From Hindutva To Pseudo-Hindutva

M. Nageswara Rao

Oct 12, 2021, 06:31 PM | Updated 06:31 PM IST

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Bharat Mata. (Image: Twitter)
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Bharat Mata. (Image: Twitter)
  • The RSS and the BJP need to ask themselves if they have lost touch with the base of Hindutva, or Hindu-ness.
  • A recent conference, obnoxiously titled ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’, held from 10-12 September 2021, rightly generated a lot of heat against it. It was repugnant and loathsome as its purpose was to promote Abrahamic interests by demonising and delegitimising Hinduism. As an offshoot of that, there was an acrimonious discussion on Twitter on whether Hindutva and Hinduism are one and the same. This is due to a lot of misinformation and confusion arising primarily from the fact that both the terms have the common word ‘Hindu’ in them. Available literature has not helped clear the confusion to any substantial degree as people tend to take political positions. And the biggest sufferer in this political slugfest has been Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma.

    The credit for coining the term Hindutva goes to Chandranath Basu. I could not obtain an English translation of his 1892 magnum opus, Hindutva – Hindur Prakrita Itihas (Hindutva – the Authentic History of the Hindus). Therefore, my understanding of the text and context of his Hindutva is from secondary sources which has its own limitations. Chandranath Basu was one of the early scholars who evaluated social ideas and practices in the comparative scale of civilisations and his conclusions acclaimed the superiority of the Hindu way of life as against the European.

    His Hindutva constituted the vital and defining qualities of ‘Hindu-ness’, leaning strongly to the side of Advaita and ritualistic Hindu religion. He attempted to revive and re-establish Tantra for re-energising and restoring the fighting spirit and capabilities of Hindu society. He believed that only the bold, subversive and extraordinary methods of Tantra would prepare the Hindu to more effectively fight his subjection and conquer the onset of effeminacy.

    Chandranath Basu’s preference was for reading Shakti both as a metaphysical category and the political. Thus, his Hindutva was essentially a re-invigorated Hinduism with an indigenous Sanskrit name for our religion.

    Even though Chandranath Basu was the originator of the Sanskrit term Hindutva for revitalising Dharma by renewing our indigenous philosophical and religious thoughts and practices, Hindutva did not get much prominence till Vinayak Damodar Savarkar theorised it in 1921-22 in his essay ‘Essentials of Hindutva’. However, Savarkar conceptualised Hindutva more as a socio-political ideology which was very different from Chandranath Basu’s conception.

    There are some who object to the characterisation of Savarkar’s Hindutva as a socio-political ideology on etymological and semantic grounds that Hindutva means Hindu-ness as the Sanskrit ‘tva’ is the equivalent of the English suffix ‘ness’; while a few others describe it as ‘Hinduism which resists’. Unsympathetic observers castigate it as ‘muscular Hinduism’, ‘militant Hinduism’, ‘Hinduism on steroids’, ‘an illegitimate child of Hinduism’, etc.

    Is Hindutva The Same As Hinduism?

    In order to understand whether Hindutva and Hinduism are the same or different, we must know what their essentials are. Savarkar expounded the essentials of Hindutva in his eponymous book in 1921-22 which was reprinted in 1928 by retitling it as ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu’. There are many books that speak about Hinduism.

    Of them I chose the ‘Essentials of Hinduism’ which is compiled from the speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda. It was published in 1937 by Swami Pavitrananda of Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Almora, in the Himalayas. The other one I chose is, ‘The Essence of Hinduism’ by M K Gandhi compiled by V B Kher and published in 1987 by the Navajivan Trust, Ahmedabad.

    Undoubtedly, all the three were great Hindus who tried in their own ways to guide our nation during the tumultuous times of 19th and 20th centuries CE. While Savarkar developed the Essentials of Hindutva which are different from those propounded by Chandranath Basu, Vivekananda and Gandhi spoke extensively on Hinduism. I shall avoid the temptation to dig deeper into their ideas and works, which can wait for a later time and a longer piece. For the present purpose I merely compare and contrast the topical headings of chapters in these books in a tabular form as published below.

