If there is one explosive idea that is setting the agenda for India today, it is Hindutva. Hindutva has nothing to do with spirituality but everything to do with political economy. It has very little to do with Hinduism, but everything to do with an aggressive form of cultural nationalism ….It appears to be connected with India’s past, but is actually an omen of the future….For some, Hindutva heralds the age of India’s renaissance. For others, it reflects India’s march towards fascism.- Bhartiya Janwadi Aghadi, 1993.
Of all the religions of the world, Hinduism is perhaps the most liberal and accommodating religion. It is one of the richest philosophies embodying rich culture and codes of human behavior. Some fundamental characteristics of Hinduism are its spirit of toleration and inclusivism. True Hinduism teaches that one has to respect other faiths and admit differences. This quality of mutual respect and acceptance of differences begets tolerance which is the hallmark of true Hinduism. Hinduism does not claim that it is the only way of salvation. A true Hindu believes that he follows a true path and at the same time he also admits that others also follow their own paths. Commenting on the universalism of Hinduism, in his speech at Chicago’s Parliament of World Religions on 11 September 1893, Swami Vivekananda solemnly affirms, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true“. (Shashi Tharoor, 2018). This clearly shows that a true Hindu does not claim a monopoly of truth. He firmly believes in interfaith coexistence with a spirit of live and let live. Given the broad meaning of Hinduism and its universalism, let us now focus on Hindutva ideology and how it affects India’s unity.
Hindutva does not simply mean Hindu-ness. It has nothing to do with spiritualism but everything to do with political economy. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (father of Hindutva) borrowed the concept from the West particularly from Hitler’s Nazîsm and Mussolini’s fascism. These two together provided the foundational root of Hindutva ideology. M.S.Golwalkar, another Hindutva think tank, flatly rejected the multi-ethnic structure of India’s unity. Savarkar’s and Golwalkar’s definition of a Hindu is ‘one who considers India to be his motherland (matrbhumi), the land of his ancestors (pitrbhumi) and his holy land (punyabhumi)’. Christophe Jaffrelot says, ”Savarkar and Golwalkar crystallized the identity of Hindutva while borrowing most of their political concepts from the West. They indeed internalized the western – mainly German – notion of ethnic nationalism as a means of strengthening Hindus against their enemies”. (Christophe Jeffrelot, as quoted by Vishal Mangalwadi, 1977).
The two think tanks of Hindutva ideology thus lay down three essentials of Hindutva, namely, a common nation (Hindu Rashtra), a common race (jati) and a common civilization (sanskriti). In Savarkar’s vision of Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) there is only one culture that is a Hindu culture: there is only one language, that is Hindi and there is only one religion, that is Hinduism. Savarkar and Golwalkar rejected the territorial or civic nationalism which includes all peoples born in India. They accepted only cultural nationalism which is based on Hindu culture. According to them, political salvation does not lie in Indian democracy, but in embracing Hindu ‘dharmacracy’. The long-term objective of Hindutva is therefore to declare India as Hindu Rashtra.
Under the Hindu Rashtra, Muslims and Christians automatically have no locus standi in India. Hindutva is thus seen as an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus, Hindu values and the Hindu way of life in all aspects of Indian life. According to Hindutvavadis, Muslims and Christians are not ‘bonafide’ Indians because they are not Hindus even though they are born and brought up in India. They argued that Islamism and Christianity were ‘foreign religions’. Islamists put their faith in Prophet Mohammed and their holy place is Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Similarly Christianity is also originated in Palestine and their holy place is Jerusalem. Given the choice between their Motherland (Bharatmata) and their holy land, Savarkar argued that the Muslims and Christians would opt for Mecca and Jerusalem. In his scheme of Hindu Rashtra, there could be only Hindu Muslim and Hindu Christian, not vice versa. Therefore, the Hindutvavadis concluded that both the followers of the two ‘foreign religions are not loyal’ to Mother India (Bharatmata). At most, Muslims and Christians may be treated as ‘second class citizens’. To quote Golwalkar again: “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture….Or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment–not even citizens’ rights”. (M.S.Golwalkar, 1939). In this context, Savarkar’s new mantra was reconversion of the Muslims and Christians into Hinduism.
According to Sarvarkar, in pre-Mughal and pre-colonial eras, there were no Muslims or Christians in peninsular India. The forefathers of present Muslims and Christians were all once Hindus and therefore, the Hindutvavadis asserted that both the Muslims and Christians must be reconverted into Hinduism. Even one speaker at the 3-day conclave at Haridwar in 17-20, December, 2021, made a call to Indian army and police forces to join in the killing of Indian Muslims. To condemn the call, several former chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Forces, and many senior citizens were busy drafting a letter on December 31, 2021 to the President and Prime Minister of India to stop the call for genocide of Indian Muslims and Christians. As a matter of fact, history shows that many non-Hindu officers and persons both in the Indian civil and armed forces have been fighting and will continue to fight for the defense of India up to the last ounce of their strength. Their religion does not teach them to be disloyal or unfaithful to their country.
Hindutva ideology divides Indians through a politics of hate. It preaches a message of hatred among the Indian communities, saying, “thou shall hate thy neighbor”; and “thou shall murder thy group’s enemy”. How many Christians and Muslims have been murdered in the name of religion? To make matters worse today, the anti-conversion act is being vigorously enforced in mainland India where many Christians and Muslims are being tortured and killed. The same act is being contemplated to be introduced in Karnataka. Almost everywhere and every day in mainland India, Christians are being threatened for demolition of their churches or persecutions for their faith. The worst states are UP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh. Considering the rapid strafronization of the country, no one can say this will not happen in Northeast India. It has already reached the Brahmaputra valley.
