‘Hindutva Rashtreeyathinte Katha’ by Malayalam poet P. N. Gopikrishnan shines light on the RSS politics, from Savarkar’s role to the recent rise of nationalism

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Malayalam poet P. N. Gopikrishnan’s latest book, Hindutva Rashtreeyathinte Katha (The Story of Hindutva Politics), traces its ideological foundations, from figures like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar to the rise of Hindu nationalism in recent years, shining light on its social, cultural, and political implications. The book explores the critical role of Chitpavan Brahmins and the historical context that shaped this ideology, offering a comprehensive understanding of India’s nationalistic landscape.

The writer’s first, thorough exploration into the Hindu nationalist movement in India has been inspired by Christophe Jaffrelot’s 1996 book, Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s, which has formed our perception of the progressive trajectory of Hindutva and its sway over Indian politics. The book contends how the political unrest in the 1920s, fuelled by perceived and actual threats of colonialism, set the stage for the rise of assertive Hindutva in India.

The mobilisation aspect of Hindu nationalism, a socio-political phenomenon, has constituted a focused area of study in India for at least four decades. This particular strand of research has sought to delve into the mechanisms, strategies, and dynamics employed by the proponents of Hindu nationalism to galvanise support, consolidate the ideological base, and mobilise followers.

Scholars have examined the historical, cultural, and socio-political underpinnings that fuelled the mobilisation process, offering insights into its evolution and impact. In addition to Jaffrelot’s writings, books by writers such as A G Noorani and Shamsul Islam, too, have put Hindu nationalist movement under scanner. Jyotirmaya Sharma’s examination of Hindu nationalism also offers critical perspectives.

The Brahmanisation of nationalism

Gopikrishnan analyses how a Brahmin-centric social order stoked up the movement in the 19th century, and critiques its exclusivist and majoritarian nature. A significant part is dedicated to the examination of Savarkar’s role in shaping the ideological tenets, his belief in cultural nationalism, and his alignment with militant expressions. The book also dwells on the ideas, beliefs, and socio-cultural practices of the Brahmins from the Chitpavan community that were instrumental in giving rise to the Hindutva movement, ultimately influencing the course of Indian society and politics.

“According to the 1901 census, the Chitpavan Brahmins comprised only 20 percent of the total Brahmin population in the Bombay Presidency. Despite this relatively small demographic representation, their social and cultural influence was disproportionately large. Data reveals that, at one point, 75 percent of the prestigious Mamlatdar administrative posts in the Bombay Presidency were held by members of this minority sect. In 1886, records show that 33 out of the 104 subordinate judges in the presidency hailed from the Chitpavan Brahmin community,” Gopikrishnan writes at some point in the book, which dives into the emergence and ascendancy of Chitpavan Brahminism.

Malayalam poet P. N. Gopikrishnan

The writer observes that this ideological transformation was orchestrated by influential leaders from Mahadev Govind Ranade and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. We are told that it was the latter who transformed the Brahmin identity, initially defined by Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, into a virulent and potent political force. In the chapters on Tilak, the book details the ideological progression of political Brahmanism, depicting its shift towards modernism. It interprets this transformation as the Brahmanisation of nationalism, illuminating the interplay between Brahmanical thought and the evolving nationalist discourse.

The growth of Savarkarite ideology

The book takes us through Savarkar’s life and political journey: his early years, experiences in London, encounters with Gandhi, his time in incarceration, and notably, his infamous series of clemency petitions to the British authorities. “The core focus of neo-fundamentalist political Brahmanism initially revolved around anti-British sentiment. However, this emphasis shifted after Savarkar’s period of incarceration in the Andaman Islands. The earlier cooperative stance towards Muslims, aiming to join forces against the British, was abandoned. In its place, a strong anti-Muslim agenda was promoted to facilitate the British divide-and-rule strategy,” writes Gopikrishnan about the growth of Savarkarite ideology.

“This deliberate shift caused a rift in Hindu-Muslim unity during the disobedience movement following the Jallianwala Bagh incident. This division breathed new life into the Tilakites, who had distanced themselves from the nationalist movement upon Gandhi’s entry. By fostering a cultural atmosphere conducive to Brahmanism, this approach undermined the concept of non-violence, previously seen as an inclusive and progressive political idea. Thus, a manifesto was born in 1923 named Hindutva,” he adds.

Savarkar’s main argument in his book Hindutva was that the Aryans who settled in India at the dawn of history had already formed a nation later embodied in the Hindus. Their Hindutva, according to him, rested on three pillars: geographical unity, racial features and a common culture. According to Jaffrelot, Savarkar had minimised the religious criteria in defining Hindu, claiming that Hinduism is only one of the attributes of Hindu-ness.

The conspiracy to kill Gandhi

The book, in its later half, examines how the ideological locus of Hindutva politics, championed by Savarkar, provided a basis that supported the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Savarkar stood for an intensely nationalistic vision of India with a Hindu-centric focus. Although not explicitly condoning violence against individuals, his radical stance against perceived threats to the Hindu community and advocacy for a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) fostered an environment conducive to extreme actions.

It is obvious that the assailant of Gandhi, Nathuram Godse, drew inspiration from Hindutva ideology and Savarkar’s writings. Godse viewed Gandhi as an obstacle to the realisation of a Hindu Rashtra, and his perspective was moulded by the divisive narrative propagated through Hindutva politics. The book argues that Savarkar’s ideological framework cultivated a milieu in which radical elements felt vindicated in employing violence to advance their political goals. The author cites multiple documents and commentaries from the time of Gandhi’s assassination and the subsequent trial of the culprits. It also takes us through the events and circumstances that culminated in Gandhi’s killing, underlining the ideological convictions of the assailant and his associates. We also get to know about the trial history of those involved in the light of available historical documents.

It’s worth noting that despite the abundance of literature on Savarkar and the assassination of Gandhi, the author relies on two seemingly contrasting works for this section: Vikram Sampath’s two-part biography of Savarkar, and Tushar A. Gandhi’s chronicle of the conspiracy, Let’s Kill Gandhi. Needless to say, the author takes a critical stance toward Sampath’s biography. Sampath’s books have faced criticism, primarily from left and liberal writers, for their emphasis on presenting anecdotal information and some rare records of public participation rather than providing a critical analysis of Savarkar’s theoretical body of work.

The book also examines the early leaders of Hindutva, showcasing how their contributions influenced the character of Hindu nationalist movement in India, placing the Chitpavan Brahminism right at its centre. Identifying the ‘fascist beast’ in everyday political power may be challenging, but its actions are far-reaching. Its aggressive expressions can be observed through vehement outbursts on social media, as well as in visual and print news outlets, pervading what we consider public domains. The author stresses upon the need to comprehend this ‘brain-eating monster’ in order to effectively counter it. While numerous books in English explore different facets of Hindutva, few Malayalam books have dealt with it. This makes Gopikrishnan’s book a rare read.

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