On 28 May 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, and others paid tributes to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who popularized the term Hindutva. Today exemplified by Modi Savarkar is loved by the Hindu right with centrists and Muslims,  Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, in India, not to mention Kashmir, having a different opinion.

On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was shot at point-blank range by Nathuram Godse, member of the Hindu Mahasabha and former member of the RSS because it seemed to him not political enough; the Mahasabha, a political party, was more congenial. As was shown by a letter written by Godse to Savarkar in 1938 and submitted to the trial court, Godse had long had a close relationship with Savarkar, whom he revered. “Since the time you were released from your internment at Ratnagiri,” he wrote, “a divine fire has kindled in the minds of those groups who profess that Hindustan is for the Hindus.” He speaks of using the Hindu Mahasabha (of which Savarkar was then President) to build a National Volunteer Army, drawing on the resources of the RSS, where Godse was then a leading local organizer. Savarkar’s picture was on the masthead of Godse’s newspaper, and the two cooperated increasingly closely, especially after Godse left RSS for the Hindu Mahasabha. Savarkar appears to have known about the existence of a plot to assassinate Gandhi, and some believe that he was the mastermind behind at least the unsuccessful attack on January 20: testimony from a witness includes the information that he said to the conspirators, “Be successful and return.” (Savarkar was ultimately acquitted of conspiracy because of insufficient evidence.) Godse asserts that he planned the later, successful attempt on his own.

There is no doubt, at any rate, about where Godse got his intellectual inspiration or about his reasons and goals. At his sentencing on November 8, 1948, Godse read along (book-length) statement of self-explanation, justifying his assassination for posterity. Although the statement was not permitted publication at the time, it gradually leaked out into the public. Translations into Indian languages began appearing, and in 1977 the English original was published by Godse’s brother Gopal under the polite title, May it Please Your Honour. A new edition, with a long epilogue by Gopal, was published in 1993 under the more precise title Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Today the statement is also widely available on the Internet.

Godse’s self-justification, like Savarkar’s Hindutva, sees recent events against the backdrop of centuries of “Muslim tyranny” in India, punctuated by the heroic resistance of Shivaji, the Hindu emperor who carried on a military campaign against the Moghul rulers in the eighteenth century, with brief success. Like Savarkar, he describes his goal as that of creating a strong, proud, India that can throw off the centuries of domination. On the contemporary scene, the two major thinkers who vie for the loyalty of Indians, as they chart their course for the future, seem to him to be Savarkar and Gandhi.

To Savarkar, Hindus were not merely a religious community, but a historical, ethnic, linguistic, and political group, a nation. Furthermore, this Hindu nation’s relations with non-Hindus in South Asia was most thoroughly informed not by Brahmanical thought but by Orientalism and fascism often conflated with the RSS.

Towards the end of his life, Savarkar was particularly noted for his detestation for Mahatma Gandhi and was one among those arrested for the assassination of Gandhi, though later he was acquitted. In redrawing the borders of India and scrapping the discriminatory Article 370, the Narendra Modi government has realized a long-cherished dream of Savarkar.

This initially started to unfolded when the nineteenth-century witnessed the rapid development of modern Hinduism. The Arya Samaj, for example, integrated the idea of a unified Hindu community, reflected Christian theology by laying greatest stress on a particular book from within the Brahmanical canon (Rigveda), raising it to the level of the Bible in Christianity, and only emphasized that book’s monotheistic elements. Various modern-style organizations, established and run largely by middle-class Hindus, were influential in this process. They contributed to the emergence of the idea of Hinduism as an objective phenomenon, comparable to other, similar phenomena. It is widely understood that such organizations, and their ideas about Hin­duism as an objective phenomenon, developed as a form of cultural resistance to colonial rule.

In earlier years, Savarkar (The Indian War of Independence 1857, Bombay: Phoenix. 1947) had written a significant Indian nationalist text about the 1857 rebellion against the British. He had also been transported for life to the penal colony of the Andaman Islands in 1910 for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate two British officials. In the classically heroic Indian nationalist context of this incarceration, Savarkar was to produce what was to become a seminal text of Hindu nationalism: Hindutva/Who is a Hindu? (1989). This short but rather verbose text presented the `Hindu race' as a strong, martial people, who had been struggling for a thousand years or more with various foreign invaders from the north and west.

Hindutva/Who is a Hindu was first published in 1923. In the early 1920s, both nationalist' mobilization and communal violence were intensifying. As the profile of communalism as a political issue expanded, a strain of militant secularism became increasingly prominent within the Congress-led nationalist movement. In this view, national liberation was characterized in the classic liberal democratic sense, namely through the creation of a nation-state governed by the rule of law, in which issues of culture and religion would be ushered into the private sphere.