    The self-explanatory topical headings of the contents of three books reveal less isometry and more complementarity between the essentials of Hindutva and Hinduism.

    Please click to enlarge.
    Please click to enlarge.

    Interestingly, Savarkar himself clarified in the second chapter of his book that ‘Hindutva is different from Hinduism’, “Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism. By an 'ism' it is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or creed. Had not linguistic usage stood in our way then 'Hinduness' would have certainly been a better word than Hinduism as a near parallel to Hindutva. Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.”

    As Hindutva and Hinduism are different, then what was the purpose of Hindutva? Evidently, he was laying the theoretical foundation for a Hindu Rashtra. “We Hindus are not only a Rashtra, a Jati, but as a consequence of being both, own a common Sanskriti expressed, preserved chiefly and originally through Sanskrit, the real mother tongue of our race. Everyone who is a Hindu inherits this Sanskriti and owes his spiritual being to it as truly as he owes his physical one to the land and the blood of his forefathers.”

    Moreover, Savarkar in his own words alludes to Hindutva as a socio-political concept. “Religiously they are Sikhs, as Jains are Jains, Lingayats are Lingayats, Vaishnavas are Vaishnavas; but all of us, racially and nationally and culturally, are a polity and a people, one and indivisible, most fitly and from times immemorial called Hindus.” And “Thus the actual essentials of Hindutva are, as this running sketch reveals, also the ideal essentials of nationality.” Therefore, Savarkar’s intention was to prepare the foundation for a religio-political nation-state called the Hindu Rashtra.

    More importantly, an overall reading of Savarkar makes it abundantly clear that Hindutva and Hinduism complement each other with religious and ritualistic Hinduism providing life and energy to the socio-political ideology of Hindutva. In other words, Hindutva without Hinduism is barren and dead.

    Inspiration For Hindutva

    Chandranath Basu was greatly influenced by Hindu scholar Pandit Sasadhar Tarkachudamani who defined Dharma as something that supported and held together every element of human life, effectively linking man to the cosmos. This appeared to him a better way of understanding man’s place within creation. It was, therefore, natural that his Hindutva was a reassertion of the traditional social and religious thoughts, values, customs and practices that survived for several millennia and hence were evidently superior to Western culture and way of life.

    As a sharp critique of the decadent morality of the so-called modernity which was penetrating Hindu homes and ruining Hindu domestic economy, the purpose of his Hindutva, which for him was an indigenous name for Hinduism, was primarily to strengthen Hindu society in all aspects and thereby remove any Hindu temptation towards foreign faiths.

    Swami Vivekananda in his letter dated 10 June 1898, to one Mohammed Sarfaraz Husain of Nainital, said, “For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam - Vedanta brain and Islam body - is the only hope. I see in my mind's eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.”

    What Vivekananda meant by ‘Islam body’ was not biological but the collective strength of the ummah which is the whole community of Muslims bound together by ties of religion. Was Savarkar’s emphasis on Hindu unity inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s suggestion to adopt the Abrahamic idea of a strong body-politic for recreating a robust Hindu nation?

    Abrahamism is a group of monotheistic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It includes godless communism and its offshoots such as Marxism, Nazism, Fascism, secularism, liberalism, etc. The phenomenon of a chosen or covenanted people in Abrahamism is well known. Being the ‘faithful’, they alone are entitled to all the privileges, including residency in a specific territory, with higher rights and status, communion membership, over-arching macro-identity etc. Was Savarkar’s definition of a Hindu, to whom inter alia Hindusthan is not only a Pitrubhumi but also a Punyabhumi, a reflection of the Abrahamic influence, particularly of the Islamic ideal concept of Dar-ul-Islam? Seems very plausible. Not only is there absolutely nothing wrong in that but it is also very welcome indeed.

