Hindutva: A Political Theory of Nationhood?: Aman Verma

Guest post by Aman Verma

It is disheartening to see amongst supporters of Hindutva these days a silent acquiescence and at times even active support for extra-constitutional techniques being adopted by organizations like the RSS and its offshoots towards attaining the goal of Ram Rajya. An assessment is necessary of what would ultimately entail on the social, political and economic fronts if such a policy that envisages a supposedly ‘Hindu’ cultural and linguistic hegemony over cultures and languages represented by minority communities becomes reality. However, being a student of law what disturbs me more is the absence of any socio-political entity or civil society movement rooted in values of democracy that can effectively counter the impact of Hindutva organizations on the Indian social fabric. While the BJP has its RSS, every other political party claiming to be the upholder of secularism lacks its equivalent, or at the very least an effective social protégé.

Further, my personal interactions with supporters of BJP reveals that there is some deep sense of hurt and helplessness, part valid for the sake of argument, but for the most part carefully manufactured by Hindutva propaganda, which manifests itself in questions a friend recently put to me, “What are the other ways in which the Hindus can also claim their rights and send out a message that they have been too tolerant for too long?” and another which sounded like “How else to keep our dignity and identity alive in our land?”. These questions, based upon presumptions like those of “Hindu tolerance” of acts perpetrated by other communities supposedly only against Hindus and, protection of a completely vague concept of “Hindu identity” are clearly an outcome of a campaign strategy that relies upon upping the antics on the romantic-nationalist front.

Thus, I concede I am troubled by the paranoia building around me, and many of my age, by the constant ‘historicisation’ of mythology, distortion of historical facts, disguised reproach for constitutional values of democratic socialism and secularism, and belittling of historical personages whom until now were a part and parcel of our national or social life. And it may therefore be relevant to ask of these self-professedly apolitical organizations, especially when their political parent party is in power: What is the nature of the goal you want to achieve by acts akin to those of proselytization – a political or a socio-religious one? And whether that indeed is at all desirable in our plural society?

The identity question

Identity and culture may mean a host of things for a lot of people but for our Hindu fundamentalist, it means “Hindu” identity which in itself is quite hard to define as anyone in India would concede that a Hindu of North India is, both culturally as well as linguistically, is different from one in East India and or in South India. However, he may really be very similar to a Sikh or a Muslim of North India (take for example the confluence of cultures and languages in the cities of Lucknow, Delhi and Amritsar). Of course fundamentalists will argue that Hindu identity means the characteristic identity of any person whose religion is Hinduism, and by extension includes Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, and by a further extension of some absurd logic, even someone whose forefathers, though Hindus, had converted to another faith by their own free will or by force. “Hindu culture” may be taken to mean, shorthand, the practice of various Hindu religious rituals and occasions. But anyone willing to devote a little time to thinking about the various yardsticks that identify culture like food, language, religious, political and educational institutions etc. would realize the inherent contradictions that lie within any such assumption of a “Hindu identity or culture” imputed as being common to the entire majority community. And as our own history shows, such assumptions of commonality when there really is little quantitative as well as qualitative material to vindicate them, only spell disaster and leave scars that fail to heal in the form of partitions, deaths and displacement. What Jinnah achieved by his stubborn attitude and what even the Islamic State is claiming to be, is not much different in terms of ideology when compared to the Hindu right.

Hindu Rashtra: A political or merely a social goal?

The history of the Hindu right in our country is an old one, not forgetting the recent hate speeches made by sitting MPs like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Yogi Adityanath; acts of conversion allegedly under undue influence and coercion carried out by Hindutva’s fringe organizations; and rationalization of mythical folklore such as the pushpakyaan and that of Ganesha’s trunk by none other than the hon’ble PM. This history stands testimony to the fact that corruption of the constituents of culture, and an opportunistic interpretation of history and myth lies at the heart of the action policy of Hindutva organizations to achieve their objective of a “Hindu Rashtra” or “Ram Rajya” – just another romantic concept of the nation-state that dates back to, even if it dates back to anything keeping in mind its mythological origins, the first millennium anno domini, before invasions by Muslim rulers. As far as my own understanding goes, this primitive idea of a nation state that substitutes for the Hindutva organizations all political theories of a nation-state propounded by Indian and Western political scientists alike, involves the creation of complementary political and socio-religious exigencies with one being used as a tool for achieving the other and vice versa. The desire of Hindutvawadi organisations to create social conditions through means discussed above presumably will at first help in building and then maintaining Hindu political hegemony, which in turn shall be used to promote only those Hindu cultural and social practices which they deem to be Hindu until their dream of ‘Ram Rajya’ is attained. In the extreme case, a real consequence of these could even be the re-institutionalization of the caste system to maintain the regressive social order, for the same purposes of political hegemony, in contradistinction to their present policy of social appeasement of these historically suppressed classes. Outside the ‘Hindu’ fold, the real consequences, for Hindus not accepting their defined order could be ostracism; and for those from minority communities the package can only be imagined.

