Hindu nationalism

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Belief that politics should be organized in accordance with the precepts of the Hindu scriptures and way of life. In its more extreme form, this takes the form of the promotion of a Hindu Rashtra (nation) in the Indian subcontinent. Hindu nationalism emerged in the late nineteenth century, accompanied by the emergence of religious reform organizations such as the Arya Samaj, founded in 1875. The Arya Samaj sought to counter a perceived threat to Hinduism from conversion to Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism. Hinduism was seen as vulnerable because of its decentralized and non‐hierarchical organization; its lack of a core of orthodox beliefs or practices; and because of the operation of the caste system, which imposed social stigma and economic constraints on many Hindus. This was accompanied by a belief that Muslim and British rulers of India had sought to undermine Hinduism, and promote conversion to Islam and Christianity. The Arya Samaj sought to combine the advocacy of a Hinduism based around ancient values alongside programmes of education, social reform, and the ritual of shuddhi, a purification ceremony which was used to reconvert people to Hinduism and to remove social stigma from the lower castes. At first Hindu nationalism ran alongside the Indian Nationalist movement, with leaders such as B. G. Tilak (1856–1920) who was both an organizer of Hindu revivalist festivals and leader of the Congress. However, Congress's need to appeal to Indians of all religions led to tension with Hindu nationalists, particularly under the leadership of Gandhi, who believed that all religions were equally valid. The Hindu Mahasabha, formed in 1915, articulated a much more strident pro‐Hindu agenda, aimed at developing centralized organization which would promote a cohesive Hindu doctrine, and countering political concessions given by the British to Muslims. The Hindu Mahasabha could not match the mass appeal of the Congress, and played a peripheral political role in the run‐up to Independence. Another Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS: National Volunteer Corps), founded in 1925, avoided direct involvement with politics, focusing on a programme of physical exercise, military drills, and Hindu teaching. The man who assassinated Gandhi was a member of both the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, which tainted the reputation of both organizations.

After Independence the Hindu nationalist parties struggled to compete with Congress, which often absorbed Hindu nationalist issues—such as the promotion of the Hindi language in the northern States and the prohibition of cow slaughter—into its own programme. With the decline of Congress, however, opportunities arose to develop a mass appeal. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP: Indian People's Party: formed 1980) was able to exploit a vernacular religious enthusiasm, partly fostered by the broadcast of two Hindu epics (the Mahabharata and Ramayana) on national TV, with the strong organizational base provided by close links with the RSS, which had by then developed a large membership. This brought electoral success in 1989, and a pivotal position in government formation. The BJP became involved with two often violent agitations in the early 1990s; over the attempt to extend reservations, and in the dispute over the destruction of a Muslim mosque (the Babri Masjid) in the town of Ayodhya. These events consolidated the BJP's support amongst the upper castes and devout Hindus, but alienated many others.


Subjects: Politics.

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