ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hindu Nationalism


This refers to Marzia Cazolari’s article (‘Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s: Archival Evidence’, January 22). The writer’s efforts should be appreciated, but the paper has been written based on two platforms. First, militant Hinduism’s growth in the 1920s is evaluated in the mindset of Italian fascism and, secondly, the ideas generated are based on data which are cleverly collected to substantiate the arguments. Both ways the article is thought-provoking.

One of the painful struggles within the Indian psyche in the early part of the 20th century was on the identification to its past. A steady expansionist growth of Harappan culture mixed with brahmanic religion had a political and geographical stop ever since the Indian mainland was occupied by central Asian and Arabian Muslims by the 9th and 10th centuries. The period in history which we called medieval was indeed a time where a distinct identity based on Islam was carved out in an area which was hitherto a cradle of Hindu civilisation.

Late 19th and early 20th century was the period of Indian intellectualism. It is at this period that identification of oneself to a nation was correlated to one’s race or religion. This thought process was in fact spearheaded by the British, as they firmly identified their nation based on race and religion, precipitating a similar reaction among both Hindu and Muslim intellectuals of the period. This thought process was directly correlated to the freedom struggle and a majority of the Hindu intellectuals realised the importance of the predominant Muslim presence in India, a fallout of the medieval era which at that point of time could not be neglected and sidelined. Hence the necessity for a consensual approach towards the freedom movement. The genesis of the nationalist freedom movement was based on this thought process and had the requirement of a ‘secular’ process of accepting Muslim identity in the mainland. The thoughts of both Nehru and Gandhi were indeed a right acceptance of Hindu India’s medieval past and its effects.

Contrary to this, Chitpavan brahmins, Arya Samajists and all those intellectuals who took to linking of India’s ancient past to the present, conveniently neglected the medieval period and thought of utilising the freedom movement as an opportunity to resurrect the Hindu past into a modern nation. The only obstacle for that is the sizeable presence of Muslims in the country.

The 30s and 40s, especially after the coming of Sawarkar on the scene, show a conflict within the two sections of Hindu intellectuals. This period was also a time when constitutional reform was under way and hence the debate paved the way to political opportunism, making Hindu nationalists more radical and nationalists more secular. Unfortunately this created a fear psychosis among Muslims and also became a right reason for the British to oppose India’s freedom. The rest is recent history, but today looking at those set of events as a preconceived fascist movement is illogical and irrational. As Jeffrelot has written, fascism centres on a leader and it grew in places which were geographically small and racially homogeneous. India was never so at any time. Moreover, militant Hinduism was sacred in various pockets as Hindu Mahashabha, Swastik League, RSS, under different groups of leaders. A hugely diverse Hindu religion was made a means to identify with the national and the integrative force used for freedom struggle. Tilak used this method, in reality Gandhi too used it, but moderately unlike the radical leaders. The intellectual confusion present today in separating the chaff from the grain of Hindu nationalism is reflected in Cazolari’s article.

Sujata Menon, Baroda

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