Hindutva Fascism : facts, analysis and fiction

Recently Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan used Hindutva fascism to describe the ideology of ruling BJP in India. He also alleged that the aim of Hindutva organisations including BJP and RSS is genocide and ethnic cleansing of Muslims in India. He has since used the term numerous times and many media organisations, intellectuals, as well as political opponents of BJP have repeated the charge domestically and internationally. This article is a dispassionate analysis of these charges. Hopefully, given the facts, the reader will come to some definitive conclusion.

Before starting our analysis, let us be clear about meaning of terms Hindutva and Fascism. We will discuss some of their characteristics and historical evolution in brief.

What is Hindutva?

The literal meaning of Hindutva is Hinduness. It has been defined differently by different people, which reflects the diversity in Hinduism itself. The word first comes into use during 19th century when Panchanan Tarakratna and Bhartendu Harishchandra used it. Chandranath Basu wrote a book in 1892 named “Hindutva–Hindur Prakrita Itihas“. {This edit has been made after I was made aware of these facts by twitter user @5her10ck} The word was most famously used by Indian lawyer, revolutionary, historian, author and ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He was also longtime president of Hindu Mahasabha, a political party.

Savarkar, himself an atheist, defined Hindutva in political, social and civilisational terms and the element of religion was kept at a minimum. He defined Hindus as a group of people living in Historical India{from Sindhu to Seas and bounded by Himalayas}, who believed that India is their pitrbhumi{fatherland} and punyabhumi{sacred land}. As such, this definition includes Indian Muslims and Christians who cherish the shared Indic culture. If we stretch this definition, many Pakistani Muslim liberals will also be covered in this definition. This definition of Hindutva is quite broad and forms the basis of Hindu Nationalism. The breadth and fuzziness in the definition is the necessary result of character of Hinduism itself.

The Supreme Court has also attempted definition of Hinduism. In 1966, the Chief Justice Gajendragadkar wrote in a judgement that “Hinduism is impossible to define”. He adopted Radhakrishnan’s submission that Hinduism is complex and “the theist and atheist, the skeptic and agnostic, may all be Hindus if they accept the Hindu system of culture and life”. The Court judged that Hinduism historically has had an “inclusive nature” and it may “broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more”. In 1995, the Supreme Court observed : “Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism … it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption … that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion … It may well be that these words are used in a speech to promote secularism or to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos, or to criticise the policy of any political party as discriminatory or intolerant.” The court also defines Hindtuva as way of Indian life and in fact makes no distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism.

Some people, mostly Marxists and Islamists, have sought to define it in terms of fundamentalist view of Hinduism. They claim that Hindutva is evil and Hinduism is good. Ironically, the same people will make fun of Hindu beliefs, particularly veneration of cow, in the same sentence. As a result, many others say the Hindutva is Hinduism, that gives as good as it gets.

Hindutva as an ideology was not very popular until early 1990s. However, since the Ram Janmabhumi movement, it has seen tremendous growth and since 2014, India has been ruled by BJP, a political party which swears by Hindutva. However, it is not the only Hindutva party. Congress, the main opposition party, has been criticized by many for peddling “soft-Hindutva” since early 1990s. It was on orders of Rajiv Gandhi, the Congress PM, that locks of Ram Janmbhumi were opened. There are many smaller parties who claim to represent purer form of Hindutva. Hindu Mahasabha, not a part of ruling alliance and Sangh Pariwar, is one of the oldest; but it is faction ridden and moribund. The only electorally significant party apart from BJP that espouses Hindutva is Shiv Sena. Infact, Hindutva of Shiv Sena is considered more hardcore than that of BJP. Ironically, it is currently in alliance with Congress and its allies.

Apart from political parties, there are a number of Hindutva organisations. The foremost of these is RSS{National Volunteer Organisation}. It accepts the Savarkar definition of Hindutva and through its front organisations like Sewa Bharati, Vidya Bharati etc., focuses mainly on social work. It is also intimately connected to BJP. Other than that, there are many smaller organisations working locally and sometimes with an informal understanding with the RSS.

What is Fascism?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary fascism “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition”.

The term originated in Italy and was coined by Mussolini. He did not define it clearly and did not care for its place on political spectrum. In his words : “Fascism, sitting on the right, could also have sat on the mountain of the center … These words in any case do not have a fixed and unchanged meaning: they do have a variable subject to location, time and spirit. We don’t give a damn about these empty terminologies and we despise those who are terrorized by these words”. There were both right wing and left wing factions in his party.

