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«Religion Compass 5/8 (2011): 439–451, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2011.00290.x Hindutva: Formative Assertions Deepa S. Reddy* University of Houston-Clear ...»

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Religion Compass 5/8 (2011): 439–451, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2011.00290.x

Hindutva: Formative Assertions

Deepa S. Reddy*

University of Houston-Clear Lake


This article is the first of three in a series surveying research on Hindutva (Hindu nationalism or

political hinduism), focusing on seminal articulations that set the stage for later debates, and define

the directions of later politics. I review accounts of hindutva’s ideological origins, from the

pre-independence racialist articulations to the humanist emphases of post-independence years, to the strident culturalism of the 1990s. ‘Hindutva’ is formed through these successive phases of ideological assertion, as much as it precipitates and participates in a wider culture of identitarian assertions. The second essay of three focuses on prominent rhetorical constructions deployed to address hindutva polemically, and the third on hinduva as praxis.

Introduction What is hindutva? Loosely translated as Hindu-ness or Hindu nationalism, the term has become commonplace in scholarly analyses of India, with a vast corpus of research focused specifically on cultural, religious, and ethnic nationalisms in the subcontinent, and frequent allusions to hindutva politics in the general literature besides. Hindutva, one quickly learns, is a phenomenon that shapes everything from national security to gender, science and economics to secularism and identities in diaspora. It is organically linked to Hinduism, though the nature of its relationship to religious practice remains indefinite. Its politics are strategic, calculating, instrumentalist, troubling, polarizing, and seem routinely to precipitate intense debate, at best, rioting and violence, at worst. Its modalities of operation, its reliance on state complicities, and particularly its use of theories of primordiality liken it variously to ethno-nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and fascism. At the center of its organizational structure is the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or National Volunteer Corps), around which its political wing (the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)), its economic forum (Swadeshi Jagaran Manch), its ‘world council’ (the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)), and various other groups are arranged both nationally and internationally into a Parivar: a family of the Sangh. It mobilizes a support base through discourses of ‘othering’, particularly of Muslims and other minorities, but its theories of Hindu emasculation also build into an argument avowing the need for masculinist strengthening. It oftentimes ‘communalizes’ pre-existing caste relations and thus significantly reconfigures social dynamics. It is predicated on an imagination of a Hindu rashtra (nation), personified in the figure of Bharat Mata or Mother India. It thus has an ‘agenda’, and even a ‘lab’.

The three essays presented in this issue lift a narrative about ‘hindutva’ from a survey of the extensive scholarship on this topic—which highlights, above all else, its historically particular, and consequently shifting, manifestations. The sub-sections of each essay demarcate the periods in which distinct ideas, metaphors, or modes of collective action take definitive precedence over others. In the present essay, I review accounts of hindutva’s ideological origins, from the pre-independence racialist articulations to the humanist

ª 2011 The AuthorReligion Compass ª 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd440 Deepa S. Reddy

emphases of post-independence years, to the strident culturalism of the 1990s that (re)solidifies ideological stances so as to precipitate equally forceful counter-assertions.

During this last phase, hindutva gains somewhat discreet political expression as assertively concerned with boundary-making and prone to violence. The second essay discusses a body of research that is, as a result, often explicitly oriented toward opposition: scholarship on hindutva becomes a prime means by which to define an increasingly urgent political opposition to hindutva as fascism and later as hate politics. The third set of studies (reviewed in the final essay) occasionally comment on origins and often hint at opposition or express ambivalence but these are generally fine-grained ethnographic accounts that document the now commonplace nature of the logics and political strategies associated with hindutva. Far more than the prior two bodies of work, these point to the emergence of a religio-cultural politics that is often so well integrated into local practices such that it becomes difficult to cordon off and categorize, thus calling for new approaches to the study of hindutva.

