By Sagnik Saha

Editor’s note:

This paper traces the origin and development of the phenomena termed as ‘Hindu nationalism’. From the rise of BJP, to the coalition era, with special emphasis on RSS, it describes how Hindu patriotism solidified as a belief system and then an electoral political phase. It details the role played by Mahatma Gandhi as well.

The Hindu nationalist movement began to monopolize the front pages of Indian daily papers in the 1990s when the political gathering that spoke to it in the political arena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP which deciphers harshly as Indian People’s Party), rose to power. From 2 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, the BJP expanded its count to 88 in 1989, 120 in 1991, 161 in 1996—at which time it turned into the biggest political party in that assembly and to 178 in 1998. By then it was in a position to structure a coalition government, an accomplishment it rehashed after the 1999 mid-term elections. Without precedent for Indian history, Hindu patriotism had figured out how to assume control power. The BJP and its associates stayed in office for five full years, until 2004. The overall population found Hindu patriotism in operation over these years. Yet it had obviously as of recently been active in Indian legislative issues and social order for a long time; actually, this ideologue is one of the oldest ideological streams in India. It took concrete shape in the 1920s and even beholds once more to additional beginning shapes in the nineteenth century. As a development, too, Hindu patriotism is beneficiary to a long convention. Its principle incarnation today, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS—or the National Volunteer Corps), was established in 1925, not long after the first Indian comrade party, and soon after the first Indian communist party. Truth be told, Hindu patriotism runs parallel to the predominant Indian political convention of the Congress Party, which Gandhi changed into a mass association in the 1920s. For sure, Hindu patriotism solidified as a belief system and as a development precisely when the Congress got pervaded with Gandhi’s standards and developed into a mass development. It then improved an elective political society to the predominant phrase in Indian governmental issues, not just since it dismissed non-savagery as a true blue and adequate business as usual against the British in the wake of the talk of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856–1920) and his apologia energetic about a Hindu convention of vicious activity[1] additionally on the grounds that it denied the Gandhian origination of the Indian nation.

Mahatma Gandhi took a look at the Indian country as, conceivably, a concordant accumulation of religious neighborhoods all set on an equivalent balance. He advertised a syncretic and otherworldly brand of the Hindu religion in which all doctrines were certain to union, or merge. In spite of the fact that the pioneers of India’s minorities—particularly Muslims—opposed this universalist advance partially in light of the fact that Gandhi explained his perspectives in a completely Hindu style—the Mahatma demanded till the close that he spoke for the benefit of all groups and that the Congress spoke to every one of them. In the early 1920s he even directed the fate of the Khilafat Committee, which had been established to safeguard the Khilafat, an organization tested after the thrashing of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War[2]. Gandhi’s Universalist meaning of the Indian country reverberated that of the man he viewed as his master in legislative issues, Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866–1915), and, all the more for the most part talking, of the original of Congress guides. For the originators of Congress, the Indian country was to be characterized as per the regional standard, not on the foundation of social characteristics: it included each one of the aforementioned who happened to live inside the outskirts of British India. Subsequently, it was not recognized as being inside Congress’ purview to manage religious issues which, indeed, were regularly social issues, for example youngster marriage and widow re-marriage—all such issues being those that went under the individual laws of diverse divisions. In addition, the early Congress had begun for this last reason a National Social Conference which met in the meantime and in the same put as Congress did, throughout its twelve-month session, yet as a divide figure. Conversely with the organizers of Congress, Gandhi recognized religious personalities in general society circle, even as he saw the country as an amalgamation of numerous diverse neighborhoods. In the 1920s and after, nonetheless, the legacy of the original Congress pioneers was still sought after and developed by real Congress Party figures: the Nehrus, i.e. Motilal Nehru (1861–1931) and his child, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964), who supported a liberal country building process dependent upon people, not bunches. For Motilal, who was chosen president of the Congress in 1919 and 1928, and for Jawaharlal, who—before autonomy involved the same post in 1929, 1936, and 1946, and who was to wind up Gandhi’s otherworldly child, the development of the Indian country could just be established in mainstream, unique personalities. The Nehrus spoke to a variant of the Universalist viewpoint, not very same as thought by Gandhi.