Anyways, scholars have debated a lot on common features of Fascism and there is no consensus yet. Even the two regimes considered fascist by many “Nazi Germany” and “Mussolini’s Italy” had many differences. For example, race played a much less important part in Italy than in Germany. Still, scholars have enumerated a few common elements of fascism as below:-

  1. anti-liberalism, anti-communism, and anti-conservatism;
  2. goal of creation of a nationalist one party dictatorship to regulate economic structure and to transform social relations within a modern, self-determined culture, and the expansion of the nation into an empire
  3. a political aesthetic of romantic symbolism, mass mobilization, a positive view of violence, and promotion of masculinity, youth, and charismatic authoritarian leadership
  4. the rebirth myth i.e. a decadent nation that is about to be reborn into a Golden Age
  5. populist ultra-nationalism

Some of the above elements e.g. rebirth myth, romantic symbolism, anti-communism, promotion of masculinity, youth, etc. can easily be seen in other democracies including in US, France, and India too. Some others are contradictory. Point number 2 can easily be applied to Communist regimes of China, former USSR, North Korea, Cuba etc. Similarly, point number 3 can be equally applied to Islamist countries including Pakistan and radical Islamic organisations like ISIS and Taliban and their supporters in India. The rebirth myth is central to foundation of Pakistan. It was envisaged as Second Medina{Medina-e-Sani}, a pure Islamic State harking back to so called ‘Golden Age of Islam’. In fact, it is even today motivated by ancient myth of Ghazwa-e-Hind and Islam forms the core of its ultra-nationalism. Maybe we should also discuss Islamo-Fascism and Communo-fascism someday, but let us return to topic for now.

As a matter of fact, since decades “Fascist/fascism” has lost any meaning. It is used as a pejorative term, an insult by leftists for people they hate. Ironically, it has been used by Communist China against Communist USSR and vice-versa. George Orwell wrote in 1944 that “the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless.  In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else … almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist'”. In India it was used by Marxists against Netaji Subhash Bose, Mahatma Gandhi and recently, Narendra Modi.

Who are the accusers?

Before we go into merits of the term Hindutva Fascism, let us see where it all started. Maybe, we will have some insights if we look into the motives of these accusers.

Where did it start?

Although, now the Marxists claim that Hindutva was fascist since inception i.e. 1920s, the first time they wrote about it was in 1989. Noted French political scientist, long time collaborator of Amartya Sen and anti-Hindutva activist Christophe Jaffrelot wrote about it here.{in French} He has since made a career out of bashing Hindutva in last 30 years.

The leftist ecosystem in India latched on to it and Communist authors like Prabhat Pattnaik, Sumit Sarkar, Radhika Desai, K .N. Panikkar etc. wrote many pamphlets, articles and books on this with common points. Even now, the same stale facts/arguments/points are repeated ad nauseum to ‘prove’ Hindutva Fascism. Imran Khan speaks the language of Communists. Once again, as in 1947, Communists provide intellectual justification{howsoever unsound} to Islamists. At the time of Partition it was Gangadhar Adhikari Thesis{which advocated breaking India into 22 countries} and now it is the narrative of Hindutva Fascism.

We will examine those arguments in the next section.

First page of Google : in seach of Hindutva Fascism

But first let us see what the first page of google presents us when we search “Hindutva Fascism”. It will provide us an idea of who are people driving the narrative. The first result is a Wikipedia article of Hindutva. As it is a compilation of information on other pages, there is no need to discuss it here.

  1. The first article is by Deccan Chronicle. The owners of the paper were involved in a case of fraud. Its owner has long been associated with Congress party{his father was an MP}.
  2. The second site is maintained by Islamic Circle of North America. It is an Islamist organisation based on principles of extremist preacher Al Mauddudi, and has close links with radical Islamist organisations of India and Pakistan. It has provided platform to terrorists like Anwar-al-Awalaki{of Al Qaeda. He was close to 9/11 highjackers}, and to anti-Semitic speakers.
  3. The third in list is Tribune of Lahore, Pakistan.
  4. The fourth website is CounterCurrents. Established by communist Binu Mathew, it is a big platform for Islamist-Missionary-Leftist cabal and often represents views of breaking-India forces.
  5. The next website is Sadhana, established by a group of Hindu-Americans. The main person there is one Sunita Vishvanath, It is a lesser known organisation, but has ties with American Democratic Party.
  6. Next in order is a blog post on Medium{where anyone can publish} by an organisation named as Alliance for Justice And Accountability (AJA), which is apparently another organisation based in US with ties to Hinduphobic Breaking India forces. Its internet footprints confirm its ties to Islamists and anti-Hindus like Kancha Iliyah. This article also has many factual errors. For example, it refers Sushma Swaraj as President of India.
  7. After that is a blog post by some Arshdeep, again on medium. It regurgitates the usual arguments and like all other articles above, is high on rhetoric, low on substance.
  8. The next article is another blog post by one Asha. She is a first year graduation student in New York University and is clearly influenced by how her father sees the world. Not a single fact in the article.
  9. Last article on first page is by Al Zazeera, the controversial Qatar owned media channel. It has been criticized many times for its Islamist leanings, support for Muslim Brotherhood and has been banned in many countries.

