By 2017 the rise of majoritarianism fueled by Hindu ultra-nationalism threatened India's pluralistic, rich and diverse traditions. Muslims have become targets in India and their oppressors enjoy impunity and oxygen from the government. In Narendra Modi's India, it seemed as if a new anti-Muslim dog whistle emerged in the political theater every few months. The aims of India’s Hindu extremist agitators were simple: to consolidate the disparate Hindu vote, leveraging animus toward Muslims, and further ostracize the country’s 200 million Muslims, effectively erasing them from the public sphere. It began in 2014 with “ghar wapsi,” which translates as “homecoming,” but serves as a euphemism for a campaign to convert Muslims “back” to Hinduism. Then there came agitation against “love jihad” — the supposed surreptitious use of romantic relationships by Muslim men to convert Hindu women to Islam. This was then followed by the issue of the slaughter of cows, an animal revered as holy by Hindus, but also an affordable protein source for its minority population. These issues pop up simultaneously, but it is the anti-cow slaughter campaign that was most persistent and violent, leading to the murder of Muslims in the livestock trade by Hindu extremist mobs. Other issues, such as the Islamic call to prayer and Muslim women’s divorce rights, have taken center stage in India’s frenzied media debate. On the streets, the anti-Muslim campaign is led by the network of Hindu extremist (Hindutva) groups, including Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On the screens, the digital mob is led by major television networks allied with the BJP. The goal of the Indian right’s anti-Muslim discourse is not merely electoral. Over time, the aim is to create a Hindu “rashtra” (nation)—a New India that is proudly Hindu and nothing more. The idea is to bully Muslims into submission and force their assimilation into the Hindu fold. Subramanian Swamy, a senior official with the BJP, has in the past said that Muslim voting rights should be made contingent upon Muslims “admitting” that they are Hindu by blood. Indianness equals Hinduness, Hindutva activists claim. The appointment of Yogi Adityanath, the head of a violent Hindutva vigilante group, as chief minister of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, signals that Modi is not distancing himself from Hindutva extremism. He himself is a Hindutva hardliner. And he sees the Hindu nationalist card as critical for reelection in 2019. Broadly, the Hindutva movement sees itself as a historical corrective. It seeks, in the words of Modi, to redress India's "twelve hundred years of servitude"—painting not only the British as colonial aggressors, but also the Muslim rulers who came as invaders but built a uniquely composite culture and indigenized Islam in South Asia. For Hindutva extremists, Islam remains an outsider. It is not an "Indic" religion despite having been in the region since the 7th century. This is ultimately a revolt against history. Not just against the Muslim, whose mind and blood is “polluted” with the remnants of invaders past, but also the Nehruvian secular—derided as “sickular” or “Lutyens’ Delhi” liberals—who, in the words of Modi, “appease” the Muslim “vote bank.” At the end of the nineteenth century, a religious movement arose to reform Hinduism and bring it back to the sources of traditional Hinduism. The person of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856–1920) is frequently referred to as “the father of Indian Nationalism.” Tilak was a Maharastrian Brahman whose Hindu orthodoxy and Sanskrit learning gave him an authoritative religious voice in his dedication to “Swaraj,” or political independence. The Indian National Congress (Congress Party) was founded in 1885. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a member of the Congress, but his political advocacy of using violent means stood in opposition to the moderate views of other members of the Congress.
“Hindutva – who is a Hindu” (Hindutva means Hinduness) was the name of a book published in 1923 written by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a colleague of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. With his book, the idea of a Hindu-Nation was first promulgated in public. Savakar’s ideas of Hindutva were similar to the Rassenideologie of the Nazis in Germany. “Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
“Hindutva” is the ideology that espouses politicized inculcation of Hindu religious and cultural norms above other religious norms. “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness,” is a political philosophy that seeks to raise awareness of India’s Hindu roots and the fundamentally Hindu nature of the country. “Hindutva” ideas about India’s history portray ancient Indian civilization as indigenous and without discussion of an Indo-Aryan migration. These ideas are unscholarly, are politically and religiously motivated, have already been rejected by India’s national educational authorities.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), associated with Hindu nationalist groups, enjoyed rapid successin national politics. Riding a crest of rising Hindu nationalism, it increased its strength in Parliament from only two seats in 1984 to 181 seats 1999, and from 1998 to 2004 BJP controlled the Government of India. A key challenge for the BJP centered on its designation of “Hindutva” -- the idea of a unified Hindu state -- as its guiding theme. The party’s embrace of Hindutva contributed significantly to its electoral leap forward in 1991, and press-reporting indicated that senior BIP leaders without exception would be loath to abandon it. The party’s need to ally with disparate political parties in Parliament, however, prompted it to temper its religious rhetoric and slow its pursuit of some extreme goals.
