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The seed of divisive Hindu exclusive Indian nationalism Savarkar sowed is germinating in today's India

V.D.Savarkar – Protagonist of the Hindutva Doctrine and Seed of Today’s Polarised India

Abstract:

In the currently charged socio-political climate of the country, it is necessary to understand the thoughts, ideas and doctrines of the propagator of Hindutva – Veer Savarkar. This research paper studies the early life of the historian and cultural ideologue that called the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 as ‘First War of Independence’ and was opprobrious of western particularly British historians who called the Sepoy Mutiny an exercise in medieval barbarism. This paper also delves deeply into the thoughts, ideas and doctrines of a controversial thinker. This paper also engages in a critical evaluation of Savarkarite thought and the nuances of how Hindutva ideology has changed the idea of socio-religious climate of the country and how this thought has changed the very idea of inclusive India and how it can be responded to.

Introduction

If one political doctrine has changed the socio-cultural reality and situation of India in contemporary times it is the doctrine of Hindutva. Hindutva is not an accident or aberration in the socio-cultural history of India – it has developed systemically over time and has come to capture the minds and thought process of a huge number of the Indian people belonging to the Hindu faith and has had in the process exerted a cascading impact on the lives of people belonging to minority faiths particularly those whose ethnic & religious origin is outside of the Indian subcontinent. While Hindutva has shaped and continues to shape the polity and institutions of the Indian nation in a manner which is unprecedented and unheard of in the recent past, it is necessary to delve deep into the theoretical and historical underpinnings of this dynamic and controversial politico-religious doctrine. So beginning with, it is necessary to articulate the thoughts of the founder of the doctrine of Hindutva- the man who is in news and newsroom and newspaper discussion almost every day- Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) represented an unconventional strand of political thought in India in so far as he propounded a controversial theory of cultural nationalism in contrast to the theory of territorial nationalism propounded by the prominent leaders of the mainstream independence movement. He was born in a traditional Brahman family in Maharashtra at the time of an Indian renaissance was manifested in diverse interpretations of Bharatvarsha’s past, present and future.

Savarkar right from his childhood was deeply imbued by the vision to ameliorate the “suffering” of his religion and brethren, in this context it would not have been possible for a child of just 10 years of age to feel so agitated that at the news of communal riots in the then United Provinces that he gathered a group of dozen odd school students and stoned a particular place of worship to exact vengeance for the killings of Hindus at the hands of the other faith in that riot. He equally abhorred British rule which had enslaved India and expressed his wish to die fighting against the alien Anglo-Saxon invaders. Thus right from his childhood he grew up with two primary objectives in mind – to work for the cause and upliftment of Hindus and fight for the independence of his motherland.

Savarkar didn’t experience a smooth life; his nationalist activities brought him under the lens of the state and ended up earning up the wrath of the British raj when he was promptly expelled from Fergusson College, Poona. However thanks to a recommendation from Lokmanya Tilak he was sent to London by the prominent Indian revolutionary Shyamji Krishna Verma – author of the journal Indian Sociologist. Savarkar founded not only the Abhinav Bharat secret society (1904 ) but also remained a student revolutionary in London from 1906-1910 after which he was arrested for anti-British activities and sentenced to fifty years of imprisonment in the form of solitary confinement to the cellular jail in Port Blair.

Savarkar was released in 1937 due to his good behaviour and cooperation with the raj, but he remained alienated with the predominant mode of struggle against the British rule. Like Leo Tolstoy, he stood for a violent and rebellious mode of struggle in the country particularly individual acts of heroism like assassinating repressive officials which Nitish Sengupta in his book ‘A Land of Two Rivers- History of Bengal from Mahabharta to Mujib’ in the context of Bengal called “agni-yug”. He believed in such a revolutionary course of action which stir the conscience of the nation and move the people on the path of collective armed resistance.