Clearly, the narrative of Hindutva Fascism{some of the above have written Hindu Fascism. I wonder if original fascism should be called Christian fascism and if there is also an Islamic fascism?} currently is promoted by Pakistan, and supported by Islamists, Leftists and Congressis.

Hindutva Fascism depictions
Hindutva Fascism cartoon uses Hinduphobic imagery : from here

Arguments regarding Hindutva fascism

There are actually not a lot of facts and arguments in this narrative. It floats on hot gas and has no legs. If you read the articles referenced above, you will find the same thing repeated in every article. It also contains lots of falsehoods. Let me debunk their points one by one:-

Hindutva is oppressive to Christians, Sikhs, SC, ST and OBC

It is claimed that Hindutva is oppressive to not only Muslims, bit also to Christians, Sikhs and for good measure they throw in SC, ST and OBC.

Let me start by saying that Modi himself is an OBC. BJP has won most number of SC and ST seats in last two elections, so somehow surprisingly oppression against SC, ST did not translate into votes against BJP. They must know some magic.

India’s only significant Sikh based party, Akali Dal is a part of BJP coalition since decades, so again this charge falls flat.

There is so much oppression against Christians in India that Church is the largest landowner in India after Govt. However, the coercive and fraudulent conversions have been stopped and evidently, that hurts Missionaries.

Hindutva is anti-Muslim and trying to create a Muslim genocide.

Hindutva is definitely opposed to Islamism and radical Islamic terrorism as all ideologies should be, but it is not against Muslims. Many nationalist Muslims are actually part of Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the Muslim organisation of RSS.

The Hindu-Muslim conflict in India is real and its roots go centuries back. Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been increase in the radicalisation of Muslims worldwide. The radicalisation has now spread to many modern educated Muslim students and is supported by Communists.

As for Muslim genocide, there are 25 crore Muslims in India. The percentage of Muslims has increased to more than 13% in 2011. In 2021, they would certainly cross 15%. There are actually fears of demographic dominance by Muslims in certain areas. There are portions in cities, where Hindus or even police cannot enter.

So far from genocide, Muslim population is actually increasing at an alarming rate. Recently, it came to notice that 80% of govt scholarships are cornered by Muslim students.

Same cannot be said about Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh. This point needs much more elaboration, but unfortunately, this has already become a lengthy article.

Hindutva is casteist and wants to enforce Manu Smriti

One can only laugh at this. Savarkar campaigned against caste. RSS does not believe in caste. So much so, that its pracharaks forgo caste names. Vishva Hindu Parishad declared in 1960s that all Hindus are equal and caste has no place in Hinduism.

As for Manu smriti, it was only a guiding text even in ancient times. There is no evidence, it was actually followed to the letter. Most Hindus have not even seen a copy of it, let alone read.

Hindutva has been inspired by Fascism

This is a favourite point of communists. They say that Savarkar, Moonje and Golwalkar{prominent Hindutva leaders} praised Hitler and Fascism. They based RSS dress etc. on stromtropers and RSS is actually a paramilitary.

 Let us assume they praised Hitler and Mussolini in 1920s and 1930s. It should be remembered that many people did so. From American business and British politicians to media like New York Times and Time, all praised Hitler at some time or other. In fact, Hitler did a deal with Communist dictator Stalin, but they will never speak of it. Again, Stalin, Mao etc. communist dictators are responsible for more death and destruction that Hitler never dreamt of{although he was an evil man}, but everything is forgotten because they are fellow travelers.

As for RSS being a paramilitary, modern day SS, it is a false equivalence. In fact, many Islamists say it is worse than ISIS. This is laughable. RSS volunteers do not carry any arms. 99% do not have any arms at home or anywhere else. They exercise in the morning and sometimes carry sticks. If sticks are arms, then RSS is paramilitary. RSS was banned thrice by Congress governments, but emerged stronger every time.

Some other arguments talk about erosion of press freedom. The recent harassment of Arnab Goswami, Nupur Sharma etc. expose them. In the history of Independent India, press freedom was in severe danger only once : during Emergency imposed by Congress and supported by Communists.

I could not find any other arguments. If you come across any, let me know in the comment box. I will be happy to update the post.

Conclusion : Does Hindutva Fascism exist?

I believe the readers are intelligent enough to come to a conclusion. We have seen how Hindutva is a broad based ideology, how the term ‘fascism’ has been reduced to a slur, how elements of fascism are actually found in communist and Islamist regimes, how the narrative is promoted by certain groups of people and how they give specious arguments and wrong facts.

The slur of Hindutva fascism and calling Hindus of India fascists is another exercise in Hinduphobia by groups that detest Hinduism, that are unable to tolerate that an ancient culture stands tall amidst the ruin of other ancient civilisations. It is time we give as good as we get.

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Pawan
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