    Though Sanatan Dharma has always informed our indigenous politics and political systems since time immemorial, the idea of a Hindu Rashtra flowing from the concept of Hindutva seems new. Savarkar’s emphasis on much-needed Hindu unity, informed by the values of Hindu civilisation leading to his vision of Hindu Rashtra for those who consider Hindusthan as their Pitrubhumi, Matrubhumi and Punyabhumi is borne out of a synthesis of our indigenous concepts and the prevailing social, religious and political ideas to effectively meet the emerging challenges to our civilisation and nation.

    In other words, Savarkar’s Hindutva was primarily aimed at protecting, preserving and promoting Hindu civilisational interests by assimilating certain Abrahamic concepts in order to make it a robust formulation as propounded by none other than Swami Vivekananda.

    If the supreme Brahman represents Hinduism and the prophet Abraham represents Abrahamism, then Savarkar as the purohit solemnised the marriage of the Brahmana and Abrahmana concepts into Hindutva as recommended by Swami Vivekananda.

    Are We Moving Towards Pseudo Hindutva?

    The mission statement of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is its foundational ideology, is a paraphrased version of Savarkar’s Hindutva. “The Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindusthan. It is, therefore, clear that if Hindusthan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture.

    If the Hindu culture perishes in Hindusthan itself, and if the Hindu society ceases to exist, it will hardly be appropriate to refer to the mere geographical entity that remains as Hindusthan. Mere geographical lumps do not make a nation. The entire society should be in such a vigilant and organised condition that no one would dare to cast an evil eye on any of our points of honour.”

    After the demise of its founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the RSS seems to have diluted the core formulations of Savarkar’s Hindutva. The second RSS chief, Guru Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, in his ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, under a chapter captioned ‘Reactionary Hinduism’, had this to say: “The mere propagation of Hindu thought in literature and newspapers takes us nowhere. For instance, Veer Savarkarji wrote a beautiful book ‘Hindutva’ and Hindu Mahasabha based itself on that pure philosophy of Hindu nationalism. But once, the Hindu Mahasabha passed a resolution that Congress should not give up its ‘nationalist’ stand by holding talks with (the) Muslim League but (instead) should ask (the) Hindu Mahasabha to do that job! What does it mean? It only means that the hybrid nationalism of Congress was of the pure variety, whereas the Hindu Mahasabha represented the Hindu counterpart of the rabidly communal, anti-national Muslim League! How did this strange perversion set in? Because, the deep-rooted conviction which would spontaneously evoke the ready affirmation ‘yes, this is Hindu Nation’ under all conditions, even in dreams, was not there.”

    Unsurprisingly, in the 364 pages of ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, there is only one mention of Hindutva, as cited above. Even though the foundational ideology of the RSS remains Hindutva, but are its actions always about Hindutva, especially in the post-Emergency period? Several RSS leaders arrested during the Emergency shared jail time with Muslims who were also arrested. This interaction within prison walls had perhaps its greatest swerving influence. Islam creates unyielding minds and Muslims seldom accommodate others in religious matters. So did the kafir RSS ideologically mutate to accommodate Muslims?

    Post-Emergency, the Sangh Parivar was opened to minority participation, except in one of its affiliates, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Given the ever accommodative Hindu mind, one wonders how the presence of even one minority person in a gathering of a thousand Hindus influences the latter more than the former, leading to political correctness and dilution in the organisation’s ideology, purpose and actions.

    Successive RSS chiefs and leaders of the Sangh Parivar have been propagating the idea that all Indians are Hindus – Muslims are Mohammadi Hindus and Christians are Christi Hindus – because we have the same DNA, the same forefathers and so on and so forth. Despite this, probably not one ‘secular’ intellectual has changed his views on the RSS. Muslims and Christians are also well aware that it is not the biological DNA and lineage that matters, but the theological antecedents of a religion. After returning from a visit to Afghanistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee even said that except for upasana paddhati, there was no difference between Hindus and Muslims.

    Can the RSS now ask itself how many Muslims and Christians in India think of themselves as Mohammadi Hindus and Christi Hindus respectively as a result of its formulations? If none or very few have, should it not rethink its own approach?

