. This should not be viewed as regressive religious nationalism.
However, certain violent vigilant groups practice regressive religious nationalism and terrorize the public and take law into their own hands in the name of safeguarding cows or moral policing. Such vigilantism is totally unacceptable and unlawful and the perpetrators must be booked under stringent laws for trying to escalate tensions amongst the different communities. For such vigilantes, the line between anti-national and anti-religion is becoming increasingly blurred.
In conclusion, the impact of religion on politics cannot be denied but if one wants to read religious nationalism in the lines of the violent activities of the so-called vigilant groups, then one's understanding is flawed. With the right kind of attitude and outlook, we can recognize what really is religious nationalism or not and not believe whatever is being portrayed by the media or social networking sites.
- Nitisha Bora