Mohan Bhagwat at arms worship
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat worshiping arms | Source: @RSSorg
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Hindutva is celebrated by the RSS/BJP; but there is no serious effort to clarify it.

‘Hindutva’ is a normalised word today. But the power of the term lies in the fact that it is ambiguously defined, and deliberately so.

In a recent interview, senior BJP leader and former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar argued: “Hindutva is being misunderstood. And our own people are responsible for this misunderstanding. Hindutva is what Vivekananda said… You find God in your own way, but don’t fight over the ways… If somebody fights over it, he is not a Hindu. Some mistakes are made by our own people… This is not the Hindutva the BJP swears by.”

Shanta Kumar’s observation, interestingly, does not fit well with BJP’s official position on Hindutva. The party, which proudly embraced Hindutva as its political philosophy in the late 1990s, is no longer interested in it.

According to the BJP’s official website, ‘Integral Humanism’—the four lectures delivered by Deen Dayal Upadhyaya—constitute the core philosophy of the BJP. Similarly, Article 3 of the latest version of the BJP’s constitution (2012) only mentions ‘integral humanism’ as the main philosophical thrust.

This is not surprising. For a long time, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and even the BJP did not recognise Hindutva as a relevant political concept. The complicated story of Hindutva actually goes against the popular portrayal of this term as a unified, inflexible set of cultural political principles.

Savarkar’s Hindutva

The term ‘Hindutva’ has been attributed to Hindu Mahasabha leader V.D. Savarkar, who refers to it in his 1923 book of the same name. Savarkar identifies a few characteristics of a ‘Hind nation’ – a marked geography, a common language, a common culture, and a belief that this land is a holy land.

He argues that a Hindu is one “who looks upon the land that extends from Sindhu to Sindhu”, i.e. from the Indus to the Seas, as the land of his forefathers — his “Fatherland (Pitribhu), who inherits the blood of that race whose first discernible source could be traced to the Vedic Saptasindhus”, “who has inherited …common classical language Sanskrit and represented by a common history, a common literature, art and architecture, law and jurisprudence, rites and rituals, ceremonies and sacraments, fairs and festivals; and who above all, addresses this land, this Sindhusthan as his ‘holyland’ (Punyabhu), as the land of his prophets and seers, of his godmen and gurus, the land of piety and pilgrimage”.

In this European nation-state style definition, Savarkar not only excludes Muslims and Christians from his imagination of Hindu society (as their ‘holyland’ is outside India), but also disregards those linguistic and cultural groups who do not wish to inherit Sanskrit as a source of identity. Cultural distinctiveness, democratic dissent, and federal values, which are defended by the Constitution, have no space in Savarkar’s schema.

RSS’s critique of Hindutva

While Savarkar’s ideas inspired much of the Sangh’s political rhetoric in the 1940s, the RSS did not accept his conceptualisation of Hindutva. Former RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar rejects this over-emphasis on the term ‘Hindutva’ in his book, ‘Bunch of Thoughts’.

For Golwalkar and the RSS back then, the term ‘Hindutva’ was a communal expression. This is why the term Bharatiyakaran (Indianisation) was used prominently in the resolutions passed by the RSS between 1950-1991.

In fact, Golwalkar compares the Hindu Mahasabha and Savarkar with the Muslim League, saying: “Veer Savarkarji wrote a beautiful book ‘Hindutva’ and the Hindu Mahasabha based itself on that pure philosophy of Hindu nationalism. But once the Hindu Mahasabha passed a resolution that the Congress should not give up its ‘nationalist’ stand by holding talks with Muslim League but should ask Hindu Mahasabha to do that job! It only means that….Hindu Mahasabha represented the Hindu counterpart of the rabidly communal, anti-national Muslim League!”

The RSS still upholds this criticism. In a recent article, Rakesh Sinha, a Sangh thinker, said: “No literature of the RSS advocates discrimination against minorities or the formation of a theocratic state. Critics intentionally impose the Hindu Mahasabha’s perspective on the RSS.

Undefined Hindutva

While the RSS used the term ‘Hindutva’ under slogans during the Babri Masjid-Ram temple debate in the late 1980s, it was only in 1996 that it was eventually recognised as an ideological entity.

The Vishva Hindu Parishad’s (VHP, established by the RSS in 1964) famous Hindu Agenda Resolution of 1996 for the first time defined Hindutva as: “Hindutva is synonymous with nationality and Hindu society is undisputedly the mainstream of Bharat. Hindu interest is the national interest.”

This is certainly not what Shanta Kumar wants us to believe; nor is it what Savarkar proposed in 1923. Yet, the RSS remains enthusiastic to designate Hindutva as its philosophical foundation. The RSS’s official website says: “Not only the context of Bharat, but also the global situation re-confirms the validity of the philosophical foundation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. That the coming or twenty-first century will be a century dominated by Hindutva.”

Hindutva as ‘way of life’

The RSS and BJP’s strategy to justify their Hindutva by referring to the 1996 Supreme Court judgement is also problematic. While the court used the expression ‘way of life’ for recognising Hindutva, it asked all political parties and other stakeholders to stop using religion for political benefits: “Three speeches of Bal Thackeray amount to corrupt practice… Since the appeal made to the voters in these speeches was to vote for Dr Ramesh Prabhoo on the ground of his religion as a Hindu.” (Dr Ramesh Prabhoo v Prabhakar K. Kunte, 1996)

Hindutva is celebrated by the RSS/BJP; but there is no serious effort to clarify it.

Undefined Hindutva helps them mobilise a number of social groups into an imagined Hindu political community — religious Hindus, cultural Hindus, modern nationalist Hindus, and above all, the radical-communal Hindus.

This is the first article in a two part series by Hilal Ahmad. You can read the second part here. 

Hilal Ahmad is an associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi

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