Fri Jul 12, 2024
July 12, 2024

UNDERSTANDING HINDUTVA

Indian politics today is defined by the ascendancy of the Hindutva ideology. The organizations of Hindutva are not recent, it is only in the last 40 years of neo-liberal development that its influence has been felt across the nation. This was despite bans on the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the right-wing Hind nationalist paramilitary organisation), and attempts by the Indian state led by the Congress party to suppress it. In its long history the RSS left a long trail of blood, since the brutal partition violence, massive pogroms against Muslims in Kashmir, the Northeast, and across North India and West India. Today, they are no longer a ‘fringe’, no longer can they be ignored. 

The question has been posed sharply before us, on what Hindutva is and how to fight it. The first instinctive reaction among most of the left and progressive forces in India is to identify it as a variant of fascism and organize against it accordingly.

Hindutva is cast as an ideology in the same mould as Italian fascism or German Nazism. However, it is our position that it is in fact neither, but a unique reactionary force that emerges from the peculiar socio-political conditions found in the sub-continent. To understand it we must analyse it on its own terms, than take recourse to the concept of ‘fascism.’

The Roots of Hindutva

The ideology of Hindutva is commonly connected with the RSS and BJP, but the former came to existence in 1925 and the latter only came into existence in 1980. These were comparatively new organizations, the roots of Hindu reaction, and the development of the Hindutva ideology go back to the 19th century, and is connected in no small way to the development of capitalism in pre-independence India.

It should come as no surprise that the greatest supporters of the BJP and the Hindutva movement are from the upper caste of Hindus, and more interestingly, from the so-called business or middle caste of baniyas and traders. The caste hierarchy of Hindu society is not immune from the political and social changes that have taken place on the sub-continent. The fall of the Mughals, the rise of the Marathas, and subsequently their fall and replacement with British rule all eventually resulted in the ascendancy of the so-called middle caste of traders and merchants. These formed the cornerstone of the modern Indian capitalist class, nurtured and propped up by the British as a comprador class. Their money eventually fuelled the rise of Hindu reaction.

Before the advent of British capitalism in India, a capitalistic development was taking place on the Indian sub-continent, with the rise of a proto capitalist class, chiefly around bankers and traders based in Western Indian trading communities. In the decisive event of the East India Company’s seizure of Bengal, the Jain bankers of Bengal had played the decisive role in ensuring the company’s overthrow of the nawab of Bengal. The alliance of the jagat seths with the East India Company also sealed the alliance of the middle caste and traders with that of British colonialism. They would benefit from British rule while every other community suffered losses, from peasant to lord.

Parallel to this, was the creation of a class of enlightened bureaucrats, and anglicized community of Indians recruited chiefly from the caste of intellectuals and those who held bureaucratic or administrative positions in the Mughal and Maratha Empires, the brahmins. It is one of the great ironies of Indian history that the leadership of the independence movement against the British came from this very community that the British had tried to hone as their ally. 

The Roots of Indian capitalism  

There is evidence of primitive capitalist development in pre-colonial India. This came in the form of large scale usurious capital and proto-industrialization in textile manufactories in Bengal and Gujarat. This sort of proto-capitalist development had its impact on society and religion as well.

Much of the trade and commerce around textiles and usury were in the hands of Hindu and Jain merchants. The new found wealth led to a greater assertion of their cultural and economic power. This in turn allowed them to assert their position in the caste ladder. Rather than be downtrodden or kept on the fringes of political power, they carved a position in the center of Indian political power, on the backs of their new found economic power.

As the spice trade declined and the trade in Indian textiles boomed, European trading companies rushed to try and get a piece of the pie. Large manufactories in Bengal became the foundation of a proto-industrialization, while Jain bankers and money lenders became wealthy of financing the Mughal Empire, and then it’s offshoot nawabs in Bengal and elsewhere.

The case of the Jagat Seths, who had by then become the richest bankers in the world, is quite illustrative of this transformation. In Europe, capitalist growth displaced feudal power economically, before it could be defeated decisively in political terms. England had achieved its break with Feudalism in the English civil war, the Dutch achieved their independence from Spanish feudal hegemony over the course of their independence war in 1580. The Americans would achieve their bourgeois revolution in 1776 and the French would cast out the feudal monarchy in 1789 in a bloody revolution.

India did not have feudalism, at least not in the European sense. Land was still considered owned by the crown, with supposed ‘feudatories’ only having the right to collect taxes and maintain armies. The idea of private property did not exist in Indian jurisprudence, though personal property did. It was not until the East India Company initiated the Permanent Settlement act and introduced the more recognizable colonial form of zamindari, that a genus of private property enter the Indian landscape. However, despite this overbearing Asian mode of production, capitalist development did occur in the periphery. These occurred in the realm of banking and usury, and in the realm of commerce. Trade and banking created a primitive capitalist class in India, whose position only grew as the centralizing Mughal Empire fragmented.

The period which saw the rise of the Maratha Empire, also saw the weakening of the old Asian political order. A period of political fragmentation ensued which led to the migration of the Jain and Marwari merchants, who spread their religious beliefs even as their relative social and political power grew throughout the sub-continent. At the time the East India Company put its foot down in India, the sub-continent already had a large and influential proto-capitalist class, but one without any political understanding, or the theoretical basis for conducting a revolutionary struggle like that in Europe.

