A response to the politics of Hindu nationalism
The Conversation is running a series on the background of elections in India. Episode 2 of the podcast is about the politics of Hindu nationalism. Like the Podcast 1, the podcast 2 lacks depth. In the name of academic rigour and journalistic flair, The Conversation has been pushing anti-Hindu, anti-Modi and anti- BJP/RSS narrative for some years if one goes through the articles it has published on these issues. When a rebuttal is sent The Conversation refuses to publish it. Consequently, for readers not serious about the details, the headline tells the story. Interestingly, The Conversation avoids getting alternative voices on board as can be seen from the podcast in question. It does provide a facility to write in the comments box though and I have offered comment for the podcast 1 questioning the narrative. However, comments box has limitations. A detailed rebuttal with suitable references is hard. To overcome that limitation, I have penned my thoughts here.
I examine the various claims made in the podcast 2.
“India’s 2014 elections, much was made of its Hindu nationalist agenda’.
The BJP didn’t come to power in 2014 on the plank of Hindu nationalist agenda. This narrative has been pushed by India’s left liberal lobby and their overseas eco-system, over the years. It helps push under the carpet, the Congress party’s incompetent and corrupt regime marred by scams, mis-governance and policy paralysis. In the entire election campaign, Prime Minister Modi stressed only development and good governance. Voters trusted Modi given the leadership that he provided in the State of Gujarat from 2002-2014. Gujarat saw all-round development, good governance and communal riot-free tenure of 12 long years (barring the 2002 riots). The left-backed congress party’s every attempt to discredit Modi failed. Court cases were filed against him which were dismissed by the Supreme Court – the highest court in India. Consequently, a canard was spread that Modi won on the plank of Hindu fundamentalism. A typical Hindu, by very nature is inclusive and accepts all religions because the central theme of Hinduism is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is a big family). Consequently, the rhetoric of Hindu nationalism was not going to give BJP a majority. It was tried earlier by Advani – a hawkish BJP leader in the post-Ayodhya years but it failed. Modi was shrewd enough to understand this and by demonstrating good governance and development in his 12-year tenure gave confidence to voters that here is a leader who walks the talk.
“Some commentators now worry that the secular nature of Indian democracy is being eroded”:
That Modi was a volunteer of the RSS– a Hindu cultural organisation – doesn’t ipso facto mean that secularism is eroded. The left-backed congress party’s brand of secularism was appeasement of minority famously captured by the Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh’s (MMS) statement ‘Muslims have the first right over nations resources” or Rahul Gandhi’s recent utterance, shrouded in controversy, that the Congress Party is a party of Muslims. Church leaders routinely exhort Christians to vote against the BJP and Sonia Gandhi meets the Shashi Imam to plead for Muslim votes. The extreme left (Maoist) ruled behind the curtain through the National Advisory Council Chaired by Sonia Gandhi which exercised an unconstitutional authority over the MMS government. The disdain for the government was famously orchestrated by Rahul Gandhi (Nehru dynasty scion) who tore in full public view a decision made by the cabinet of MMS Government. Yet the podcast 2 commentators consider that the ‘secular brand of democracy’ is eroded now under Modi without offering a rationale for the comment.
Let us examine in detail the podcast2:
Shalini Sharma: Christians and Muslims do not constitute Hindus and are thus outside of Hindutva.
Not sure where does Shalini gets this version of Hindutva from. It is not the stated position of the Sangh Parivar. The RSS and VHP do feel concerned, for example, about the missionary activity in North Eastern states like Nagaland. The first Naga convert was baptised in 1851 (Murry, n.d.) and as per 2011 census 88% of Nagaland population is now converted to Christianity. They are now demanding a separate flag and a separate constitution. Such ‘breaking India’ forces as Rajiv Malhotra calls them, have naturally raised high concerns among the Sangh Parivar which stands for the unity of the country. When Hindu population of Australia reached 2.1% alarm bells were sounded by the Australian media. But when the Sangh Parivar points to rapid rise of Christian conversions in India, it is frowned up on by the Western trained Indian academics (Rajiv Malhotra describes them as Sepoy – the faithful servants of the British empire in India). The story is no different about Islam. “Tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims poured into the streets of the Valley, shouting ’death to India’ and death to Kafirs’ reports India Today about the by-force exodus of anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus.