    The RSS also started a ‘Sarva-Panth Samaadar Manch’ under the aegis of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh to propagate the idea that ‘all religions are the same’. But how much of this assertion comes from a reading of the Bible or Quran or the Hadith? If all religions have the same ideas, why would Christianity and Islam claim a divine mandate to convert the whole world to their religions and debunking others as false? Will Christians and Muslims see this as a Hindu willingness to capitulate, or an olive branch for compromise? Won’t this dubious equivalence not endanger an already confused Hindu society?

    A former (now deceased) RSS Chief, K Sudarshan, formed the Muslim Rashtriya Manch. I was given to understand that in the recent past the RSS has also formed a Christian Rashtriya Manch. If Muslims are Mohammadi Hindus, and Christians are Christi Hindus, should these bodies not have been named as ‘Mohammadi Hindu Rashtriya Manch’ and ‘Christi Hindu Rashtriya Manch’? Or is the RSS deluding itself by its own formulation of these terms? Or is it a dubious cover-up for its (concealed) awe of the Abrahamic religions?

    It is necessary to recall Savarkar on whether Muslims and Christians should be called Hindus. “So, although the root-meaning of the word Hindu …… may mean only an Indian, yet as it is we would be straining the usage of words too much - we fear, to the point of breaking - if we call a Mohammedan a Hindu because of his being a resident of India.”

    “But can we, who here are concerned with investigating facts as they are and not as they should be, recognise these Mohammedans as Hindus? Many a (member of the) Mohammedan community in Kashmir and other parts of India as well as the Christians in South India ……. cannot be called Hindus in the sense in which that term is actually understood, because we Hindus are bound together ……. by the tie of the common homage we pay to our great civilisation - our Hindu culture.”

    Just as India has subverted the idea of secularism by making it anti-Hindu and appeasement of minorities, the RSS should ask itself if its loss of moorings in core Hindu traditions is leading it towards pseudo-Hindutva.

    Interestingly, the RSS, in its website under ‘Vision and mission’ proclaims, “That the coming of (the) twenty-first century will be a century dominated by Hindutva and what it stands for is a prophecy which has been heard from many quarters, including eminent historians.”

    It is claimed that the purely materialist approach to life appears to have now run its course, aggressive industrialism has proved its own undoing, the life-style and institutions based on such a philosophy no longer seem viable, and in view of the failure of communism, the world is now looking for a viable and universally acceptable life-vision. “The world is looking for a viable and universally acceptable life-vision. It is Hinduism alone which is in a position to provide such a vision. The proclamation that the coming century will be the Hindu Century is thus not a chimera but based on hard facts, analysis and prospects.”

    One must ask whether this is just hope or hope based on ground reality, and what is being done to protect and preserve Hinduism which is under severe threat? It is worth mentioning that the RSS itself does not observe many Hindu rituals, traditions, customs, etc, which are crucial to sustaining Hindutva and Hindu identity. Even its uniform and the way it is organised is anything but Hindu. Can the RSS truly serve Hindu society by divorcing itself from many of its core customs and traditions?

    It is mostly Hindus who have overwhelmingly voted for Bharatiya Janata Party (and RSS) to power with a huge majority in 2014 and renewed it with a higher majority in 2019. But after coming to power, have the two promoted Hindu interests in any form? The following are a few existential concerns of Hindus on which not even baby steps have been taken in the last more than seven years.

    Though India attained political independence in 1947, Hindus and Hinduism continue to suffer discrimination and subjugation as articles 25 to 30 of the Constitution deny them equal religious, cultural and educational rights on a par with minorities. Read here. The silence of the RSS/BJP on this issue is deafening.

    More than two lakh Hindu temples along with about 20 lakh acres of temple lands and lakhs of crores worth of movable temple wealth have been nationalised by various governments. Hindus are thereby deprived of the institutions and resources needed to sustain Hinduism. It may be noted that only Hindu temples, not churches and mosques, are controlled by governments.