The secular tendency never eroded the different approaches to the nationalism which sustained as a kind of hegemonic rhetoric. During the final years of British colonial rule in India, the predomi­nance of this rhetoric enhanced the sense of the difference between Congress nationalism and Hindu nationalism as represented by the Mahasabha and other organizations. In addition, since the rhetoric of secularism was developed in contradistinction to communalism, Congress politicians increasingly represented Hindu nationalist ideology as a form of com­munal ideology.

Hindu nationalism thus became situated as a communal ideology, in contrast to Congress nationalism, in a manner that marginalized the dialogue, the interaction, and blending of these areas of thought about Indian politics and culture. Hindu nationalism developed into a kind of trope, which acted to define or affirm the non-communal creden­tials of the INC, a position which was only emphasized by the traumas of partition and the assassination of Gandhi. This process has done much to obscure the embeddedness of Hindu nationalism in developing ideas about Indian culture and social relations among political elites. Recognizing the shapes of Hindu nationalism, then, means looking beyond the discourse of communalism and acknowledging the network of contexts in which key ideas emerged.

As noted above, Savarkar's text Hindutva/Who is a Hindu was to emerge as a significant articulation of Hindu nationalist thought. Other key texts have been the writings of Deendayal Upadhyaya and the work of M.S. Golwalkar, especially his two books Bunch of Thoughts (1966) and We, or Our Nationhood Defined (1944).2 Together, these sources provide us with insight into some component elements in Hindu nationalist thought, but one thing we should emphasize is this: they do not form a coherent body of work or the consciously progressive development of an ideological posi­tion. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the fact that although Savarkar is often described as the ideological father of Hindu nationalism and Hindutva/Who is a Hindu as the classic text of Hindu nationalism, one will not generally find this book in Sangh Parivarbookshops in India, nor will one find a reference to Savarkar on major Sangh websites.3 This is principal because Savarkar was never a member of the RSS, and therefore cannot, in that organization's version of history, be portrayed as too central to the development of Hindu nationalism. But it also reiterates the fractured quality of this set of ideas, its existence as a broad field of thought, interacting with other fields of thought, rather than as a clear ideological program. In this section, I want to unpack some of the themes that might help us to identify the parameters of this field of thought. In doing so, the issue of interaction will be emphasized; although it is hoped that acknowledging this interaction will help us to identify a distinctive profile for Hindu nationalist thought.


(i) Who is a Hindu? The formulas of nationhood

This question, which forms part of the title of Savarkar's 1923 work, is at the heart of ideas of Hindu nationalism. It is a question that may be related directly to those processes of objectification we have noted above associated with the development of Hinduism. Indeed, the difficulties experienced by elites in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in conceptualizing Hinduism as a religion, and the tensions that subsequently emerged, were highly influential in the development of major lines of Hindu nationalist thought. This is because these were, in the absence of any theological coherence, debates about the parameters of Hinduism as a social phenomenon. Where one drew the boundaries of Hinduism and how its shape was articulated, formed key underlying questions in the contest over whether and how the religion needed to be `reformed' or `regenerated'. Two broad patterns of response emerged: one which sought to articulate the idea of Hinduism through the restructuring of society, as exemplified by some elements within the Arya Samaj; and one which sought to articulate the idea of Hinduism through the consolidation of the existing structures of society, emphasizing the `organic' unity of the component parts.

Savarkar answers his own question by emphasizing and extending the latter response. Hindutva/Who is a Hindu? constructs a notion of Hindu nationality that is catholic, embracing a broad range of religious and cultural systems. This catholicity is characteristic of the spiritual, universalist approach to Hinduism and Hindu culture developed in the nineteenth century by figures such as Vivekananda. At the same time, however, Savarkar's notion works obsessively on the boundaries of this range, producing some formulaic models through which an individual or a group may be identified as Hindu or not. There is, for example, the widely recognized formula of pitribhum-punyabhum (fatherland-holy land) (Savarkar Hindutva/Who is a Hindu? Bombay: 1989: 111). Whoever can identify India as both may be considered as Hindu. In consonance with this formula, he develops the idea of rashtrayat=sanskriti (nation-race-culture), as components of Hinduness (Savarkar 1989: 116). Identification with the Hindu race and nation is encompassed by the recognition of pitribhum; whereas identification with culture is encompassed by the recognition of punyabhum. On this reckoning, Savarkar's key social exclusions are of Muslims and Christians, in that they locate their holy land, their cultural identity, outside India. This formulaic approach has proven to be remarkably resilient, turning up in later Hindu nationalist works, although not always attributed to Savarkar.