He joined the Hindu Mahasabha and went on to become its president until 1945, under his tutelage; the Hindu Mahasabha not only gained popularity but also sharpened his ideological commitments while remaining steadfast in their goal of establishing a Hindu rashtra. During his stint as head of this religious nationalist organization, he tried to reinvigorate the organizational and ideological commitment of the party by injecting in his own revolutionary and reactionary ideas. But given the fact that he could not get the expected turnaround and the resultant upsurge in the Hindu society for its inner consolidation, Savarkar resigned and left the rest of his solitarily. Hence the later phase of the life of Savarkar was spent in relative isolation. He passed away in 1966; his intellectual explorations were enmeshed in his indelible belief in the practicality of establishing a Hindu rashtra in India. Despite his firm and unwavering belief in the idea of Hindu rashtra, its limited reception by the people seemingly disappointed Savarkar and compelled him to go into oblivion intellectually.

Savarkarite Hindutva- vision of a Hindu nation

As a political doctrine, Hindutva reflected Savarkar’s firm conviction in the veracity & practicability of a religio-cultural idea in the infallibility of conceptualizing a Hindu rashtra. It also highlighted the response of a Hindu nationalist to the socio-religious situation of his time. For Savarkar, Hindutva as a doctrine stood for the consolidation of Hindus into a united aggregate of people bound by certain common things. While expounding the meaning of this controversial religio-political doctrine, Savarkar begins by asking for an answer to a fundamental question – who is a Hindu?

Savarkar tersely replies that any person can claim to be a genuine Hindu who considers Bharatvarsha to be his homeland from a territorial perspective. For Savarkar, the name of Hindustan is derived from the river Sindhu – meaning the land from the river Sindhu to the Indian Ocean. For Savarkar, a Hindu is a person who identifies himself as an integral inhabitant of a geographical tract ranging from river Sindhu (Indus) in the west to river Brahmaputra in the east and from Himalayas in the north to Cape Comorin in the South, also included in that geographical tract is the Indian Ocean further south. Such a territorial vision of India has been articulated and believed for centuries by people.

Savarkar in his book ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?’ mentioned three cardinal principles for merging Hindus into a coherent entity – Sanskriti (culture), jati (race), rashtra (territory). Racially, Savarkar considered a Hindu one ‘whose first & discernible source could be traced to the Himalayan altitudes of the Vedic Saptasindhu’. Such a racial demarcation of the Hindus was not meant to assert the megalothymia of the Hindu race over others, but to differentiate them from others. This racial dimension is not only to encapsulate the broad idea of being a Hindu, but to ensure that the possession of Hindu blood would make Indians proud of their background.

Culturally, Hindutva connotes that a Hindu must feel the pride and commonality of hi cultural roots with the other people of Hindustan. Thus Savarkar assigns a complex criterion to establish a distinct identity and character to the Hindus in the Indian society. To clearly delineate the notion of Hindutva as against the religious meaning of Hinduism, Savarkar emphasized the inherent differences between the two seemingly synonymous terms. However a mischievous parochial construction of the idea of Hinduism restricted the Hindutva idea as the religion of the majority people, leaving out a vast number of non-Hindus outside the Hindu fold. However Savarkar clarifies that they indeed are a part and parcel of Hinduism as they despite following numerous shades and schools of thought and thinking consider this holy land of Hindu people as their fatherland and holy-land. ‘So to every Hindu from the Santal to the Sadhu, this Bharat – bhumi, this Sindhustan is at once a pitribhu and a punyabhu – fatherland and a holy land’. Applying this doctrine to the Abrahamic religions of Islam and Christianity, Savarkar argues that they are not to be considered Hindus despite sharing a common culture and lifestyle due to the fact that though they regard Hindustan their fatherland, it is absolutely not their holy-land.

In substance, the ideology of Hindutva as propounded by Savarkar was rooted in the vision of Hindu solidarity. It was in fact, a political idea whose credentials lay in the cultural ethos of the Hindu race. He maintained that despite having numerous external differentiations, internally, Hindus are bound together by certain distinct cultural, historical, religious, social and linguistic commonalities which have been brought about by centuries of cultural-religious assimilation and a diverse yet congruous belief system and institutions. To Savarkar, in the making of the Hindu nation, what counted more than anything else was the cultural, racial, and religious unity of the people; in his perception, a nation would be essentially a political formation with a common solid national identity, characterized by internal cohesion brought about by cultural and racial affinities. As the Hindus consisted of all these characteristics, they constituted a legitimate nation in the notion of a Hindu rashtra.