The need for Hindus to organise arose in the early 20th century when Hindus were ‘alarmed at the entry of Muslim ulema into politics and the talk of holy wars and the pan-Islamic aims of some leaders, were convinced that they had to create an effective organisational mechanism if they were to contain a revived and aggressive Islam’ (Anderson and Damle, 1987:28). However, the context in which the Sangh Parivar expressed the need to organise Hindus is easily forgotten by the left liberal to demean the Sangh Parivar. Interestingly, the same yardstick is not applied to Christianity and Islam by this lobby. Golwalkar (n.d:9), one of the RSS ideologue, wrote: “The Muslims, Christians and Jews etc., have perfect upasana swatantrya, freedom of worship so long as they do not seek to destroy or undermine the faith and symbolism of the national society’. Yet some scholars (?) push a set narrative to conveniently hide the context and what the Sangh Parivar really stands for. A recent incidence would help clarify why the Hindus feel besieged. They were not allowed, for example, to vote in West Bengal (WB) in recent elections, the WB government restricting Durga visarjan Moharrum and the congress party labelling ‘Hindu terror’ to malign an ancient culture. Yet the international eco-system of left liberal conveniently ignores this.
Roy: “At the centre of the ideas of Hindutva, that have influenced the politics of the BJP and its affiliates, is the idea that India is a country for the Hindus, at the exclusion of others”.
Let us consider Roy’s claim by examining three prominent organisations of the ‘Sangh Parivar’.
- BJP: The constitution of the BJP is available online. Nowhere in the constitution one finds BJP proclaiming it is a country for the Hindus at the exclusion of others. Please read Article II, III and IV of the constitution which detail the objectives, basic philosophy and commitments respectively.
- RSS: The vision and mission statement of the RSS available online does mention about ‘nourishment of Hindu culture’ and ‘organisation of Hindu society’. But where does it mention that India is ONLY for the Hindus to the exclusion of others? It does talk about preservation of Hindu culture but then the Hindu culture is by its very nature inclusive unlike Christianity and Islam which are exclusivist religions and hence believe in ‘us’ verses ‘them’ and so engage in mass scale religious conversion. Similar is the case with the Communist. Those who don’t follow their ideology (dictatorship of the proletariat) are branded capitalist and exterminated. A common thread among the three appears to be the hate and elimination of those who don’t conform to their world view. Hindu culture on the other hand is most inclusive of all cultures and doesn’t require that non-Hindus must convert to Hinduism. Buddha and Mahavira were rebels against Hinduism yet even in 500 BCE no one chopped their heads off – a phenomena that was rampant in Islam and Christianity. The Hindu Rashtra concept of the RSS is not exclusivist since the Hindu culture is not an exclusivist paradigm. Golwalkar (n.d: 115) notes “there are some who imagine that the concept of Hindu Nation is a challenge to the very existence of the Muslim and the Christian co-citizens, and they will be thrown out and exterminated. Nothing could be more absurd or detrimental to our national sentiment. It is insult to our great and all-embracing cultural heritage.”
- VHP (http://vhp.org/): The organisation itself is formed to organise Hindus for the protection of Hindu values, beliefs and sacred tradition given the onslaught by Christianity and Islam through religious conversions and the Communist ideology which attacks Hinduism but spares Christianity and Islam – not only in India but globally. though the Communist Manifesto declares ‘all existing religions superfluous and brings about their disappearance’. One rarely finds the Indian left liberal lobby or their overseas counterparts, castigating non-Hindu religions. Why this selectivity? Interestingly, they come out in the defence of Islam under the garb of tackling ‘islamophobia’.
