Savarkar is an RSS member

The end of Indian secularism? The BJP and its Hindutva Policy

The largest democracy in the world is going through turbulent times. As in so many other places on earth, nationwide protests against the government broke out here in 2019. A controversial citizenship law, which was presented by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP - Indian People's Party) under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Interior Minister Amit Shah in early December 2019, facilitates the naturalization of refugees who fled religious persecution, but excludes Muslims explicitly. This is a violation of the secular constitution of India, which prohibits discrimination based on religion. Many protesters and intellectuals therefore accuse the BJP of wanting to gradually transform India into a Hindu state with its so-called Hindutva policy and often draw comparisons with German National Socialism. International media such as The New Yorker recently speak of a fascist threat from the ruling party.

Demonstration against attacks on teachers and students at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, January 8, 2020; Source: ft.com

So is there really a danger of Indian fascism? And how is the current policy of the BJP to be interpreted in this regard? What are the historical and ideological roots of Hindu nationalism?

Savarkars Hindu Rashtra

The division of the former British India into the successor states India and Pakistan (at that time still with Bangladesh as East Pakistan) in 1947 revealed the long-running conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the area of ​​the former "Viceroyalty" British India. In the years before independence, the Congress Party around Gandhi and Nehru campaigned for an undivided India with a secular and pluralistic constitution. The Muslim League around Muhammad Ali Jinha insisted on the idea of ​​establishing a separate state for Muslims. In the end, at the insistence of the British, there was a painful one partition. While Pakistan became an Islamic republic on the foundations of Islam, the founding fathers of India created their country under the leadership of activist and scholar B.R. Ambedkar given a secular constitution. This meant that all religions in the predominantly Hindu country were on an equal footing. Not all political actors approved of secularism and the pluralistic vision of society. Hindu nationalists called for the creation of a Hindu state that included all of the successor states of British India. In 1948, just one year after the founding of the Republic of India, Gandhi was killed by the Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse on the grounds that he had made too many concessions to the Muslims and thus allowed the partition of India.

Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“National Volunteer Association”), or RSS for short, a Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization. This was founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliwar Hedgewar and pursued the ideology of the so-called Hindutva, which V.D. Savarkar in the book Hindutva. Who is a Hindu? and had a strong influence on Hedgewar. Savarkar was an anti-British freedom fighter who was sentenced to a long prison term while studying in London as a political agitator and was deported to India. While in detention, Savarkar began to write down his vision for a Hindu India. The term Hindutva coined by him, which in English roughly with hinduness can be translated, encompasses a political and culturalist view of Hinduism that goes beyond religious belief.

The three pillars of the Hindutva

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Savarkar's former prison cell; Source: deccanherlald.com

In his pamphlet, Savarkar defined three pillars on which his Hindutva concept is based: "Rashtra", "Jati" and "Sanskriti". With the term Rashtra (Nation) he defines the geographical homeland of the Hindus, which he describes in his book as Sindhusthan or. Hindusthan designated. With reference to the great Hindu epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, he makes one maathrbhoomi (Motherland), which extends from the western Sindh (Indus delta) to the eastern Assam, from the northern Kashmir to the southern tip. At the present time that would be an area which, in addition to India, would also include the states of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. Savarkars Hindusthan is one of a number of Pan-Indian ideas, most of which come under the term Akhand Bharat (undivided India) and their boundaries vary from Afghanistan to Indonesia.

According to Savarkar, Hindus do not define themselves exclusively through their common fatherland: not only the soil, but also their “common blood” unite them to form a community. The followers of Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism - religions whose genealogy goes back to Hinduism - are part of this "race". For Savarkar, regional differences and caste membership were of secondary importance - which was rather surprising for his time and circumstances. With the word JatiThat in Indian usage usually means belonging to a caste, however, Savarkar attests to the ethnically and culturally very diverse Hindus a kind of common biological fate. This idea of ​​race and nation is very much inspired by European nationalisms, which the Savarkar also underlined by comparing it with the English and French.

European role models

Savarkar did not deny the Muslims and Christians the affiliation with regard to Rashtra and Jati, but pointed out that they could well be regarded as Hindus, since Hindhustan was also their homeland. They are also part of the "Hindu race" because they have deviated from Hinduism through a forced conversion. However inclusive his Hindutva term may seem at first glance, Savarkar did not see Muslims and Christians as part of a Hindu community. For they would lack the crucial essence that distinguishes Hindus from Muslims, namely theirs Sanskriti, so their "culture" or "civilization". Only those who accept and continue the Hindu culture and its history can become part of the nation. Savarkar is not only interested in seeing India as a fatherland, but also as a religiously and culturally defined homeland. Muslims and Christians are divided in their patriotism, since their holy places are not in the Hindusthan that he depicts.

