Hindutva and the Question of Who Owns India

No community, however powerful, has any right to manipulate the ownership of India and impose its narrow and fanatic viewpoints upon others.

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Of all the religions of the world, Hinduism is perhaps the most liberal and accommodating. It is one of the richest philosophies, embodying rich culture and codes of behaviour.

One fundamental characteristic of Hinduism is its spirit of toleration. True Hinduism teaches that one has to respect other faiths: “a true Hindu can go to the extent of allowing others the right to be wrong,” Shashi Tharoor writes in Why I am a Hindu. This quality of mutual acceptance of differences begets tolerance, which is the hallmark of true Hinduism. 

Hinduism does not claim that it is the only way of salvation. A true Hindu believes that he follows a true path and at the same time he also understands that others also follow their own paths.

Commenting on the universalism of Hinduism, in his speech at Chicago’s Parliament of World Religions on September 11, 1893, Swami Vivekananda solemnly affirms, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”

This clearly shows that a true Hindu does not claim a monopoly of truth. He firmly believes in interfaith coexistence with a spirit of live and let live. Given the broad meaning of Hinduism and its universalism, let us now focus on Hindutva ideology.

Hindutva does not simply mean Hindu-ness. It is beyond that. It has nothing to do with spiritualism but everything to do with political economy. Its ideology is neither Hindu nor India. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar borrowed and imported the concept from the West, particularly from Hitler’s Nazîsm and Mussolini’s fascism. These two together provided the foundational root of Hindutva ideology.

Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar rejected the multi-ethnic structure of India’s unity. According to them, a Hindu was ‘one who considers India to be his motherland (matrbhumi), the land of his ancestors (pitrbhumi) and his holy land (punyabhumi)’.

Also read: The Truth of the Ill-Defined Hindu Rashtra, as Narrated by Golwalkar

Christophe Jaffrelot says, ”Savarkar and  Golwalkar crystallised the identity of Hindutva while borrowing most of their political concepts from the West. They indeed internalised the western – mainly German – notion of ethnic nationalism as a means of strengthening Hindus against their enemies”.

The two think tanks of Hindutva ideology thus lay down three essentials of Hindutva, namely, a common nation (Hindu Rashtra), a common race (jati) and a common civilisation (sanskriti). In Savarkar’s vision of Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) there is only one culture that is a Hindu culture: there is only one language, that is Hindi and there is only one religion, that is Hinduism.

Savarkar and Golwalkar flatly rejected the territorial or civic nationalism which includes all peoples born in India. They accepted only the cultural nationalism of a Hindu culture. According to them, political salvation does not lie in Indian democracy, but in embracing Hindu ‘dharmacracy’. The longterm objective of Hindutva is therefore to declare India as Hindu Rashtra. 

The ‘Dharma Sansad’ at Haridwar. Photo: Video screengrab

Under the Hindu Rashtra as envisioned by Savarkar and Golwalkar, Muslims and Christians will automatically have no locus standi in their land of birth. Hindutva is thus seen as an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus, Hindu values and the Hindu way of life in all aspects of Indian life.

According to Hindutvavadis, Muslims and Christians are not bonafide Indians because they are not Hindus even though they are born and brought up in India. They argued that Islamism and Christianity were born outside India. Islamists put their faith in Prophet Mohammed and their holy place is Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Similarly Christianity is also originated in Palestine and their holy place is in Palestine. Given the choice between their motherland, India, and their holy land, Savarkar argued that the Muslims and Christians would opt for Mecca and Jerusalem.

In his scheme of Hindû Rashtra, there could be only Hindu Muslim and Hindu Christian, not vice versa. Therefore, the Hindutvavadis concluded that both the followers of the two ‘foreign’ religions are not loyal to Mother India or Bharat Mata. At most, Muslims and Christians may be treated as ‘second class citizens’.

To quote Golwalkar (1939) again:

“The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture…Or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizens’ rights”.

In this context, Savarkar’s new mantra was sangathan (unification of Hindus) and shuddhi (purification in religious terms).

According to Sarvarkar, in pre-Mughal and pre-colonial eras, there were no Muslims or Christians in peninsular India. The forefathers of present Muslims and Christians were all once Hindus and therefore, the Hindutvavadis solemnly affirmed that both the Muslims and Christians must be reconverted into Hinduism.

One speaker at the three-day ‘Dharma Sansad’ conclave at Haridwar in December, 2021, made a call to the army and police to pick up weapons and participate in the task of establishing a Hindu Rashtra in India. Thus on December 31, 2021 several former chiefs of our Army, Navy and Air Forces, and many more senior veterans were busy drafting a letter to the President and Prime Minister of India to stop the call for genocide of Indian Muslims and Christians. As a matter of fact, many non-Hindu officers and high-ups both in the civil and army, have been fighting and will continue to fight for the defence of their country up to the last ounce of their strength. Their religions do not teach them to be disloyal to their country.

Also read: Hindutva and the Steady Politicisation of Religion

Hindutva ideology divides Indians through a politics of hate. It preaches a message of hatred among the Indian communities, saying, “thou shall hate thy neighbour”; and “thou shall murder thy group’s enemy”. How many Christians and Muslims have been murdered in the name of religion? To make matters worse today, the anti-conversion act is being vigorously enforced in mainland India where many Christians and Muslims are being tortured and killed. The same act is being contemplated to be introduced in Karnataka. Almost everywhere and every day in mainland India, Christians are being threatened for demolition of their churches or persecutions for their faith.

In fact, the year 2021, had witnessed the highest number of persecution of Christians in the country, with reported cases reaching 486. The worst states are Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh. Considering the rapid sraffronisation of the country, no one can say this will not happen in northeast India. 

