With the recent debate emerging on what constitutes Hindu modernity, the general conclusion of the discussion being that the first stage of Hindu modernity was the Bhakti movement which reflected social reform. It helped synthesizing complex philosophical metaphysics through devotionalism, reduced caste barriers and made incremental changes; to create a modified society without breaking its structural edifice.
The second stage of Hindu modernity would constitute the reforms of the 19th century starting from the Bengal Renaissance and then finally culminating into the caste egalitarian, temple entry movements all the way until the early to mid-20th century. Between these two milestones, a number of creditworthy causes such as abolition of child marriage, the removal of Sati, allowing widow remarriage and banning of dowry were also achieved. New religious sects such as Brahmo Semaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission emerged, whose dynamism created a new way of looking at Dharma. While the first stage of Hindu modernity looked at making the message immensely acceptable to the masses, the second stage helped in enabling Hinduism to keep its feet into the modern world in the socio-cultural sphere. What was left out though from both these stages was economic development and general prosperity of the masses. For Hinduism to truly emerge in the contemporary world, it needs to bridge this final lap, the last mile to get it over the hump.
For any religious philosophy to truly emerge and make an impact on a world stage, it needs to be backed up not just by soft power but by hard power. For too long ashrams, yogis, gurus and mantras have helped keep Hindu soft power going but relying too much only on soft power can only take you so far. Greek and Roman philosophy had huge impact on the world stage as they were backed Alexander’s and Caesar’s feats of military innovation. The Druids who represented the elites of Celtic society also had a well-organized, structured and an established religion, but the core of their framework was lost and failed to make a mark, as they failed in defending their homeland. In the polytheistic world, the Gods were a free market with their rise and fall shadowing those of their patronized cities. Hence, going by this historical evidence, it is quite remarkable that Hinduism managed to make the impact that it did against all odds, despite facing centuries of hostile foreign rule.
It is because of the brutality of the Turkic, Mughal and British rule that almost all the reform movements tended to focus on religion, theology & society rather than economy. For the economic discourse to emerge, Hindus needed to be masters of their own destiny. While they most often resisted these foreign rulers, they were seldom truly able to enjoy uninterrupted and peaceful reigns to focus on their general economic well-being.
With the advent of Independence, a glimmer of hope had risen but with the economy left in tatters, after a long period of colonial rule and the following decades of socialism; Hindu vitality was lost. In fact, not only did fail to make a mark economically but even in matters of religion, there was an inordinate decline, with the Nehruvian consensus hitting at the heart of the Hindu Dharma in ways that even the foreign invaders did not in the past.
The 1991 reforms had created a hope and indeed worked initially. But the lack of follow-up, from successive governments led to the petering away of the advantages that were gained initially. The economy laboured through, from agriculture to services with vast rural to urban migration. The intervening stage of industrialization eluded it fully and India was neither able to create the required ecosystem for industrial growth, nor able to train enough skilled manpower to harness its demographic dividend. The result being that growth started stagnating and a vacuum was created.
Hindu society needs to address this vacuum quickly. For if Hinduism is to make the next level of modernization, it is important to resolve this very component with an immediate sense of urgency. For without this, all the philosophical gravitas and cultural capital it acquired in the previous centuries would be lost and the vitality of Dharma itself will be at a threat.