Under Prime Minister Modi, the BJP has a sizeable parliamentary majority on its own that it had never enjoyed before; it is, therefore, not obliged to dilute its agenda to accommodate less Hindutva-minded coalition partners, since it does not need any of them to make up its majority. The BJP became the first governing party in the history of independent India to come to power without a single elected Muslim member of the Lok Sabha; the three Muslims who have served in its council of ministers are all appointees to the Rajya Sabha. Also, for the first time, Indian democracy finds itself facing the reality of its top three constitutional positions—president, vice president and prime minister—all being held by RSS members of the same ideological disposition.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this marks a significant step towards the Hindutva project of transforming India into a Hindu state, or at least a state with a distinctively Hindu identity. Many Hindutva ideologues have long deplored the fact that love for Hinduism had been, in India, a love that could not be acknowledged; officially promoted secularism, they argued, had made India a country where a Muslim could be proud to be Muslim, a Christian proud to be Christian, a Sikh proud to Sikh, while a Hindu was proud to be…secular.
Nor can it be denied that the ascent of Hindutvavadis to the pinnacle of political power in India has occurred, significantly, under India’s secular constitution, and through entirely democratic and legal means. The great question before us today is, therefore: Will constitutionalism tame Hindutva, or will Hindutva transform the workings of the constitution?
On 11 December 1995, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by a famously liberal Chief Justice, J. S. Verma, declared that Hindutva was a ‘way of life and not a religion’. The court explained: ‘Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism...it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption...that the use of words “Hindutva” or “Hinduism” per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion... It may well be that these words are used in a speech to promote secularism or to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos, or to criticise the policy of any political party as discriminatory or intolerant.’
Unsurprisingly, this Supreme Court judgment found its way into the campaign manifesto of the BJP in the general elections of the following year, 1996. The party claimed the Supreme Court had ‘endorsed the true meaning and content of Hindutva as being consistent with the true meaning and definition of secularism’. This could be said to mark the beginning of the constitutional acceptability of the concept of Hindutva—something that arguably is no longer in question, since on 2 January 2017, the Supreme Court of India declined to reconsider its 1995 judgment.
So the Constitution and its custodians have made their peace with Hindutva. But can Hindutva wholeheartedly accept the Constitution?
The more conformist of the two BJP prime ministers India has had, Atal Behari Vajpayee (in office from 1998 to 2004), took a moderate approach to constitutional change, arguing that ‘even in the mightiest fort one has to repair the parapet from time to time’ (while V. P. Singh cautioned that the ‘tenants’ should not go for ‘rebuilding in the name of repairs’). His rule saw no dramatic change in India’s constitutional arrangements, though his government did conduct a constitutional review that produced a 1,979-page report, universally unread. There has so far been no dramatic challenge to the Constitution under the second BJP prime minister, Narendra Modi, either, but here it is far less certain that the present approach will endure.
Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who rejected the Constitution of India in conception, form and substance, would be astonished to find his supposed acolytes extolling its every line and holding special commemorations in Parliament with grandiloquent speeches to mark the anniversary not just of its adoption—which, after all, is Republic Day—but even of its passage by the Constituent Assembly in a newly anointed ‘Constitution Day’. What would Deen Dayal Upadhyaya have made, I wonder, of a prime minister, who swears by him, saying tha