Bligh notes “And Hedgewar was influenced by the idea of Hindutva and Hindu nationalism – and by the rise of fascism in Italy”.
Branding Sangh as a fascist organisation was a canard spread by the socialist when Dr Hedgewar was visiting Benaras and this continues even today. Yechuri, the CPM General Secretary cites from Golwalkar’s book published in 1939 about BJP’s ideological proximity to the Third Reich. However, Yechuri doesn’t tell us that in initial years, before the full gamut of Hitler’s activities was known to the world, he fascinated many world leaders. In the 1930s, Gandhi, for example, held the view that Hitler was not as bad as the world portrays him to be. Yechuri also hides from us the fact that in the same chapter where Golwalkar cites Germany, he discusses USSR, Czech Republic and Britain. He notes that the British King must be a Protestant Christian. He is writing about national identity and what lessons India can learn from each of these. Learning about them is not supporting them. Citing Golwalkar out of context is understandable since Yechuri is a political leader. But is it appropriate for academics? Interestingly, there is a close link between the Church and the State in England even today, but no one describes it as Christian fundamentalism. Such a link between religion and the State doesn’t exist in India today nor it did, for example, in 1336 in Vijaynagara Kingdom (a Hindu Kingdom) ‘which was without exception tolerant of all religions… there is no mention in any of the Muslim, Jewish or Christian records of the desecration or demolition of a single place of worship..’ (SarDesai, 2008:151).
Shalini claims that the RSS was ‘very much a military movement’.
In the pre- WWII period Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim paramilitary groups were established. ‘RSS informants admit that much of this growth in north India was due to a growing Hindu fear of Muslim paramilitary movements, particularly the Khaksars (Anderson and Damle (1987:38). They further note ‘On 29 April 1943 Golwalkar distributed a circular to senior RSS figures, announcing the termination of the RSS military department’ (Anderson and Damle (1987:44) to remain within the law. At present, the practice of wearing uniform and drills at best makes it akin to ‘boy scouts’ and it has been so in the last 76-years after the circular. But the words ‘military movement’ help the left liberal whip the RSS.
Roy also claims that one of the key Hindutva ideologues whom he later identifies as Dr Hedgewar, says ‘that Muslims, Christians, and communists cannot in fact be Indian’.
After an extensive search online, I couldn’t find any such statement made by Dr Hedgewar. Consequently, Roy owes us a clarification. On the contrary, the FAQs available at the website of the RSS note ’So Christians, Muslims or people following any other religion who live in Bharat & who subscribe to the world view of Bharat are all “Hindus”. They are welcome to be in the RSS”. The RSS Chief Deoras announced in 1977 that ‘RSS had opened its door to non-Hindus and that some were already participating in its activities’ (Anderson and Damle, 1987:223).
D’Souza cites Patel ‘we will lift the ban if you agree to work within the legal framework and have some constitution for your own organisation’.
I wonder what the basis of D’Souza’s claim is. There were no conditions imposed on the RSS when the ban was lifted (Gurumurthy, 2013). As a matter of fact, the then government was unable to provide any evidence of charges it had laid on the RSS. The government also refused to take up the issue to a tribunal as requested by Golwalkar. Ankit (2012) provides a good account of the exchanges between Golwalkar and Patel. Sardar Patel the politician, however, trapped Golwalkar – a non-politician. Patel remarked the government had “succeeded in catching Golwalkar on the wrong foot. Had we refused to lift the ban straight away, as was suggested by the Premier’s conference, we would have found it very difficult to justify our policy or attitude to the public. Now, in the light of Golwalkar’s reply to me and with the evidence of these intercepts, we can easily turn the tables on Golwalkar” (Ankit, 2012:11). Furthermore, ‘On 11 July 1949, a communique was issued lifting the ban on the RSS. It mentioned the exchanges with Golwalkar, the draft constitution, the government’s suggestions and Golwalkar’s clarifications and recorded that Golwalkar had accepted the suggestions made by the government. It was concluded that the RSS should be given an opportunity to function as a democratic, cultural organisation eschewing violence and abjuring secrecy and, above all, being loyal to the Indian Constitution” (Ankit, 2012:11). Accordingly, there were no pre-conditions for ban-lifting.
