If you are an ” Urban English Speaking Middle Class Indian ” there is a very high probability that sometime in your life you will hear some friend / acquaintance of yours saying ” Dude I am really worried, ever since the BJP / RSS has come to power it is increasingly trying to make India into a Hindu Theocracy “. To make matters even more interesting you will hear some journalist / public intellectual write an article or give a byte on television sharing their concerns over how India is slowly becoming a Hindu Theocracy.
” Now these are some very serious charges and if they are true we need to be worried. But then what exactly is a Theocracy? What does it stand for? Is Hinduism compatible with the basic requirements that formulate a theocratic government ? ”
We will try to see this in two parts. In the 1st part, we will see what is a theocratic government. What are the fundamentals of a theocratic government? In the 2nd part, we will try to see whether these fundamentals can even be applicable to a Hindu society.
Fundamentals of Theocracy
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Theocracy as ” A form of government in which God (or a deity) is recognized as the king or immediate ruler, and his laws are taken as the statute-book of the kingdom, these laws being usually administered by a priestly order as his ministers and agents; hence (loosely) a system of government by a sacerdotal order, claiming a divine commission; also, a state so governed. ”
We will now try to understand certain characteristics of a theocratic government.
A theocratic government is usually a totalitarian / centralized form of government. A theocratic state will try to control every aspect of your life. It basically means a direct order / instruction from a leader on the top is disseminated down to the rest of the population and it becomes a law. A theocratic society is very compliant where compliance is instilled via fear and terror. Another distinct feature of every theocracy is that it is based on the principle of exclusion. A theocratic state considers its minorities as being different from the larger general population, who are considered the ideal citizens. The chances of the survival of a minority religion in a theocracy are very rare. There are numerous live examples of this from Iraq to Pakistan where the Yazidis and Hindus have become virtually nonexistent.
Theocratic societies are very intolerant. A debate is discouraged as it is seen as an impediment in regards to faster delivery of justice on matters of conflict. There is no Freedom of Speech in Theocracies. The news is filtered and anything or anyone that speaks against the government in power gets punished under blasphemy laws. Theocratic societies are very intolerant. A debate is discouraged as it is seen as an impediment in regards to faster delivery of justice on matters of conflict. There is no Freedom of Speech in Theocracies. The news is filtered and anything or anyone that speaks against the government in power gets punished under blasphemy laws.
Theocracy will be anti innovation. Theocracies are based on divine laws which are derived from books (in most cases a single book) that are written centuries ago and have not changed at all. Infact most of these books do not allow change as it means challenging the commandments of God itself. It is because of this rigidity that a theocracy is extremely unfair to all its citizens.
Can there be a Hindu Theocracy ?
Hindu is defined as ” Members of a family of spiritual / materialistic traditions originating in India which today are manifested as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Carvaka/Lokyatika. ”
Unlike theocracies a Hindu society is extremely decentralized. An ideal Hindu society will be a bottom-up society in strong contrast to a top-down theocracy. A Hindu society will be based on the local governance i.e ” panchayat “. A Hindu society will be democratic where decisions will be taken jointly at the local level by the members of the ” panchayat ” in a self-governing manner.
Hindu society is very inclusive. Unlike theocracies a Hindu society does not believe in erasing its differences. Infact differences are celebrated, the most famous line used by all Hindus is ” Unity in diversity “. If we do a honest statistical analysis of any community that has ever come in India i.e the Parsis, Christians, Muslims, Jews we will see that they have all survived and prospered. India is the only society that cannot be charged with Anti Semitism. The reason for that is its largely Hindu population and Hindu ethics. Parsis came to India from Iran centuries ago and have lived happily for centuries. Muslims had absolute freedom even under different Hindu empires of Vijaynagar, Punjab under the Sikhs or Shivaji. Hindu kings never discriminated against Muslims on the basis of their religion. Unlike theocracies a Hindu society is extremely decentralized. An ideal Hindu society will be a bottom-up society in strong contrast to a top-down theocracy. A Hindu society will be based on the local governance i.e ” panchayat “. A Hindu society will be democratic where decisions will be taken jointly at the local level by the members of the ” panchayat ” in a self-governing manner.
