Dhaka, Bangladesh
Making sense of Hindutva

Off the Track

Making sense of Hindutva

Ajay Gudavarthy

We are witnessing epoch-making changes to how democracy is working itself in India. It is often lamented as the new rise of cultural nationalism, majoritarianism and communalism. Earlier, historians had differed on how nationalism relates to communalism. Some felt nationalism itself was the product of colonialism and thereby the source of narrow identities. Therefore, one could not productively make a distinction between communalism and ‘ethno-nationalism’. Others argued that nationalism was different from communalism: the first was about the ‘making of a nation’ and inclusive, while the second was divisive and caste-Hindu in its character. Today, for all effective purposes, this distinction has collapsed with the emergence and consolidation of majoritarianism. However, the framing of the recent changes and electoral outcomes cannot be fully captured through these categories as they now refer to a new sociological reality. The unprecedented rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (BJP-RSS) combine since the 1990s, and the simultaneous and gradual decline of the Congress cannot be understood merely as the rise of communalism or majoritarianism; even as it carries these tendencies, it has become a viable project and a part of popular politics because of deeper changes in questions of identity, emotions and representation. A relevant question to ask is whether the majoritarian-Hindutva politics is also essentially about cultural subalterns who include both traditionally dominant castes as well as the subordinate castes, and classes. Would it not be right to argue that the upsurge of Hindu nationalism has paved the way for the mainstreaming of a ‘way of life’ and modes of thinking that lay at the margins of liberal democracy? The complexity of the current moment in Indian politics is precisely this overlap between marginalised cultural groups that are asserting their identity but through conservative social ideology. The BJP-RSS combine, especially after the neoliberal reforms, has succeeded in combining aggressive pragmatism with regressive idealism. It is simultaneously inclusive and polarised; it provides mobility yet reinstates traditional hierarchies. Unless we unpack the irony of how contradictory processes are getting combined into a seamless process, a mere moral critique of the process would be inadequate, if not irrelevant. Unpacking is a possible way to avoid the elitism of the liberal-secular critique of the current upsurge of cultural nationalism. The secular-liberal critique, in fact, further justifies the cultural nationalist project, enabling it to take on more majoritarian proportions.

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