Golwalkar develops a similar approach in We, Or Our Nationhood Defined. He developed a formula based around what he terms the `famous five unities' (We or Our Nation Defined, Nagpur: Bharat Prakashan 1944: 18) of territory, race, religion, culture and language. These may be related to the Savarkian formula of pitribhum (territory, race) - punyabhum (religion, culture, language), and they follow the same pattern of emphasizing a broad, catholic approach to cultural and religious iden­tity while identifying exclusions in a quite uncompromising manner. Golwalkar also identifies Muslims and Christians as key exclusions, although he moves on to encompass communists as anti-national or an `internal threat' (Golwalkar Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore: Vikram Prakashan 1966: 187ff.). This reflects a developing concern, in the immediate pre- and post-Independence era, with the strength of the left in Indian politics.

The quality of inclusion and exclusion formulas identifying Hinduness forms the basis for a consistent area of Hindu nationalist action: resisting conversion. The critical exclusions exemplified in the pitribhumpunyabhum formula mean that conversion to Islam or Christianity amounts to a process of 'de-nationalization'. Indeed, this term was used by the RSS organiser, Kishore Kant, to describe the activities of Christian missionaries in northeastern states during the 1990s. At the same time, there has always been recognition of the vulnerability of certain groups to the `threat' of conversion. These are principally low caste and tribal groups, those who exist on the fuzzy margins of Hinduness - in a way that Savarkar would have regarded as anathema - and who suffer oppression precisely because of their status within Hindu society.

The success of conversion campaigns among low caste or tribal groups, then, appears both as an indication of the fragility of Hindu society, and confirmation of fears about the erosion of Hindu identity. As such, resisting conversion has always been a key concern of Hindu nationalism because it operates as a means of affirming and consolidating the idea of a broad notion of Hindu identity, on the basis of the pitribhum-punyabhum and other associated formulas.


(ii) Hinduness - a question of culture

In a rather paradoxical fashion, we can see that as well as rationalizing exclusion, the formulaic approach is designed to encompass a broad range of traditions, including such historically resistant traditions as Buddhism and Jainism. Savarkar is able to do this because he begins with the idea that Hinduness - or Hindutva as he coins it - is not so much a reli­gious as a cultural signifier, based on an identified continuity of blood in the Hindu `race'. `Hinduism,' he says, `is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva'. Through this distinction, Savarkar is able to go on to construct a grand, catholic vision of Hindu identity as diverse, yet unthreatened by that diversity. The diversity itself is perceived as a characteristic of Hindu culture.

As a model of cultural development, we can relate this idea to some classic accounts of Indian syncretism and tolerance, such as Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India. Nehru notes that `the mind of India' has been occupied for millennia by `some kind of a dream of unity'. Within this idea of unity, he states that `the widest tolerance of belief and custom was practiced and every variety acknowledged and even encouraged'. Of course, Nehru is insistent on embracing Muslim and Christian communities within this model, but the premise of `unity in diversity' is similar to that of Savarkar. The latter's ideas about Hindu culture, then, to a certain extent reflect a broader discourse about the Indian nation.

Interestingly, Golwalkar almost reverses Savarkar's formulation of the relationship between Hinduism and Hinduness. He claims that culture is `but a product of our all-comprehensive Religion, a part of its body and not distinguishable from it'. This difference is partly explained by the use of contrasting conceptions of religion. Savarkar works with a narrow definition of religion, based on the idea of individual commitment and spiritual fulfillment. Golwalkar works with a different kind of concept altogether, a broad, all-encompassing concept, which provides a kind of framework for belief, culture, and social organization. Indeed, Golwalkar criticizes the narrow conception of religion in We or Our Nationhood Defined. It is possible that this critique is aimed at Savarkar, the `secular Hindu'; certainly, there is a reverse echo of Savarkar's statement quoted above when Golwalkar states that the individual spiritual fulfillment view is `but a fractional part of Religion'.

Golwalkar's conception of religion is rather as a broad framework, which `by regulating society in all its functions, makes room for all individual idiosyncrasies, and provides suitable ways and means for all sorts of mental frames to adapt and evolve'. Golwalkar, then, is equally able to encompass diversity in the tradition, by broadening the idea of religion in the context of India and articulating it as `the elastic frame­work of our dharma'. It is this very elasticity, he goes on, which operates to `protect and maintain the integrity of our people', as various sects had emerged to counter threats to the framework; Sikhism, for example, `came into being to contain the spread of Islam in Punjab'. This is highly reminiscent of Savarkar's idea of diversity as a defining feature of Hindu culture.

