Recent occurrences have ignited fervent discussions within the Indian political sphere, revolving around two pivotal identities that significantly mold the nation’s sociopolitical and electoral discourse—caste and religion. The disclosure of data emanating from the caste-based census has triggered a resounding outcry from the opposition, advocating for the principle of “Jitni Aabadi Utna Haq” (rights proportional to the population). In response, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has countered with an equally rhetorical query, questioning whether, in light of their majority status, Hindus should monopolize all available resources. These developments have rekindled memories of the political landscape of the 1990s, characterized by the Mandal and Kamandal politics.
Within this evolving political landscape, a plethora of political opinions has emerged to fathom how Hindutva — a critical capsule for the present Narendra Modi led dispensation will navigate through these transformative currents. Regrettably, many of these theoretical frameworks are tainted by biases, spanning from depicting Hindutva as the fount of all societal woes to portraying it as a panacea for India’s multifaceted challenges.
Decoupling theoretical Hindutva from the political cacophony
Post-BJP ascendancy era, the country has witnessed an undeniable metamorphosis within Hindu society characterized by a palpable surge in social cohesion. Empirical evidence substantiates the BJP’s burgeoning appeal and the growing acceptance of Hindutva among Dalits and the Other Backward Classes, often theorized as “Subaltern Hindutva”.
A post-election survey carried out by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, conducted right after each phase of the election, indicated that the BJP achieved significant advances in demographic groups where it typically didn’t have strong backing.
In the last general election, the BJP garnered increased backing from Dalits, with 34% of them voting for the party in 2019, compared to 24% in 2014. A similar shift was observed among upper OBCs. Historically, the BJP has enjoyed more significant support from lower OBCs, but the gap in support between lower and upper OBCs narrowed from 12 percentage points in 2014 to 7 percentage points in this election. This change was primarily driven by a relatively higher rise in support for the BJP among upper OBCs.
The BJP, indeed, aspires to forge a more expansive Hindu identity that transcends the confines of caste divisions. It endeavors to achieve this extensive social engineering by amalgamating welfare policies, enhanced representation in government, and the meticulously orchestrated mobilization endeavors of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The Hindutva paradigm has notably garnered favor, especially among marginalized lower castes who found themselves relegated to the periphery due to the limited scope of progressivism offered by prominent caste based parties like BSP and SP. Regrettably, it underscores an unfortunate reality where parties founded on the normative principles of inclusivity and democratic ideals have devolved into exclusive and internally autocratic entities.
Perhaps, what pertains to be debated is around the nature of transformation among the so called lower castes: whether their alignment with Hindutva signifies a tactical realignment motivated by pragmatism or a more enduring commitment to the ethos of subaltern Hindutva.
Hindutva and an Egalitarian “Hindu” Order:
Indian theorists occasionally do a disservice to the discipline of political science by allowing their personal biases to obfuscate objective analysis and theoretical development. Oversimplifying Hindutva as a narrow and socially orthodox construct belies its intricate and multifaceted nature. But, change dances as life’s unceasing melody and the Indian theoretical discourse is no exception.
There has been a rise of scholarly works surrounding the permeation of Hindutva ideology among marginalized segments of society, chiefly propelled by the political ascendency of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Esteemed academics such as Professor Badri Narayan, Sajjan Kumar, and Sudha Pai, among others, have undertaken substantial scholarly endeavors to illuminate this phenomenon.
Nevertheless, my own analysis, deeply entrenched in an exhaustive examination of the philosophical underpinnings espoused by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, posits that the prevailing trajectory represents an intrinsic consequence of Hindutva ideology. A meticulous deconstruction of Savarkar’s seminal treatise, “Essentials of Hindutva,” elucidates that the teleological terminus of Hindutva ideology, in truth, revolves around the establishment of a societal order devoid of caste distinctions.
In Savarkar’s unique eloquent style of writing, he proclaims that Hindutva mandates the realization of a casteless social fabric as a strategic imperative for the consolidation of a Hindu rashtra, or a Hindu nation.
“ pull down the barriers that have survived their utility, of castes and customs, of sects and sections: What of interdining?-but intermarriages between provinces and provinces, castes and castes, be encouraged where they do not exist. But where they already exist, suicidal be the hand that tries to cut the nuptial tie” ~ Essentials of Hindutva, Savarkar.
Hence, what contemporary scholars are presently deliberating upon,often under innovative appellations like “Subaltern Hindutva,” could have been foreseen long ago through an exploration of Savarkar’s oeuvre.
A novel inclusive “Hindutva” theory
Amidst this emerging contours of a novel social cohesion within the Hindu society, a paradox, however, has conspicuously manifested itself in the Indian political landscape subsequent to the emergence of “ the second dominant party system”. Notably, despite the avowed commitment to egalitarianism as a cornerstone of Hindu society, a profound schism has taken root within the Indian socio-political framework, particularly concerning religiosity.
Remarkably, this schism has paradoxically served as the very fulcrum upon which the Hindutva model pivots, conjuring a perceived existential threat posed by the Abrahamic faiths, particularly Islam and thereby reinforcing the “othering” of the Muslim community.
