Student: Thank you for agreeing to this extended conversation on issues that concern Bharatiya yuva—or Indian youth—today. Teacher: You’re welcome. We’re just coming out of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Our academic schedule, curriculum, and even our degree programmes have all suffered disruptions during this period. Student: We missed meeting our teachers in person and learning from them in the classroom. Some of us even have degrees without attending a single live lecture. Teacher: Now that things are opening up, we may be soon back to live learning, instead of the online or hybrid mode. Student: But, in addition to regular classes, what we’ve missed most is talking about really important stuff, which is not included in our studies and syllabus. We would’ve had these conversations with our teachers and peers in a normal campus setting. Now, we’ve lost that chance. Teacher: Think of the positive side too. In the digital mode, so much high-quality content is available for free. Also, we can “meet” without the usual time, space, or resource constraints. Student: That’s why I’m sure our conversation will catch the interest of a lot of young people. Teacher: Thank you. Student: I hope I can be candid at the very start, though. No topics should be banned or barred from our dialogue. Teacher: I assure you that for the sake of political correctness or to please any particular interest group, we will not shy away from the topics or issues you wish to discuss. Student: That’s so refreshing. It’s really great to be able to talk about things openly. Something we can rarely do even at home. Teacher: Apart from openness, which is very important, it is also crucial to be able to talk without fear or hatred. Student: We may not wish to give offence, yet, some are bound to be offended. Teacher: As long as we don’t deliberately offend, I’m all for free, albeit responsible, dialogue. Student: What do you mean by responsible? Teacher: Well, everything is so charged and tempers are so frayed that you don’t know just who will take umbrage or why. No need to add fuel to the fire. Student: Why do you think this is the case? Does it have to do with the current state of politics in India? Teacher: Politics, it seems, is ubiquitous in India. You can’t wish it away. You can’t avoid it. Everything gets politicised. Even a well-intentioned remark can be misunderstood or deliberately twisted to attack you. Student: But we’re not doing politics here, are we? Teacher: No. We would like, instead, to reflect deeply on matters that concern the state of the republic. Student: But isn’t that the real problem? The republic seems divided and at odds with itself. Has the new nationalism put us in a state of perpetual strife? Teacher: Everywhere we encounter a simmering hostility and rage, which can flare up at the slighted pretext or provocation. Even in families. Student: What is the way out? Teacher: Well, we can be as nationalistic as we like. But our nationalism shouldn’t be so thick-skinned that we don’t care about whatever anyone says about us. Good or bad, we will persist in doing what we want to, regardless of how much others like or hate it. Student: Are you referring to a neighbouring hyperpower? With its numerous authoritarian, even draconian, systems of control? Teacher: Actually, their ordinary citizens also crave for more freedom. But why should we be obsessed about what others think about us? Student: Would you say that the approval-seeking behaviour in the past smacked of a colonial hangover? Teacher: Without question. We were so concerned about India’s image in the foreign media that we allowed ourselves, at least apparently, to be bullied into taking positions or adopting policies which were not always in our national interest. Student: At the same time, how can we preach ahimsa abroad and belligerence inside India? Teacher: Yes, our nationalism should not be thick-skinned and insensitive either. Student: I see. Teacher: It needn’t bristle and roar at the slightest criticism. Even those who offer constructive criticism, who are supporters of all good policies and causes, are trolled so savagely these days. Student: For us, who are young, it hurts when we are branded “anti-national” for the slightest criticism of the government or the state. Teacher: Except for a very small, hardened, politically dangerous section, I don’t think Indian youth are anti-national at all. In fact, how can you call anyone “anti-national” who pays their taxes, votes for those they consider fit to serve them, or wants to serve the country? We elect our legislators. They may be leaders of their parties, but they are our elected representatives. If we don’t criticise them, who will? Student: Our government is made up of those we elect. How can criticising those we elect be “anti-national” if we are not satisfied with their performance? Teacher: It is quite another matter if someone is working against the state, trying to destabilise or betray their country. That is quite different from criticising any politician, no matter how important or powerful he or she may be. The first is a serious offence, even
amounting to treason. The second is your right, even duty, as a citizen. Student: You mean no political representative, no matter how larger-than-life or popular, is greater than the nation. Teacher: Yes. Student: Glad you clarified what you mean by a healthy and vibrant nationalism—one that is neither too thick nor too thin-skinned. Teacher: I suppose that would work, speaking of the skin of the nation, from the ayurvedic point of view too. Healthy skin is one that perspires, breathes, glows, and heals if bruised. Not with wounds that never heal. Student: Thank you. Now that we’ve decided to be open, let me ask you directly: why is this dialogue being called “Hindutva and Svaraj”? Teacher: So glad you asked a direct question. I would like to focus on Svaraj first. Svaraj was the popular word for Independence during our freedom struggle. Student: But it obviously means much more than just political freedom, right? Teacher: Correct. It’s an ancient word going back to the Vedas. There’s a whole sukta, 1.80 of the Rig Veda, with sixteen mantras, that we might call the Svaraj Sukta. Its refrain is arcan | anu | sva-rājyam. Student: So, you think a Svaraj Samvad is appropriate when we celebrate India@75, Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav? Teacher: Yes. But the first word, Hindutva, is also important. Student: Why? Teacher: Hindutva has never been centrestaged so prominently in India as now. In that sense, it is appropriate to talk of Hindutva Svaraj today, not only Hind Swaraj. Student: Hind Swaraj? Teacher: Yes, it’s a famous book that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wrote in 1909. Student: Oh! What’s it about? How does Hindutva Svaraj differ from Hind Swaraj? Teacher: Or is there a similarity, even continuity, between them? That is what we will try to find out. Student: Sounds good. Bringing Gandhi into our conversation should be very
interesting, especially because he is no longer
as highly regarded as he used to be. We don’t even call him “Mahatma” any more. Teacher: Don’t worry. Not calling him “Mahatma” does not change his significance. But so many others should also enter our dialogue—Tagore, Tilak, Aurobindo, Hedgewar, Savarkar, Ambedkar, Nehru, Bose, Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, and so on. Student: You mean to summon them all to stand before India’s youth today? Teacher: Yes, but not summon them, rather request their presence as makers of modern India. To explain their positions so that we can understand and appreciate them better. After all, we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude for our 75 years of freedom. This debt can be redeemed only if we invoke, read, and engage with them, rather than ignore or forget them.