Gujarat election: How Congress gave Hindutva a new definition

Suraj Kumar Thube
Suraj Kumar ThubeDec 18, 2017 | 13:24

Gujarat election: How Congress gave Hindutva a new definition

Hinduism is an ancient religion. Hindutva signifies modern hatred. This is by and large the distinction progressive liberals make while talking about the current right-wing political ascendency in the country.

The Congress party seems to be supporting this division which was clearly seen in their defence of Rahul Gandhi visiting several temples during the Gujarat election campaign. Notwithstanding its immediacy in terms of political gains, it is imperative to probe this neat division in more detail. It is one thing to say that Hindutva is different than Hinduism and quite another to say that Hindutva has nothing to do with Hinduism.


Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who is known as someone who popularised the term Hindutva was certainly not a practising Hindu. However, his use of religious vocabulary, cultural idioms and the larger Hindu philosophical ideas do find a prominent position in his explanation of the "political".

Image: Twitter/@INCIndia

He gives equal emphasis on the "ethnic" category as he gives to "territory" in laying out the core ideals of Hindutva. His notion of Hindus being "Vedic descendants" is a direct inspiration from the revivalist call of "going back to the Vedas" by Dayanand Saraswati. Along with this, certain rituals and social practices were equally important for his formulation of Hindutva. This quest for seeking cultural legitimacy for political aggression can be also be seen in Chandranath Basu's Hindutva (1892) wherein he takes recourse to all the dominant traditions, practises and the core doctrines that formed part of the larger Hindu public conscience. Contrary to popular perceptions, it was Basu, and not Savarkar who coined the term. This is significant when one understands its vitality in the specific context of the 19th century Hindu reform movements in Bengal.

Quite simply, Hindutva's birth has got a lot to do with how Hinduism was perceived in this period.


Like Savarkar, Basu is known to have worked towards a set of core principles in order to make the "self" intelligible against the presence of an imagined, uniform "other". Harmony and tolerance, two ideals that normally get projected as the core of a largely upper caste, brahmanical religious hegemony disguised as Hinduism, were extremely crucial for the national regeneration of culture that was sought by the Hindutva philosophy.

The writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and his emphasis in a way on "organised religion" to create a robust, collective "national will" stems not from thin air, but from a firm rootedness in a specific understanding of Hinduism coming from the educated Brahmins, appointed by the colonial masters. For Hinduism to become an organised religion, it had to undergo a metaphysical reconstruction that saw a perceptible condensation of the inherent fragmentary religion of Hinduism to a form that acquired a sense of the "community of equals". This smokescreen of unity, rightly called as "semitisation of Hinduism" by scholars, was needed as a strong, cohesive, militarised force inculcated a sense of oneness, moving away from the meek, effeminate and disorganised streams of Hinduism.

The purging of spiritual/mystical elements for preserving certain brahmanical traits, expressed in metaphors and symbols that are distinctly religious in nature, is what makes the relationship between Hinduism and Hindutva very intimate.


One can even go further to say that the Hindu dharmic idea of rita (universal order) is not possible until and unless a "syndicated Hinduism" comes to fruition. To merely focus on the overt political violence in Savarkar's Hindutva would belittle the significance of Hinduism and the foundational base it provides to it. This is one of the reasons why the interventionist state has stayed cautiously away from such a diffused form of religion.

Congress's new-found adherence for this homogenising public form of Hinduism conveniently keeps away from this deeply contested binary. Of course, when the political mileage is going to be negative after problematising this binary, it is best to spin caricatured narratives by keeping our immediate interests in mind.

At the same time, "who is a Hindu?" is a question best kept unaddressed in everybody's interest.

Last updated: December 18, 2017 | 13:24
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