Hindutva, the Foreign Policy

Academics like Kanti Bajpai and Rahul Sagar have sought to answer the question “what is a Hindutva foreign policy” and laid out some tenets of such a school of thinking.

Hindutva is only interested in the outside world insofar as it has a role in what it really focuses on which is the revival of Hindu culture and civilization. Part, but a relatively small part, is the enhancement of India’s global standing.

When I’ve met saffronites, I am struck by their definition of national power — a strong currency, guarantees against humiliation, enemies who respect you and considerable military capacity. A strong economy is important as well. But the internationalist element is missing in much of their thinking and is replaced with a relatively primitive concern that India is not humiliated in anyway and expresses almost hyper autonomy when it comes to any collective action.

Also there is little appreciation of strategy. In other words, an understanding of statecraft that focuses on the long-term accomplishment of the national interest, even sometimes sacrificing both national ego and a right of retaliation to preserve the strategic basis of the policy.

Thus, if India concludes that the core problem of Pakistan is the excessive power of the military and its stunting of the country’s democratic polity, then a government in New Delhi would absorb a number of terrorist attacks as any punitive action would only help the military’s maintain its grip on power — and thus be in the long term against the country’s national interest. For a lot of Hindutva advocates, the issue of humiliation and revenge would trump everything.

Would a Prime Minister Narendra Modi be clearly in the Hindutva camp? My sense is that he would be a more advanced version of the more traditional saffron worldview.

One, he puts a strong emphasis on economics. He accepts and understands that getting India’s economy back on track is the basic prerequisite for pretty much anything. Even Hindu civilization if you wish can only consider revival if its financial juices start moving again.

Two, he has minimal interest in being a global leader or ideological icon for those outside India unlike a Jawaharlal Nehru. For him, it is all about the home front. Multilateralism will not be a key concern for him.

Three, strong defense and homeland security will be crucial to his government. But this will include a desire to end India’s nonsensical dependence on imported weaponry.

Fourth, related to number two, is that foreign policy will be severely pragmatic. Modi will restrict it to several key countries, the neighbourhood and a few great powers. The rest will be happily ignored.

There is not much that is ideological in this foreign policy. Hindutva at times almost blends into isolationism. There is a fear of cultural or theocratic competition — saffronites often rage against Western cultural constructs as well as Islamicists and Christian missionaries. So far, Modi has not been too excited by these issues.

Copyright © 2014 the Hindustan Times.

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