    However, even BJP governments have been taking over more and more temples. The hypocrisy is so stark that in their manifesto for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections this year, the BJP promised to free temples when their government in Uttarakhand had taken over more than 50 temples.

    Further, in the name of ‘development’, some BJP state governments have been on a temple demolition drives. Karnataka is a very recent example where many temples were demolished by the BJP government, allegedly to comply with court orders.

    The massive asymmetric assault on indigenous religions is causing the rapid collapse of Indic religious demography throughout the country. In the post-independence period, in thousands of villages, in several districts and a few states/Union territories such as Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Lakshadweep, J&K and Arunachal Pradesh, the Indic religious demography has already been reduced to either zero or a very small minority. At this rate India will become a Hindu minority country in a few decades and the last surviving ancient civilisation will die sooner than later.

    The world over, organised religious conversion activity is viewed very seriously. For, it is responsible for the destruction of many civilisations, including the Roman, Greek, Mayan, Aztec, Inca and Zoroastrian-Persian ones, even while placing other civilisations under existential threat. Hence, most Islamic countries, China and even Greece have banned conversions. Article 13(2) of the Greek Constitution prohibits proselytisation. Yet, the BJP central government has not so far amended the Constitution to outlaw fraudulent conversions.

    The flow of foreign contributions, a substantial portion of which is used for religious conversion, has been increasing every year. In the last 20 years more than Rs 2 lakh crore has been pumped in through official channels under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). God knows how much more comes through illegal routes. Last year itself nearly Rs 20,000 crore was pumped into India.

    It is well known that a large portion of these funds are used for subversive, conversion and other undesirable activities. No self-respecting country with the aspiration to become a super power would allow subversion and destabilisation of demography through conversions. (Read here). Except for cosmetic tweaking of rules, the BJP central government is yet to completely ban foreign contributions.

    Contrary to pious statements in the Constitution, there is no equality in India as Muslims are allowed to practice polygamy. Polygamy is both anti-democratic and anti-gender justice. It is probably a contributor to the high growth of Muslim demography and an important driver of 'love jihad' in which non-Muslim women are targeted for marriage and conversion. (Read here). Yet, polygamy remains legal for Muslims with section 494 of the Indian Penal Code yet to be amended.

    While in opposition, the BJP accused all others of practicing pseudo-secularism and minority appeasement. After securing power almost entirely on the basis of Hindu votes, the BJP governments have increased minority appeasement policies manifold. It has been reported in media and social media spaces that more than Rs 22,000 crore of public funds were allocated by the BJP central government from a ‘secular’ budget since 2014 for scholarships to minority students.

    Further, there are many other minority-alone schemes for which the RSS/BJP governments have been allocating thousands of crores of rupees annually. The Ministry of Minority Affairs is undoubtedly the best performing ministry. (Read here). The question is, what sin have Hindus committed for which they are deprived of these benefits?

    India is now the world’s second largest exporter of beef/meat for which more than 3.5 crore cattle are slaughtered annually. Every day about one lakh cattle are slaughtered only for export of beef/meat. Such unprecedented cruelty to animals, that too for feeding foreigners and earning blood money, was unheard of in the annals of Hindu civilisation earlier. While in opposition the RSS/BJP voiced concern over this so called ‘pink revolution’, but after securing power in 2014 their governments have been hugely incentivising the export of beef/meat. Is this not double talk?

    The aspiration to conserve and communicate religious and cultural traditions to succeeding generations is common and legitimate for all groups – majority or minority. Denying Hindus the right to manage educational institutions of their choice without undue state interference is not only delinking Hindus from their religious and cultural moorings but also fuelling the fragmentation of Hindu society.

