Hindutva and the Hindu Rashtra


Hindutva and the Hindu Rashtra
Bharat Mata, Painting by Abanindranath Tagore

Hindutva is indicative more of the way of life of the Indian people. It is not to be understood or construed narrowly. It is not Hindu fundamentalism nor is it to be confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices or as unrelated to the culture and ethos of the people of India, depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Considering Hindutva as hostile, inimical, or intolerant of other faiths, or as communal proceeds from an improper appreciation of its true meaning.”

– The Supreme Court of India


Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra, both are controversial issues in the present political landscape of India, and both need to be correctly understood in their true historical and cultural contexts, and restored to mainstream cultural and political discourse and debate. This, going forward, will be a crucial necessity for 21st Century India.

The idea of Hindutva is almost wholly associated with the political ideology of the BJP today because the BJP, more than any other political party in post-Independence India, has openly (though not too intelligently) espoused the Hindutva cause. We need to rethink Hindutva as an idea more than an ideology, and as a cultural more than a political platform. It surely has its usefulness in contemporary politics, now especially that the Hindu majority is getting increasingly Hinduised, but as a socio-cultural platform unifying all the presently disparate pro-Hindu forces, it will be vastly more useful and potent. But first, we will need to reestablish the original idea of Hindutva as a way of life, a culture and a civilization.

What is immediately needed is an intellectually sophisticated reassessment and rearticulation of the idea of Hindutva as a cultural identity and force. We need serious thinkers and scholars to take up this task, not political ideologues. We do not need any more noise and optics, what we need is in-depth rational analysis and a coherent discourse built around it.

Hindutva is not a proprietary term and no individual or organization owns this term, though many freely use or abuse it. Very briefly, the word Hindutva means Hindu-ness, the quality of being Hindu. The etymology is simple: hindu+tattva = hindutva. Tattva in Sanskrit means principle or essence (literally, that-ness).

So Hindutva implies Hinduness or the quality of being Hindu. While Hinduism implies a generic philosophical and cultural system, an “ism”, Hindutva implies a much wider and immediately lived reality, an individual and collective consciousness that sets a person and a civilization apart from all other civilizational and ideological systems and practices. As the Supreme Court of India judgment (quoted above) states, Hindutva is indicative more of the way of life of the Indian people. This is the crux. It is upon this that the Hindutva narrative needs to be systematically built. Openly, unapologetically, honestly.

Without Hindutva as the core idea of India, India will shrink as a civilization and end up as a mere nation-state without any deeper or truer identity. This has already been happening and can be studied by any objective and unbiased mind. The idea of India has shrunk because the idea of Hindutva has been deliberately and arrogantly pushed back by the successive governments post 1947. What happened pre-Independence is ancient history and there is no point in going back to it. But whatever has been happening post Independence needs to be brought out into the open, openly debated and discussed, and addressed as an immediate issue of national importance.

Hindutva, once restored to its rightful place in the scheme of future India, will lead to the inevitable rejuvenation of the other fundamental idea of the Hindu Rashtra.

Here too, it is to be clearly understood that the word Rashtra does not imply a nation-state. To judge Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra through the lens of western political philosophy is both incorrect and futile. The western idea of a nation-state or nationalism is vastly and profoundly different from the Indian idea of nationality. The Rashtra in Indian thinking is predominantly cultural and civilizational. The Rashtra represents a common culture or civilization spread across a certain geography but independent of that geography[1]. The nation-state, in fact, has always been an alien concept in Indian thought. Even the historical ideas of Bharatvarsha or Aryavarta have been much more of civilizational concepts than political constructs.

My contention here is that India has always been a Hindu rashtra in terms of its continuous and unbroken civilization, and this needs to be acknowledged widely and brought back into popular national discourse. Indian history in its truest sense, as itihasa and purana, has been the narrative of an evolving civilization and not a static geographically defined political nation-state. The world, in fact, seems to be moving decisively towards a global cultural synthesis and human unity based on civilizational identities and forces and not on geopolitical and sectarian or hegemonist nationalistic ideas of the old world, notwithstanding the present Chinese anomaly.

Most of the controversy surrounding the term Hindu rashtra arises from the limited understanding of the term rashtra. In the English language, one can use civilization instead of nation but in Sanskrit, the equivalent term, sabhyata, simply does not convey the full sense of rashtra. Using Sanskrit terms, I would say — a rashtra (civilization) is its sabhyata (culture), itihasa (history), dharma (law of being) and tadrupya or vyaktitva[2] (distinct identity and character).

Any informed student of Indian history and culture will easily identify the Hindu cultural values and practices in Indian sabhyata, the continuous Hindu narrative in Indian itihasa, the Hindu spiritual philosophy and ethics in the concept of Indian dharma, and the predominant Hindu worldview in the Indian tadrupya or pan-national Indian identity. One may argue the diverse interpretations possible within these frameworks of itihasa or sabhyata, but one cannot question their fundamental unity or inherent interrelatedness. It would be impossible, for instance, to separate the strands of Indian history and mythology from Hindu religious or social culture, or Hindu dharma from Indian philosophy, metaphysics, ethics or jurisprudence. There is a compelling and coherent unity underlying the complex and sometimes bewildering variety of interpretations and practices of what many imprudently term “Hindu” or Hindu civilization.

In order to come to a meaningful understanding and appreciation of Hindu civilization, we will first need to touch upon certain basic ideas and concepts of Hindutva itself, especially keeping in mind the misunderstandings (sometimes deliberate) propagated by other religious preachers, media critics and so-called contemporary leftist scholars.

Without a clear understanding of what Hindutva encompasses, it will be difficult and somewhat foolhardy to pass any kind of judgment on the concept of the Hindu rashtra.

[To be continued]

1A rashtra may be described as a group of people having a common or shared cultural identity. A Hindu Rashtra would therefore describe a collectivity consisting of people sharing the same Bhartiyata or Hindutva. Bharatiyata is Indianness; Hindutva is Hinduness, or the essence or quality of being Hindu. This is not to be naturally conflated with the Hindutva of Savarkar.

2ताद्रूप्य — (from tat, meaning that, and rupa, meaning form or character), used here in the sense of identity; vyaktitva too implies distinct personality or identity.

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