What Is Hindutva, and What Role Has It Played in Indian Identity Politics

What is Hindutva, and what role has it played in Indian identity politics? Through the duration of my study, it has become clear to me that Hindutva has many different meanings to many different people. Although there are many differing interpretations of Hindutva, at its core it is simply an ideology. Hindutva literally means Hinduness, which is, as it sounds, a way of life or a state of mind that is based on both a cultural and spiritual ethos. Hindutva is a spiritual philosophy founded and developed from ancient times within Indian history.Its philosophy is based on securing an all round happiness for all individuals irrespective of religion. It is only through researching and understanding Hindutva itself that we are able to answer the second part of this question. Hindutva and its role in Indian identity politics is a complicated story. In order to understand its involvement fully, we must look at Hindutva’s transformation from a common ideology, to the cornerstone policies of Indian political parties. It is through this involvement in politics that Hindutva plays such a vast and complicated role in Indian identity politics.It will be argued that the institutional practice of secularism and the slow process of modernization made religion a political category that was particularly prone to politicization, which in turn, is how; Hindutva became an important and influential part of Indian identity politics. The Hindutva ideology, has existed since its conception in the early 20th century. However, Hindutva first came to prominence in Indian politics in the late 1980s, when two major events gave Hindutva the necessary media coverage for a large number of mainstream Hindus to join the movement.The first of these events was Rajiv Gandhi’s use of his political party and its parliamentary majority to overturn a Supreme Court verdict granting alimony to an Indian woman who had angered many Indian Muslims. The second was the dispute over the 16th century Mughal Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India. The Mosque became a symbolic dispute between differing ideologies. Hindu’s claim that the Mosque was built on top of an old Hindu temple. With the Supreme Court of India refusing to take up the case in the early 1990s, the refusal became a rallying point for many small minorities, which ultimately lead to arge, generalized, public outrage. As tempers across India flared, a substantial number of nationalist Hindus from all parts of India gathered together in late 1992 to destroy the mosque. The destruction of the Mughai Babri mosque and the subsequent conflict that followed, arguably lifted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Hindutva to national and international prominence. It is an umbrella organization, the Sangh Parivar, which embraces the concept of Hindutva.The Sangh group comprises many organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), all of which are Indian political parties united, together under the same ideology of Hindutva. There are four key concepts that make up Hindutva. Understanding these four concepts, is an important step into understanding what Hindutva is to India as a nation, as a political agenda and its importance to individuals that follow its ideology.The ongoing preservation and participation of Hindutva in cultural nationalism, decolonisation, social justice and Hindutva’s unique uniformed civil codes allows this ideology to remain a powerful political tool. It is these four concepts, under which Hindu’s unite. Through the vast spectrum of Hindutva concepts, it can be assumed that Hindutva or Hinduness mean very different things to the many different Indians that unite under this ideology. The diversity with which this ideology is described, according to the individual or institution can be seen when comparing their definitions of Hindutva.The Supreme Court of India stated in a court ruling “no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hinduism’; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. ” (Bose, A. 2009. ) The RSS believes in a cultural connotation of the term Hindu. “The term Hindu in the conviction as well as in the constitution of the RSS is a cultural concept and not a political or religious dogma.The term, as a cultural concept, will include and did always include all Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Christians and Parsis. The cultural nationality of India, in the conviction of the RSS, is Hindu and it has always been inclusive of all who are born and who have adopted India as their motherland. It is not just a matter of RSS conviction, but a fact borne out by history that Muslims, Christians and Parsis are Hindus by culture, regardless of their religious convictions. ” (Reddy, D. S. 006) On the other hand, opposing political party, the Indian National Congress (INC) have continuously stated, “we are particularly sensitive to the status of Muslim and Christian minorities in India who have been facing growing hostility from Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and their various affiliates, in several states of India. ” (Elmasry, M. 2008) It is through these differing definitions that we can understand exactly what Hindutva is. Hindutva began and remains an ideology by which one can live their life.While this definition remains true to Hindutva ideologically, the motives and use of Hindutva are under continuous change and scrutiny. The political nature of Hindutva makes this ideology difficult to define. The changing face of politics, especially that of domestic Indian politics, does not allow for a simple ‘set in concrete’ explanation for Hindutva, however, I do feel there is some key