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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Exporting Hindutva: From Godse to Modi

Hindutva is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. The term was coined by Chandranath Basu and was propounded as a political ideology by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923. It is used by the organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

For the past few days, the British city of Leicester has been in the news for fierce Hindu-Muslim clashes. Leicestershire Police was last reported to have made 47 arrests for offenses including possession of weapons, assault, and violent disorder, which even left as many as 25 officers and a police dog injured. Tensions allegedly escalated after a cricket match on August 28th played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, when Indian supporters took to the streets chanting anti-Pakistan slogans.

While both authorities and community leaders called for calm, social media debates had already ensued as to the root of the problem, which appears to go much deeper than a mere sporting rivalry.

Read more: How the voting rights granted to non-Kashmiris reinforce the Hindutva agenda

Understanding the matter better

From hordes of disgruntled men to religious invocations, the spectacle was oddly reminiscent of one among many in India, where hate crimes against religious minorities, especially Muslims, have been rising steadily. The attacks are without much exception committed by proponents of Hindutva, a Hindu nationalist political ideology coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. While incarcerated for his alleged part in the assassination of Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, Savarkar wrote a pamphlet titled ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ which was first published in 1923.

The three essentials of Hindutva outlined by Savarkar were the commonality of the nation (Rashtra), race (jati), and culture or civilization (Sanskriti). These components served to exclude Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians who were regarded as foreign and threatening on account of their adventitious beliefs.

In the 1930s, the right-wing ideology heavily influenced the political party Hindu Mahasabha, a member of whom would later emerge as the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi. Known as Nathuram Godse, he was unabashed whilst confessing his motivations in a lengthy statement, vilifying the Congress for its ‘nationalism’ and ‘socialism’, and its acceptance of Pakistan by ‘surrendering’ to Jinnah. “India was vivisected and one-third of the Indian territory became foreign land to us…”, he proceeded to declare.

Read more: How the Hindutva ideology poses threat to South Asia

RSS agenda

In addition to his membership in the Hindu Mahasabha, Godse had also been a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization founded in 1925. Tracing its journey from Gandhi to Modi, it is extraordinary to discover how intricately is RSS woven into the very fabric of modern-day India.

Formed by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, an Indian physician, the RSS has since its inception established itself as a harbinger of the Hindu nationalist agenda, including the creation of a Hindu nation-state. Although RSS itself does not participate in electoral politics, its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has climbed to the highest offices in the country to realize such reformist ideals. It is painfully ironic that Narendra Modi, with his long-term affiliation with both, should hold the office of Prime Minister in a country that proclaims itself on the international stage a pluralistic, secular democracy. In stark contrast, the mission statement of RSS blatantly denounces the “erosion of the nation’s integrity in the name of secularism” and “endless appeasement of the Muslim population”.

One of its early, noteworthy leaders was MS Golwalkar, who in his controversial book ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, cited Adolf Hitler as an inspiration, asserting along the lines of his racial supremacist, puritan philosophy that India belongs to Hindus, and its minorities should be treated in a manner similar to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews. However hard it may have tried to distance itself publicly from these explosive dissertations, the Nazi footprint is particularly evident in the atrocities against Indian Muslims, and the Islamic identity more generally.

Having gathered momentum by the 1990s, the majoritarian doctrine of the BJP had succeeded in revitalizing Hindutva, when in 1992, the Babri Mosque was razed to the ground by organized Hindu mobs. If the incident had then become symbolic of the collapse of the Indian Muslim identity, it was superseded by the Gujarat Riots of 2002, wherein Modi was then Chief Minister.

Blaming Muslims for the death of Hindu pilgrims in a Gujarat-bound train set ablaze by mobs a day prior, on February 28, Hindutva mobs embarked on a vengeful rampage of rapes, looting, and murder of Muslims that lasted for over two months. The violence, nostalgic of the Nazi-executed Kristallnacht, resulted in the murders of an estimated 1,000 people, mostly Muslims; with at least 20,000 Muslim homes destroyed and at least 150,000 people displaced.

Over time, the export of Hindutva has only grown to magnanimous proportions. Emboldened by Modi’s assumption of the premiership and the multinational appreciation accorded to him in exchange for envisioned geopolitical favors when he was once denied a US visa on grounds of “severe violations of religious freedom” due to his complicity in the Gujarat pogrom, as well as the acquittal of BJP veterans L K Advani, M M Joshi, and Uma Bharti accused for their role in the Babri Mosque demolition case, the spillover of neo-Nazi ideologues across transnational boundaries is comprehensible.

Read more: Hindutva as a modification of right wing extremism

Yet, what has hitherto transpired and conveniently brushed under the carpet pales in comparison to the monstrosity waiting to be unleashed should the Hitlerian objectives be met sooner rather than later. Now is the time for the global community to ask itself if it is prepared to have another Holocaust on its conscience.


The author is a freelance writer and writes editorials for South Asia Times. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.