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Posted: 9/11/2008 12:15
Last Updated: 2/22/2014 5:31

The Drums of Hindu Nationalism
Trae Dorn
"They [Muslims] were spreading like a cancer and should be operated upon like a cancer. The… country should be saved from the Muslims and the police should support them [Hindu Maha Sangh] in their struggle just like the police in Punjab were sympathetic to the Khalistanis."
-An Incredibly Racist Quote From Bal Thackeray, 1984
(Malik and Vajpeyi, 1989)


IndiaA local politician voices group-centric rhetoric, blaming their problems on someone else, the other. It's always about who else is at fault, and where it begins as a measure of reclaiming pride, it will many times end up ugly. Nationalism is one of the most dangerous forces on Earth. It blinds otherwise insightful men and women, and it removes logic from those whose abilities of ration are rarely impaired. Over my tenure as a student of the human condition I have written several pieces on the topic of nationalism. It beats the drums of war, and builds walls of hatred. While its cousin national identity can reinforce and save a nation or people, nationalism – that identity taken to extreme – rarely ends up as anything other than destructive.

The only thing more dangerous than a love of country gone wrong is religious ideology warped by nationalistic tendencies. Where one's love of nation taken to an unhealthy level will cause concern for one's future and legacy, the love of a god gone wrong can be significantly direr. No longer is it merely a matter of earthly things, but one for immortal salvation itself. Non-believers become less than human so much more easily that way, and no longer is the other across a border far away, but instead possibly living next door. That the other could be right in front of you breeds a stronger, more paranoid hatred. They are possibly now all around you.

So what happens when one interbreeds this religious form with classical nationalism? What happens when religion and race become so intertwined that it's hard to tell the difference? While the other lurks around every corner, the need to protect not just their nation's mortal but immortal legacy grows stronger. And this is the line where Hindu nationalism sits. How one reaches such a state is the truly interesting question though, and where this continued blending of traditional and religious nationalism will lead remains an unanswered question.

Hindu nationalism grew out of the Hindu revivalism of the nineteenth century. The rejection of so called superstitious behavior in favor of "Hindu science" became a dominant school of thought, as the scientific wisdom of the Vedas was elevated quite highly (Prakash, 1997). Much of modern Hindu nationalism can be traced to the idea of "Hindutva," a concept first named by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1923 pamphlet Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? ("Hindutva," 2005). The word Hindutva comes from the combination of the Persian rooted Hindu with the Sanskrit suffix –tva, roughly meaning "Hinduness" in its literal translation. Savarkar's definition of a Hindu was "who regards this land of Bharatvarsha, from the Indus to the Seas as his Father-Land as well as his Holy-Land that is the cradle land of his religion" ("Vinayak Damodar Savarkar," 2005). This link to the land is a key point, as the philosophy that connection to India itself is a part of the religion further reinforces a nationalistic viewpoint.

In 1925, Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a Brahmin from Nagpur, founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (aka the National Voluntary Service Association). This organization grasped onto the idea of Hindutva, and carried it to its extreme. Hedgewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in response to riots he saw in the early 1920s in Nagpur, feeling that Hindus did not have an organized voice. A controversial group to say the least, while it originated as a voice of pride, fear of the other soon crept in – as anti-Muslim sentiment grew quickly within the newly formed organization. The activities of Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh from 1925 to 1943 are largely unknown, which is suspicious enough on its own (Curran, 1950).

The Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh changed leadership in 1940, with the death of Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. Succeeding him was Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, a man who had only joined the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1931. Throughout the mid-1940s, whenever violence erupted between Hindus and Muslims, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh was there. To say that they were all bad though would be a mistake. During the British partitioning of India, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh did protect many Hindus from violence (Curran, 1950).

Post-Partition, the targets of Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh's brand of Hindu nationalism shifted slightly. Angered at the splitting of "Mother India" with the creation of Pakistan, many prominent figures were intensely vilified, including Mohandas Gandhi. When Mohandas Gandhi was murdered in January of 1948, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh was popularly blamed for the incident, and officially outlawed February 4, 1948 (Malik and Vajpeyi, 1989). This ban lasted until the July of 1949, lifted due to the rather dubious reality of the situation. While the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh had possibly been a producer of much propaganda against Mohandas Gandhi, none of its leadership had actually been directly involved in the murder itself. As a requirement for the ban to be lifted, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh was also made to draft a constitution, effectively designed just to say that they weren't going to try and overthrow the new government of India (Curran, 1950).

