What is the role of religion in fostering the spread of Hindu nationalism? Does the rise of Hindu Nationalism mean the revivalism and rise of religion? What are the links, if any, between religion and Hindu Nationalism? These were just some of the questions addressed during a public lecture conducted by the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme at RSIS on 12 April 2022. Professor Julius Lipner, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cambridge, was the guest speaker for the session, titled “Hindu Nationalism and Implications on Multi-Cultural Societies”.
Prof Lipner began by speaking about “nationalism”, remarking that the term was beginning to acquire a negative connotation in Western discourse. In the past decade, political parties have employed nationalist rhetoric to garner support for their political goals. As the rhetoric got amplified by the media, it became common for nationalism to be associated with xenophobia or racism. While the term itself could be inclusivist and pluralist, it appears to have taken on a more exclusivist slant in recent usage.
He then traced the development of the concept “Hindutva”, which is central to Hindu nationalism. Derived from Sanskrit, “Hindutva” is an abstract term that means Hinduness. As Hinduism has been and still remains a diverse and variegated religion with numerous sects, the rise of “Hindutva” appears to be an attempt at homogenising and centralising Hinduism.
Prof Lipner also spoke about India and her relationship to secularism. He explained how secularism could be manifested in multiple ways, and how India has understood secularism to mean keeping religion separate from politics. The state has remained religiously neutral and the Constitution has continued to safeguard this by ensuring that no single religious tradition is favoured over others, irrespective of numbers. However, Hindu nationalism seems to be on the rise in recent years.
Prof Lipner highlighted that the exclusivist stance implied in such an ideology has real political ramifications since it could lead to a rise in violence. As such, it would be important for nation states, especially multicultural ones like Singapore, to preserve and protect their existing multicultural polity and society. He suggested that this could be achieved through appropriate legislation coupled with advocacy by religious and community leaders. The lecture concluded with a lively discussion where Prof Lipner addressed questions posed by the audience.