Bligh claims: “And one of the central reasons why the RSS opposed India’s new constitution was because it didn’t create India as a Hindu nation state”.
Golwalkar clearly states in his Bunch of Thoughts (n.d.,180-181) ‘Let us be grateful to the makers of the present Constitution as also to the worthy members of the S.R.C. for the services rendered but let us not allow the nation to become a house divided against itself and heading towards destruction by falling to pieces’. Walter Anderson who has written two books on the RSS says, ‘he hasn’t met a single swayamsevak so far who questions the Constitution or doesn’t respect the flag’. It is important to note that the ‘The RSS is a huge, amorphous organisation, claiming 7m-8m [million] activists. About 4m attend daily shakhas–early morning gatherings where, in khaki uniforms, they engage in physical jerks, sports and “ideological discourse”. It runs 22,000 schools, has 45,000 units working in slums and is active in 11,000 of the villages where India’s tribal minorities live” (The Economist, 2005).
D’Souza notes ‘And the Constituent Assembly adopted a secular constitution … So will not privilege one religion over another, …. that was in the Constitution and they never accepted that. They have never accepted that even now’.
Can D’Souza cite any reference in the Sangh Parivar literature which says it doesn’t accept India’s constitution? Incidentally, the Constitution of India as adopted by the Constituent Assembly did not contain the word ‘secularism’. It was inserted during emergency by Indira Gandhi by 42nd constitution amendment. The separation of religious authority and political authority was relevant in the European context but ‘the issue of religious authority versus political authority is quite absent in the discussions in the Indian Constituent Assembly, and I have not found it in even Nehru’s statements in the Assembly. As Mahatma Gandhi said, religion was a private matter, and to Nehru it sufficed if it was separated from the public domain. Ambedkar also followed that principle’ (Bhattacharya, 2016). European countries have an organised religion. In UK, for example, ‘the Church of England also has a law-making role in Britain. Twenty-six bishops (including the two Archbishops) sit in the House of Lords and are known as the Lords Spiritual. They are thought to bring a religious ethos to the secular process of law’. Consequently, can we call UK a theocratic state? Hinduism is not an organised religion so the question of a religious authority exercising influence over the political power was not relevant. Consequently, the inclusion of the word ‘secular’ was superfluous. Hence, the claim that ‘they have never accepted that even now’ becomes irrelevant. At the heart of Hinduism is the acceptance of all ways of worship. Secularism is ingrained in Hinduism itself which is not the case with Abrahamic religions.
Roy claims ‘at the centre of the ideas of Hindutva, that have influenced the politics of the BJP and its affiliates, is the idea that India is a country for the Hindus, at the exclusion of others” (italics mine).
In his book “Hindutva” Savarkar writes ‘The first result of our enquiry is to explode the baseless suspicion which has crept into the minds of some of our well-meaning but hasty countrymen that the origin of the words Hindu and Hindusthan is to be traced to the malice of the Mohammedans!”. Nowhere does Savarkar write in the book that ‘India is a country for the Hindus, at the exclusion of others’. Consequently, it appears that a false narrative is pushed by The Conversation commentators.
The ideology of political Islam is extermination of kafirs, and similarly that of Christianity about non-Christians or the mass violence by the communists against the bourgeois. The objective is essentially to impose their world-view on others. On the contrary, the essence of Hindu culture and values is ‘the concept of welfare, not of any particular person or group or class, but of all creation. As the ancient prayer goes Sarvepi sukhinah santu, sarve santu nimamaya – may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from fear. Here welfare is described not in limited terms but as all-embracing, covering not only the human race but also what, in our arrogance, we call ‘lover’ beings- animals and birds, insects and plants, as well as ‘natural’ formations such as mountains and oceans”. Accordingly, Hindutva (the essence of Hinduism) stand for universal humanism. Do those who aggressively push hate-filled propaganda, consider Hindutva’s universal humanism as a threat to their existence and go after Hinduism? If vasudhaiva kutumbakam (whole world as one family) becomes the rallying point for entire humanity, we could potentially see an end to violence in the name of religion or ideology.