underlying values under which Hindu’s unite. Hindutva in essence is a spiritual ideology that encompasses key concepts, by which all individuals can live.This can be seen in Hindutva’s code of conduct, which seeks to give all Hindu’s and by extent all Indians a code by which all can conduct their lives, irrespective of that individuals religious beliefs. Hindutva looks at the cultural unification of all Indian citizens, regardless of religion, which in essence is focused on Indian nationalism. The Supreme Court of India sums up, from a neutral standpoint, the fundamentals of Hindutva. Stating, “Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism.A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange gods and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well-being of the world and mankind. ” Now that Hindutva has been defined. We turn to answer the second part of this question, in which, the role of Hindutva in Indian identity politics is nvestigated. It is through Hindutva’s prominence in cultural, religious and political arguments that the ideology has been able to play a role in India’s identity politics. In order to understand the role of Hindutva we must first define exactly what is meant by ‘identity politics’. The phrase ‘identity politics’, as defined by Stanford Encyclopedia, has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice, normally felt by members attached to certain social groups.Rather than being organized around belief systems or party affiliation, identity politics typically aims to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) This in turn means that identity politics refers to political arguments that focus upon the self-interest and perspectives of social minorities. Minority influence is a form of social influence, which takes place when a majority is being influenced to accept the beliefs or behavior of a minority.Through these definitions and my earlier paragraphs, that outlined the nature of Hindutva, we can see how Hindutva plays a central role in Indian identity politics. It is through Hindutva’s popularity in India that makes the ideology a key player in Indian identity politics. There are in this case, two sides to this story. First we must revisit the attitude of Hindutva. As stated earlier, “the term Hindu in the conviction as well as in the constitution of the RSS is a cultural concept and not a political or religious dogma.The term, as a cultural concept, will include and did always include all Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Christians and Parsis. The cultural nationality of India, in the conviction of the RSS, is Hindu and it has always been inclusive of all who are born and who have adopted India as their motherland. It is not just a matter of RSS conviction, but a fact borne out by history that Muslims, Christians and Parsis are Hindus by culture, regardless of their religious convictions. ” (Reddy, D. S. 2006) Hindutva’s inclusion and of all religions and minorities, allows it an important role in representing many different, social demographics.It is through Hindutva and its ability to encompass many minorities together, which allow the ideology to play its significant role in identity politics. The second part of this, however, is almost entirely different. Recently, in the past two decades, attempts have been made to put some political distance between the Sangh Parivar and certain syncretistic communities in India, such the Muslim Bohras and Khojas of Gujarat who incorporated many elements of Sanskriti culture into their daily life.In order to exclude such groups from the Hindutva definition, the religious dimension of Hinduness were changed. It is very important to note that, as the religion of the Hindus, Hindu dharma, it must partake on all the essentials that characterize a Hindu. Such as common territory, race and culture. In addition however, all traditions included under the umbrella of Hindutva must look upon India, not only as the fatherland (Pitrbhu), but also as the holyland (Punyabhu). (Flood, G. 954) It is in this way and ultimately this reason, that allows for the exclusion of Muslims and Christians from Hindutva. When we take a second look at the definition of identity politics set out by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it becomes clear just how vast Hindutva’s role is in regards to identity politics. Through the inclusion and exclusion of certain minorities around India, Hindutva has become an important part of Indian identity politics and by extent the India culture. To conclude, Hindutva as an ideology and political tool has made a large impact on Indian culture.The basis for this is Hindutva, is a powerful tool for unification on both a social and political level. Although Hindutva’s role in unification is an important one, the ideologies ability to divide is also an important point to include. It is through this ideologies ability to unify and divide, that it begins to play an important part in Indian identity politics. What makes Hindutva so interesting is the looseness of its definition, coupled with, its ability to unify or divide minorities.Through unification, Hindutva plays a serious role in identity politics, when many voices from many minorities want to contribute to such an ideology. In much the same way, through division between minorities, Hindutva once again plays its role in modern Indian identity politics.Resources: Bose, A. 2009. Studies in Demography. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. Reddy, D. S. 2006. Religious identity and political destiny: Hindutva in the culture of ethnicism. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. Flood, G. 1996. An introduction to Hinduism. New York, NY : Cambridge University Press.