Hindutva also undermines individual freedom. As a matter of fact, in the Hindutva scheme of building a Hindu Rashtra, an individual is sacrificed to the state. In this connection, Golwalkar emphatically again says: ”The ultimate vision of our work – is a perfectly organized state of society wherein each individual has been molded into a model of ideal Hindu manhood and made into a living limb of the corporate personality of society”.(Vishal Mangalwadi, 1977). In short, the long-term objective of Hindutva is to establish Hindutva’s totalitarianism which will be the source of Hinduised values ultimately resulting in the establishment of the absolute sovereignty of Hindu Rashtra.
Under the BJP regime, freedom of speech is drastically curtailed. The booklet entitled “Attacks on Journalists, January 2010- June 2018: Murder/Fabricated Cases/Threats and other human rights abuses is really self-revealing. As a matter of fact, India has recorded the highest number of journalists killed in the world till 2021 and about 293 persons are still groaning under the dark cell of prisons. This is the situation we are in. Having controlled both the two houses of parliament now, the BJP government is pushing us towards a totalitarian Hindu Rashtra. In fact, Modi’s fascism has now become a hot topic even on national and international platforms.
Let us ask this simple question ourselves. To whom India really belongs? India belongs to all citizens of India irrespective of castes and creeds; and all citizens of India, big or small, belong to India. No Hindutvavadis can claim the sole ownership of India and impose their ideology upon all sections of Indian society simply because they are a majority community. What are really their contributions towards India’s freedom? Their patriotism is, no doubt, highly admirable, but even this patriotism is coloured by deep-seated religious fanaticism. The pages of modern Indian history have clearly shown that the nationalist freedom movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi comprised all sections of Indian society. The idea of India cannot be narrowed down to one community’s interests. The fundamental DNA of India, as Shashi Tharoor has rightly pointed out, “is one land embracing many – unity in diversity” built on the solid structures of democracy, socialism and secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. It is inclusive, tolerant and pluralist.
Let us see the role of Hindu Mahasabha leaders and their followers during the crucial period in India’s final struggle for freedom, 1939-1947. When Congress ministry resigned in 1939 in protest against Viceroy Linlithgow’s bilateral declaration of India’s joining the WW II, the Hindu Mahasabha (HM) joined hands with the All-India Muslim League (AIML) and formed coalition ministries in Sind, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Bengal. In March, 1943, the Sind ministry passed the resolution for the creation of Pakistan. True, the HM members voted against the resolution but did not resign from the coalition ministry. More surprisingly, the HM openly and officially boycotted the historic Quit India Movement launched under the leadership of Gandhi. V.D.Savarkar, the then President of HM, wrote an official letter titled “Stick to Your Jobs” in which he instructed all the Hindu Mahasabites who were members of municipalities, local bodies, legislatures, or those serving in the army – to stick to their posts across the country, and not to join the Quit India Movement at any cost”. (en.m.wikipedia.org).
Staunchly supporting Savarkar’s stand, S.P.Mukherjee, another prominent leader of Hindutva, wrote an official letter on July, 1942, thus: “Let me now refer to the situation that may be created in the province (Bengal) as a result of any widespread movement launched by the Congress. Anybody who during the war (WW II), plans to stir up mass feeling, resulting in internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by the government that may function for the time being”(en.m.wikipedia.org). Mukherjee further stated that the Mahasabha-League coalition government must “make every possible effort to defeat the Quit India Movement in the province of Bengal. The administration of the province should be carried out in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province…Indians have to trust the British, not for the sake of Britain, not for any advantage that the British might gain, but for the maintenance of the defense and freedom of the province itself”.(en.m.wikipedia.org). N.C.Chatterjee, one of Savarkar’s close colleagues and father of a former Lok Sabha speaker, lamentably remarked thus, “the entire Hindu population is with Gandhiji and his movement and if anybody wants to oppose it, he will be absolutely finished and hounded out of public life”. (Vaibhave Purandare, 268). As a result, the Hindu Mahasabha men during the election of 1945-46 were branded as ‘British agents’, ‘anti-nationals’ or ‘traitors’. No one doubts Sarvarkar’s patriotism and his selfless sacrifice for his country. But unfortunately “for all of Sarvarkar’s championing of Hindutva, it was Gandhi who was seen as the devout Hindu who worshipped the cow, spoke of Ram Rajya and at the same time extolled the virtues of Hindu-Muslim unity”.(Vaibhave Purandare, 292).
India’s freedom movement is one of the biggest mass movements in modern world history comprising all sections of Indian society. No community, however powerful, has any right to manipulate the sole ownership of India and impose its narrow and fanatic views upon others, thereby threatening the integrity of India. To conclude, let me quote Pavan K. Varma’s statement, (former MP (Rajya Sabha), “Hindutva, as the political arm of the BJP-RSS, wants to convert this remarkable faith (Hinduism) to a series of ignorant, illiterate and distorted fiats. It is a danger that all real Hindus should face up to and defeat”. More danger is still the imminent threat it has posed to the unity and integrity of the country and for the defence of which, secular forces must join hands together before it is too late.
Dr Lal Dena is a retired professor of history, Manipur University and former Vice Chancellor of Sangai International University, Manipur