A Hindu society will not merely believe in tolerance. It will follow the principles of mutual respect. A Hindu society believes that ” the truth is one but the paths are multiple “. A Hindu society will offer a genuinely pluralistic social order which will fully integrate people of all points of view including atheism. The founding block of a Hindu society will be debate and discussion. ” Shastrarth ” is one of the defining qualities of Hinduism. Adi Sankara did not spread Hinduism across all parts of India with the sword. Infact he went around debating members of different ” Darshanas ” and only when they conceded defeat is that he made them follow Advaita Vedanta. So in essence there is no forced conversion / proselytization.
A Hindu society will have absolute Freedom of Expression and Thought. The irony is that Hinduism does not have the concept of Blasphemy but the current Democratic Republic of India has a Blasphemy law i.e 295A. So the ones who keep crying hoarse about a Hindu Theocracy should realize how much of an oxymoron it is if they simply analyze this particular aspect that governs their life. If anything these ” Urban English Speaking Middle-Class Indians ” should hope and pray that India should become more and more Hindu. You can further explore this point at
A Hindu society will constantly update and innovate. Hinduism is not based on one book or one God in the classical Western / Monotheistic / Abrahamic sense. Infact a Hindu society will have a library full of books which will deal with multiple aspects of life. There is this constant cry that a Hindu society will follow the Manu Smriti. But why only the Manu Smriti ? What about the Naradasmriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, and Parashara Smriti ? Or can we follow the Dharma Sutras ? What happened to them ? Are they not Hindu enough ? Or maybe we will follow the Bhashya on Dharma Smriti by Medhatithi ? Also, which God will a Hindu Theocracy follow ? Will it be a Shaiva God ? Or maybe it will be a Vaishnava God ? Wasn’t Carvaka also a Hindu ? So maybe a Hindu theocracy will have no God ? Who will be the leader of this Hindu Theocratic State ? Will he follow Advaita Darshana ? Or will he follow Samkhya / Vaiseshika / Nyaya / Mimamsa / Yoga / Jaina / Baudha Darshana ?
The reason so many questions are being raised is to illustrate the point that the concept of a Hindu Theocracy is simply not tenable. Infact it is an oxymoron. You cannot have a Hindu Theocracy because the basic fundamentals under which a Theocracy is formed are completely opposite to what Hinduism stands for. So everytime someone raises this bogey of the Hindu Theocracy they need to be asked these questions. They have to be asked to prove their charges. For way too long we have tried to force fit alien concepts on our society. Those concepts were made according to the time / ethics of those areas / societies. To simply import those concepts and force fit them on a Hindu society is intellectual dishonesty.
Also if you are someone who believes in Freedom and Democratic Principles then constantly pray for a Hindu Society. Because a Hindu society is based on the principles of Bandhuta where there is solidarity and fraternity across paths and identities. It is only in a Hindu society that a skeptic like me can speak freely and question the tenets of his religion without being under any real threat. I am free to question all the tenets of my religion not because India’s constitution gives me that privilege. In fact, it is the complete opposite of that. The reason I am able to question Hinduism and its tenets is because Hinduism itself gives me that permission. Carvaka was very much a part of the Hindu landscape. He was not considered an outsider. In fact, if Carvaka was an outsider why was he covered in the 1st chapter of the Sarvadarshanasamgraha by Madhavacharya / Madhava Vidyaranya ?
I would like to end this blog with a very interesting quote of the Manu Smriti 4.176. It goes as ” However, discard the desire (kama) and material wealth (artha) if contrary to Dharma; as also, any usage or custom or rules regarded as the source of Dharma if at any time they were to lead to unhappiness or arouse people’s indignation.” So as we see even Manu who is the favorite whipping boy of all Regressive Leftists of India said that if customs or traditions are not acceptable to the larger masses (loka) we can change or alter them slightly or reject them completely. Hindu society can accordingly adjust its views on all matters from caste, homosexuality, women’s rights etc. So the next time someone uses the term Hindu Theocracy please tell him in the most polite way that ” It is an oxymoron, you moron. “