    On an average, by the time a Muslim or Christian child turns 18, s/he would have received about 1,000 hours of formal religious education, making him/her reasonably proficient in his/her respective religion. A Hindu child, on the other hand, gets no formal religious education whatsoever, and as a result s/he is utterly ignorant about Hinduism and Hindu scriptures. This has led to generations of deracinated nominal Hindus. Having recognised the enormity of the religious deprivation of Hindus, the late Syed Shahabuddin introduced a Private Member’s Bill (No. 26 of 1995, since lapsed) in the Lok Sabha for amending article 30 of Constitution, to give the same rights to the so-called majority Hindus. Does the RSS/BJP combine have the gumption of even a Syed Shahabuddin in redressing legitimate Hindu grievances?

    India’s education is most toxic for its ancient civilisation and culture. There is no country in the world except India that teaches its children to loathe its ancient civilisation, culture and indigenous religions. But after more than seven years in power, the BJP has done little to de-tox education. Consequently, our education system continues to manufacture crores of ant-Hindus out of Hindu children annually.

    Hindu religious practices are selectively and systematically being interfered with by enacting Hindu-specific personal laws, ignoring the constitutional directive in article 44 for legislating a uniform civil code. Hindu religious beliefs are being criminalised as superstitions whereas non-Hindu beliefs and thousands of ‘Healing and Prayer Missions’ to convert Hindus are passed off as rational. The Aghoris, Ananda Margis and Tantrics are demonised and hounded; Hindu religious traditions and festivals such as those in Sabarimala, Shani Mandir, Jallikattu, Kambala, Diwali and Holi are being excoriated and attacked.

    If killing or injury to animals is considered bad, then it should be bad irrespective of the purpose of this killing. How does it matter whether the killing is done before a deity or during festivals or for food? But our sensibilities and outrage are limited only to the occasional animal killing done during some Hindu festivals or the celebration of Hindu festivals in which man-animal sport has been an integral part. The sinister objective seems to be the de-Hinduisation of India. Why has the RSS/BJP combine become complicit in this discrimination against the public celebration of Hindu festivals and traditions?

    There have been systematic attacks and genocidal killings, rapes and displacement of thousands of Hindus in West Bengal, lynching of sadhus, and murders of Hindu leaders after openly declaring rewards for their killing etc. Yet, there is not even a condemnation let alone serious effort, to protect Hindu lives, honour and property.

    The absence of questioning among Hindus as to how the RSS has come to establish its hegemony over Hindu society by edging out Hindu dharmacharyas has resulted in the political interests of the RSS perforce becoming the interests of Hindu society and not the other way round. Left-liberals have made things worse by pushing every Hindu who speaks for his/her religion and civilisation into the RSS fold by caricaturing him/her as a Sanghi. And in that sense their contribution to the growth of the RSS and BJP without the latter doing much to redress grievances and promote the core interests of Hindus has been immense. It appears that the Left-liberals and the RSS have some convergence of interests in stifling the growth of the non-RSS Hindu eco-system.

    With Left-liberals acting as herding dogs, the RSS and the BJP may have hijacked Hindu society for political purposes. In September this year, the BJP government of Karnataka demolished an old temple in Nanjangud, Mysuru. As the RSS has a strong presence in Karnataka, it did not allow any public outrage by Hindus. All that the RSS and its affiliates did was to work over-time to prevent any embarrassment to the BJP government by downplaying the incident and whataboutery against the Congress, which condemned these actions of the BJP Karnataka government.

    Finally, one has also to ask whether the RSS and the BJP have succumbed to an inferiority complex after losing their moorings in Hinduism and after years of being under attack by pseudo-seculars. Or does the RSS feel threatened by a possible shift in power if traditional Hindu dharmacharyas and temples become the centres of Hindu revival and rejuvenation after they are freed from government control? The RSS and the BJP need to do a lot of soul-searching. They need to ask themselves whether, in the pursuit of political power, they have lost touch with the base of Hindutva, or Hindu-ness. And how far are they willing to go away from Savarkar’s, Swami Vivekananda’s or even Gandhi’s understanding of Hinduism in the pursuit of political power. The line separating Hindutva from pseudo-Hindutva is a super thin one now.

    The author is former In-Charge Director, CBI. These views are personal.

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