India has a long and varied history. Over the past 1000 years it saw:
- 800 years under Muslim Rule
- 150 years under British occupation
- 70 years under liberal democracy
India’s population today is approximately 1.4 billion and can be broken down approximately as follows:
- Hindus ~80%
- Muslims ~15% (meaning around 200 million)
- Others ~5% – (including Christians, Sikhs & others)
Hinduism as a religion is claimed to have existed for 4000 years. It has approximately one billion followers in India – but also, in large numbers in Nepal and Sri Lanka – but also in Muslim countries such as Bangladesh (~14 million), Indonesia and Pakistan. Its religious texts are the Vedas, Ramayana , Geeta and Purana – and its worship is focussed on a polytheistic tradition involving millions of ‘gods’. It is not the same as Hindutva.
What is Hindutva?
Hindutva is NOT hinduism. Rather it is a nationalistic ideology, as we will explain.
When did Hindutva originate?
It originated in the 1920s, during British rule of India. In 1919, Indian Muslims mobilised to defend the Ottoman Caliphate, which became a focus for anti-imperialist/anti-British sentiment. However, this provoked an inferiority complex amongst some Indian Hindus, who started formulating Hindu-nationalist ideas. This was coupled with a fall in the proportion of the Hindus in India (from 75% in 1881 to 68% in 1931), which reinforced this inferiority complex amongst some nationalists, who started describing the community, using fear-mongering language, as a ‘dying race’. It was against this background that Hindutva emerged.
How did Hindutva originate?
The first one to coin the term ‘Hindutva’ was Vinayak Savarkar (d. 1966) – an atheist, who was influenced by Nazi and Italian fascism, and who supported Hitler’s policy towards Jews. He exploited the Hindu identity in India, uniting around a shared motherland, ancestry and culture so as to exclude Muslims and Christians in particular. He was part of the Hindu Nationalist party ‘Hindu Mahasabha’. He was charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Gandhi.
The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh meaning ‘National Volunteer Organisation’) is a right-wing paramilitary group founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, who was deeply influenced by Sarvakar.
It claimed that its aim was to defend Hindus and to ensure their domination over India, the movement RSS was founded in 1925 by individuals from the Brahmin caste (the top caste in their hierarchy). Their ideas were borne out of an inferiority complex in relations to Muslims – and wanted to mimic some qualities they perceived as contributing to Muslim strength – for example the intense sense of community, but feared their weakness in relation to the fact that Muslims existed across Europe, Africa and Asia.
Under their second head, M.S Golwalkar (who also co-founded the militant VHP), the RSS became a pan-India organisation. Golwalkar popularised the term ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu Nation), and focussed on the intellectual transformation of Hindu society. He saw Hindu society under threat from Western progressive ideas – including democracy, instead thinking that society worked best when run along caste lines. He defined India as a nation from the oceans to the Himalayas – unifying religion with nationalism by referring to India as ‘Bharat Mata’ (Mother India) and considering it most sacred land. Hence, he characterised partition as cutting up one’s mother. He considered that Muslims and Christians were not proper Indians. Under his leadership, ideas of extreme hatred towards Muslims increased. He wrote admiringly of Nazi Germany’s quest for racial purity.
Over many years the movement spread, taking over schools, colleges, labour unions, farmer unions and eventually into politics.
BJP – ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’ (meaning Indian Peoples’ Party)
The BJP was founded in 1980, following predecessor parties which collapsed (the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and then the Janata Party). They were founded by people who had been influenced by Hedgewar (the founder of the RSS) and Sarvakar (the chief ideologue of the Hindutva), but unlike them had managed to achieve their entry into political life. Initially the BJP’s gains were very localised and modest. They capitalised on the failings of the dominant Congress Party which had led India since partition. Congress was dominated by a Westernised elite class. Yet the liberal direction they were taking did not fit well in India, being a generally conservative society. The BJP has always maintained a close association with the RSS.
Escalating violence against Muslims under the BJP
With political power, the Hindutva ideology increased its violence against Muslims. The BJP backed a campaign to destroy the ancient Babri mosque in Ayodhya, so winning it crucial votes. This escalated some years later with their leader L.K. Advani leading a march on the mosque, with intense anti-Muslim rhetoric leading to attacks on Muslims.
In 1992 the RSS amassed 100,000 BJP and VHP supporters and marched on Ayodhya eventually attacking and demolishing the mosque. Senior BJP politicians like Advani and Vajpayee (a later prime minister of India) were implicated in the demolition. It is estimated that 2000 people died in the subsequent weeks as violence against Muslims spread. (The perpetrators were all later acquitted by the Indian courts in 2020, when the BJP had firmly entrenched itself in government.)