Critical Evaluation of Hindutva

While Savarkar couldn’t get the kind of response to his provocative politico-religious doctrine in his lifetime, yet his dream – to see India turn slowly into a Hindu rashtra may be becoming a reality. The present political dispensation at the centre is leaving no stone unturned in turning the ideological progenitor of the Hindu nation’s dream into a reality. The current polarized atmosphere in the country not only in northern parts of India but across the country is largely attributable to the ruling party’s egregious ideological-religious machinations through the coordinated and sustained use of social media, religious events to spread this communal poison. The scale of radicalization of a large mass of the Hindu populace and social polarization is such that it is openly manifested in different events like glorification of Nathuram Godse, lynching of people belonging to the minority faith, forcing people to chant a particular religious slogan, hate speeches calling for genocide of people belonging to the Islamic and Christian faith at religious congregations held in Haridwar and other places.

Hindutva at an ideological level is not only exclusionary and provocative but directly embodies the Nazi theory of Aryan supremacy by placing Hindus at the top of the citizenry hierarchy and at best relegated people of minority faiths to second class citizenship status and at worse calling for their open annihilation. Savitri Mukherjee aka Maxmiani Julia Portas – a Greek Italian fascist and Nazi ideologue who spied for the Axis powers during World War II batted for the intellectual amalgamation of Hindu Nationalism and Nazism, she put forward the controversial theory of Adolf Hitler being an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the principal deities in Hinduism who had been born on Earth to cleanse it of Jewish and Communist evils. This theory still has its fair share of followers. MS Golwalkar – an RSS ideologue, was a keen follower of Nazi ideology and is said to have justified the ghastly extermination of Jewish people and called for a similar treatment against Muslims in India.

The Hindutva doctrine shows an open contempt for the constitution of India – Savarkar himself in his lifetime was quite dismissive of our constitution on the grounds that the people who framed it were not only products of Western education but the constitution that was framed essentially contained alien Western ideas and themes which tended to ignore the glorious Hindu past of India from which nothing was derived. He called the makers of the constitution as imitating the blind materialist beliefs of the Judeo-Christian civilisation committed to the annihilation of Hindu civilisation and the Indic way of life.

While the nature of Hindutva has changed over time, accepting the constitution and the civic nationalism which underlined it, yet it has not given up its ideological project. Shashi Tharoor, in his book The Battle of Belonging has rightly argued that civic nationalism which shaped the Indian nation over the years is slowly eclipsed by a crude ethnocentric nationalism called Hindu nationalism which is not only undermining the longstanding Indian legacy of ‘Vasudevai Kutumbakkam’ but risks pushing India towards becoming unfortunately ‘Hindu Taliban’. Divisive laws like Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) represent such provocative attempts to promote what Alexis De Tocqueville called ‘Tyranny of the Majority’.

If this wasn’t enough, the ideology of Hindutva has surreptitiously entered what is regarded as the private sphere of human society – family. Discussions surrounding politics tends to take a religious turn with the open demonization of minorities by our loved ones which sometimes becomes so heated that it ends up breaking ties, while this may not be visible, but it is the sad truth. Yashee, a journalist for the Indian Express newspaper had written in a Sunday column dated 2nd January, 2022 about how this radicalization had invaded the private space of the family and how even working women who are unmarried are being hounded as becoming Westernized.

Several parts of India, most notably Karnataka had witnessed attacks against Christians on Christmas Eve allegedly carried out by Hindutva mobs who indulged in acts of vandalism which not only ranged from desecrating the statue of Jesus Christ but also interrupting Christmas celebrations. This blatant undermining of the idea of inclusive, secular India by fringe mobs has contributed to the poisoning of the amicable social atmosphere of the diverse land called India.