Ultimately, both Savarkar and Golwalkar produce approaches that attempt to resolve the threat posed by doctrinal diversity and fragmentation within Hindu identity by reference to `framework' ideas, which endorse this diversity as archetypal. This approach, following Savarkar's articulation, has emerged in contemporary Hindu nationalism as a valorization of Hindu culture; indeed, despite the tension noted between Savarkar and the Sangh Parivar, the idea of Hindutva has been fully adopted and is used freely in Sangh literature (although again, it is rarely attributed to Savarkar).

What, though, characterizes this framework of Hindu culture or Hinduism. Both Savarkar and Golwalkar locate the idea of Hinduness by reference to history. Even taking into account its diversity, Hinduness is rooted in Aryan civilization and the establishment of the Vedic tradition. According to Savarkar, there was a gradual expansion of Aryan influence, leading eventually to the religious, cultural, and political unification of the subcontinent under Lord Ram.

These then followed periods of relative Hindu and Buddhist ascendancy, which in turn were superseded by the `human Sahara' of Muslim incursion, the beginning of a long period of struggle to maintain Hindu identity in the face of `foreign invasion'. This interpretation of history was based on some familiar elements of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Hindu worldviews. The idea of the Vedic civilization of the Aryans was used as a reference point by a whole host of movements and individuals involved in conceptualizing Indian religion and society (e.g. Dayananda, Jotiba Phule); Ram Rajya also had a distinctive resonance as indicative of perfect governance and harmonious society (e.g. Gandhi). And the idea of `Muslim' rule creating a decisive break in Indian history was most familiar and had been institutionalized in James Mill's influential early nineteenth-century History of British India (1817). There is nothing distinctive, then, in the use of these ideas to characterize the quality of Hinduness. They serve again to emphasize the embeddedness of the Hindu nationalist approach in developing ideas about Indian culture during the first half of the twen­tieth century.

This version of history is nevertheless used as the basis for the development of some further key elements of Hinduness as Indian culture. Perhaps most significant is the valorization of the geography of India.' This key feature is clearly indicated by the emphasis on the land in Savarkar's pitribhum-punyabhum formula. He writes:

Yes, this Bharat bhumi, this land of ours that stretches from Sindhu to Sindhu is our Punyabhumi, for it was in this land that the Founders of our faith and the seers to whom `Veda' the Knowledge was revealed, from Vaidik seers to Dayananda, from Jina to Mahavir, from Buddha to Nagasen, from Nanak to Govind, from Banda to Basava, from Chakradhar to Chaitanya, from Ramdas to Rammohun, our Gurus and Godmen were born and bred. The very dust of its paths echoes the footfalls of our Prophets and Gurus.

Here, Savarkar articulates archetypal diversity as indicative of Hinduness through the land itself - the dust of its paths is representative of Hindu culture. Golwalkar, who delineates Bharat as `a land with divinity ingrained in every speck of its dust ... the holiest of the holy, the center of our utmost devotion', reiterates this kind of reverential approach. Again, this reverence is present in a broader discourse on the Indian nation during this period. Varshney has used the example of Jawaharlal Nehru's will, in which he expresses a desire for some of his ashes to be thrown into the Ganga, because that river has been `a symbol of India's age-long culture and civilization, ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga' (Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India, New Haven: Yale University Press. 2002: 63).

Varshney makes a distinction between Nehru's view of the river, and that encompassed by Hindu nationalism, on the basis that Nehru's vision of sacred geography was `metaphorical', rather than `literal'. The quality of this distinction is not clear, particularly since he goes on to say that the `emotions and attachment generated by the geography were equally intense'. Rather than emphasizing difference, we can see here again the way in which Hindu nationalist thought has emerged within a broader complex of ideas about the emerging nation, and that the idea of polarization between these ideas is apparently untenable.

One further aspect of Hinduness as Indian culture needs emphasizing at this point. This is the focus on Ram and Sita, the heroes of the Ramayana, as archetypal Indians. There has been a fair amount of work in recent years on the developing ways in which these figures have been represented in art, film, and other media. The emphasis of this work has been on the representation of Ram as a martial hero, defending the honor of Hinduism with the aid of a mighty bow. Sita has operated increasingly as the site of that defense, a meek and pure individual who needs protection from violation (Basu `Feminism inverted: the gender imagery and real women of Hindu nationalism', in T. Sarkar and U. Butalia (eds) Women and the Hindu Right: A Colection of Essays, New Delhi: Kali for Women1995: 158-80.). In the context of Hindutva, these figures are national, rather than religious. Hence, the desire in recent times to build a temple at the proclaimed `birthplace' of Ram in Ayodhya is perceived as a national project, and resistance to this project is interpreted as anti-national, regardless of your religious persuasion.