Taken together, these three essays track ‘hindutva’ in a roughly chronological arc, documenting its political forms as it variously adapts, extends, or virtually abandons classic ideological positions. The vast and varied corpus of literature on this subject can, Simpson cautions, have the ultimate ironic effect of ‘‘fool[ing] us into thinking we know what Hindutva is,’’ while ‘‘reifying and homogenizing it and to some extent by using the same encompassing framework as its proponents’’ (2004, p. 136). Bearing this in mind, the three surveys that follow treat hindutva as lens on contemporary socio-politics that suggests an evolving commentary on the present (Rajagopal 2001, p. 118) a logic of seeking effective alliances, modulating ideological stances, and thus expressing outrage in a manner inflected by the pressures and demands of the time.

Racialism The originary ideological codification of hindutva is generally credited to Savarkar’s influential tracts, ‘‘Essentials of Hindutva’’ (c. 1922) and later Hindutva: who is a Hindu? (1923 [1989]), that together represent a point of departure for much contemporary analysis.

Savarkar (1923 [1989], pp. 38–44) disassociated hindutva from religion, arguing that at its core was an identification with India (‘Sindhustan’) as simultaneously pitribhu (fatherland) and punyabhu (Holyland). The former contains the idea of a common nation and a common jati (which Savarkar translates as race), while the latter encompasses sanskriti or culture, the ‘‘rites and rituals, ceremonies and sacraments’’ (1923 [1989], p. 44) as well as an identification with the ‘‘sacred geography’’ (Eck 1998) of the land itself. In this, Savarkar allows that ‘‘Bohras, Khojas, Memons and other [Indian] Mohammedan and Christian communities’’ (1923 [1989], p. 43) can partially possess the attributes of hindutva, but avers that they cannot be counted among Hindus for the one reason that their holylands are elsewhere, their love divided (1923 [1989], p. 113). There is some tension, then, between Savarkar’s notion of hindutva as a racialized nationality and hindutva as centered by Hindu religious belief and praxis or sanskriti.

In their collations of the wide-ranging 18th ⁄ 19th century intellectual engagements that established the orientations of present-day hindutva, both Bhatt and Jaffrelot point to the historical context in which Savarkar’s ideas were formulated: the sharp conflict between the Sanatana Dharma movement that defended prevailing caste orthodoxies and the reformist, modernizing Arya Samaj, which had as a result ‘‘asked to be classified outside Hinduism in the colonial census prior to 1911’’ (Bhatt 2001, p. 84).1 It is likely, Bhatt argues, that Savarkar’s separation of Hindutva from Hinduism was a response to the near

–  –  –

impossibility of defining the latter without somehow addressing the ‘‘bitterly, often violently, opposing worldviews of Sanatanists or Aryas’’ (2001, p. 85; Jaffrelot 1996, p. 13– 25; Zavos 2001a). In contrast to Arya Samaj insistence on caste reform, Savarkar evokes a pre-existing fraternity based on the overriding significance of ‘‘common blood’’ which treats caste hierarchies as interdependent and fundamentally harmonious—a fact that has lead theorists to suggest that 1920s Hindutva was in good measure a defense of Brahminical hegemonies that anticipate the development of caste tensions in later decades (Brosius 2005, p. 72–4; Jaffrelot 1996, p. 13, 32; Zavos 1999, p. 74).2 The importance given to a common identification with a single jati ⁄ race notwithstanding, Bhatt notes, Savarkar’s displacement of religion from his conceptualization of hindutva is necessarily partial. The broader collective identification with the pitribhu (territorially demarcated fatherland) is by itself insufficient in determining hindutva, and it is the compulsion for the ‘fatherland’ to coincide with the ‘holyland’ that is definitive.

The result is a persistent tension between racialism territorially defined and racialism defined by the felt ‘‘own[ership of] a common blood’’ (2001, pp. 85–6, 94–8; cf. also Jaffrelot 1996, pp. 25–33). One could feel Hindu and therefore be Hindu, but feeling also requires a religious predisposition. Religion, in a form naturalized by blood and ‘feeling’ alike, ultimately is critical to Savarkar’s hindutva. Jaffrelot concludes from this that hinduva of this period ultimately uses primarily ‘‘cultural criteria’’ to reinvent hindu-ness in the guise of ethnic nationalism (1993; 1996, pp. 31–2; 2007).

