Caste and religion-based divisive politics have become common themes in today’s India. A way in which these issues have presented themselves is through violent protests around convincing Muslim minorities that they are under threat from the ‘Fascist Hindu’ Modi government.
We also saw such divisive politics in the 2022 UP election in how SP used the ‘Samajwadi- Ambedkarwadi’ unity call as a rallying point to appeal to SC/ST voters and ride the ‘Anti-Brahmanism wave’ to counter the BJP.
Divide and Rule In Independent India
In the last 4-5 years, Dr. Ambedkar has come into the mainstream of Indian politics. Unfortunately, Dr. Ambedkar has been used as a political tool and is selectively quoted by both the left and right. While the left regularly refers to Dr. Ambedkar as a protector of lower castes, the right has appropriated him as an icon for nationalism.
Dr. Ambedkar was a balanced leader with views that cannot be fenced as entirely ‘leftist’ or ‘right-wing’. The left-wing parties, however, have used his image to garner Dalit votes and promise more reservation benefits. It is ironic since Ambedkar was against using caste as a political vote bank. He believed that the lower castes must receive equal economic opportunities to improve their quality of living and assimilate into society as equals.
In his book, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, Ambedkar advocated for a classless and casteless society. He even believed that caste-based reservation should be kept for 40 years and eventually dissolved once the lower castes had integrated into mainstream society. Had Ambedkar been alive, he would have been extremely disappointed with how caste and religion-based reservation have become ‘political games’ for politicians. Thus, by appealing to these identities, our politicians have further deepened existing societal divisions.
The Need for A Uniting Ideology
Unfortunately, this phenomenon of creating societal divisions is not new in India. These divisions happen with ease in a country with such rich diversity. A good example is the Khilafat movement launched in 1919. The cause of Khilafat was taken up by the Congress party to attract Muslims into the non-cooperation movement. However, when Non-Cooperation failed, it invoked religious fervor, ending with horrible atrocities against Malabar Hindus by the Moplas. So, this experiment worsened Hindu-Muslim relations and caused people to become more conscious about their religious identities over national ones.
Another form of division in India is around state identity. State-based division was particularly prominent in the early years of independence when there were fears of states demanding an independent country.
Thus, issues of societal divisions across various lines have continued to shape Indian politics. These have caused several problems in India.
Firstly, local identities have taken more importance than national ones leading to separatism and furthered enmity. It is one of the major causes of communal violence and divisions between Hindus and Muslims in India.
Secondly, these divisions distract people from the real issues in society. It is a direct result of such divisions since politicians always vouch for their vote bank community. They bat for that community and talk about what extra benefits that community should receive. If we want to focus on real issues, these divisions should become non-issues. For example, all political parties today unanimously accept that untouchability is a societal evil. Because this issue has become non-contentious, any government that comes to power can focus on solving this problem without opposition.
Thirdly, these divisions can lead to an emergence of separatist movements among some communities and internally destabilize our nation. Because communities are encouraged to see themselves as separate from the mainstream, they are more vulnerable to radicalization from external forces, etc. An example of this problem is in the foundation of Bangladesh as a separate linguistic and cultural identity from Pakistan.
Such issues, thus, point to a need for a uniting ideology that must be at the center of what makes us Indian.
Amid caste and religious politics, Savarkar’s idea of Hindutva called for a uniting ideology. Vinayak Savarkar wrote his magnum opus, ‘Essentials Of Hindutva’ in 1923, after the Khilafat movement and Moplah massacre. Unfortunately, Hindutva has been severely smeared and distorted by the left-wing for their political interests because it directly attacks the core of caste and religion-based divisive politics.
Savarkar believed that to have a strong nation, we should emphasize a common national identity that unites our nation. In his 1923 work, he started by writing about the origin of India and the history of the ‘Saptsindhu’ region. Through this, he first showed how the idea of united Indian geography and culture has been referenced innumerable times throughout our history. More importantly, he said that our common cultural heritage binds us together as one nation. Regardless of what beliefs we maintain today, he cited several sources to show that our common ancestors believed and fought for the ‘Saptsindhu’ (referring to the region from the Indus River to the seas and later shortened to Hindu) nation.
Thus, according to Hindutva, the idea of India rests on a common geographic and cultural heritage. The biggest strength of this idea is to disassociate itself from caste or religious identity and rely on a common ethnic identity. This idea is thus, inclusive and attempts to heal differences in our society.
Why is Hindutva Grossly Maligned?
Hindutva has also caused much controversy and debate in India. Part of the debate about Hindutva arises from its association with the word ‘Hinduism’. Savarkar acknowledged this concern too. In his work ‘Essentials of Hindutva’, he refers to Shakespeare’s quote, ‘What’s In A Name?’ and emphasizes why the ideology should be called Hindutva. He felt that throughout our cultural history, our land and its people have been refrenced through variations of the words ‘Hind’, ‘Hindustan’, ‘Hindwan’, etc. These names derive from the word ‘Sindhu’ and have a historical and geographical reference to our ancient culture and common blood.
At the same time, he explicitly emphasizes that Hinduism is separate from Hindutva and cautions against using the word ‘ism’ to describe such an ideology since ‘ism’ is usually a reference to a religious identity. Political opportunists and academicians, however, have tried to misuse this to spread false information. Hindutva referenced a common cultural identity and bloodline of Indians independent of what religion they practice. This distinction needs to be continuously stressed. I believe that if the word ‘Hindutva’ causes controversy, it can alternate with the word ‘Saptsindhu’. Savarkar himself used the words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Sindhu’ alternatively.
Another aspect of the controversy on Hindutva is how exclusive it is. Assailants of the ideology claim that Muslims and Christians in India are not considered Indian based on Hindutva. This claim is false. Savarkar never believed that India should ever be a theological state. Hindutva only talks about cultural identity. Irrespective of religion, anyone is an Indian according to Hindutva, if they accept and cherish common Indian cultural values. For example, an individual who practices Islam and accepts and cherishes their Indic culture as opposed to foreign cultures is included in this definition and is as Indian as anyone else. Thus, Savarkar’s Hindutva was based on ethnonationalism.
Why Should Hindutva Be At The Forefront Of The Idea Of India and What can be Done?
Polarization based on such divisions has become a big issue in India today. In such times, an ideology that goes beyond caste and religious lines, and binds our nation together is needed. Hindutva can play that role and should be at the forefront of political discourse. This is achievable through three steps.
Firstly, an interest in Indian cultural history should be encouraged by politicians to increase our knowledge about our Indic civilization. This is possible by increasing funding for such research at universities, educational reforms, encouraging related discourses in public, etc.
Secondly, there should be a conscious effort to address all misconceptions about Hindutva. People from all castes and religious beliefs should be made to feel included if they consider themselves proud flagbearers of the Indic culture.
Thirdly, Hindutva itself should be ever-evolving. More research is needed to explicitly define its cultural elements. This does not mean that Hindutva needs to ignore our diversity, but it should find specific common cultural elements to unite us all as Indians.
A 1959 movie ‘Didi’ includes a famous song called ‘Humne Suna Tha Ek Hai Bharat’. One line of this song compares Indian diversity in caste and religion to how flowers and leaves can grow together in harmony on the same branch while maintaining their uniqueness. Extending this analogy further, Hindutva is like the tree which holds the flowers and leaves and reminds them that despite their differences, they are one and part of the same common entity.
Hindutva, thus, can be a force to combat caste and communal politics, if used properly and benevolently.