V.D. Savarkar; Source: scroll.in

According to Savarkar, Hindus are a nation that identifies itself through blood, soil and culture. According to this view, Hindutva and Hinduism are closely linked, but the former was the more comprehensive term for Savarkar because it goes beyond religion. Many experts agree that Savarkar himself was not a fanatically devout Hindu, did not consider the cow to be sacred and was rarely found in temples. Rather, his ideology is a concept of a Hindu Rashtra inspired by European nationalisms and fascisms, in which Hindus as the majority have the say and all others have to submit. Savarkar was a great admirer of National Socialist Germany and compared the German Jews with the Muslims in India - and wished them a similar policy. At the same time he advocated the efforts of the Zionists for a Jewish state in Palestine. His view was simple: every “race” deserves its own state, including the Hindus.

The rise of Hindu nationalism

The RSS, founded in 1925, adopted the Hindutva ideology of Savarkar and, as a paramilitary volunteer organization, envisaged the goal of transforming India into a Hindu state. Savarkar himself never became a member, but continued to politicize on the right wing until his death in 1966, without making any major accents, although he is still revered today as the ideological father of the RSS. The RSS itself also remained a marginal phenomenon for a long time without much political impact and played no role at all in the independence movement (as many critics point out today), but only emerged as a serious political actor with the independence of India.

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After Gandhi was murdered by Godse, the RSS was temporarily banned and Savarkar was arrested because of his acquaintance with Godse, but released again for lack of evidence. Above all, RSS has now been able to steadily increase the number of its followers by propagating the Hindutva ideology. In particular during the 1970s, when the ruling Congress Party restricted fundamental rights by declaring a state of emergency and plunged India into a political crisis, the underground movement found further support. Its rise is unprecedented: with around five million members today, it is not infrequently referred to as the largest volunteer organization in the world. Its exclusively male members wear the typical uniform of khaki shorts or, since 2016, brown trousers, a white shirt and a black hat. In addition to ideological work, they now offer more than 80,000 local groups across the country, so-called Shakhas, physical training and discipline for their followers with yoga and combat exercises. The hierarchical structure, the uniforms and the political goals are obviously inspired by the fascist movements in Europe before 1945. The leadership admired Hitler and Mussolini; Madhav Golwakar, successor to RSS founder Hedgewar, praised Nazi Germany for its racial policy, from which “Hindusthan” could learn a lot.

The RSS sees itself less as a political than as a social movement, which simply advocates the interests of the Hindus. With its many sister organizations, it has an enormously large network that extends across all areas of society, from poor relief and education to the unions around the world. The BJP, which was only founded in 1980 - today's ruling party - is considered the political arm of the RSS, even if there are no formal ties. But many members of the party held senior positions in the RSS and are ideologically on the same line. One of them is the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who joined the RSS at the age of eight. Modi's political career would be unthinkable without his rise in the Hindu Nationalist Movement, and his politics are accordingly heavily influenced by Hindutva ideology.

Ayodhya as a historical milestone of the BJP

Agitations against the Muslim population were part of the RSS program and also ensured it the necessary headlines. But what was probably her greatest coup in 1992 with the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Hindu nationalists have long been calling for the 16th century mosque to be demolished because it was supposedly built on the ruins of a Ram temple. According to the Hindu epic Ramayana, Ayodhya is the birthplace of the god Ram. Lal Krishna Advani, then president of the BJP, toured during his 1990 Ram Rath Yatra (Chariot trip for Ram) across India to promote the demolition of the mosque.

Storming and destruction of the Ayodhya mosque, 1992; Source: financalexpress.com

On December 6, 1992, Hindu nationalists called for a mass rally in Ayodhya, whereupon thousands of radical Hindus, with the active participation of the RSS and BJP politicians, destroyed the mosque within a day and demanded the construction of a new Ram Temple. As a result, the RSS was banned for a third time in its history, but there has not yet been a legal conviction of those involved. However, the events in Ayodhya and the heightened religious tensions helped the Hindu nationalists to gain enormous popularity in the following years. The BJP was able to use the momentum for itself and emerged as the strongest force in the following parliamentary election in 1996. The party, which was only founded in 1980, had in fact achieved a brilliant rise.

Modi and his party comrades like to pretend to continue Gandhi's ideals. In truth, however, she ideologically connects more with his murderer Nathuram Godse. That the BJP has a Hindutva agenda is an open secret. Vinayak Savarkar, the father of the Hindutva ideology, is revered by party functionaries as a hero and freedom fighter, although he only played a marginal role in the independence movement. The fear of many people that India will become a fascist Hindu Rashtra If you trace back the ideological roots of the BJP, it is not entirely unfounded. It is not only the past that makes you sit up and take notice, but also the current power of the Hindu nationalists, who can rule with an absolute majority in parliament until 2024.

 

The second part on the current situation in India will appear soon.