As seminal expositions on hindutva, Savarkar’s articulations have provided a foundational vocabulary to emergent hindutva movements, informing such other important treatises as the RSS leader Golwalker’s We, Or Our nationhood Defined (1939 [1945]).

‘‘Golwalker’s distinctive contribution’’, as Bhatt notes, ‘‘was to link Savarkar’s conceptions of Hindutva, Hindu nation and Hindu war with both a political sociology of the nation state, democracy, rights, citizenship and minorities, and an ideology of xenophobic racism’’ (2001, p. 126). Indeed, Golwalker’s description of the unity of the rashtra (nation) relies in no small measure on Savarkar’s racialist thinking: it insists that national belonging is predicated on race, defined as ‘‘a hereditary Society having common customs, common language, common memories of glory and disaster [and] common origin under one culture’’ (1939 [1945], p. 21, emphasis added). Golwalker’s focus on the commonalities or ‘‘unassailable unities’’ that define a nation then, in turn, have been critical to the building of RSS ideology and therefore also to defining hindutva as praxis.

It is worth noting that although Golwalker drew much from the conceptual vocabulary of Savarkar’s Hindutva, the question of whether or not to orient hindutva politically strained the relationship between the Hindu Mahasabha (an all-India Hindu nationalist congress formed in the early 1900s) and the RSS. Savarkar was interested in moulding the Mahasabha for a political debut, whereas Golwalker located the RSS and its work emphatically in the realm of the ‘cultural’, non-political. The tensions between the two lead Savarkar to remark once that ‘‘the epitaph of an RSS member would be of one who was born, joined the RSS and died having achieved nothing’’ (quoted in Bhatt 2001, p. 119). Such disagreements and divergences within hindutva point to the need to view the links between Savarkar’s ideology and those of other key figures associated with hindutva as affinities rather than exactly aligned intellectual trajectories (cf. Jaffrelot 1996;

Zavos 1999). The best we can say is that Savarkar’s religio-racialist orientation harmonizes well with Golwalker’s more clearly hereditary conception of the rashtra. These formulations then combine into a ‘‘strand of ‘religious’ nationalism’’ that guides RSS founder K.B. Hegdewar’s initial organization of volunteers in the 1920s, and finds consonance in the 1960s with political ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya’s ‘organicist’ view of state and ª 2011 The Author Religion Compass 5/8 (2011): 439–451, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2011.00290.x Religion Compass ª 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd 442 Deepa S. Reddy civil-society relations as fundamentally governed by dharma, the innate law that naturally holds the nation together (Bhatt 2001, pp. 155–6; 2007, p. 103).

Integral Humanism Upadhyaya’s ‘integral humanism’ saw the human body, and therefore the body politic, as driven by four constitutive needs: kama (desire) and artha (material wealth), by dharma (morality or ethics), and moksha (liberation). Of these, dharma represents the integrative force, at once innate law, love, loyalty, principled judgment, and nationalism par excellence. If, in this, Upadhyaya ‘‘developed many of Savarkar’s and Golwalker’s ideas into a simplistic corporatist social and political philosophy’’ (Bhatt 2007, p. 103), it is telling that the racialist overtones of those earlier formulations are notably subdued, if not absent.

Instead, the integrality of Upadhyaya’s approach stems from his use of Shankaracharya’s advaitic non-dualism as an expression of an underlying ekatmata or unity—of human needs, of national objectives, of Bharatiya culture itself—ethically and therefore politically held together by the principles of dharma.

Integral humanism both reflected and spoke directly to post-independence political compulsions, recasting Golwalker’s explicitly ‘Hindu rashtra’ as ‘‘Bharatiya [Indian, in an Indian idiom] culture’’—a formulation that, Corbridge notes, still implicitly asserts the existence of Akhand Bharat or the Greater India that includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma (1999). Roughly two decades after Indian independence, and despite sweeping land reforms, feudalism had still not been dismantled, and slackening economic growth was fueling the cynical view that the only ones to reap the rewards of swaraj (self-rule under independence) were capitalists, landlords and, of course, politicians.

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