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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 32, August 5, 2023

Tracing the Genealogy of Contemporary Hindutva Politics | Arup Kumar Sen

Saturday 5 August 2023, by Arup Kumar Sen


Politics of Hindutva represents the dominant paradigm of politics in contemporary India. The eminent historian, Gyanendra Pandey, attempted to locate the making of this paradigm of politics in the article, ‘Which of Us are Hindus?’, carried in his edited book - Hindus and Others: The Question of Identity in India Today (Viking, New Delhi, 1993). His observations and arguments enlighten us about the genealogy of Hindutva politics in modern India.

Gyanendra Pandey argued: “The natural unity of ‘Hindus’, of the ‘Hindu community’…, of ‘Hindu tradition, has been assumed and stressed by varieties of Hindu spokespersons in varieties of ways from the later nineteenth century to today…Hindu discourse has it that a spirit of nationalist unity has guided the history of ‘the Hindus’ from the beginnings of historical time.” Contesting the construct of eternal Hindu India, he observed: “It would appear, from the historical evidence I have so far seen, that the notion of a Hindu Rashtra – India as a Hindu nation, the land of the Hindus alone – was first advanced in the 1920s.” While discussing a pamphlet published in 1924 by the Arya Samaj leader and militant Hindu nationalist, Swami Shraddhanand, Pandey noted: “Shraddhanand advocated as a first step towards the organization of the Hindus, the building of one ‘Hindu Rashtra Mandir’ in every city and important town of India. Each mandir was to have a compound capable of holding an audience of 25,000, and a large hall for recitations from the holy texts and epics… Shraddhanand wrote in the context of increasing strife between Hindus and Muslims in urban centres throughout northern India… A call for organization, discipline and training accompanied the call for building these temples.”

While identifying the central message of the discourse of Hindutva, Pandey argued: “For Savarkar and other Hindu nationalists of the 1920s and Thirties, then, the Muslims and Christians who lived in India, and had lived in most cases as long as the ‘Hindus’, had a place in the country, albeit probably a subordinate one – as ‘citizens’ (‘Bharatiya’ or ‘Indian’).”

Gyanendra Pandey wrote his article in the wake of demolition of the Babri Masjid by the foot soldiers of Hindutva. His discourse on early politics of Hindutva is still relevant for understanding the contemporary politics of Hindutva unfolding before our eyes.

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