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THE RISE OF HINDUTVA: PART-1 - ORIGINS

Updated: Nov 5, 2023


Note: This essay is the first of a three-part series.


On the first day, even before the war would begin, the invincible warrior prince Arjuna puts down his Gandiva onto the chariot and conveys his hesitancy to his friend, philosopher, and guide, Krishna. Having Krishna by his side, Arjuna raises several valid questions, the answers to which we know by Bhagavad Gita. Although Amartya Sen questions us for having ignored the validity of Arjuna's questions on morality and ethics, we must not ignore the relevance of Krishna's answers, where he asked the former to fight for 'dharma', id est, the right cause.

It is not complex to understand why Hindutva is relevant in a country dominated heavily by a rich civilizational history. Instead, it would have been a mystery if it were not, yet, the whole complexity lies in its sheer exponential rise in the last four hundred years. It is not as if prior to Vasco da Gama finding the route to India through the Cape of Good Hope, India did not exist; in the same way, prior to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's works on Hindutva, it was Chandranath Basu, who in 1892 introduced the word 'Hindutva' to the world. Chandranath Basu's work is not available in English, thus it would be unfair of me to assess his work on the basis of secondary sources available on the internet that call his work centred around caste and spirituality. It was Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whose 'Bande Matram' (Motherland, I hail thee!) in his magnum opus, 'Anandmath' provided a blueprint to a wave of nationalism that was based on eulogising the nation as mother and fighting against the un-Indian nature of the rule, contrary to the early Congressmen, who had been fighting against the un-British rule of the Crown in India. Hindutva emerged as another umbrella under which the Indians could unite to demonstrate their disapproval against the Rule of the Crown.


आसिंधु सिंधु पर्यन्ता, यस्य भारतभूमिका। पितृभू: पुण्यभूश्चैव स वै हिंदुरिति स्मृत:॥


Translation: A Hindu means a person, who regards this land of Bharatvarsha, from the Indus to the Sea as the Fatherland as well as his Holyland, which is the cradle land of his religion. (1923, Savarkar)


The whitewashed walls of his solitary cells in the Cellular Prison were his sheets, and after every annual whitewash, he would get a fresh supply of papers. This is how poet Savarkar was able to pen down one of his most famous poems, 'Kamala'. 'The Essentials of Hindutva' saw a similar beginning. It must be noted that Savarkar was one of the most influential proponents of Hindutva, but he, in my essay, is not the sole custodian of the word. How did a lawyer from Bhigur coming from a modest background become a leader of revolutionaries and proponent of Hindutva? While being an undergraduate student at Fergusson College, Pune, Savarkar founded Abhinav Bharat, where, along with other students, he used to discuss European political thoughts and revolutionary ideas. When he was in London, he led the India House after Shyamji Krishna Verma had to leave for Paris. It was the same India House, where revolutionary ideas used to be discussed, and people like Dadabhai Naoroji and Mohandas Gandhi had lived. His book, 'The Indian War of Independence' was reprinted by several well-respected mass leaders including Madam Cama, Sardar Bhagat Singh, Rash Bihari Bose. It is said that the famous Rani Lakshmi Bai Regiment of Azad Hind Fauz was inspired by the poetic portrayal of the Queen of Jhansi in the book. Although the man remains an enigma - much maligned and with several flaws, I find it deeply unfair to discredit his works that are still relevant to his followers on account of his flaws in other domains. At the same time, I reiterate my stance to state that I do not attribute the ideals of Hindutva entirely to Savarkar. The idea has been an integral part of this ancient civilization state since time-honoured.


Aurobindo ends an imaginary conversation between Shivaji and Jai Singh with the former saying, "I undermined an empire and it has not been rebuilt. I created a nation and it has not yet perished." (2023, Sanjeev Sanyal) Hindutva was found to be an alternative channel to the moderate policies of the Indian National Congress. Revolutionary ideas used to revolve around the chants of Vande Matram and Bhawani Mandir was the place envisioned by Barindra, Aurobindo's brother, where, similar to Bankim Chandra's Anandmath, all freedom fighters, in the complete spirit of ‘sanyasa’, could dedicate their life to the freedom of their motherland. Although the ideas could never become a part of the mainstream in the first half of the 20th century, their emergence in the late 20th century could be credited to the implementation of the two-nation theory formulated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, in the form of the partition of India.


"Hindutva has pervaded from time immemorial and minorities do not face any threat from it," Ram Jethmalani's words were backed by Justice JS Verma of the Honourable Supreme Court of India in the famous Murli Manohar Joshi Judgement on Hinduism in 1995, which brings us to another conclusion that the word is not communal in nature. With an objective of using the judgement to analyse the points, it becomes necessary for us to question - if the word is not communal, why does it find itself entangled in circumstances concerning communal tensions and political speeches? Is the Hindutva, which is practised by the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] actually Hindutva envisioned by the conservative thinkers? If Hindutva was a uniting force and an alternative channel during the freedom struggle, why is it still relevant and do we need it? The next part shall aim to answer these questions.


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