Some of the preceding paragraph might appear out-stretched contemplation and an exaggeration of the circumstances which will in all likelihood ensue under an essentially regressive government reeling under the pressures imposed by the demands and promises of ‘development’; but that is in fact the purpose of this article – to determine the nature and kind of the goal of Hindutva and then to assess whether it essentially is at par with India’s Constitutional ethos. Also, are there any constitutional alternatives available to the followers of Hinduism in a democratic country for the protection of their faith, culture and language, if they genuinely feel it is under some existential threat? The nature and kind of goal that Hindutva wants to achieve however is essentially political in as much as it is an ideology for a particular kind of nation-state; while the means of achieving it rest upon ensuring that an essentially social revolution is able to propel itself to political power and hegemony.

My aspirations for the India of my time

While the biggest bulwark against any such realization remains that pious document, the Constitution of India, its basic structure and our Courts of law, it is the duty of the political parties aligned against the Hindutva ideology to produce an effective counter-weight that while ensuring development also ensures equality and equal respect for all religions and the dominance of none. Above all it is the duty of the youth to help maintain the system of checks and balances, and present to the nation a counter social revolution based on democratic principles and one which is within the contours set by the Constitution of India.

We have been told time and again about the timelessness of our Constitution, an organic document, which in the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “needs to be worked”. Historian Ramachandra Guha notes India as a country is rife with contradictions, and an exception to the rules of nationhood contemplated by political and social science disciplines. Fortunately, our founding fathers and mothers understood this paradox, this wonder that in fact is India. The fear psychosis being manufactured by Hindutva organizations in India against particular religious communities is only to keep the ‘Hindu’ vote bank intact and thereby materialize its political ambitions. As far as Hindutva as a force against increasing Islamic fundamentalism or Christian missionary propaganda is concerned, my personal view is that fundamentalism is not the answer to fundamentalism. The nation acts as one when all its peoples unite against common enemies and not when people only of a particular religion unite against those of another. It would be un-natural for any particular race or religion to dominate this land for there actually is no race or religion that can withstand the human costs, of which the trauma of partition is sufficient evidence, of any such domination as contemplated by fundamentalists of any religious ideology forcibly taken to its ultimate end.

Aman Verma is a final year student of law (five years B.A.LLB) at Symbiosis Law School, Noida, an active worker with Narmada Bachao Andolan and former volunteer for India Against Corruption. 

13 thoughts on “Hindutva: A Political Theory of Nationhood?: Aman Verma

  1. Authors like him sitting in his AC rooms and saying I know the ground realities is a such a shame. Sushma ji was correct in saying that in this country, if you do not criticize hindu religion , you will never be given the certificate of secularism by so called pseudo-secularists. The minorities are scared and have developed such a paranoia because of such media people.And as far as conversion are concerned well dude you were very quick to point out a few campaigns by VHP or a few such organisations.You will never speak about christian priests luring poor people to change religion.We have totally understood this trick. I am a hindu and I feel pride in that. For that you are free to calll me a terrorist or a communal.

    1. Aman Verma

      The scope of the article is limited to critically examining Hindutva as a political theory. My intention has only been to try and find out if as a model it can sustain itself without destroying the very society it aims to galvanize. And for the record, I am against every act of proselytization where free and informed will is not involved. Also, I do not intend to criticise Hinduism as a religion as it is (assuming it is one). My emphasis is only on what it is made out to be. Realistically, there is an ocean of difference between the ideas that constitute an ideology and the actions of the followers pursuant to the ideology. While the former may evolve and be idealistic in content, the latter in order to meet its requirements, often compromises on the ideology itself.

