Birth of Hindu Nationalism in India - Growth of Hindutva

Birth of Communalism in India

Over a period of centuries, the Hindu and Muslim communities had evolved an understanding of each others customs and religious tenets. The British conquest placed the two communities on common footing. – Of subjection. However, in the closing decades of the 19th century, the demand of the middle classes – primarily Hindu in composition – through the Indian National Congress for a larger share in the administration of the country brought about a new orientation in the policy of the British. Muslims were henceforth seen not as potential rebels but as probable allies. Religious suspicion and fear was utilized brilliantly by the Muslim league to distance the Muslim from the congress. The British couldn’t care less because it viewed congress as its main enemy and Muslim separatism was useful to them for spiking the nationalist guns. It was in this backdrop that the seeds of Hindu nationalism were sown.

Birth of Hindu nationalism

Reformist thinkers

Swamy Dayananda Saraswathi, Tilak, Savarkar, Gorwalkar tried to unify the diverse Hindu social order with Hindu nationalism. Arya Samaj for example went to the extent of addressing Islam as intellectually an opponent to Hinduism. For Hindu nationalists culture was as important an agent of nation building as the state. Sawarkar regarded culture as a mere instrument to forge a modern nation. Others like Golwalkar believed that the Indian nation must embody something of Hindu culture.

Savarkar on Hindutva

“Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the religious or spiritual history of our peoples as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism. Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. Failure to distinguish these two concepts has given rise to much misunderstanding”.

Savarkar characterizes as glorious epochs, the time periods in which the Hindus lead a war of liberation in order to free their nation from the shackles of foreign domination. Savarkar’s criterion for glory-Hindu assertion and success is the ideological prop of contemporary communalism.

Gandhi and Hindu nationalism

Gandhi has been accused of mixing religion with politics and “Hinduising” nationalist politics. The confusion arises from the failure of the critics to appreciate what Gandhi meant by religion. His concept of religion had nothing in common with what commonly passes for organized religion- dogmas, superstitions, rituals and bigotry. When he talked of spiritualizing politics, he echoed the sentiments of his political mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who wanted to enlist the spirit of dedication and sacrifice normally reserved for religious renunciation for the social and political regeneration of India.

Gandhi’s use of words such as swaraj, sarvodaya, ahimsa, satyagraha were exploited by the Muslim league to estrange the Muslims from the nationalist struggle. These words as used by Gandhi had no religious connotation. Much has made of Gandhi’s use of the word “Ram Rajya” which he used to describe an equivalent of utopia

Early Hindu communalism

As far as Hindu communalism was concerned, there emerged in the mid-twenties avowed communal organizations such as Hindu Mahasabha. The policies of Congress, governed by the apex leadership headed by Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad had little to do with the Hindu communal agenda. The spokesmen of the Mahasabha such as Savarkar and Moonje, though provocative in their utterances and writings, made little headway with the politically conscious class among the Hindus. This is proved by the fact that the Mahasabha failed to win even a single seat in the provincial legislature elections in 1937 or in the general elections of 1946.

Post independence, Hindu communalism seemed subdued for quite some time after incurring the odium of the Gandhi’s assassination.

Growth of Hindutva

VHP brand of Hindutva

VHP was started in 1964 by S S Apte, a full time activist of the RSS. Till the 1960’s the Congress was undisputedly the dominant Indian political party and in those early years of its rule it was possible to see varied ideas and opinions coexist. However, gradually by mid – 1960’s the Congress came under growing political strain as a result of increasing difficulty in maintaining this internal balance of conflicting interests. This was, in a sense, a consequence of growing resentment on the part of many congressmen towards Nehru’s so called socialist and western bent. It was in this context that the foundations of the VHP were laid reflecting the socio-religious and political resentment with the mainstream and dominant Congress party.

The early VHP members saw themselves socially aware individuals with the responsibility to act urgently because those in public realm did not seem to be sensitive to the issue of “protection of Hindus” be it religious, cultural, demographic or economic protection. Revitalisation of Hinduism worldwide was to be brought forth through action on the following fronts - Dharma, Bharath and Hindu samaj.

Dharma: Dharma is on one hand regarded as an eternal, universal, unchangeable principle which sates divinity to be at the core of existence, and lays down the fundamental unity between the divine and everything which exists. It is on the other hand also regarded as a norm for social as well as individual behaviour. In the second aspect it is not eternal, unchangeable or universal but prescribes rules according to the tradition.
The VHP has adopted a specific method to decide what dharma as norms of behaviour implies. It is to be postulated not by any single person or by any cultural, political or religious group, but by the consensus or sadhus, of ideally all Hindu denominations.

Bharath: Bharath is of prime importance in the thought pattern of the VHP. Bharath is depicted as a living entity as a deity to be worshipped, as only the land for Hindus to live in and as having a mission to fulfill for the whole world. Bharath is depicted as the place where Hindu culture and civilization developed, where the common history of Hindus has been played out, where the Hindu gods have manifested themselves. It is presupposed that Bharath and Hindus constitute a unit that cannot be absolved. Bharath is a necessary condition for the preservation of Hindus and Hinduism, the territorial basis for “Hindu raashtra”

Hindu Samaj: On one hand Hindu samaj is depicted as the collective of present day Hindus and on the other hand as the future ideal hindu society. Early VHP resolved that no section of society is untouchable and should not be treated so, rather they should be provided a respectable status in society.

The VHP had always had very close associations with the RSS but they were based on personal ties and ideological affinity. VHP initially was a moderate socio-religious organization but it was only in the 1980’s that the militant brand of Hindutva came to be advocated by the VHP. The changes within the RSS, the alterations in the politico-economic setup of the nation, the changes in VHP leadership and membership seem some of the factors facilitating the transformation.

The RSS came to regard active electoral politics as an important vehicle for the dissemination of the idea of Hindu nationalism. The VHP within this changed orientation, seemed competent for the job of building a mass political movement grounded on religious demands. This was the scenario where religion became a strong instrument for political power and identity politics which eventually became the basis of material advancement for sections associated with the VHP and related organizations.


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