Hindutva undermines individual freedom. As a matter of fact, in the Hindutva scheme of building a Hindu Rashtra, an individual is sacrificed to the state. In this  connection, Golwalkar emphatically again says: ”The ultimate vision of our work – is a perfectly organised state of society wherein each individual has been molded into a model of ideal Hindu manhood and made into a living limb of the corporate personality of society”.

In short, the long-term objective of Hindutva is to establish Hindutva’s totalitarianism which will be the source of all values and meanings – absolute sovereignty of Hindu Rashtra.

On the question of cow worship, present Hindutvavadis have sharply deviated from Savarkar’s view. Savarkar did uphold the protection of cows, but he abhorred the idea of consuming the animal’s urine. He attributed many of Hindu defeats in the past to their undue fear of defiling the cow by citing, for example, the march to Multan and the 18th century Maratha chief Malharrao Halker’s campaign to liberate Kasi.

Savarkar emphatically asserted, “Rather than backtracking at moments like these for fear of being criminally responsible for cow slaughter and the razing of temples, Hindus needed to start a different course…If ever the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ was hemmed in by non-Hindu forces and there was no other way to lift the siege and procure food, cow slaughter would have to be exercised as an option.”

Under the BJP regime, freedom of speech is drastically curtailed.

The booklet titled Attacks on Journalists, January 2010- June 2018: Murder/Fabricated Cases/Threats and Other Human Rights Abuses is really self-revealing. We do not know how many crimes and assaults are committed against media persons and those who speak against the BJP government during 2019 -2021. This is the situation we are in. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become the ambassador of Hindu Rashtra. Having controlled both the two houses of parliament, the BJP government is now pushing us towards a totalitarian Hindu Rashtra. In fact, Modi’s fascism has now become a hot topic even on international platforms.  

Let us ask a simple question. To whom does India belong? India belongs to all citizens of India irrespective of caste and creed; and all citizens of India, big or small, belong to India. No Hindutvavadis can claim the sole ownership of India and impose their ideology upon all sections of Indian society simply because they are a majority community. What were their contributions towards the freedom of the country? The pages of modern Indian history have clearly shown that the nationalist freedom movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi comprised all sections of Indian society. The idea of India cannot be narrowed down to one community’s interests.

The fundamental DNA of India, as Shashi Tharoor has pointed out, “is one land embracing many – unity in diversity” built on the solid structures of democracy, socialism and secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. It is inclusive, tolerant and pluralist.

No one can deny the historical fact that the leaders of Hindutvavadis were the ones who betrayed the cause of the Indian nationalist freedom movement. For instance, when the Congress ministry resigned in 1939, the Hindu Mahasabha (HM) joined hands with the All-India Muslim League (AIML) and formed coalition ministries in Sind, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Bengal. In March, 1943, the coalition ministry of HM and AIML in Sind went to the extent of passing a resolution for the creation of Pakistan.

Also read: Full Transcript: ‘Savarkar and Hindu Mahasabha Stayed Firmly Outside the Freedom Movement’

Most surprisingly, the Hindu Mahasabha openly and officially boycotted the historic Quit India Movement launched under the leadership of Gandhi in August 1942. V.D.Savarkar, the then president of Hindu Mahasabha, wrote an official letter titled “Stick to Your Jobs” in which he instructed all the Hindu Mahasabha members who were in municipalities, local bodies, legislatures, or those serving in the army – to stick to their posts across the country, and not to join the Quit India Movement at any cost.

Staunchly supporting Savarkar’s stand, S.P. Mukherjee, another Hindutva ideologue, wrote to the British government on July, 1942, thus:

“Let me now refer to the situation that may be created in the province (Bengal) as a result of any widespread movement launched by the Congress. Anybody who during the war (World War II), plans to stir up mass feeling, resulting in internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by the government that may function for the time being”

Mukherjee in this letter further instructed Fazal Hag, the governor where the Mahasabha-League coalition government was formed, “to make every possible effort to defeat the Quit India Movement in the province of Bengal and make a concrete proposal as regards this:

“The question is how to combat this movement (Quit India Movement) in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried out in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province. It should be possible for us, especially responsible ministers, to be able to tell the public that the freedom for which the Congress had started the movement, already belongs to the representatives of the people. In some spheres it might be limited during the emergency. Indians have to trust the British, not for the sake of Britain, not for any advantage that the British might gain, but for the maintenance of the defense and freedom of the province itself. You, (Fazal Hag) as governor, will function as the constitutional head of the province and will be guided entirely on the advice of your ministers”.

The real situation showed that many of his own followers too were uncomfortable with his opposition.

N.C. Chatterjee, one of Savarkar’s close colleagues and father of a former Lok Sabha speaker, lamentably remarked thus: “The entire Hindu population is with Gandhiji and his movement and if anybody wants to oppose it, he will be absolutely finished and hounded out of public life”.

As a result, the Hindu Mahasabha candidates during the election of 1945-46 were branded as ‘British agents’, ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘traitors’. No one doubts Sarvarkar’s patriotism and his selfless sacrifice for his country. But unfortunately “for all of Sarvarkar’s championing of Hindutva, it was Gandhi who was  seen as the devout Hindu who worshipped the cow, spoke of Ram Rajya and at the same time extolled the virtues of Hindu-Muslim unity,” Vaibhav Purandare writes.

India’s freedom movement is one of the biggest mass movements in history including all sections of Indian society. No community, however powerful, has any right to manipulate the ownership of India and impose its narrow and fanatic viewpoints upon others.

Dr Lal Dena is a retired professor of history, Manipur University and former Vice-Chancellor of Sangai International University, Manipur. He can be reached at [email protected].