As a student, I was attracted towards the BJP: in an aggressively secular democracy which stressed non-religiosity of the government to the extent of purposefully rejecting the common Hindu culture, fearing that it might hurt the sentiments of the minority, perhaps it was only natural. At that time, I understood Hindutva to mean the common inclusive culture of India, which was rejected by many aggressive Muslim clerics. I was upset at this, and did not want the rich literature, art and culture of our country (which is Hindu in nature) to be abandoned to favour minority sentiments.
However, as the ruling centrist-right Indian National Congress weakened, the BJP grew in power: and its cries of Hindu pride grew shriller. Riots started happening sporadically across the country. In 1992, the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, a centuries-old Muslim Mosque was destroyed by a Hindu mob, alleging that it was built by the Mughal emperor Babur on the site of a destroyed temple of the Hindu deity Rama. Atrocities against minorities increased in frequency and ultimately peaked in the mindless carnage of Gujarat in 2002. As I watched, I slowly moved away from the party which contained the Hindu fanatics responsible for this atrocities.
The writing was on the wall, however. The Indian National Congress, lacking any coherent political ideology or leadership was thrashed soundly in the recent parliamentary elections. The BJP swept to power under the man who was Chief Minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots. For all practical purposes, the ideology of Hindutva had triumphed.
In this context, I thought I should read the slim book which is the root of it all – Hindutva by V. D. Savarkar. Understanding a fascist philosophy is the first step in defending oneself against it.
For Savarkar, Indian civilisation starts with the arrival of the Aryans. In fact, he dismisses all those existing in the Indian subcontinent at the time of their arrival as “scattered tribes”, whose languages were the “Prakrits” (uncultured tongues) which evolved from the immigrants’ Sanskrit, which means “cultured”. He is also at pains to establish that these original inhabitants were also most probably known as Hindus because Hindu is derived from “Sindhu”, the river Indus. Thus, at the outset itself, he establishes Hindutva as tied inseparably to the land. He also makes the astonishing statement that it is certain to have predated Egypt and Babylonia!
Although it would be hazardous at the present stage of oriental research to state definitely the period when the foremost band of intrepid Aryans made it their home and lighted their first sacrificial fire on the banks of the Sindhu, the Indus, yet certain it is that long before the ancient Egyptians, and Babylonians, had built their magnificent celebration, the holy waters of the Indus were daily witnessing the lucid and curling columns of scented sacrificial smokes and the valleys resounding with the chants of Vedic hymns – the spiritual fervour that animated their souls.
Savarkar conveniently forgets the Indus Valley civilisation which had a settled city life, apparently some kind of government, and complex art and religious belief; and which was born, thrived and perished much before the nomadic Aryans ever reached anywhere near India!
(Also, India had a rich collection of Dravidian languages which was in no way linked to Sanskrit. A language of Dravidian origin, Brahui, is still existing in modern-day Pakistan! So the claim that all the languages of India are uncultured versions of Sanskrit is offensive and silly.)
Thus at the outset itself, the intention is clear – the falsification of history to create a false identity for the “Hindu” – the purposeful rejection of pluralism in favour of an identification based on a fabricated story of a mythical “fatherland”. And Savarkar says that he is treading on the “solid ground of recorded facts”!
But it is when the author veers off into areas of conjecture that the whole thing becomes seriously eccentric. He first of all sets out to discredit the Maurya civilisation as the first great Indian civilisation: for him, a great Hindu civilisation as delineated in the Hindu myths preceded it. Recorded history means nothing to Savarkar: he considers it all misreadings (at best) or outright fabrications (at worst) by the West. Rather, he considers the Buddhist era a period of decadence (!) when Hindus were totally enervated by the concept of Ahimsa which left them easy fodder for the Muslim invaders.
(For his examination of the “history” of the Hindu people, Savarkar uses dubious sources like the “Bhavishya Purana”. It seems that he accepts any text which is supportive of Vedic Brahmanism as the gospel (!) truth. Whether this is due to genuine belief or political agenda, we can only conjecture.)
Now the author goes on to establish that, in spite of all the differences of caste, creed and colour, Indians are one people – which is true and what is beneficial for the country, anyway – but then, puts the final spin on the ball when his fundamentalist agenda suddenly comes out baring its claws and teeth, casting aside its mask of patriotism. Savarkar writes:
But can we, who here are concerned with investigating into facts as they are and not as they should be, recognise these Mohammedans as Hindus? Many a Mohammedan community in Kashmir and other parts of India as well as the Christians in South India observe our caste rules to such an extent as to marry within the pale of their castes alone; yet, it is clear that though their Hindu blood is thus almost unaffected by alien adulteration, yet they cannot be called Hindus in the sense in which that term is actually understood, because we Hindus are bound together not only by the tie of love we bear to a common fatherland and by the common blood which courses through our veins and keeps our hearts throbbing and our affections warm, but also by the tie of common homage we pay to our great civilisation – our Hindu culture, which could not be better rendered than by the word Sanskriti suggestive as it is of that language, Sanskrit, which has been the chosen means of expression and preservation of that culture, of all that was best and worth preserving in the history of our race.
In short – Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains are in: Christians and Muslims out. Why? Because they don’t consider India as their “Holy-land” (Punyabhumi) in addition to their fatherland: for them, the Holy Land is Jerusalem or Mecca. So, as long as they remain tied to their Abrahamic religion which traces their origin from the Levant, they cannot be accepted as Hindus.
(Interestingly, Savarkar leaves the Jews and Farsis out of it. Jews mostly, I think, because the RSS have been supporters of Zionism since day one, and vice versa: also because Jews and Farsis were not proselytising religions so he did not perceive them as threat.)
Now Savarkar launches into his real agenda. He says that he is not criticising or lamenting, but stating a simple fact. Christians and Muslims cannot be accepted as Hindus (according him, this means Indians) unless they accept India as their Holy Land, by forswearing their allegiance to their “foreign” origins – this effectively means abandoning their religion in the current format.
Thus, the philosophy strikes at the roots of secularism. If India adopts “Hindutva” as its guiding principle and starts rewriting the constitution, Hinduism may not become its official religion: minorities may be allowed to practice their beliefs in private. But the nation will be governed by laws based on the principles set forth in this venomous tract . All people who do not toe the “Hindutva” line will have to live as second class citizens.
From that to the concentration camps is only a minor step.
Think I am overreacting? The events of the past two years should set every intelligent Indian thinking.