That the escalating Hindu violence against minorities has produced a crisis for secularism in present-day India—but not for Hinduism—is an intriguing fact that calls for further analysis. This essay attempts a reexamination of the split between Hinduism and Hindutva, purportedly representing “true” religion and “politicized” religion, and the mapping of this division onto the religious tenet of tolerance and its political exhaustion, respectively, and questions the explanatory value of this narrative. It examines the concept and genealogy of “tolerance” with a view to understanding how it became so central to defining Hinduism itself. Although tolerance is offered as a constitutive or perennial aspect of Hinduism's religious tradition, its prominence in Hinduism's self-description is actually of recent vintage. In the independent Indian nation-state, the dominance of Hinduism in a multireligious context could be checked only by making Indian “secularism” an aspect of, indeed dependent upon, Hindu tolerance. While Ashis Nandy has famously invoked tolerance as the preferred alternative to secularism in the Indian context, this essay argues that secularism in India has all along been (nothing but) (Hindu) tolerance. If tolerance is integral to the rhetoric of Hinduism, historically it has been equally integral to the rhetoric of secular nationalism. Both Hinduism and Hindutva are modern constructs, and although different in their interpretation of the attitude that the Hindu majority community will adopt toward other religious communities in India—the one tolerant and the other intolerant—are essentially alike in envisaging national coexistence as the framing politics of this concern.

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