In 1951, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh party as a "legitimate" political wing. To broaden its expansion, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh decided to form a labor union in 1995. Calling itself the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Union claims no Hindu ties, but is clearly controlled by the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh plays up on a slightly more traditional concept of nationalism; however, it still manages to claim nationalism is based on dharma and is controlled by a clearly outspoken Hindutva organization (Saxena, 1993).

The Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh continued to expand its network of organizations. At the 1966 Kumbha Mela, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar announced the creation of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council). As the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was the political arm of the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh was the labor arm, the Vishva Hindu Parishad was the specifically religious and non-political branch of the organization ("Vishva Hindu Parishad," 2005). On the evening of June 5th 1973, Madhave Sadashiv Golwalkar died, and was succeeded by Madhukar Dattatraya Deoras as head of the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (Wright, 1977).

1948 was not be the only time the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh would be banned. The second time occurred in 1975; Indira Gandhi had declared emergency and postponed the elections after a series of escalating violence, climaxing with the explosion of a bomb that killed Indian Railway Minister L. N. Mishra. The Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh had previously joined a coalition of groups that opposed Indira Gandhi, and as they had publicly advocated violence, the group was yet again banned and many of its leaders jailed (Palmer, 1975). The ban would continue for several years, as did the "Emergency." The Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh organized protest against the ban and the postponement of the elections. In 1977, when state of emergency ended and elections returned, so did the ban end (Wright, 1977).

In the 1977 vote, the negative backlash caused by the suspension of elections by the ruling Indian National Congress party gave the Hindu nationalist movement the momentum it needed to take over the government. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh joined forces with the other nationalist parties to create the Janata Government. The backlash was temporary though, as the Janata government only managed to hold onto the government for two years, before Indira Gandhi's Indian National Congress retook the government. Learning their lesson, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh's Bharatiya Jana Sangh party disbanded, and with other nationalist groups helped form the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980 ("Bharatiya Janata Party," 2005).

In the 1980s, many more militant nationalist groups either began or came out of the wings and rose to prominence besides Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh. Bajarang Dal, Akhil Bharatiya Shiv Shakti Dal, and Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena to name a few. These groups, while still aligned with each other through coalition or as members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, effectively function independently of each other, unlike the effectively subsidiary groups that would fall lockstep behind the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh organization (Malik and Vajpeyi, 1989).

Violence and riots against minority groups also rippled across India during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Malik and Vajpeyi stated it as succinctly as possible:
Rioting broke out in such Muslim majority towns and cities as Aligarh (1978), Jamshedpur (1979), Moradabad (1980), Hyderabad (1981), Meerut (1982), Bhiwandi (1984), and Ahmedabad (1985). The worst cases of sectarian violence resulting in thousands of deaths have been in Ahmedabad in (1969), Assam in 1983, and the slaughter of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 following Indira Gandhi's assassination. (1989)
In almost all of the listed incidents, the victims were minorities, and not Hindu.

With the increase in violence, these previously smaller or non-existent groups effectively gained more steam by the growing anti-non-Hindu sentiment in India at the time. Combined with a perception that the shrinking Indian National Congress party (which was forced to hold control via coalition now) was favoring Muslims and other non-Hindus for political gain, the Bharatiya Janata Party continued to grow (Malik and Vajpeyi, 1989). By 1991, the Bharatiya Janata Party was one of the most powerful opposition parties in India.

In December of 1992, Hindu-Muslim tensions skyrocketed as members of Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh's Vishva Hindu Parishad demolished the Babri Mosjid (Babur's Mosque) in six hours using only hand tools. Claiming it was the birthplace of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, and the former site of a temple to him, the members of Vishva Hindu Parishad made very short work of the mosque. Archeologists have yet to actually conclude whether or not a Temple to Rama stood on the location previous to the Mosque's construction (Lochtefeld, 1994).
Across the country, riots occurred as well, and estimates say that up to 10,000 Muslims were killed that day by Hindu Nationalists. It was after this incident though that the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh managed to find themselves banned for a third time. In this particular instance though, the ban was short lived. It was lifted only a few months later (Lochtefeld, 1994).

