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Posted Online on Wednesday 6, May 2005 01:59 IST

Book Review

Politics of Hindutva and its underlying agenda

Name of the Book: Hindutva—Treason and Terror
Author: I.K. Shukla
Publisher: Pharos Media, New Delhi (www.pharosmedia.com)
Year: 2005
Pages: 181
Price: India: Rs 130; Elsewhere: Euros 10 / US $15 [Buy Now]
ISBN: 81-7221-026-4

Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

Hindutva, the Indian version of fascism, has been much written about. This collection of essays by I.K. Shukla focuses particularly on the politics of Hindutva, linking this to its underlying agenda of seeking to transform India into what the author calls a ‘fascist theocracy’. 

HINDUTVA: Treason and TerrorismShukla argues that the notion of a singular, homogenous ‘majority’ ‘Hindu’ community, which Hindutva organizations claim to represent, is nothing but a fiction. The word ‘Hindu’ is itself absent in all the classical ‘Hindu’ texts, which suggests that the ancient ‘Hindus’ did not think of themselves as members of a single community. What is today regarded as the ‘Hindu’ community is actually a motley collection of castes and sects, often mutually opposed to each other, hierarchically divided as they are on the basis of the principle of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’. Hence, they cannot be collectively referred to as a single community. Shukla opines that the construction of the notion of a single Hindu ‘community’ was a project jointly undertaken by Orientalists, British colonial officers and the ‘upper’ caste elites. For the ‘upper’ castes, a minority among the ‘Hindus’, the project helped bolster their own claims to authority, for it enabled them to assert their claims as the ‘representatives’ of this imagined community (The same could be said of the process of the construction of the notion of a single pan-Indian Muslim ‘community’ that transcended sectarian, ethnic, linguistic and caste divisions). Hinduism, as it came to be constructed as an ‘organised’ religion thus was inseparable from the interests of the ‘upper’ caste minority. The same holds true in the case of Hindutva, which, Shukla tells us, essentially represents the interests of the dominant castes/classes. 

Preserving ‘upper’ caste/class interests, rather than the interests of India as a whole, is the major agenda of the Hindutva project, Shukla argues. This is reflected in the fact that the Hindutva organizations played no role in India’s freedom struggle, and, instead, actually collaborated with the British to oppose the joint Hindu-Muslim movement for India’s independence. Indeed, Shukla notes, the Hindu Mahasabha, the progenitor of today’s myriad Hindutva groups, came up with the theory of Hindus and Muslims being two separate and hostile nations even before the Muslim League did, and many years before Pakistan came into being on the basis of Muslim nationalism. Hindutva’s indifference, if not hostility, to the interests of India as a whole, Shukla argues, is also amply evident from the fact that Hindutva organizations have no agenda for the poor (other than perpetuating their subordination), from their willingness to ransom India’s economy to foreign multinational corporations and from their close nexus with American neoconservative groups and with Israel. 

Violence is intrinsic to the Hindutva project. Indeed, Shukla shows, violence, such as directed against ‘low’ castes and dissenters, is deeply ingrained in the Brahminical Hindu texts themselves. In this sense, then, the large-scale violence perpetrated by Hindutva groups is not a new development, a deviation from a presumed ‘non-violent’ Brahminical Hinduism. The Hindutva project is based on fortifying the myth of a ‘Hindu’ monolith transcending caste and class divisions, for which purpose organized massacres, particularly of Muslims, serve as a major mobilisational device. Dalits and Tribals, victims of ‘upper’ caste/class Hindu oppression, are routinely instigated by Hindutva groups to launch anti-Muslim pogroms, as most recently evidenced in Gujarat. In Hindutva propaganda Muslims are inevitably portrayed as ‘enemies’ of the ‘Hindus’ (including the ‘lower’ castes) and as the principal cause of all their ills. Pitting the ‘lower’ castes again st the Muslims is, Shukla rightly points out, a well-thought out strategy to prevent the former from challenging ‘upper’ caste hegemony.

While the book’s basic theses are valid, what it lacks is a well thought-out strategy to counter the Hindutva challenge. Shukla does note the importance of a broad based unity between various marginalized communities in India—the Bahujan Samaj—although he notes that this is easier said than done. But precisely how this unity can come about is something that Shukla fails to deal with. That, however, should not detract from the merits of this thought-provoking book.

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