Badri Narayan is a distinguished historian and anthropologist who has received the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award. He has been widely recognized for his interventions in mainstream media and his contributions to contemporary literature. His latest book, Republic of Hindutva: How the Sangh is Reshaping Indian Democracy, offers a comprehensive account of how Hindu consciousness is invoked in order to advance the message of Hindutva, appropriate backwards and lower castes and mobilise on communal lines.
The book provides an insightful analysis of the impact of Hindutva on Indian politics and the rise of new Hindutva, especially since 2014. The new Hindutva mentioned herein is breaking through the traditional beliefs and accommodating modernity all in line with the Hindu national identity to penetrate deep into social communities. Narayan points to the instance of appropriating intellectual giants like Babasaheb Ambedkar to outreach Dalits. He writes ‘‘the Sangh, is trying to convert Ambedkar into a relatable symbol for everyone by downplaying the critique of the caste system. They want to detach the persona that critiqued the caste system from the version of him that they have invented.’’ (Pg.25) To further their agenda of appropriating the masses, the RSS-BJP is celebrating Jayantis (birth anniversaries) of social and political figures from the past. The fanfare is a bogus one because most of these icons have nothing whatsoever to do with the idea of Hindutva.
For the sake of intellectual validity, Dr Krishna Gopal in 2014, authored a book Rashtra-Purush Baba Saheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. In the book, Dr Gopal strives to associate the philosophy of Hindutva with that of Babasaheb’s. This was an attempt to rewrite history and build a narrative since Babasaheb was vehemently opposed to the idea of Hindutva and the inherent Brahmanism that acts as its fulcrum. The book is structured thematically into six chapters, each offering a unique and personal account of comprehending the RSS and BJP working in tandem at the grassroots. In the second chapter, Narayan has closely observed the appropriation of cultures and religions under one what is now being bandied about as a ‘Hindu national identity.’ This manner of appropriation is apparent in the statements of the Chieftain of RSS when he declared: ‘‘Sangh desh ke 130 crore ki abadi ko Hindu samaj manta hai.’’ (The Sangh identifies the country’s 130 crore people as Hindus).
Narayan explores the differing views within the progressive camp regarding the relationship between the BJP and RSS. While some argue that the BJP has made the RSS obsolete, others contend that the RSS is providing unwavering support for Modi’s popularity. Narayan aligns with the latter view. He delves into the ways in which the RSS and its allied organizations are expanding their influence at the grassroots level across the triad (socially, economically, and politically). Especially after the landslide victory in the 2019 General Assembly.
Narayan also points out how the RSS has morphed over time from ‘Khaki half pants to brown pants’ and the opposition has failed to identify the structure of RSS. He points out that the RSS and its affiliates have rooted themselves in the social fabric with around 800 NGOs working relentlessly to further the objective of RSS. This structure has been crafted in the language of the populace over a period of half a century. The shadow structure includes NGOs, allied campaign groups, public platforms associated with Hinduism and others to disseminate the ideology of Hindutva. This is often overlooked by the opposition and hence the resistance remains ineffective and the presence of RSS and its affiliates in the social strata continues to remain deep and constricting. To this the author points out ‘‘They are armed with smartphones… technology and power of social media. It will be very difficult to counter the RSS ideology with the outmoded language of secularism and conventional party organization. People need to see the real RSS instead of its old shadows’’.
Furthermore, Narayan has made a compelling observation about the communal riots and communal mobilization in the country, especially post-liberalization. He points out that political Hindutva communally mobilizes the masses by creating ‘‘small incidents of conflicts’’. He observes that these invisible, sporadic, and latent incidents cannot be called a ‘riot’ and yet have a deeper and longer-lasting impact. Since riots hamper trade and development in a free market, the BJP could not afford to upset their patrons. In 2014, 600 communal incidents in UP has been recorded by the police, the majority were small communal conflicts. A closer look at the statistics revealed that 60% of communal incidents took place around where the assembly by-poll elections were held after the general elections. The small clashes are therefore imperative for the politics of Hindutva to keep the communal cauldron simmering.
The book is a crisp and informative read. However, the author did not provide a nuanced historical analysis of the rise of Hindutva which is integral to comprehending its growth and to further resisting it. Also, it is ostensive that the book primarily focuses on experiences from Uttar Pradesh, leaving out the rest of India. Additionally, in some parts, the author argues that the politics of Hindutva has somewhat accepted the tents of democracy. This raises a query as to whether is it possible to consider Hindutva as a political force that can align with democratic values.
To conclude, the book is an intriguing read. It is for all inquisitive minds who want to comprehend the manner in which Hindutva works and its impact on the Indian democratic setup since 2014. The book clearly puts it across that the strangulation of secular ethos and implementation of the foiled idea of homogeneity and uniformity are part and parcel of the politics of Hindutva. Therefore, it is pertinent for a healthy democracy to restrain any political ideology built on the edifice of religion. Since for electoral dividend, the political ideology would scathingly manipulate the religion according to its own terms.