The Evolution Of Hindutva Politics In India

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India’s embrace of the politics of Hindutva is a complex narrative deeply rooted in its socio-political history, cultural dynamics, and ideological shifts. From its inception to its current prominence, the journey of Hindutva politics has been marked by various phases, movements, and leaders, shaping India’s political landscape in profound ways.

The term “Hindutva” originates from the early 20th century and was popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who defined it as the essence of being Hindu and articulated a vision of India as a Hindu Rashtra, or Hindu nation. However, it was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), founded in 1925 by K.B. Hedgewar, that laid the organizational groundwork for the propagation of Hindutva ideology.

In the pre-independence era, Hindutva operated largely on the fringes of Indian politics, overshadowed by the dominant discourse of nationalism and anti-colonial struggle led by figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. However, the RSS, with its emphasis on cultural nationalism and Hindu unity, steadily expanded its influence, particularly in the aftermath of partition and the trauma of communal violence.

The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a former member of the RSS, in 1948, brought Hindutva ideology under intense scrutiny and condemnation. Despite efforts to distance itself from the act, the RSS faced severe backlash, leading to a period of marginalization and underground activism.

The 1980s witnessed a resurgence of Hindutva politics with the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its political arm. Led by figures like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, the BJP sought to mainstream Hindutva by blending it with broader issues of governance, economic development, and national security.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, served as a watershed moment, catapulting the BJP to the forefront of Indian politics. The emotive issue of reclaiming the birthplace of Lord Ram galvanized millions of Hindus and solidified their support for the Hindutva cause.

The BJP’s electoral success in the 1990s and early 2000s, including forming a national government in 1998 and 1999, demonstrated the growing appeal of Hindutva among Indian voters, especially in the Hindi heartland and western states. However, it also sparked concerns about the party’s commitment to secularism and minority rights.

The Gujarat riots of 2002, under the leadership of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, further polarized Indian society along religious lines and reinforced accusations of state complicity in violence against Muslims. Despite controversies and international condemnation, Modi’s popularity within the BJP soared, positioning him as a formidable leader with a strong Hindutva agenda.

Modi’s ascension to the prime ministership in 2014 marked a significant milestone for Hindutva politics, symbolizing its mainstream acceptance and consolidation of power at the national level. His administration prioritized issues such as cow protection, religious conversions, and the promotion of Hindu culture through initiatives like the promotion of yoga and the renaming of cities with Hindu historical significance.

The revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, which granted special autonomy to the region, and the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which fast-tracked citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants, further underscored the BJP’s commitment to advancing Hindutva objectives and reshaping the demographic and political landscape of India.

Critics argue that the BJP’s embrace of Hindutva has fueled communal tensions, marginalized religious minorities, and eroded the secular fabric of Indian democracy. However, supporters view it as a necessary corrective to decades of perceived appeasement politics and a reaffirmation of India’s Hindu identity in the face of external and internal threats.

The rise of Hindutva politics has also coincided with broader global trends of right-wing nationalism and identity politics, resonating with disenfranchised segments of society disillusioned with traditional political elites and seeking a sense of belonging and empowerment.

In conclusion, India’s embrace of the politics of Hindutva is a multifaceted phenomenon shaped by historical legacies, socio-economic realities, and ideological contestations. While its proponents champion it as a renaissance of Hindu pride and cultural resurgence, its detractors warn of the dangers of majoritarianism and religious intolerance. As India navigates the complexities of its pluralistic society, the trajectory of Hindutva politics will continue to shape its future trajectory and the contours of its democracy.