The BJP originally emerged as a political outlet for several of India’s Hindu religious organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS - National Volunteer Force) and the Vishnu Hindu Parishad (VHP) -- known collectively as the Sangh Parivar. The first of these organizations was the RSS, formed before independence to unite Hindus through training in ideology, cultural awareness, and physical fitness. The Hindutva forces have attempted to consolidate themselves since the 1920s. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) (Association of National Volunteers) is a Hindu nationalist organization, founded in 1925 by Keshava Baliram Hedgewar as a culture and welfare organization with the intention of promoting the idea of a Hindu nation on the basis of the Hindutva.
The scholar Marzia Casorali, in her definitive study Hindutva's foreign tie-up in the 1930s - Archival Evidence, traced the movement's inspiration to Benito Mussolini and to Adolf Hitler in the 1920s and subsequently. She writes: "an accurate search ... is bound to show the extent and importance of such organizations and Italian fascism. (They) not only adopted fascist ideas in a conscious way, but this also happened because of the direct contacts between their representatives of these organizations and fascist Italy." Casorali quotes from Mr. V Savarkar, Mr. BS Moonje, Mr. Golwalkar, the founders of the Hindutva ideology. In 1934 they said "this ideal cannot be brought to effect unless we have our own swaraj with a Hindu as a dictator like Shivaji of old or Mussolini or Hitler of the present day in Italy and Germany." The Savarkar-led Hindu Mahasabha in 1939 officially stated: "Germany's crusade against the enemies of Aryan culture will bring all the Aryan nations of the world to their senses and awaken the Indian Hindus for the restoration of their lost glory." Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, who led the RSS from 1940 until 1973, saw one shining example in distinguishing between different citizens in Germany, under the Nazi rule.
In 1947, it was hoped that secularism would be the watchword of the Congress Party and that the post-Independence India will not accord any respectability to communal forces. But it was not to be. The RSS was banned in 1948-49 after one of its members assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, who had emphasized Hindu-Muslim unity, and spared no pains to help in attaining it. The RSS sponsored new organizations it could control from behind the scenes. The BJP evolved from the Jana Sangh, which was established in 1951 as the political wing of the RSS. Most of the BIP’s senior leadership -- including Vajpayee -- sprang from the RSS. The RSS depended on the BJP to keep Hindu nationalism in the public eye as a political issue, and the BJP relied on the RSS for manpower and organizing grassroots electoral support.
The legend of Ram and the story of the temple of Ram in Ayodhya were very popular and widespread in India. The BJP began Hindu religious and nationalistic agitation and started the Ayodhya campaign that led to the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992. Observers held elements of the the extremist Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh responsible for the outbreaks of serious communal violence in which a mosque was destroyed at Ayodhya and some 3,000 people were killed in anti-Muslim rioting in Bombay and elsewhere.
While in power, the BJP worked with limited success to shift its image from that of right-wing Hindu nationalist to conservative and moderate. Hindutva focused on a Hindu society with a traditional structure with caste dominance. Popular among upper caste groups, the party continues to be looked upon with suspicion by lower caste Indians, India’s 140 million Muslims, and non-Hindi-speaking Hindus in southern India, who together comprise a majority of India’s voters. The BJP’s minimizing of “Hindutva” as a campaign slogan angered the RSS, which clung to the concept to unify the Sangh Parivar. There is a sharp distinction between Hinduism the religion and Hindutva the political philosophy of the Sangh parivar. The founder of modern India and its first Prime Minster, Jawaharlal Nehru, identified the Sangh Parivar as communalist and fascist.
The national government, led by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), continued to implement an inclusive and secular platform that included respect for the right to religious freedom. Despite the national government's rejection of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), a few state and local governments continued to be influenced by Hindutva. The law generally provided remedy for violations of religious freedom, however, due to a lack of sufficient trained police and corruption, the law was not always enforced rigorously or effectively in some cases pertaining to religiously oriented violence. However, "Hindutva"-based policies could not be implemented without passing court review to determine whether they were consistent with the principles enshrined in the country's secular constitution.
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