In 2002, under BJP rule in Gujarat, led by Narendra Modi, there was mass violence against Muslims. It is estimated 2000 were killed and 150,000 displaced – with Modi accused of having approved the violence. Rape, mutilation and torture were widespread, with police even giving the addresses of Muslims who were to be attacked.
After Modi secured power in 2014, things went from bad to worse. Muslims have been attacked with impunity across the country. ‘Cow vigilantism’ has spread with impunity. In 2019, Modi’s government changed the status of Jammu and Kashmir, increasing Indian state oppression within it. There is open talk of killing and displacing Muslims and raping their women – by religious leaders and politicians alike.
Muslim journalists who have exposed some of these things have been targeted. Muslim women in Karnataka have been banned from attending college if they wear hijab, and other states are in the process of enacting similar policies. Muslim protestors who opposed the BJP policies have had their home demolished, similar to tactics used by Zionists in occupied Palestine. Indeed The BJP government has enjoyed increasingly close relations with the Zionist occupation, mimicking its tactics in many places. Zionism was similarly launched by a small number of secular nationalistic Jews.
Under BJP rule, courts frequently uphold judgments reinforcing hostile policies and actions, choosing to interpret India’s secular constitution in the most discriminatory way possible.
Hindutva spreading to Britain
Hindutva ideology has spread to Britain in a variety of ways.
Firstly, political links through parliamentarians. In 2014, former Home Secretary, Priti Patel, as the Prime Minister’s UK Indian Diaspora Champion, sent a warm message to the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh UK for hosting an event titled ‘RSS: A Vision in Action – a new Dawn’.
Secondly, through Hindutva voluntary sector organisations, which flourished in the 1980s and 1990s in the UK. This is exemplified below.
Thirdly, there appears to be a significant Indian diaspora lobby within the Conservative Party. This was very apparent during the leadership campaign in which Rishi Sunak stood. But in the 2019 general election there was an organised campaign via social media to encourage UK Hindus to vote Conservative, claiming the Labour Party was anti-Indian for criticising Modi’s policies in Kashmir. In addition, the same Indian diaspora lobby added its voice to claims of anti-Semitism against the Labour Party.
Fourthly, through the Labour Friends of India, some MPs in areas with large Indian-diaspora populations take pro-Modi stances that legitimise his Hindutva, nationalistic policies. According to the writer Amrit Wilson ‘in 2001, Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North and Chair of Labour Friends of India, a devoted follower of Modi, visited Gujarat and personally presented Modi with a cheque for £1 million collected by Sewa International for earthquake relief. After the Gujarat genocide of 2002, progressive South Asian organisations in Britain exposed Sewa International for diverting funds raised for earthquake relief and channelling them to organisations directly involved in carrying out the violence. Gardiner was the first of a number of MPs, both Labour and Tory, whose adulation for Modi is linked to Hindutva supporting vote banks in areas like Harrow, Brent and Leicester.’
The same lobbies appear to offer donations to police-related charities in the UK, so spreading their influence and neutralising criticism.
Fifthly, in a post-Brexit world, where India is a huge market for trade and business, the British government is unlikely to undertake actions that risk its trade relationships.
Finally, the Indian High Commission plays a direct role. The community in Leicester – Hindus, Muslims and others – were shocked and agitated by the acts of Hindutva violence and intimidation over months of this summer (2022). This has culminated in an unscheduled march by masked men (some of whom had allegedly been shipped in from west London), carrying weapons, acting with impunity as the police did nothing. However, instead of criticising the violence, the Indian High Commission issued a statement alleging hostility to Hindu places of worship in Leicester and demanding action. This statement came despite various Hindu organisations in Leicester condemning the Hindutva-inspired aggression, and making no mention of the alleged attacks cited by the High Commission.
Hindutva is not borne out of religion. Rather, like Nazism, Italian fascism or Zionism, it is borne out of the secular ideas of nationalism and uses religion for its own ends.
It was borne out of an inferiority complex when witnessing the strength of Islam and the potential of the Muslim Ummah.
It has evolved from a philosophy, to an organisational phenomenon, to one achieving political power.
It has now become a a key element in the foreign policy of the extreme nationalistic regime in Delhi.
It would appear, seeing what has happened in Leicester, that they are attempting to provoke Muslims into a reaction to their violence, that would further justify their propaganda against Islam.
Indeed our role is to ensure that the Muslim community do not fall into their trap, and instead expose their crimes and the falsehoods of the deceptive Hindutva narrative.