Roy claims ‘the link between Hindu nationalism and violence against religious minorities isn’t difficult to seek’.
The Hindu Muslim communal riots didn’t start after the formation of the RSS in 1925. It has a long history. Political Islam came to India in 712 CE when Sindh was conquered by the Arabs. Although it has been a millennium, Hindus remember the raids of Mohamed Gazni with abhorrence particularly the loot of the sacred Hindu shrine of Somnath (SarDesai, 2008). The other barbaric acts committed by Muslim invaders, throughout the pre-British history of India, have naturally kept the suspicion in Hindu minds about them alive centuries after. The destruction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya and construction of a Mosque thereon by Babar (an Uzbeck) in 16th century continues to haunt the Hindus – going by the dictum those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. The Hindu Muslim relations remained strained aided by the British policy of divide and rule. ‘There were many policies—like the introduction of separate Hindu and Muslim electorates—that undoubtedly promoted Hindu-Muslim violence’ (Vergese, 2018). Saha (2009: 565) reports that ‘there have been more than 33,000 Hindu-Muslim riots since 1947’. Interestingly, during Modi’s tenure (five years as PM and 12 years as CM of Gujarat) was major riot-free (barring the 2002 riot). This fact flies on the face of Roy’s claim that Hindu nationalism was responsible for riots.
In the podcast 2, it is being made out as though the minorities are hapless innocents being bullied by the Hindu majority. The narrative is played out by Marxist in India who remain silent about the forced exodus of Hindus from Muslim dominated Kashmir or elsewhere in India, for example, in Mallapuram.
It is important to note that the RSS emerged following the Hindu-Muslim riots across India in the early 1920s. The uprising of the Muslims in the Malabar coast of Southern India during 1921 alarmed the Hindus as ‘it was accompanied by forced conversions of Hindus, confirmed fears of many Hindus that the violence on the Malabar coast was a covert attempt to enhance the political influence of Muslims at the expense of the Hindu community’ (Anderson and Damle, 1987:27-28).
Bligh notes ‘BJP, an openly Hindu nationalist party’:
Going by the BJP vision and mission document, the above comments of Bligh are not supported.
Bligh also goes in spinning mode when she claims ‘some supposedly higher caste Hindus feel they’ve been given a licence to try and reimpose these caste hierarchies… it’s become more prominent under the BJP. How do you think the Modi government has dealt with caste?
Bligh engages in generalisation based on anecdotal evidence cited by Prof Waghmore, and surprises us with her lack of knowledge of India’s caste system when she says ‘I think I always had a tendency to think of caste as similar to class that we have in the UK – so which is largely an economic thing’!
Roy claims ‘the BJP’s policy stems from a deep-seated opposition to caste quotas, which the party believes would undermine Hindu unity’.
Again, the claim is questionable. Neither in BJP’s vision & mission nor in their election manifesto we find any such reference. Common sense tells us that no political party would make such suicidal move as to oppose the caste quota. The spin doctors in the left-backed congress party would surely like to create and have in the past created that impression to damage the BJP politically.
Roy will make you laugh with his claim ‘When the Congress fought its first elections, its electoral symbol was the cow and the idea was that, you now, religiously minded voters would vote for the Congress’.
During 1952-1969 for 17 years Congress party symbol was two pair of bullocks carrying a yoke. It was representative of the large rural sector where 80% of the voters resided. For a brief period of 1971-1977, it was cow and calf. The opposition called it a religious symbol but the Election Commission clarified otherwise. It continued to represent of the rural sector vote bank and was similar to the earlier symbol which was taken over by the old-guards of the congress party when the party split. In 1977, it changed to the palm of hand.