  2. Majumdar

    Aman bhai,

    In the extreme case, a real consequence of these could even be the re-institutionalization of the caste system to maintain the regressive social order,

    Adwija Hindus, along with minorities and SC/STs (Hindus or otherwise) make up over 85% of the population. Do you think it is reasonable to assume re-institutionalisation of the caste system as it (allegedly) existed? That is assuming, the Hindutva organisations wanted it in the first place.

    Regards

  3. Raman

    Kafila.org is the final vanguard of a ignorant, self-righteous, narcissistic, lefty entitlement complex. An ultimate safe-zone where ‘secularism’ can thrive without having it’s assumptions and contradictions challenged by counter-argument.

    You people have neither read a book on Hinduism, nor have you cared to learn India’s history. Furthermore, you are contemptuous of those who try, honestly, to grapple with the inherent paradoxes of a pluralistic society.


    A religion that gave us the Vedas, two hundred Upanishads, nineteen Puranas, a thousand sutras, the epic allegories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, ten schools of orthodox and heterodox philosophy… A culture that, in historian Will Durant’s words, remarkably contained ALL of world philosophy within in itself… A civilization that in Voltaire’s words gave Europe everything that it holds dear, like math, philosophy and faith… A land that held Megasthenes’ amazement for its complete freedoms and just treatment of natives and aliens alike… In your minds this history is reduced to ‘Annhilation of Caste’. And Godse.

    This is idiocy parading as intellectualism.

    Aur kuch nahin toh… read what Dr. Radhakrishnan had to say about the Brahman, about the misappropriation of Hinduism and it’s history by Westerners and atheists alike. What Gandhi had to say about dharma and cow-protection. What Ambedkar himself had to say of the problems with Muslim communities in India. What Maulana had to say about the dangers of Islamism.

    By the modern standards of the left, all these great men must now be considered Hindu fascists. Not surprising then, that Arundhati Roy is going around calling Gandhi a casteist and paedophile, and asking for his statues to be taken down. Clearly, the only holy things in the country are now Islamic symbols of supremacy like Babri masjid. No good man’s reputation is sacred.


    The RSS, the BJP, the Sangh Parivar, must all be held to account for their ideas, for the work they accomplish. They must be critiqued, their feet held to the fire. They must be pilloried for real crimes against minority communities. VOTE THE BUMS OUT, I say, if you don’t care for what they do. There aren’t enough extremist Hindus in this country to get you elected dog-catcher, let alone PM.

    But for God’s sake, challenge them from a place of understanding what they believe. Instead, here you have a litany of imagined bogey-men and straw-men; which you then go on to efficiently demolish.

    Is this really your recipe for a secular renaissance?

    1. Prasanna Sreedharan

      The person who wrote the article is not campaigning to be elected “dog-catcher” nor did he comment on anybody else’s election. So not sure where your satire springs from.

      Have you read what Ambedkar very rightly said about “Hinduism”?

      Anyone can easily come up with 100s of other people who said great things about England, Germany, France, China, Japan, Persia, the United States etc. Based on such logic nothing critical can be said about any country/religion/civilization. Just shows how the religio-national fanatics are the same everywhere.

      Yes, Gandhi was a casteist. Nothing wrong in saying that out aloud. Gandhi also had other remarkably positive qualities which led the Hindutva group to hate him. Just shows combination of ignorance and hypocrisy that Gandhi and Ambedkar have been usurped for a Hindu cause here!!

      The article correctly identifies the maturation to its peak of an attitude which was brewing in India for a long time. This consists of the fantastic claim (mostly by upper class Indians) that somehow they have been victims of history. I met an idiot in the US who compared Hindus to Jews in the context of the Holocaust. This false grievance is what is utmost in the Indian mind. These are the ones who are pretty well off economically and now want the holler about their perceived destiny. There is another vicious subgroup which loves India soooo much that they cannot live there. They want the “secular liberalism” of Europe, the United States, and Australia and the freedom there to curse the “secular liberalism” in India. The same Indians who are perceived as un-assimilating foreigners in England by the right wing parties were showing great devotion to the same mindset in India during the last elections. Somehow enough people in the lower strata have been swindled into abandoning their social identity to come to identify themselves as Hindus first in that same election. This has long been the dream of the RSS and it remains to be seen how long they can sustain this coalition. Hinduism is a religion that derives all its identity from the practice of caste. Yes, the Upanishads are an example of splendid literature but little do ignorant Hindus know how much of that movement was against establishment Brahminism of the time (and to that extent it gave and received much to and from Buddhism).