A major issue of concern vis-a-vis Hindutva is the bogey of ‘love jihad’ the militant right in India has floated, several states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh have made anti-conversion law whose explicit objective per se is noble – to strictly enforce the principle of secularism in India but the implicit objective is devious – it tramples on the personal liberty of consenting adults choosing their life partners in inter-faith marriage. It puts the burden of proof on the victim itself.

An oft repeated issue highlighted by Hindutva is the population explosion of the Muslim community in India. But this assertion made by Hindutva groups and ideologues is affront to official statistics. The National Family Health Survey’s (NFHS) 5th round, 2022 has shown clearly that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for Muslim women has come down to 2.3 which despite being the highest among all the communities in India is the lowest in a four decade dataset. This idea of a population explosion among the community has been busted by former career bureaucrat and public intellectual S.Y. Quraishi in his book The Population Myth has argued that the claim of a demographic change claimed by right wing forces in the country is nothing but a hoax to legitimise the violence against cultural and religious minorities in India.

Also the threat of conversion from Christian missionaries is clearly blown out of proportion because the Christian community in India is a mere 2.4% of the Indian population and are quite happy in their country.

Conclusion

V.D. Savarkar in propounding the idea of Hindutva has unleashed a chimera which is slowly eating into the moral vitals of the Indian nation. While Hinduism stands for the principle of Vedanta or dualistic monism as advocated by the great saint Adi Shankaracharya, Hindutva stands for the exclusionary Nazi principle of harrenvolk (master race).

His ideology of Hindutva didn’t even spare the great secular ruler Akbar the Great who is the epitome of secularism and representative of the inclusive spirit of India. Hence it is imperative that the civil society, and most important of all – the citizens of India come together to stop this further polarization of the Indian polity and society. We as citizens must rescue this great experiment called India, because if we at this critical juncture don’t channelize our collective conscience in rescuing the spirit of India, it may not be too long before we end up experiencing a second partition as Pratap Bhanu Mehta had argued in an interview to prominent television journalist Karan Thapar in an interview to the wire dated 17 December 2021.

Hinduism is not only a religion, it is a way of life, and it is not only an organised religion but also has a multiplicity of beliefs, ideas and doctrines. Hinduism teaches people to live a good life, to forgive others, to follow Dharma (righteous path). But Hindutva is a political doctrine cum ideology which imparts a muscular character to Hindu religion in order to protect it from divisive and iconoclastic forces hell bent on ‘destroying’ it. This idea of intermeshing politics with religion is not only dangerous but appears that we have learnt nothing from history itself. The reason the Muslim World in general and Middle East in particular is in turmoil is because politics was mixed with religion, leading to the unleashing of puritanical political Islam causing mayhem upon its release. This is exactly what we can’t let happen in the world’s largest democracy. India is too diverse a country to handle divisive social forces, the need of the hour is to tame dangerous Islamist and Hindutva forces in the country to preserve the spirit of India.

Hence as conscious Indians, we must fight back this existential menace to our country.

 

References

Radhakrishnan, S. 1954. The Hindu View of Life. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Sharma, Jyotirmaya. 2003. Hindutva: Exploring the idea of Hindu nationalism. New Delhi: Penguin Books

Ghosh, Sankar. 1984. Modern Indian Political Thought. New Delhi: Allied Publishers.

Sen, Amartya. 2005. The Argumentative Indian. London: Penguin Books

Nehru, Jawaharlal. 1946. The Discovery of India. New Delhi: Penguin Books (Classics).

Roy, Esha. “NFHS-5 Data: Total Fertility Rate Dips, Sharpest Decline among Muslims.” The Indian Express, May 10, 2022. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/fertility-falling-in-all-communities-steepest-decline-among-muslims-nfhs-data-7906994/.

Tharoor, Shashi. The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism, and What It Means to Be Indian. New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2020.

Quraishi, S. Y. The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2021.

“A French Hindu Writer Believed That Hitler Was an Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Here’s Her Story.” IndiaTimes, August 10, 2017. https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/a-french-hindu-writer-believed-that-hitler-was-an-avatar-of-lord-vishnu-here-s-her-story-327573.html.

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