This valorisation of Ram and Sita is indicative of a wider point on the idea of Hinduness or Hindutva. It denotes a set of ideas that is consciously articulated as cultural, rather than religious, and yet there is constant slippage into what we might perceive as more clearly religious territory. On the one hand, this appears to be a reflection of slippage in the original pitribhumi-punyabhumi formulation, which claims to include on the basis of cultural space, but clearly excludes on the basis of religious identity. On the other hand, it is also a reflection of the problematic identification of Hindu nationalism as religious nationalism, if religion is defined as a discrete category, in the manner critiqued by Golwalkar as noted above. To an extent, this is a set of ideas that exists in broader discursive fields than those signified by such a category.


(iii) Sangathan -ordering society

Nothing demonstrates this latter point more clearly than what has emerged as the most influential organization propagating Hindu nationalism during the twentieth century: the RSS. As is well documented, the Sangh emerged in the mid-1920s with specific cultural objectives. It was established in Nagpur in Central Provinces, a city with a minimal Muslim minority, and its first formal public action was at the Ram Navami festival at nearby Ramtek. The Sangh volunteers, led by the founder of the organization KB. Hedgewar, engaged in a form of crowd control, enforcing queues, providing drinking water, and keeping an eye on the commercial activity at the festival, among other tasks.

This first public action is interesting because it exemplifies two significant features of Hindu nationalist thought. First, as we have just noted, Ram was an important cultural symbol of the nascent Hindu nation. There was an intervention in a festival dedicated to Ram. However, the Sangh was apparently not interested in the form of religious practice articulated at the mela (festival); rather, it pursued the objective of establishing a sense of order within this environment. Not only does this reiterate the idea of the focus on Ram as a cultural, rather than an explicitly religious symbol, it also points us towards the second significant feature: the estab­lishment of a sense of order, discipline, and organization in Hindu social and cultural relations. This idea, expressed in Hindi as sangathan, has emerged as a fundamental Hindu nationalist concern.

The specific trajectory of this concern with discipline and organization. Sangathan is significant because it is directed at the organization of society. A Hindu nationalist vision of the Hindu nation is intim­ately bound up with the progressive realization of a society which operates harmoniously, in an integrated fashion. Most generally, this vision has been articulated as a kind of organicist approach: society operates like a body, each component part having its own valuable function. Golwalkar comments:

All the organs, though apparently of diverse forms, work for the welfare of the body and thus subscribe to its strength and growth. Likewise is the case with society. An evolved society, for the proper functioning of various duties, develops a multitude of diverse functional groups. Our old social order laid down a specific duty for each group and guided all the individuals and groups in their natural line of evolution just as the intellect directs the activities of the innumerable parts of the body.

The ideal Hindu, then, knows his place in this organism. Fulfilling one's function in the organism, in a disciplined and orderly manner, is each individual's dharmic duty. Members of Sangh organization, to a certain extent the swayamsevaks (volunteers), but more specifically the pracharaks (full-time workers) - act both as a vanguard working to bring this society into being, and as examples of how to conduct oneself in accordance with dharma. In fact, the Sangh itself has been described as a model for Hindu society; the RSS, for example, see the Sanghas not an organization in society, but of society.

Such a vision, of course, entails addressing the issue of caste, and Hindu nationalism is rather ambivalent on this issue. At times, a fullfledged defense of the caste system has been articulated; at others, a `return' to varnashrama dharma is advocated; at others, the Sangh's vision is perceived as the eradication of caste altogether. A consistent element in this position, however, is a non-confrontational approach to established caste structures. Any transformation of caste structure is perceived as occurring through `organic' development, rather than as requiring radical change. This approach reflects the development of Hindu nationalist thought in high caste, middle-class social groups, and explains the strong antipathy to any forms of independent low caste assertion (Zavos Conversion and the assertive margins: an analysis of Hindu nationalist discourse and the recent attacks on Indian Christians', South Asia, 24(2):73-89.2001).

This refers us back, of course, to the concerns noted earlier over the shape of Hinduness in the modern world. The organization of society emerges as a key means of articulating this shape. As an institution, the RSS has consistently focused on this objective and rationalized its actions in relation to it. Indeed, one way of understanding the Sangh Parivar is as a project to establish a focused presence within the various spaces of society, with the objective of demonstrating the Sangh's vision of organisation in microcosm and in relation to specific issues. Politics and the state may be regarded as one of the identified spaces.

