Supreme Court has left 'Hindutva' open to misinterpretation

Suraj Kumar Thube
Suraj Kumar ThubeOct 28, 2016 | 12:30

Supreme Court has left 'Hindutva' open to misinterpretation

At the time when a revisit of the Hindutva judgment was sought by activist Teesta Setalvad and theatre artist and activist Shamsul Islam, there was some hope of resurrection of the flawed judgment in the Dr Ramesh Prabhoo vs Prabhakar Kunte case. 

However, recent Supreme Court deliberations were limited only to the "corrupt practices" that emanate from wooing prospective electorates through religious propaganda. This was the only part deemed necessary and relevant to the provisions of The Representation of the People Act, section 123 (3) and 3A (penalising communal propaganda).


The need to define the term "Hindutva" and its calculated deployment to communalise society over the last 20 years was not seen as significant while laying down the path for "corrupt practices". The reason why the connection between Hindutva and communalism is so difficult to ascertain is because of the purported vindication it got from the JS Verma judgments through what have been called as the "Hindutva cases".

The main problem with Justice Verma's verdict was the equation of the terms "Hinduism" and "Hindutva". He misleadingly termed the latter as a "way of life" in the subcontinent and went on to draw a seamless link between Hinduism, Hindutva and "Indianisation".

The core issue that lies in this vacuous description is the way the genesis of the term Hindutva was ignored by Justice Verma. Throughout the judgment, there was no mention of Veer Savarkar and his book What is Hindutva? It was he who gave the term the meaning and the attributes it carries in modern day context. "

Savarkar was an atheist. He believed that Hinduism, for all practical purposes, stood for dogmatism like any other religion. On the other hand, Hindutva was a much more comprehensive term which includes the cultural, social and most importantly the national aspirations of the Hindu race. The racial component is vital as it is only those religions who can claim to be a part of this country whose historical antecedents on the lines of  punyabhoomi and pitrabhoomi can be found in this country.

Veer Savarkar was an atheist and believed that Hinduism, for all practical purposes, stood for dogmatism like any other religion. (Photo credit: India Today) 

Muslims, Christians and Parsis automatically were labelled "outsiders" as they supposedly can never develop an affinity toward an alien country. This was the crux of Savarkar's Hindutva which was based on hatred, contempt and an utter neglect of the very existence of these "other" religions.

For Justice Verma to equate Hindutva with a "way of life" is nothing but a travesty of justice for all those who have been victims of the vitriolic onslaught of Hindutva forces over the years. Even S Radhakrishnan, a renowned scholar on Hinduism in his time, used the term "way of life", most notably in the Upton lecture series in London in 1926, as something that forms one of the core tenets of "Hinduism". The invocation of "Hindutva" was nowhere to be seen.

In a similar vein, Justice Verma cast a benign neglect on some judicial antecedents, most significantly of all the first of the three cases of Hindutva. This first judgment, among other observations, had unequivocally stated that Hindu religion with its tenets of tolerance was something different from the outward practices of Hindutva.

Instead, the court relied on a secondary text titled Indian Muslims : The need for a positive outlook by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. As constitutional and legal expert AG Noorani has rightly pointed out, Justice Verma has not only done disservice by quoting a peripheral document but also muddied the matter by grossly misinterpreting the author in equating Hinduism and Hindutva.


This episode has been documented well in Noorani's book Savarkar and Hindutva : The Godse Connection. Over here, and elsewhere as well, Noorani has brought out the connection between the terms "Hinduness", "Hindudom" and "Hindutva".

Savarkar's popular call to "Hinduise all politics, militarise Hindudom" also signifies the distinction he seeks between a meek looking Hinduism and a muscular, masculine force more naturally characterised by Hindutva. By not commenting on these three terms and the way they feed on each other to create an ideology of hate, Justice Verma certainly gave the issue superficial treatment.

The latest observation, disturbingly enough, refused to entertain any debate on the meaning and scope of the term Hindutva. The two issues of corrupt practices and defining the principles of Hindutva were largely misconstrued as two separate issues which need not be dealt with simultaneously.

There is a glaring dichotomy in the court's observation in which it feels there is no need to delve into greater details of Hindutva and on the other hand, trying to bring out the "corrupt practice" of instrumentally using religion as a tool in election campaigns.

This narrow reading is testimony to the fact that over 20 years, the flawed judgment by Justice Verma has been normalised and naturalised to a great extent. That Hindutva  is seeping into the very fabric of Indian society, moulding the popular conscience on the lines of homogenisation and conformity, is something that has been perpetually kept on the back burner.

Its content and scope need to be clearly laid out at the earliest. There is no alternative to understanding Hindutva by placing it in its right historical context.

Also, Justice Verma had himself espoused that the case needs to be heard by a larger bench of five judges at an early date. Twenty years is well past the logic of an early date. On the contrary, BJP's manifesto of 1996 was quick to laud the Supreme Court verdict by misleadingly glorifying Hindutva as being in perfect sync and consonance with secularism.

This idea needs to be revisited as it also has a bearing on other problematic judgments like the Ram Janmabhoomi case which made an effort to highlight the basis of secularism as tolerance that forms the core of our pristine traditions.

Also, it will be of immense importance to reopen the flimsy defence mounted by leaders and party workers in that tumultuous period which saw the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. Until then, the bigoted version of nationalism is going to reign supreme.

Last updated: October 28, 2016 | 12:30
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