Where Does Hindutva Really Come From?

Anustup Basu | Hindutva as Political Monotheism | Duke University Press | 2020

reviewed by Shruti Dixit

Hindutva as Political Monotheism is a genealogical study of Hindutva, a political ideology of the right with an unrelenting desire for a Hindu nation. The book traces the origin, the development, as well as the current state of Hindu political identity and nationalism. When the heart of India was burning under the rage of the December 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act and Kashmir was witnessing barbaric communication blackouts, Basu’s book emerged as a relevant historical text that pushes readers to question whether a political Hindu monotheism is even possible.

Basu writes this book from a literary-cultural lens, introducing the readers to multiple texts and taking them through different time-periods. The book begins by revisiting the political notions of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt to affirm that in order for a Hindu nation to exist, there has to be a Hindu monotheism, which is a complex project because of India’s diversity. The author proceeds to mention the various impediments to realise a Hindu nation while providing the history of the emergence of Islam in India. The juxtaposition of Schmitt’s theories with the Hindutva ideology arises primarily because the concept of Hinduism as a religion itself has orientalist roots and Hindu nationalism has been inspired by European fascism since the start. Interestingly, Basu does not forget to mention the possibility of varying explanatory models that could exist, deeming the Schmitt-Hindu nationalism model only an interpretive one.

Apart from the detailed discussion on the incessant desire of the Sangh Parivar (a collection of Hindu nationalist organizations) to get rid of the Indian Constitution completely or partly, Basu asks several crucial questions throughout the book such as, “What will happen to the 200 million Indian Muslims if that long-cherished Sangh Parivaar dream of Hindu Rashtra [nation] actually comes to pass?”  

Basu continues to elaborate the history of Hindu monotheism in India by mentioning the life and texts of V.D. Savarkar, the intellect behind Hindutva and leading personality in the Hindu Mahasabha party, and M.S. Golwalkar, the second supreme leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), both of whom were highly inspired by European fascism. Basu’s acceptance of Pheng Cheah’s idea of an organismic nation makes him question whether a caste society such as India can be seen in organic homogeneity, further compelling him to describe the absence of an organismic society in the ancient Indian philosopher Kautilya’s universe unlike the present times. Basu further presents the need of a “Tradition” to garb Hindu nationalism into an Abrahamic cast, bereft of pluralism.

The book accommodates multiple discourses on Time, Dharma, Varna, Karma, and many more concepts to support the argument, by using the works of major Indian writers such as Bimal Krishna Matilal and A.K. Ramanujan, while constantly engaging in a study of Western theories viz-a-viz Hindu nationalistic ideology. The far-right dream of an Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) is mentioned by the author as a “the fundamental imagination of Aryan nationhood maximized to the point of utopia” (Basu 71). Along with mentioning the disappointment of Hindu nationalists regarding the Partition and their idea of an Akhand nation, Basu focuses on the problematics of wanting a “Hindi-speaking North Indian Brahminical” (73) nation. This modern desire of a Brahminical monopoly aims at a rereading of Vedic literature and diminishing of Puranic ones, to create an Indian monotheism by eliminating multiplicity. It calls for Sanskritization but is also often challenged with the new lingua franca, Hinglish.  

In addition to this, the book highlights the publication and appropriation of Hindu texts such as the Bhagwad Gita and Manusmriti by the East India Company during the latter half of eighteenth century, to establish Hinduism. In the third chapter titled “The Indian Monotheism,” Basu delves into the history of Hindu reform, emergence of Hindu nationalism, and the question of caste, by deliberating over the works of Raja Rammohun Roy, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and B.R. Ambedkar, occasionally referring to Gandhi and his ideologies.

The journey of tracing a Hindu monotheistic ideology comes to an end with Basu’s coinage “advertised modernization” or Hindutva 2.0. Basu views advertised modernization as standing independent of any organization, book, place; it depends only on the affect, spectacle, and the advertised material, referring to the informational and electronic space, including Twitter, WhatsApp, and Bollywood. He provides two examples of Hindutva 2.0 as advertised modernization based on Modi’s media creation of his messianic figure and the informational aspects of his rise to power in 2014.  

Furthermore, the last chapter clearly portrays how Hindutva as Political Monotheism is beyond Modi’s government, and so is the Hindu nationalistic drive, which did exist before Modi, despite the possible aggravation that happened afterwards. This book deals with literature and history. It is a scholarly and detailed study of Hindutva ideology and its evolution. Basu’s excellent questioning makes Hindutva as Political Monotheism a compelling book.

Shruti Dixit

Shruti Dixit is a Ph.D. candidate in Divinity at the University of St. Andrews.