(iv) Integral humanism - the politics of social order

The argument that politics must be seen as a component space within the Hindu nationalist conception of society is exemplified by the idea of integral humanism. This term enjoys a prominent profile in the BJP's main website (along with the notion of Hindutva), and it refers to a set of ideas developed in lie 1950s and 1960s by Deendayal Upadhyaya.6

Upadhyaya was an RSS pracharak who had been influential in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh since it was established in 1951 as the Sangh Parivar's first venture into the world of post-Independence politics. Integral humanism was fully articulated as a political program in 1965. In a series of lectures, Upadhyaya sought to pitch this program into what he perceived as a sea of cynicism and opportunism in politics. `Parties and politicians have neither principles nor aims nor a standard code of conduct,' he opined. In particular, he pointed to Congress as lacking any kind of ideological coherence. `If there can be a magic box which contains a cobra and a mongoose,' he continues, `it is Congress'.

The set of ideas which he went on to develop are based around a series of key themes. First, the need to articulate specifically Indian answers to modern problems (through, for example, promoting swadeshi and small scale industry); second, the need for politics to be practiced in consonance with the chiti (specific essence) of the Hindu nation; and lastly, the need to sustain the `natural' balance between the individual and different institutions in society - institutions like the family, caste and the state, by acting in accordance with principles of dharma. This set of themes has been interpreted as the incorporation of Gandhian idioms into Hindu nationalist politics, in order to enhance the potential for forging alliances with other anti-Congress forces, after twenty years of total domination of the polity by that party. Integral humanism, then, maybe interpreted as a means of increasing the possibilities of power. As it so happens, new possibilities were created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, particularly in association with the Gandhian political leader, J.P. Narayan. The involvement of Hindu nationalist forces in Narayan's anti-Indira agitations undoubtedly gave the Jana Sangh the credibility to take a share in power in the post-Emergency Janata Party coalition government. It is quite possible, then, to view this key element of Hindu nationalist ideology in terms of electoral strategy, a resolve to bid for power in the late 1960s. A similar interpretation of the VHP strategy around the issue of the Babri Masjid in the 1980s is also well established (Jaffrelot The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, 1925 to the 1990s: Strategies of Identity-Building, Implantation and Mobilisation (with Special Reference to Central India), London: Hurst & Company. 1996). In these interpretations, Hindu nationalism as an ideology is framed to support the primary interest of an organization or set of organizations in state power.

The trajectories of Hindu nationalist thought discussed so far in this chapter, however, must lead us to consider a different kind of interpretation in relation to integral humanism. In particular, Upadhyaya's ideas appear to follow the logic of the emphasis on the organization of society as a principal objective. This may be seen in the key role he gave to the concept of dharma (duty) in his lectures. Dharma, that is, in the same sense noted in relation to the Hindu nationalist vision of society: a harmonious, integrated system in which each individual and group has a specific function or duty. Although Upadhyaya presents dharma as part of an integrated regulation of human activity based on purushartha (the four universal objectives of humanity), in his discussion he demonstrates this integration by referring each objective (and in particular the `worldly', political objectives of artha (gain) and kama (pleasure) to dharma. 'Dharma,' he says, `defines a set of rules to regulate the social activity, Artha and Kama, so as to progress in an integral and harmonious way, and attain not only Kama and Artha but also Moksha eventually . Without reference to dharma, then, other objectives may not be reached.

The invocation of dharma indicates a further articulation of the idea of order or organization of society as central to a nationalist world­view. Upadhyaya interprets dharma as a kind of dynamic network of inter­related regulations by which life should be led. It is these regulations that govern social relations. Upadhyaya seeks authority from the Mahabharata to argue that in the kritayuga (the first of the four eras of the world), `there was no state or king. Society was sustained and protected mutually by practicing dharma'. In subsequent yugas (epochs), he explains, `disorganization came into existence', and as a result, the state was introduced as an additional form of regulation, but the state was only ever legitimate if it operated in accordance with dharma. The primacy of society, then, is clear here, and the state exists as an institution - `an important one, but not above all other',  which is framed and governed by this idea.

This approach locates integral humanism within the context of developing Hindu nationalist ideas-focused primarily on the transformation of society, rather than viewing it as an instrumentalist appropriation of Gandhian idioms designed to increase the possibility of power. There is cer­tainly evidence of the appropriation of Gandhian idioms, if not ideas, in Upadhyaya's lectures, but what this demonstrates primarily is interaction in ideas about the development of society. I have argued elsewhere that Gandhian idioms, ideas, and strategies were quite significant in the articu­lation of Hindu nationalism in the 1920s. This significance was not because of instrumentalist appropriation, or indeed because Gandhi was a surrogate Hindu nationalist. Rather, Gandhian ideas and Hindu nationalist ideas developed in the same discursive spaces, drawing on a similar range of ideas about and experiences of history, culture, and political mobilization.