      Please have the maturity to understand the scope of the article before commenting. The article does not deny any fault in other religions. It is just a moral imperative that one must attack the most prevalent majoritarian attitude which disguises itself as democratic. This is the current attitude in India and it must be challenged.

      Consider two people in Pakistan. One attributing all greatness to Islam and the other challenging the fundamentalist character that that country has assumed especially since Zia ul Haq which has culminated into the current mess. Now let us see who in that country will attack the second person. They will be exactly the people like Mr. Raman above who will quote all the glory of the Quran and the greatness of Islamic civilization.

  4. K SHESHU BA

    From the archaic ‘Indus’to the Hindus, life has travelled a long way. Even those who are out of the so called hindus, the outcastes, the Budhists, the Jains, the Sikhs and allthose fringe elements are now collectively shown as the ambigious term ‘hindu’. These amorphous groups constitute hindus. Add patriotism and you get ‘hindutva’ This sometimes takes the form of ‘pseudo-patriotism’and then the problem arises. As long as the elements of religious intolerance, compulsive re-conversions, religious bigotry, are avoided, whether one believes or not hindutva remains harmless. Problems crop up the moment the ‘hindutva’crosses ‘Laxman rekha’.

  5. Sunalini Kumar

    Dear Raman,

    One, welcome to the safe zone! Two, and following from one, clearly it isn’t safe enough, since you are able to abuse us roundly AND be published here. Three, you sound angry. So angry in fact, that you haven’t noticed that not ONE word in the article you have commented on involves a critique of Hinduism. It is a critique of Hindutva and of all religious nationalism, Islamic included. It is an appeal for religion to be accorded its rightful place in people’s private lives, and not be made a basis for building a nation. Yes, a pluralistic society is rife with paradoxes. But so is a non-pluralistic one. Paradox is par for the course in a country of India’s size. The question is what part of that pluralism needs protection, and what part dissolved for the ‘greater common good’. Some of us don’t believe in the greater common good if it means the annihilation of the lesser peoples. So this is not about Hinduism as an ancient civilisation at all, it is about the Hindutva that proposes a blurring of religious and national borders. But no, even though you sound like a reasonable not to mention articulate person, you will not rest until everything that is good in the world has been attributed to Hinduism,

    A religion that gave us the Vedas, two hundred Upanishads, nineteen Puranas, a thousand sutras, the epic allegories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, ten schools of orthodox and heterodox philosophy… A culture that, in historian Will Durant’s words, remarkably contained ALL of world philosophy within in itself… A civilization that in Voltaire’s words gave Europe everything that it holds dear, like math, philosophy and faith… A land that held Megasthenes’ amazement for its complete freedoms and just treatment of natives and aliens alike…

    That demand, that the absolute greatness of Hinduism be conceded before any discussion on religion or civilisations takes place, is chauvinism, pure and simple. Not to mention having absolutely nothing to do with the article you commented on.

  6. ramona0

    Thanks for the cordial welcome. Lets not congratulate ourselves just yet; there’s enough been said about how some opinions don’t make it here in spite of adhering to comment policy.

    Sunalini, I’m not so much angry as I am upset.

    In response to a significant political, intellectual, philosophical challenge from the right, I see a centre/left that has withdrawn into denial and scaremongering. Denial that an emergent Hindutva appeals to many peoples’ sense of justice and concern, not just to their genocidal instincts, as you might imply here: ‘Some of us don’t believe in the greater common good if it means the annihilation of the lesser peoples.’ Scaremongering of a dystopian future where caste is reinstated, minorities are shackled, and institutions subverted. These opinions have no currency outside of lefty cocoons. The likes of Vajpayee, MJ Akbar, Arun Shourie would not have signed on if that were indeed the case.


