The ideological dimension of Hindu revivalism has mostly been misrepresented, or rather neglected, in the ongoing debates on the subject. Thoroughly analyzing the ideological statements of its advocates and their critique of the existing secular order, Dr Koenraad Elst provides an overview of the ideas animating the movement.
A period of rapid political changes that witnessed the rise of the BJP with only 2 Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 179 seats—which enabled it to form a coalition government at the Centre in 1998—is the focus of the study. Amidst the several other books available on the subject, this book stands out with its clear focus and clarity of thought.
Born in a Flemish Catholic family in Leuven, Belgium, in 1959, Dr Koenraad Elst graduated in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Iranian Studies from the Catholic University of Leuven. He became interested in communal disputes in India during a stay at the Benares Hindu University, and wrote his first book on the budding Ayodhya conflict. While establishing himself as a columnist for a number of Belgian and Indian papers, he frequently returned to India to study the various aspects of its ethno-religion-political configuration and to interview the country's religious leaders and thinkers. Decolonizing the Hindu Mind is based on his doctoral thesis, submitted at Leuven in 1998. He has written copiously on multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy as well as on subjects such as comparative religion and the Aryan invasion debate.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
A history of ideas My intention in writing this contribution to the study of Hindu revivalism, a wider trend in Indian politics and public opinion expressing itself trough diverse organizations and individual authors, is to provide an overview of the ideas animating this movement, with particular attention its view of the religions and ideologies which have been in a hegemonic Position in the last centuries, and with which Hindu revivalism has a -Relationship of unilateral or mutual hostility; and to its internal differences f opinion.
Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, as given expression by the Hindu Mahasabha (HMS, "Hindu Great-Assembly") and the family or parivar of organizations around the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteer Association"), including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, "Indian People's Party"), is the numerically most important -tendency within the broader movement which goes by the name of Hindu revivalism. There is already a considerable literature about these organizations, including good biographies, studies of the sociological background of the movement's personnel and other factual aspects.' As e shall see, some academic studies and numerous journalistic reports and a heavy and usually unabashed ideological bias, or innocently borrow that bias from their partisan though well-reputed Indian sources; it that need not prevent us from consulting them as useful repositories of 7aterial data about membership figures, caste background, election results, and the like.2 However, a lot remains to be added, in particular about the ideological dimension, which remains relatively neglected in objective studies and grossly misrepresented in the more crusading type of studies. For that matter, the most interesting formulations of Hindu revivalist thought have been provided by individuals outside the said organizations. Most of them have not even been noticed by established India-watchers, and I have presented a first survey of their work here.
The period which interests us primarily is the period of Hindu revival-ism's breakthrough to political prominence, c. 1988-1998, when mass campaigns and electoral victories brought Hindu revivalist leaders on the front pages worldwide. The presence of the BJP in Parliament is an eloquent indicator of this stormy evolution: from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 161 in 1996 and 179 in 1998, enough to form a Government and win a confidence vote with the help of its allies. Even the mere fact of having a few allies in 1996 and a great many in 1998 constituted a clean break with its earlier untouchability.
But our focus is not on the performance of political parties, though their party doctrines and manifestoes will be studied. It is mainly in the realm of ideas that the decade under consideration has witnessed a revolutionary breakthrough, mostly thanks to the efforts of Ram Swar up, Sita Ram Goel, and Arun Shourie. My position is that in their work, we see Hindu thought come into its own after centuries of either being of a provincial and unconvincing quality, or being in the shadow of the ideologies occupying the seat of political hegemony, chiefly Islam and a string of European imports, now united under the umbrella of "secularism".
To put this recent ideological rapid in perspective, I have chosen to selectively extend the horizon of this investigation back to the pioneers of Hindu revivalism in the late nineteenth century: Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Bankimchandra Chatterjee and Swami Vivekananda, and more recent stalwarts of Hindu revivalism like Swami Shraddhananda, Sri Aurobindo, Swatantryaveer Savarkar and Guru Golwalkar. Our treatment of them need not be comprehensive, since they already form the objects of a considerable literature, so we can concentrate on those aspects in their work most directly relevant to the contemporary ideological debate.
The broadness of our subject-matter implies that we have had to limit our investigation in other ways. Contents wise, no analysis of Hindu economic thought will be hazarded, first because I do not feel qualified, and secondly because it is very fluid now, with books on India's economic prospects (like those on China a decade earlier) being outdated by the time they get published. Even within the Hindu movement, it is, unclear where the ongoing debate on economy vs. ecology and on Swadeshi ("native produce", a cherished nationalist motto) vs. globalization (in which India has so far been a great winner, at least economically) is headed.'
Likewise, we shall not deal with Hindu techniques of self-organization, nor with the existing strategies of mass mobilization, a popular topic in academic writing about Hindu revivalism.' Also, the caste back-ground of the movement, another much-discussed aspect, will interest us only in passing, partly also because I object to the now-common reduction of everything Hindu to a caste calculus.' In a panel discussion about the 1996 Lok Sabha election results, at the 1996 South Asia Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, an official of the Indian Embassy rose to remark, quite rightly, that every speaker thus far had explained voter behavior exclusively in terms of caste, as if Indian voters cannot have other levels of: soup identification, other types of collective interests, or convictions rather than interests. Of course, Hindu revivalist positions regarding the caste system will be considered, but this aspect of the matter will be kept in proportion.
The main focus will be on the actual programmatic and ideological, tatements of Hindu revivalist thinkers and organizations, on their position.
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