In 1996, the Bharatiya Janata Party managed to become the largest party in India. Party member Atal Bihari Vajpayee was made Prime Minister as the Bharatiya Janata Party attempted to organize a coalition majority in the Indian Legislature's lower house, but failed. Only thirteen days into holding office, and Vajpayee was forced to resign ("Bharatiya Janata Party," 2005).

In 1998, the Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance took Parliament, and Vajpayee was returned to the position of Prime Minister. Although the initial coalition failed, and new elections had to be held in 1999, the National Democratic Alliance managed to hold a slim majority, staying in power until 2004. In 2004, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Democratic Alliance lost to the Congress party's United Progressive alliance ("Bharatiya Janata Party," 2005).

Currently, Hindu nationalism continues to move forward. Recently, Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh members were asked by current leader Kuppamahalli Sidharamaiyya Sudarshan to procreate more often to prevent Hindus from becoming a minority in the face of growing Christian populations in India. He also reported sent out a letter to all members of Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh instructing Hindus to convert more non-believers; the letter also frowns highly against conversions away from Hinduism. To quote the letter:
"Muslims are growing and Hindus are declining in number… crores [tens of millions] of rupees are being pumped into the country for conversion to Christianity. [And] there are demands to introduce reservation for converts from scheduled castes and tribes to Islam and Christianity. If such reservation is extended, conversions will go up manifold endangering the unity and integrity of the country. Should we remain silent spectators because conversions are done with political motives?" (Carvalho, 2005)

The message continues to dictate the number of people per year members should talk to, as well as how much time out of their week they should use to do so (Carvalho, 2005).

Nationalism erupts into violence, no matter what timber the pitch. Be it basic, state based nationalism or the extremist Religious variety; it never turns out well in the end. And for every triumph, there is always a new enemy when one binds it to faith. Once all of the Muslims are gone, then they'll move onto the Sikhs. Once all the Sikhs are gone, they'll move onto the Jews. Once all the Jews are gone, the Christians are next. Once all the Christians are gone, the Jains are next in line. The line never stops, and there is always some new heathen to destroy.

The false image of peaceful India manages to still permeate though. What is 10,000 dead in a country of over a billion? Atrocity and violence is swept under the rug by the international community who wants to remember the movie Gandhi, and not remember exactly who it was that murdered him in the end. Everyone wants to imagine India as the enlightened, largest Democracy in the world, and when you really want something like that, ignoring reality can be pretty easy.

Works Cited:
"Bharatiya Jana Sangh." Wikipedia, 2005. (December 6, 2005)
"Bharatiya Janata Party." Wikipedia, 2005. (December 5, 2005)
Carvalho, Nirmala. "Hindu nationalists to mobilise against growing Christian community." AsiaNews.it, 2005. (December 6, 2005)
Curran Jr, Jean A. 1950. "The RSS: Militant Hinduism." Far Eastern Survey. 19(10): 93-98.
"Hindutva." Wikipedia, 2005. (December 5, 2005)
Lochtefeld, James G. 1994. "The Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Roots of Hindu Militancy" Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 62(2): 587-602
Malik, Yogendra K. and Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi. 1989. "The Rise of Hindu Militancy: India's Secular Democracy at Risk." Asian Survey. 29(3): 308-325
Palmer, Norman D. 1975. "India in 1975: Democracy in Eclipse." Asian Survey. 16(2): 95-110
Prakash, Gyan. 1997. "The Modern Nation's Return in the Archaic." Critical Inquiry. 23(3): 536-556
Saxena, Kiran. 1993. "The Hindu Trade Union Movement in India: The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh." Asian Survey. 33(7): 685-696
"Vinayak Damodar Savarkar." Wikipedia, 2005. (December 5, 2005)
"Vishwa Hindu Parishad." Wikipedia, 2005. (December 6, 2005)
Wright, Jr, Theodore P. 1977. "Muslims and the 1977 Indian Elections: A Watershed?" Asian Survey. 17(12): 1207-1220





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