“Christian and Mohammedan communities, who, were but very recently Hindus and in a majority of cases had been at least in their first generation most unwilling denizens of their new fold, claim though they might have a common Fatherland, and an almost pure Hindu blood and parentage with us, cannot be recognized as Hindus; as since their adoption of the new cult they had ceased to own Hindu civilization (Sanskriti) as a whole. They belong, or feel that they belong, to a cultural unit altogether different from the Hindu one. Their heroes and their hero-worship, their fairs and their festivals, their ideals and their outlook on life, have now ceased to be common with ours.”~ Essentials of Hindutva, Savarkar
Furthermore, the overarching theoretical framework of Savarkar’s philosophy goes to the extent of excluding even the Bohra and Khoja communities, despite his own acknowledgment that they embody the fundamental elements of “rashtra” (nation), “jati” (race), and “sanskriti” (civilisation) that, by his lexicon, would ordinarily classify one as Hindu.
“ Take the case of a patriotic Bohra or a Khoja countryman of ours. He loves our land of Hindustan as his Fatherland which indisputably is the land of his forefathers. He possesses in certain cases they do – pure Hindu blood; especially if he is the first convert to Mohammedanism he must be allowed to claim to inherit the blood of Hindu parents. He is an intelligent and reasonable man, loves our history and our heroes; in fact the Bohras and the Khojas as a community, worship as heroes our great ten Avatars only adding Mohammad as the eleventh. He is actually, along with his community, subject to the Hindu law, the law of his forefathers. He is, so far as the three essentials of nation (Rashtra), race (Jati) and civilization ( Sanskriti) are concerned, a Hindu….They possess all the essential qualifications of Hindutva but one and that is they do not look upon India as their Punyabhumi (Holyland)….Their holy land is in far off Arabia.”
A notable incongruity discernible within Savarkar’s discourse resides in his contention that while the Hindu faith ought not to be wielded as the exclusive yardstick for adjudging the embodiment of Hindutva within any collective, a contrasting perspective emerges when evaluating the Hindutva and loyalty of those individuals who have undergone conversion to Islam or Christianity. In this instance, their steadfast adherence to sacred sites of worship appears to be proffered as a pivotal criterion for ascertaining their allegiance to the nation. This dichotomy suggests a nuanced tension within Savarkar’s ideological framework, wherein a more expansive and inclusive vision of Hindutva coexists uneasily with a more stringent appraisal of certain religious conversions.
In essence, even if Indian Muslims were to embrace the RSS/BJP’s proclaimed doctrine of Indianization, they would still be perceived as “alien” according to Savarkar’s philosophy.
Hence, just as a post-caste social order appears as a logical denouement for Hindutva, a heightened Hindu-Muslim conflict might also have been prognosticated by a discerning examination of Savarkarite philosophy.
This leads us to the central point that impelled the composition of this article – the paramount importance of engaging with, dissecting, and reimagining theories. Humans are theoretical beings. As “Homo-theoreticus”, our actions are consciously or unwittingly steered by overarching theories. For instance, Friedmanian neo-liberal policies guided the governance of leaders like Thatcher and Reagan, while Marxian philosophy inspired communist revolutions across Europe.
Similarly, Savarkarite Hindutva exerts a profound influence on contemporary BJP politics. Nevertheless, Savarkar’s prescription, albeit implicitly, to relegate Muslims to second-class citizens is a problematic proposition within democratic India for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Contemplating the BJP’s aspiration to engineer a recalibration of the Indian political milieu along the theoretical contours of Hindutva, the quandary lies in the delicate task of accommodating Muslim interests. This dilemma becomes apparent through the party’s contradictory stances, oscillating between advocating a “Sabka, Saath, Sabka Vikas” model of progress and habitual dog-whistle against the Muslim populace.
Within the present political dispensation, the proponents and adherents frequently underscore the conspicuous absence of empirical substantiation to effectively refute accusations of Islamophobia. They proffer empirical data to illustrate the equal distribution of benefits from PM Modi’s “new welfarism” among both the Muslim and Hindu populace. Notwithstanding the veracity of this claim, it tends to construe society through a singular lens of objective quantification. The natural sciences are amenable to such objectification, but the humanities rest upon the porous and nuanced edifice of human sentiment.
Fear, a particularly elusive emotion, eludes quantification, and it would be folly for any rational soul to deny the perceivable surge in apprehension coursing through the hearts and minds of the Indian Muslim populace.
As the BJP strives to supplant the entrenched Nehruvian paradigm, the articulation of an alternative form of secularism, therefore, assumes paramount significance. While championing the continuity of India’s civilizational legacy and its inherent secular ethos resonates, the intricate challenge lies in reconciling the ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy that forms the foundation of Hindutva’s ideological framework.
The envisioned Second Republic confronts the formidable task of engaging with the potent normative benchmarks enshrined in the Nehruvian doctrine, a challenge compounded by the BJP’s ignorance for the need of a new “inclusive” theory.
Thiruvalluvar, the ancient Tamil poet, eloquently declared, “Wisdom is to live in tune with the mode of the changing world.” The BJP, in the present context, necessitates a novel theoretical framework, a reimagining of Savarkarite philosophy that advocates for a political utility independent of the marginalization of Muslims. Instead of stifling academic freedoms, what Modi’s Hindutva ideology requires is the development of a new theoretical perspective, ideally originating from within the academic sphere.
[Photo by Prime Minister’s Office, India, via Wikimedia Commons]
Bishnu Rathi is pursuing M.A. in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.
Nimbus is pursuing M.A. in Political Science at the University of Delhi. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.