Ajay rightly points out ‘much of the left liberal centrist parties, in that sense, do not have that kind of a connect with local idioms, cultural symbols, religious symbol’. The left and so also the congress party divorced itself from the core Hindu ethos of India which the BJP capitalised. The political strategy of ‘unite Muslims and divide Hindus’ worked successfully for many years but eventually people got disenchanted and wanted development and good governance. Modi filled the gap cleverly using these very same words in the 2014 election campaign.
Ajay’s Kerala example misses a very important point- the demographic distribution – with Hindus (55%), Muslims (27%) and Christians (18%). The dice are thus cast against the BJP. Furthermore, it is a state ruled by either the Congress Party or the Communist Party throughout. The welfare that he mentions was possible because of remittances of migrant workers on which the economy thrives. With no such source of income, welfare state was not possible in WB where the Communist party ruled close to 35 years. Pangaria (2014) notes that the CPM government ruined WB economy and the state fell permanently in a poverty trap.
Bligh says ‘Central to the politics of this aggressive far right Hindu nationalism is a dislike of the Indian constitution – its secular nature and the protections it contains for India’s minorities’
As has already been indicated above, these claims are not backed by verifiable facts. They only underscore the bias of Bligh against the BJP.
Roy’s claim ‘Another major bone of contention is Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which the Hindu right believes offers preferential treatment to the state of Jammu and Kashmir”.
It is not a ‘belief’ of the Hindu right. The Article 370 does offer special rights to J&K. The residents of J&K have separate laws in the matter of citizenship, property ownership and fundamental rights which differ from those applicable in other Indian states. Indian citizens can’t purchase land or property in J&K. Godbole (2014:37) notes ‘The tangle of Article 370 could have been solved in the early years by Nehru but he dragged his feet and failed to address the problem firmly and decisively’.
Overall one wonders whether The Conversation got a brief from India’s opposition parties to do a podcast by interviewing ‘like-minded’ academics to project the BJP in an unfavourable light. This belief is strengthened by the fact that the panel is not balanced, so one can’t hear alternative views. The Conversations motto is academic rigour and journalistic flair, unfortunately, both are absent in the podcast.
Ranganathan, R. 2015. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The World is my Family): What Happens to My Self-concept When I Take Others* Perspectives?, South Asian Journal of Management, 22(4):118-135.
 Anderson, W. and Damle, S. 1987. The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism, Vistaar Publications, New Delhi.
 Check here for details http://indiafacts.org/the-general-framework-of-hinduism-ii/
 ‘religious innovations, philosophical relativism and intellectual or political pluralism are anathema. In such a word view, there can exist only two camps Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al- Herb’ or muslim countries and those ruled by other regimes but Islam (Tawhidi, I. 2018. The Tragedy of Islam: Admissions of a Muslim Imam, Reason Books, Adelaide. p.191)
Golwalkar, n. d. ibid
 SarDesai, D. 2008. India: A definitive history, West View, Boulder, USA.
 Anderson, W. and Damle, S. 1987. ibid
 Ibid p. 180
 Asia: The struggle for the Hindu soul; The Economist ; London Vol. 376, Iss. 8438, (Aug 6, 2005): 50.
 Op. cit.
 Please refer to SarDesai (2008) for details.
 Vergese, A. 2018. British Rule and Hindu-Muslim Riots in India: A Reassessment, https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/british-rule-and-hindu-muslim-riots-in-india-a-reassessment
 Saha, S. 2009. Sudhir Kakar and the Socio-Psychological Explanation of Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India, Australian Journal of Politics and History: 55 (4): 565-583.
 Panagariya, A., Chakraborty, P. and Rao, M. 2014. State Level Reforms, Growth, and Development in Indian States, Oxford University Press, UK.
 Godbole, M. 2014. ibid
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