Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


In the December 2006 issue of INSAF Bulletin, we argued that Maoists were not a major threat to India. In the March issue we wrote that globalization is also not the most important threat to India. In this final article of the series, we express our position that Hindutva poses the greatest threat to India.



Hindutva is a political ideology that has become entrenched in the consciousness of a very significant segment of the politically active Indian population over the last two decades. Due to specific historical reasons, Hindutva is concentrated, politically, in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, and the northern and central states of Delhi, U.P., Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand, and, to a lesser extent, in Bihar and Orissa. As a political force, Hindutva has made less headway in the south, although it is attempting to become a force in Karnataka, where its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, is part of the coalition that rules the state.  In the east, Hindutva has long been stymied in West Bengal by the political dominance of the Left Front.  However, it has pockets of influence in Assam although local and regional factors play a larger role in the politics of India’s north-east region.


Hindutva can be considered to be an extremist form of nationalism, which uses religious, racial, and cultural slogans for strictly political ends.  Historically, Hindutva took its early inspiration from European fascism in the early decades of the 20th century.  B.S. Moonje, one of the progenitors of Hindutva visited Mussolini’s Italy and was greatly impressed by what he observed there.  Guru Golwalkar, the Supreme Leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, was full of praise for Hitler and the exaltation of racial purity in fascist Germany.


The RSS is the ideological nerve center of Hindutva which coordinates the work of the parliamentary political arm, the BJP, the cultural and social mobilization wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council, the paramilitary storm-troopers, such as the Bajrang Dal, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sabha (the largest and the fastest growing trade Union overtaking the combined strength of the trade unions of Communist Party of India [CPI] and CPI[Marxist]), Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (student wing), and a vast array of propaganda and outreach groups and organizations along with groups devoted to fundraising. The thousands of elementary schools run by the RSS, the Ekal Vidyalayas, carry out ideological indoctrination of village children in many areas where the state governments have failed to fulfill their mandate to provide primary education.  This apparatus has been erected over several decades but it received a huge boost in the 1970s and later in the 1990s.


The Hindutva organizations, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, played no role in the freedom struggle against the British Raj, in fact their only role was as minor collaborators of British rule. Shortly after independence their deep involvement in the planning and execution of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, led to their marginalization in Indian politics in the early post-independence decades. However, Hindutva was brought into the mainstream by the veteran socialist leader Jaya Prakash Narayan particularly in the campaign against the dictatorial Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975, which repressed all political groups in India ranging from the far left to the far right.  It gained further respectability when leaders of the erstwhile Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP, were inducted in the Central Government after the defeat of Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress (I) party in the 1977 elections.  Although the political fortunes of the BJP in terms of parliamentary seats fluctuated in the 1980s, the growth of Hindutva as an ideology acquired dominance amongst sections of the urban Hindu middle classes as a result of the Mandal agitation, which brought into question the entire RSS strategy of uniting the “Hindu nation” under a core, upper-caste ideology, the Ramjanamabhoomi agitation leading to the destruction of the Babri mosque and the numerous Hindu-Muslim riots which witnessed violence being wreaked mainly on minorities by goons from the Bajrang Dal or the Shiv Sena as well as their sympathizers in the police forces. 


Violence in fact is central to the Hindutva project of achieving a Hindu rashtra (nation). ‘Hinduism’ is viewed as constantly under threat from “outside” forces that, depending on context, can range from other religions like Islam and Christianity, other countries, such as Pakistan, other cultures, such as the “West” in general, or from people within the larger Hindu community who believe in pluralism or secularism and are dubbed as “Hindu-haters.” Violence against all of these is justified in the mind of Hindutva’s followers as a form of “self-defense”.  Documentary films like Anand Patwardhan’s “Ram ke Naam” shows one of these violent young followers saying “hum kuchh bhi kar sakte hain” (we can do anything) when asked what tactics are permissible against those who oppose them.  This is indeed a classic Nazi, fascistic type of thinking.


