Normalization of Hindutva politics and Saffron modernity in India


Right-wing extremists’ politics in India has now stamped absolutely as an authentic politics in the majority expectation. Now the question is about its future concerning India as a nation laden in the cultural foundation of conservatism and purity. Does India, as a society, will be moulded through the power of right-wing politics into a single cultural system?  The recent rise of right-wing politics in India shows that the new politics of social change with the majoritarian ethical standards accounts to their legitimacy. The historical oppression of diverse groups based on social class, religion, gender and caste politicised with new meaning under the garb of ‘doing’ development, cultural revivalism and the discourses of neoliberalism.

The coming of Hindutva being had got its force with the coming of leadership which did not make the mistake of being a polite opposition, sympathetic towards the dissents, trying to be centrist or taking a middle ground. All these oppositional strategies had proven weak and sober. Instead, the political leadership emphasised its inclination forcefully for Hindutva ideology, Hindu nation, mighty and attacking. The image of leader was created as pro-poorer, strong, locale, catering to the Hindu need despite differences and uncompromising as compared to the Congress leadership as meek, pro-immigrants, pro-diversity and Muslims, pro elitists, unable to reinvent the Hindu Rashtra and bring back the lost glory. The leadership which emerged acted as a magnet which pulled the consciousness of Hindutva out of the people even placed in the different parties. This idea of being strong and masculine Hindu[1] added fuel to Jai Shri Ram politics and disengaged many people in the oppositions to work hard for the elevation of the party image at the local level. BJP with the active support of RSS and VHP worked at the local level to mobilise their ideology which was making congruent and fitting with the Hindu culture and everyday psychological needs and demobilising the image of the Congress and other oppositional parties as corrupt, elitists, casteist and full of criminally tainted politicians. So, the same person and his family who had hoped with the Congress or other parties for fulfilling their needs did not find his everyday struggle reduced and opted for a change in the BJP which promised respectful cultural identity, feeling of enthusiasm with the politics of new India of upper caste and middle-class value system. This image of elevation from their current situation had taken over the consciousness of almost all the members of diversified groups too, and they found the shelter in the aura of hopes created by the long-struggling and gradually becoming stronger Hindutva movements.

To emerge as a nationalist party, one has to tackle the expectations of organisations strong at the local level. The strengthening of the party may happen when BJP reviewed its stature as a nationalist party and connected strongly with the expectations of VHP and RSS, in other words, connected to the expectations of the people mobilised into the populist discourse by these influential right-wing organisations. The leadership catering to the new India analogy witnessed a change in ideological references. For example, what was prime during the time of Congress and other oppositional leadership, becomes outdated and stale in the BJP time, and a new name allotted to the cities, localities, policies, concerning the ideological narratives of Hindutva and their prominent leaders. This technology of narrative building with the language of Hindutva created new reality and facts of India. So the power shift to the BJP with these narratives of self-renunciation which shaped through several mechanisms of building the Hindu nation, Bharat and nationalism.  There is no proof whether the members of Congress or any other parties based on their ideological and political position were not nurturing the idea of Hindu self. However, the shift in the voting behaviour, preferences for the leadership, hatred and records of communal violence in the pre-colonial to postcolonial times shows that the idea of Hindu self is deeply entrenched and practised widely. What makes BJP unique from others were open acceptance and practice of religious rituals, karma, the dualism of mind and body, meditations and yoga and the caste-based discrimination. One can contest how meditations and yoga connect to the caste, but there is not a single record where Dalit or any community from the oppressed group mentioned practising it or allowed to do so. The only people whom practices uncontestably considered as pure and dominant, as the duality of Veda did not believe in the oneness of mind-self and body but differentiated it rigorously, so how anybody who was given the impure status or animals status without the mind will doing Yoga. They were doing service to the upper caste, example, manual scavenging, a humiliating job forced to do by the dominant upper castes rather than the choice to do meditations or yoga and connecting with one’s mind and self (atman). In the recent time, the widespread enthusiasm to do Yoga by the new government for the physical and mental health of people has created the situation of self-control of one’s health, however, how many in the lower strata have that freedom of will to do Yoga is not clear.