Hindu patriotism, like Muslim separatism (a development which in India was structured around the same time), dismissed both forms of the Universalist perspective of patriotism enunciated by Congress[3]. This belief system expected that India’s national character was condensed by Hinduism, the prevailing ideology which, consistent with the British registration, spoke to around the range of 70 for every penny of the populace. Indian society was to be characterized as Hindu society, and the minorities were to be assimilated by their paying dependability to the images and backbones of the greater part as those of the country. For Congressmen like Nehru these philosophies like that of the Muslim League or of Sikh separatists—had nothing to do with patriotism. They marked it with the slanderous term ‘communalism’. Anyhow truth is told that the precept that was to end up known by the name “Hindutva” satisfied the criteria of ethnic nationalism[4]. Its saying, ‘Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan’, sounded like numerous other European patriotisms dependent upon religious personality, a normal dialect, or even racial feeling.

All the same, the key aspects of Hinduism barely loaned themselves to such an ideology. This is, first and foremost, on the grounds that Hinduism has no book’ which can positively be said to serve as a regular reference focus. As Louis Renou brings up, in Hinduism ‘religious books might be depicted as books composed for the utilization of a sect’[5]. Moreover, Hinduism has regularly been portrayed not as a religion however as an ‘aggregation of sects’[6]. indeed the expression “Hindu” infers from the name of a waterway, the Indus; it was utilized progressively by the Archimedes, the Greeks, and the Muslims to mean the populace living past that river[7], yet till the medieval period it was not appropriated by the individuals themselves[8]. A “Hindu” cognizance clearly discovered its first declaration in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the realm of Shivaji, and afterward in the Maratha alliance. Be that as it may the successes of the Marathas toward the Gangetic plain ‘finished not infer the presence of a feeling of the religious war dependent upon ethnic or shared consciousness’[9]; they came about because of an inspiration that was custom in character— to restore to the Hindus certain sacred places, for example Varanasi, which were loved all around India. The advancement of Hindu patriotism is hence an advanced marvel that has improved on the foundation of techniques of philosophy building, and regardless of the definitive aspects of a different set of practices clubbed under the ideologue of Hinduism.


Hindu nationalism is an old ideologue which is being interpreted for political interests of various Hindu Political Parties to forward their own interest of a positive balance of the Electoral College.

Edited by Neerja Gurnani

[1] See C. Jaffrelot, ‘Opposing Gandhi: Hindu Nationalism and Political Violence’, in D. Vidal, G. Tarabout, and E. Meyer, eds, Violence/Non-Violence. Some Hindu Perspectives (Delhi: Manohar-CSH, 2003), pp. 299–324. OnTilak, see R. Cashman, The Myth of the Lokmanya (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975).

[2] See Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).

[3] On this typology, see Gyanendra Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990).

[4] Argument in The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics (New Delhi: Penguin, 1999).

[5] L. Renou, Religions of Ancient India (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1972), 2nd edn, p. 50.

[6] R. Thapar, ‘Imagined Religious Communities? Ancient History and the Modern Search for a Hindu Identity’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 1989, p. 216.

[7] R.E. Frykenberg, ‘The Emergence of Modern Hinduism as a Concept and as an Institution: A Reappraisal with Special Reference to South India’, in G.D. Sontheimer and H. Kulke, eds, Hinduism Reconsidered (Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1989), p. 30.

[8] See, for instance, J.T.O’Connell, ‘The Word “Hindu” in Gaudiya Vaishnava Texts’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 93, no. 3, 1973, pp. 340– 344

9C.A. Bayly, ‘The Pre-History of “Communalism”? Religious Conflict in India 1700–1800’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1985, p. 187.

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