The advent of the NDA regime in the late 1990s, headed by the BJP, gave a big fillip to Hindutva as now they had become the ruling force at the Centre and they utilized it to the full at all cultural, educational, social, and political levels. This rule witnessed the horrifying “pogrom” in Gujarat in 2002 when the whole machinery of the state was harnessed to the destruction of the Gujarati Muslim community, including mass murder in particularly brutal ways, wanton destruction and looting of minority property, violent ethnic cleansing by the wholesale removal of minorities from neighborhoods where they had lived for centuries, and the refusal to hold anyone responsible for these violent acts.


Fortunately, the people of India, reflecting the heterogeneous and diverse nature of Indian society, rejected the one nation, one culture, one religion approach of RSS and defeated the BJP-led coalition in the 2004 national election. But this defeat may be undone at any later election as the factors underlying Hindutva ideology are all very much there. The parliamentary Left in India, including CPI and CPM, is the only consistent political opposition to Hindutva.  All other parties, including Congress, compromise to varying degrees with Hindutva ideology or politics depending on context.  The Left gained in the 2004 elections and made further gains in 2006 in its strongholds of West Bengal and Kerala.  Recently, however, a curious coalition ranging from far left to right and somewhat reminiscent of the JP-coalition in 1974-75 has formed in West Bengal against the CPM on the issue of economic policy, in particular, of industrialization and the use of agricultural land to set up industry.  CPM’s response to the agitation launched by this coalition has generated intense opposition among a variety of groups, including some left intellectuals, to the point where comparison is being made between Gujarat and the recent events in Nandigram.  From a political standpoint, what weakens the organized Left automatically benefits the organized Right. Furthermore, the utter cynicism of recent politics in India, like Mayawati’s Brahmin-Dalit alliance in U.P., and in-fighting within Congress leading to its defeat by BJP in Uttaranchal (earlier in municipal elections in Mumbai), are pointers to a possible revival of the political fortunes of BJP.


To understand what the future of India may look like if the BJP comes back to power, one has only to look at the “laboratory of Hindutva”, i.e. Gujarat.  Gujarat is being repeated on a smaller scale in some other states where BJP is in power; this includes M.P. and Rajasthan. To erect one culture, one religion, one nation in a quintessentially diverse country like India would necessitate violence and repression on a much greater scale with the active connivance of the repressive organs of the state.  This is why it is the INSAF Bulletin’s position that Hindutva represents the greatest threat to the survival of India as a democratic and secular country.

The RSS has been condemned by all secular, democratic and left formations. However, the secret behind its dominance has not been fully assessed. One can hope some serious political analysts will deal with the issue so as to be able to defeat and hopefully bury this menace.  Two issues are raised here as a modest venture in that direction. 


The first is the link between patriotism and the religious right. While patriotism and nationalism played a positive role during the era of colonialism, it has turned into its opposite in the post-colonial phase. RSS has been successful to some extent in equating patriotism with the Hindu heritage of India; rather Hinduism was made the leading feature of patriotism invoking Moghul rule as a colonial past. The rise of Christian fundamentalism in the US coincides with its invoking patriotism and nationalism particularly since 9/11. In India, Pakistan continues to provide that alibi.  Somehow, the approach of India of one culture, one nation and one religion as started by the RSS has been more successful especially among the influential Hindu middle class than any other form of patriotism or nationalism. Paradoxically, there is nothing which prevents RSS from capitalizing on 1857 and even the revolutionary, socialist Bhagat Singh. 


The second point, perhaps more important than the first, is the RSS’s participatory method and action-oriented form of organizing.  Daily attendance at a Shakha in the early morning is one such participatory method. Workers belonging to the RSS trade Unions meet every week at some one’s house for katha (religious gathering). This approach develops more organic link with the organization than simple affiliation through membership. Within the social and cultural milieu of India these approaches, even if they look trivial, seem to be very effective. This participatory method was most successfully developed by Gandhi. Whenever Gandhi started a movement, he devised effective means of participation whether as a march or as satyagraha. Although it is doubtful whether RSS copied its approach from Gandhi, the similarity is obvious.  In recent years, the Rath Yatra (long-distance marches) of Advani leading up to the demolition of the Babri mosque generated a large following for the Hindutva brigade. Obviously there are other reasons for the success of the RSS. But simply criticizing RSS policies does not seem to work, instead an effective means of countering them must be found

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