Whether in the 1920s or the 1950s, the dialogue between Gandhian and Hindu nationalist ideas has to be viewed as a straightforward element of the development of ideological forms. These are, after all, perspectives on the world that exist primarily in what Stuart Hall has called the `mental frameworks' of people, both individually and in groups. These individuals and groups exist in time and space, and they for­mulate their `mental frameworks' in accordance with the `languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought and systems of representation' which are available to them. In this context, the blending of ideological forms, the borrowing of idioms and symbols, the adaptation of existing ideas has to be perceived as the way in which meaning is constructed.

The structure of Indian politics, with its sharp division between the secular and the communal, does not help us to recognize this point.


Recognizing the shapes of Hindu nationalism

A key conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that Hindu nationalist ideas about identity, culture, and politics draw on and to some extent reflect the construction of ideas about the Indian nation and its cultural heritage in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nevertheless, I have suggested that the use of formulas and explicit religious symbols to draw the boundaries of national identity may be construed as distinctive. Two lines of thought, the obsessive concern with conversion and the aggressive asser­tion of ownership over sites projected as sacred - are indicative of this distinctiveness.

Yet even here, there is a degree of embeddedness in broader fields of thought. Perhaps the clearest post-independence example of this point is the restoration of the Somnath temple in 1947/8.

Conversion issues also indicate a broader reach for ideas associated with Hindu nationalism than the formal organizations of the Sangh Parivar. The conversion of some Dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram in 1981 is a good example of this, in that the concerns expressed about this event were far broader than those generated by the Sangh. Jaffrelot notes that `leading articles in newspapers not known for their support of Hindu nationalism suggested that the converts had been paid sums of money', and that the whole process had been sponsored by rich Arab nations inspired by pan-Islamism. This view was also taken by certain sections of the INC Government, and the Indian Express published a poll revealing that as many as 78 percents of north Indian urban Hindus wanted the government to ban conversions in the wake of Meenakshipuram. Such figures, of course, need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but these responses do indicate again a degree of embeddedness of some key ideas associated with Hindu nationalism in Indian political life. The shapes of Hindu nationalism, in this sense, are not The shapes of Hindu nationalism necessarily constrained by the limits of the Sang-Parivar and other overtly Hindu nationalist organizations.

A further conclusion concerns the focus on society rather than the state, through the realization of correct dharma. Formal politics and the control of the state is significant, but it needs to be placed within the context of this broader focus, which conceptualizes society as a range of segmented areas and `functional groups', as Golwalkar would have it. This point is graphically demonstrated by the network of organizations that constitute the Sangh Parivar. These organizations focus on a variety of issues, from tribal welfare to education to labor relations, and this is an expanding network across areas of social and cultural life.

The RSS, the `parent organization' - maintains a loose, rather infor­mal sense of control over the Sangh network. The current sarsanghchalak (leader) of the RSS, KS. Sudarshan, explained the relationship in a recent interview. `For the overall development of society', full-time RSS workers are encouraged to enter `different fields according to their abilities'. Their general objective is common: `to try to find solutions to prob­lems in those assigned areas, under the Hindutva ideology'. Although the organizations are independent, Sudarshan continues, the RSS maintains a guiding relationship with its workers, who remain swayamsevaks (RSS cadre). It is well known, for example, that the Prime Minister and his deputy during the NDA's tenure, A.B. Vajpayee and L.K Advani, have remained as swayamsevaks. Other key figures in the BJP, for example, Gopinath Munde and Murli Manohar Joshi, have also followed this path. Key leaders in the VHP, such as the international secretary, Ashok Singhal, are also swayamsevaks, as are other key Sangh figures such as the leader of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM, an affiliate of the RSS set up in 1992 to oppose economic liberalization), Dattopant Thengadi.

Joshi and Singhal demonstrate the route taken by ambitious swayamsevaks. Joshi joined the RSS, at the age of 10, in 1944. While pursuing academic studies, which culminated in a PhD in Spectroscopy from Allahabad University, he became increasingly involved in the Sangh's student organization, the ABVP, achieving the status of General Secretary of this organization in the early 1950s. In 1957, he joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and enjoyed increasing prominence in the Uttar Pradesh hierarchy of this organization; before becoming General Secretary of the BJP in the 1980s, President in the early 1990s, and a key cabinet minister in Vajpayee's admin­istration, first as Home Minister, then taking charge of three ministries: Human Resources Development (including education), Science and Technology and Ocean Development. It is in the HRD ministry where he has really made his mark, instigating policy initiatives in the education sector, which demonstrate the Sangh's desire to shape national consciousness.