    We do have a real difference of opinion on what Hindutva means. Within a democratic context, Hindutva is the marriage of religion and politics, not of religion and nationhood. Even the former combination, I will concede, is less than ideal. But history tells us that religions need political dimensions to survive. Consider the history of Zoroastrianism, or the evolution of the Catholic Church. Religions need the same even to effect progressive reform, in self-interest. It is not an accident that the legal abolishment of caste happened only when ‘Hindu-majority’ India became free. So the distinctions you make between Hinduism and Hindutva are not as clear cut as you might think.

    On the pluralism you brought up. Aman Varma alludes to a rising Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, but attempts no solutions. Indeed, this is where Marxism and secularism have been sorely remiss. Why is the Congress the defining obstacle to the creation of a Uniform Civil Code, and the accordance of equal rights to Muslim women and children? Why has there been no progress in restitution of Kashmiri Pandit populations? Why does the left not care of ‘faith-healing’ by the millions while complaining of ‘ghar wapsi’? Why does it deny that large immigrant populations in border states create a national security problem?

    The secularism of Indian civilization is derivative NOT from the Constitution, but from the pluralism of Hinduism itself; it is not an accident that India is considered ‘free’ for political minorities while 57/57 Muslim-majority nations are deemed ‘partially free’/’not free’. See rankings by Transparency International, or The Democracy Index. Secularism that allows for the gradual encroachment of exclusivist faiths (like Deoband or Pentacostalism) will cause Hinduism to become exclusivist too; no point holding up Hindus to a different standard. Such ‘secularism’ will be the ultimate Frankenstein monster that ends the pluralism that created it. Hindutva insists not that all minorities be reconverted, but that they allow for pluralism in their respective traditions. For the sake of all secularism and pluralism. Like I said, it’s easy to win arguments against straw-men.


    The broad debate in politics today is happening at the centre. Picking on fringe Sadhvis and Owaisis does not leave me much impressed. I am more troubled that the main opposition is hostage to the delusions of Gandhi destiny. This country really does need two or more viable national parties if democracy is to work right. Without reform on the centre/left, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    And finally: Hinduism isn’t absolutely greatness, it’s good enough. It warrants a philosophical defence from those who wallow in it’s faults, and misappropriate it’s history. Unlike the Semitic faiths, Hinduism does not have a primary missionary/apologetics narrative, which leaves it to be defined by secondary narratives that are critical/rational/Marxian. Some chauvinism is warranted in the face of relentless nihilism. This is what drives the appeal of Hindutva to many people, and in coming years, you will see many astute political thinkers make it’s case with appropriate nuance, while also warning of it’s failings.


    PS: I’m glad you think I’m articulate. I’m reminded of Joe Biden saying that of Barack Obama way back when he was first running. He got much grief over it.

    1. S

      “history shows that Islam came to India through conquests and merchants and so did every other religion. ”

      It does not show any such thing. Let’s take the “major” religious minorities in order. Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism are endogenous. The first Christians in India came mostly on proselytizing missions or while fleeing persecution. Many of the early Jewish people who came to India in the first century CE were also fleeing persecution in Israel. The Parsis famously came in several waves fleeing persecution elsewhere.

      Even the first mosques were established on the Kerala coast well before the “Islamic conquest”.

      To my dismay, I often find little difference these days between the amount of historical revisionism that persists on the right and the left. Both seem to be equally pliant to the temptation of bending history towards their goal of winning debating brownie points.

  7. I see the current Hindutva-based nationalism as something similar that had happened under Bismark in Germany. Under native rulers who were alienated from the nation’s heartland, Indian nationalism and nation building did not really take place. Nationalism and nation-building will always have its distortions, imagined and stylized historicism, etc. The current Hindutva-based nation building is no different.

    One of my main desires is to see the elimination of a redundant and obnoxious caste-hierarchy as a result of nation-building and revival of nationalism. i hope the non-brahmin elements within this movement are able to take control of it.

  8. S

    Your excellent point that in 2014, Modi essentially had no political opposition, and the Congress party’s decision of semi-projecting Rahul Gandhi as any kind of alternative was a recipe for disaster, is somehow not very widely appreciated.

    I would be willing to bet that if the Congress had shown the intellectual honesty and the political acumen to ditch the Nehru-Gandhis in favor of, say, Nitish Kumar as a PM candidate, then the results in 2014 would have been remarkably different. As it stands, the Congress party seems more pre-occupied with the career goals of the Nehru-Gandhi family than anything else.

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