Intellectual discourse in Hindu Majority India has been such that the term Hindutva has become the victim of many politically motivated misinterpretations. Much of the intellectual discourse has been conducted without even understanding its meaning while it has been unfairly branded communal.
It is important to turn the pages of history to get the right perspective on the evolution and the exposition of the term Hindutva. It is obviously derived from the word Hindu which is an old Persian word coined during the medieval era. It owes its origin to the Sanskrit word Sindhu, another appellation of the Indus River.
Historically, those living to the east of the Sindhu river were geographically referred to as Hindus. The word Hindu thus referred to a nativity rather than a faith or a religion.
Renowned Bengali scholar Babu Chandra Nath Basu is perhaps the first to articulate the term Hindutva in 1890s. A review of the book ‘Hindutva’ by Babu Chandra Nath Basu, appeared in the very old Calcutta Review, No. CXCVII, July 1894 states:
“Babu Chandra Nath’s is the first work which treats of the Hindu articles of faith. It aims at being an exposition of the deepest and abstrusest doctrines of Hinduism, not in a spirit of apology, not in a spirit of bombast, but in a calm and dispassionate spirit. The work is a difficult one. The Hindus are notorious for the diversity of their transcendental doctrines, every individual school having a complete set of doctrines of its own. Babu Chandra Nath has selected the noblest doctrines of Hinduism, but he has not followed any one of the ancient schools. Yet he does not aim at establishing a school of doctrine himself. His sole object is to compare, so far as lies in his power, the leading doctrines of Hindu faith with those of other of other religions.”
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda defined the greatness of Hindutva to the world in his model speech at the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago.
“I thank you in the name of the mother of religions…I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Anandamath and his poem Vande Mataram —published in 1882 — was instrumental for the rise of Hindutva in India’s freedom movement. The novel, which depicts the story of an army of sages fighting the British soldiers, was a wake-up call for an uprising against the Colonial British. His poem Vande Mataram — loadedwith the essence of Hindutva — was the hymn for India’s freedom movement.
It was Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s teachings on Hindutva that gave birth to Anushilan Samiti in the opening years of the 20th century. This was an era in which Hindutva, cultural nationalism and socialism had a rare blend at the focal point of revolution against the British Raj.
In his famous Uttarpara Speech in 1909, Sri Aurobindo aptly defined Hindu, Hindutva and Hindu nation.
“But what is the Hindu religion? What is this religion which we call Sanatan, eternal? It is the Hindu religion only because the Hindu nation has kept it, because in this peninsula it grew up in the seclusion of the sea and the Himalayas, because in this sacred and ancient land it was given as a charge to the Aryan race to preserve through the ages.
But it is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country, it does not belong peculiarly and forever to a bounded part of the world. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal. A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can live only for a limited time and a limited purpose. This is the one religion that can triumph over materialism by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy.”
In 1923, in his book ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?’ Vinayak Damodar Savarkar defined the meaning of Hindutva.
“Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be … but a history in full … Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole being of our Hindu race.”
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s writings and his works often suggest that it was Hindutva which was his source of inspiration to fight against the British Raj.
In 1925, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar formed Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to preach the grand vision of Hindutva and apply it in form of a selfless service to the nation.
MS Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of RSS, believed that India’s diversity in terms of customs, traditions and ways of worship was its uniqueness and that this diversity was not without the strong underlying cultural basis which was essentially native. Golwalkar said that the Hindu natives with all their diversity, shared among other things ‘the same philosophy of life’, ‘the same values’ and ‘the same aspirations’ which formed a strong cultural and a civilizational basis for a nation.
In his book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, Golwalkar wrote:
The word Hindu has a national character. It is tantamount to the word Indian – i.e. pertaining to a people living beside the river Sindhu. It connotes the entire culture and civilisation of the Indian people from pre-historic times developed on Indian soil through millennia.
In his book ‘We or our Nationhood Defined’ Golwalkar said:
“India is a Hindu nation, Hindusthan…No sane man can question the proposition that Hindus are a nation.”
Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who is considered as the godfather of modern Hindutva, defined the term as an instrument to awaken the national spirit. Dr. Mookerjee who founded Jan Sangh took the first steps in applying Hindutva in the political sphere post Independence. Jan Sangh was later reborn as the BJP. Deendayal Upadhyaya, another prominent leader of Jan Sangh, defined Hindutva as Integral Humanism.
HV Sheshadri, who was one of the most important leaders of the RSS, defined Hindu Rashtra as:
“Hindu Rashtra is not a religious concept, it is also not a political concept. It is generally misinterpreted as a theocratic State or a religious Hindu State. Nation (Rashtra) and State (Rajya) are entirely different and should never be mixed up. State is purely a political concept. The State changes as the political authority shifts from person to person or party to party. But the people in the nation remain the same. They would maintain that the concept of Hindu Rashtra is in complete agreement with the principles of secularism and democracy.”
These are the facts and the truth. They can’t be divorced from reality to subvert the intellectual discourse to suit one’s political biases.
A 1995 landmark judgment of Supreme Court on Hindutva read as:
“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.”
Hindutva is a way of life. It is the common thread which binds the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Hindustan (now known as India) through a shared heritage of many centuries. It is the essence of India’s rich civilisation and its syncretic culture. It carries the message of universal brotherhood. Hindutva is the reason why for thousands of years before the word ‘secularism’ came to define the Modern Indian Republic, India was never a theocratic State.