Singhal also hails from Uttar Pradesh, having been born in Allahabad in 1927. He also pursued a technical education, achieving a BSc from Benares Hindu University in Metallurgical Engineering. He joined the RSS as a swayamsevak, before becoming a pracharak (full-time worker), and eventually being assigned to the VHP in 1980. At this dynamic period of the organization's history, Singhal rose quickly to become its general secretary in 1986. Singhal later indicated the role the RSS had to play in the development of different areas of social life by calling them `ascetics in the real sense'. He identified `service' as `the key word of our culture, and Sangh's swayamsevaks are symbols of service. Today in all spheres of activity such workers are needed' (cited in Katju Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Indian Politics, Hyderabad: Orient Longman. 2003: 68).

The complexity of the Sangh network has increased over time, as new institutional layers are created. For example, the VHP established the Bajrang Dal, initially as a sort of youth wing. Over time, the Bajrang Dal has developed into a kind of confrontational front for the VHP, providing foot soldiers in key campaigns such as that over the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The Bajrang Dal also operates as a continuous activist presence in local situations, providing its own version of 'socio-religious policing' to guard the honor of local Hindu girls, protect local cattle and local temples, and so on (Katju Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Indian Politics, Hyderabad: Orient Longman. 2003: 52). Likewise, the SJM is another organization which has gone on to develop more focused organizations, such as the Centre for Bharatiya Marketing and Development and the Swadeshi Vichar Kendra.'

Given these developing, dynamic networks, it is not surprising that the Sangh has developed a diversity of approaches to the idea of `finding solu­tions to problems' using 'Hindutva ideology'. Nothing has brought this diversity into focus more than the period of NDA rule. The BJP's perceived inability to find the kind of solutions demanded by different Sangh organizations has induced sharp criticism. Ashok Singhal, for example, commented in 2003 that 'Atal and Advani have backstabbed the VHP' because of the government's reticence over temple construction in Ayodhya.

The arguments presented here, however, suggest that any assessment of the influence of Hindu nationalism in political terms needs to recognize that this is a set of ideas that is located in a much broader space than that represented by the BJP. Because they overlap and blend with other key discourses on Indian society, culture, and identity, these are ideas that are manifested in a wide range of political actions and articulations. In addition, the focus identified here on social relations and social devel­opment demands a broader understanding of what constitutes politics. For example, in tribal areas of states such as Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, the Sangh affiliate Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad has been increasingly active, reshaping tribal religious practices within a Hindu framework. In the arena of education, the Sangh has a network of schools, many run by the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan.

Thus the political impact of Hindu nationalism really needs to be measured in terms of its continu­ing activism in such areas, where politics is manifested not in terms of formal state institutions, but as a contest for power in a network of localized institutions and practices (Zavos et al. `Deconstructing the nation: politics and cultural mobilization in India', in J. Zavos, A. Wyatt and V. Hewitt (eds) Politics of Cultural Mobilization in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 1-16. 2004: 3).

An approach that focuses on the political impact of organizations such as Vidya Bharati can also help us to locate Hindu nationalism in the context of government. It is no coincidence that one of the most significant areas of policy development during the NDA's tenure has been in the area of education. From the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to the Indian Council for Historical Research, Hindu nationalist approaches have been vigorously promoted; further reshaping ideas about Indian history and society in a wide range of schools, colleges and universities.9 In order to recognize Hindu nationalism as a feature of the NDA Government, then, we need to look particularly at those policy areas, such as education, which impact on the structure and development of social relations.

Hindu nationalism continues to be an influential force in the development of worldviews in India, through the interaction and overlap of ideas as highlighted above, and the vigorous, diversifying development of Sangh activities through its affiliate organizations. In the final analysis, the shapes of Hindu nationalism cannot really be contained in the arena of formal politics. Recognizing the impact of Hindu nationalism means looking beyond this arena, beyond the state and the immediate problems posed by coalition politics, to the ways in which its key ideas resonate in the broad spaces of Indian social and cultural life.


1 See, for example, The Hindu 'BJP preparing to return to Hindutva agenda?', The Hindu, 24 June 2002.

2 In more recent years, the ideas extant in these texts have been developed by ideologues such as Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup, H.V. Seshadri, and P. Parameswaran, in a succession of cheaply produced pamphlets and larger works distributed through the network of the Sangh Parivar.

3 This is largely the case, even though there have been successive disputes between the BJP and its opponents over Savarkar's status as a national figure and a freedom fighter.

4 See VC Jaffrelot From Indian territory to Hindu Bhoomi: the ethnicisation of nation-state mapping in India', in J. Zavos, A. Wyatt and V. Hewitt (eds) Politics of Cultural Mobilization in India, New Delhi, Oxford University Press. 2004: 197-215.

5 Trans. Order of society in accordance with the duties of the four classes and the four stages of life.

6 See www.bjp.org/philo.htm.


For updates click homepage here