The wave of modernity which handled the irrationality of the society and to some extent empowered the Dalit and oppressed to cross the barriers of caste and class boundaries is now shaped by the Saffron[2] Modernity in their ambitious project of Hindu revivalism. The idea of Saffron modernity has given new impetus and language to the embedded duality and prejudice against social change and social inclusion. It resolved the ambivalence towards either being radicalised Hindu and at the same time urge to be modern, democratic (See Jaffrelot, 2013) and portraying Bharat as Vishwa guru in terms of portraying itself as a model of morality to the world. This politics of portraying itself morally upright based on its sense of purity, cultural values, being tolerant and peaceful as compared to the other practices in the world which are violent, intolerant and impure. The idea of being culturally pure system had emerged due to the various kinds of connects that happened in the political history of India such as coming of Westerners which was allowed by the Muslim rulers and before them, coming of Muslims with the force of violence and atrocities. These foreign identities were considered as impure by the dominant Hindu caste in India and were considered as destroyers of the indigenous culture, as claimed by the upper caste calling themselves as the descendants of Aryavrat. These foreign connections were the touch of masculinity which attacked the already established masculinity of the Caste Hindus. However, the Varna system kept Dalit outside the system and was humiliated without any sense of respected identity. They were called as impure, untouchable, decrepit and wretched, though their touch was punishable by anyone in the upper caste and earlier there were no records of protecting them from atrocities. On the other hand, the connection with the dominant forces from outside was the overriding and unwanted touch and hurt the masculinity of dominant caste Hindus.  Thus this majoritarian mindset was there, and politically, established in the latter times.

The reason for this establishment is not one, but as per the saffronizing of the modernity, it has become mainstream and well connected to the orbit of democracy through the process of majoritarianism. The question is whether democracy is in the natural will of the people where the freedom of choice is their fundamental right or is it systematic socialisation of the people to shape their freedom of choice according to the will of the law? However, one thing common in both the cases is the consensus, that is, if people agree that free country is the country where people practice collective social identity as dictated by the dominant institutions and leaders, or free country is the country where social identity does not matter.

In case of the current rise of right-wing, people talk about democracy, dissents, diversity and development but how much does it cater to the right of people from the diverse backgrounds is the matter of consensus. There are different kinds of collectivities where one based on the building and strengthening of the Hindu nation and others based on the hopes and needs. There are divergence and integration, where for some Hindutva revivalism is more important than anything else, some demands both revivalism and need fulfilments, and some are solely in the hope of need fulfilment and feel empowered in the social structure. For example, the middle class and upper caste in maximum cases have voted this time to BJP for ensuring security of their jobs, to enhance their standards of living and their knowledge about the right-wing politics to be anti-reservation towards the minorities. These minorities groups were prejudices and believed to snatch the jobs inherently meant for the dominant castes and believe that their ability and merits are taken over by the affirmative action policy. The consequences of these thinking have created many groups of upper caste, and unemployed individuals joining the right-wing organisations or identifying with the right-wing as their movement to save their Hindutva identity and against the minorities who are getting support by the other centrist, left and Dalit parties.

By looking at the past decades it may be faulty to see that rise of right-wing was sole because of Hindutva movement as Hindu dominance was already pre-existing through their caste system, but it was also a matter of social and psychological space which was threatened by the inclusive effort of radical groups. On the other hand, working-class voted based on fear mobilisation and forced hopes for better living. It was also possible due to the forceful and continuous presence of the right-wing core group activists and local gatekeepers who have dominant control over the working class (see also Kaviraj, 2011[3]). Thus, creating an image of new India many of the pro-middle class who was quite influenced by the varieties of populism[4]. Even the internal critiques and senior members were systematically expelled out or not given any value to their opinion and labelled as a chameleon. The all populist reality is nothing but a zone of comfort which privileged one and not others, the privileged class call it their hard work and emotional attachment without having any empathetic understanding of the plight of working-class and Dalit. For them, the imaginary enemy is more pronounced than the clear evidence about the inequality, violence, oppression.

How any memory legitimized under the political regime and how lay historians preserve those inauthentic memories? For example, the Bhima-Koregaon incident when a group of Dalit paying homage to their ancestors, who fought as a British army with the powerful Marathas, was arrested. As Marathas lost to the British army and it was the matter of shame this narrative was discouraged in the history, however, for Dalit, it was the matter of honour and bravery of their ancestor. Since Dalit were the oppressed groups, past untouchables and was not given any respect if anyhow they were part of the Maratha army, the winning of the battle was momentous to raise the self-esteem of the historically degraded group. The state interventions influenced by the powerful right-wing to erase or suppress this honourable memory of Dalit labelled as anti-national activities or treachery of supporting the colonial rule instead of being neutral, shows how powerful right-wing regime manipulated the history, tried to fabricate it or remove it all together through the dominant narratives. One cannot talk about culture and modernity through exclusionary politics, as it had never been the reality or scientifically impossible. Things change its nature with the time and social exchanges, and that is why even what we are adamant about, such as traditionality was never nascent or isolatory in itself (see Nandy, 2007[5]). Current scenario of rising right-wing does not seem to correlate with either the idea of Hindutva nor the practice as both in itself are paradoxes where the community feeling and social identity of being Hindu is always at stake.

As one talk about Hindu identity undeniably of its caste structure, which in itself is not homogenous. The question about which identity is more critical to a person, his religious identity or caste identity has a complicated answer, but both the cases are strongly connected. If one is no more Hindu, by adopting different religious practices or becoming a non-believer, it will affect the person caste identity because there also practices and rituals get the shift. Conversely, if one tries to change his caste, which is near to impossible in the Hindu society, he has to change his religion. In both cases, thus, the person has to suffer the loss of identities, which are complementary, but Hindu identity is the precursor. Thus, the politics of Hindutva is also the politics of caste, a channelised program to present something mythological as real and objective. How the Hindutva politics prove that it is objective self, how the language of reality constructed about something farcical, dividing and violent?

Hindutva politics emphasised diversity, in their Saffron modernisation agenda, but the kind of diversity and spiritual calmness which highlighted is a simple acceptance of the caste hierarchy positioning endowed on various social groups. When a group of upper caste people go to temple, they may feel the aura of diversity on seeing people from different upper-caste background and may also feel proud of their rich culture where compositeness is inherent, but the moment any lower caste, Muslim and lower social class come to their space, the feeling of disgust overpowers them. Here the diversity gets its shift, showing that even diversity looks for common ground in the Hindutva designed communal space. The idea of nationality, as it was depicted in history and currently where the value system of privileged becomes the theme of diversity is problematic. In other words, it might seem a flopped idea of nationality where majoritarian vote become the final marker of democracy which needs critical attention in a new domain of collectivity and social change urgently.


[1]Kinnvall, C. (2019). Populism, ontological insecurity and Hindutva: Modi and the masculinization of Indian politics, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/09557571.2019.1588851

[2] The colour Saffron in itself is a colour which depicts courage and peace but now its image has created fear, intolerance and deep seated hatred towards the religious and marginalized outgroups

[3]Kaviraj, S. (2011). The enchantment of democracy and India: Politics and ideas. Ranikhet: Permanent Black.

[4]Like Hindi-English dichotomy but educate their children in English medium and talk in special Hindi format, against Muslim culture and call themselves tolerant and respecting towards other religion, anti-poor but don’t hesitate to count their act of small charity as great help laden with emotions of sympathy, anti-activists and anti-scholars who work for the poor as anti-national and fancy terms like urban naxals (for critical understanding see Singh, 2018[4]).

[5]Nandy, A. (2007). Time Treks: The uncertain future of old and new despotisms. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007.

Chetan Sinha, Assistant Professor [Psychology], Jindal Global Law School




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