The necessary political break allowing for the advancement of this class, came through the agency of the East India Company, and Bengal would become a laboratory for capitalist innovations in India. The old proto capitalist class could now expand and grow albeit under the limitations imposed by the colonial overlord. The East India Company’s characterization as a proponent of creative destruction, comes from this strange dual role in history. On the one hand they were chiefly an instrument of colonial exploitation of Indians. On the other hand, they were also the historical instrument of shattering the old Asian regimes. No other bourgeois entity had done as much damage to the old Asian system, as the British East India Company.

The political choice of the Jagat Seths was borne of the limitations of a capitalist class whose development had been stunted by social and historical factors. Surrendering political independence for the sake of overthrowing the power of the despotic nawabs came with a price. The British would stunt the development of Indian capitalism for its own objectives.

India was to be primed for primitive capitalist accumulation, for the benefit of British commerce, and eventually for British industry. The benefit of Indians, even the collaborating capitalist class, was not a priority. Whatever religious and political expression this bourgeois class would acquire, would be conditioned by these factors.

Caste played an almost decisive role in this regards, as the British had not destroyed the social foundations of the old system, but incorporated it for the purpose of capitalist exploitation. The administration of India required native collaborators, and particularly those who were well versed with the old bureaucracy. Indian land ownership system, administrative practices and bureaucratic infrastructure was incorporated into the British colonial system, and all subjected to the authority and interests of British capitalism.

An agrarian capitalist class was created in the form of the zamindars of Bengal, Indian traders found new opportunities to accumulate by trading in opium to China, and Indian bankers and money lenders would come to dominate the economy of the Raj, beyond just India. However, British financing, British military might, British industry, ensured that the Indian market would be its sole reserve, and the Indian capitalist class could only play a comprador role.

The British had destroyed the prestige and power of the warrior caste, and threw the Brahmin caste who had been administrators of the Marathas and Mughals, into a crisis. Both these castes joined as subordinates to the East India Company, as clerks, officers, and lower rank bureaucrats, or as soldiers in the ever expanding army of the company. Thus, the upper caste remained dominant over the lower castes, having carved out a place for itself within the capitalist milieu. The greatest change here being the rise of the middle caste of traders, baniyas and vaishyas, who could gain power and prestige unimaginable in the past.

What emerges in India of the 18th and early 19th centuries, is a picture of the decay and degeneration of the old Asiatic system in India, and the sudden and violent entry of capitalism at the hands of the British, which perhaps hastened a more chaotic and uneven indigenous capitalist development by many decades. It was an extremely distorted kind of capitalist revolution, brought about by external force. These distortions shaped the politics of the Hindu baniya caste, and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the Hindutva movement.

At first this would take the form of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915, and then more infamously in the form of the RSS in 1925.

The Roots of the Hindutva Movement

The forces of Hindutva did not emerge yesterday, they had been at work since before the independence of India decades ago. The agenda for a Hindu Rashtra was the clearest political expression of the Hindu landed elite, the reactionary section of the upper caste intellectual elite, and rising Hindu bourgeoisie.

The dynamic of class struggle of an oppressed peasantry and agrarian workers against land owning zamindars, overlapped with the communal struggle between Hindus and Muslims. The Hindu Zamindari found as its ally in the rural petty bourgeois and lumpens in the city, as well as members of the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie. While the Mahasabha was rooted in the landed elite and was built on their patronage, another organization, the RSS found support among the upper caste Hindus of Maharashtra. In championing a ‘Hindu’ agenda, they sought to not only suppress the rising assertiveness of Indian Muslims, but also that of Dalits under the leadership of Ambedkar.

 As the British were largely successful in containing the revolutionary communist movement in India, it was the reactionaries, both Hindu and Muslim, who found free reign to organize and agitate around their demands. They could sway large sections of the peasantry and petty bourgeois to their sides, and create the conditions for partition to happen.

The demand for a separate state of Pakistan was in line with the interests of the Muslim intelligentsia and bourgeoisie who wished to compete against their Hindu counterparts rather than uplift the peasantry and working class. This fact became amply clear over the course of the independence struggle of Bangladesh.

Mirroring this agenda, was the RSS with its plan for a Hindu Rashtra. Partition was as much a legacy of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha as it was the Muslim League. The Muslim League was successful in creating a prison house of peoples using the flag of Islam to justify itself. The RSS however, failed to build a Hindu Rashtra, but they never stopped trying.

The RSS and Hindu Mahasabha declined precipitously after independence, the carnage of the partition riots leaving most Indians, both Hindu and Muslim, without any appetite for further bloodshed. The Congress party had the support of the Indian bourgeoisie, along with their agenda for a secular state that was at least on paper, tolerant and accepting of all faiths. The high minded ideas covered the cynicism of the bourgeoisie. They needed to be secular to prevent another partition from happening, they needed to consolidate their hold over three quarters of the territory of the British Raj, and this couldn’t be done with a Muslim population that felt alienated. Eventually, Pakistan and what would become Bangladesh, could be annexed to India, or at least brought under India’s economic hegemony.

These calculations dictated the strategies of the Indian bourgeoisie, be it the adoption of a protectionist state capitalist system, or the adoption and commitment to secularism. Of course, Indian ‘secularism’ would be proven a sham. The Mandal commission report exposed the inequality in Indian society, and quite glaringly, the inequality between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority. Be it in the sphere of jobs, representation, employment opportunities, housing, or access to healthcare, India’s Muslim population fares worse than its Hindu majority. The regular pogroms and riots are like icing on this horrible cake, a frequent reminder that even if not in law, in practice, Indian Muslims are second class citizens in ‘Hindu India’.

Hindutva in Independent India  

Soon after independence, Gandhi was assassinated. The assassin, Nathuram Godse, is now a hero of the right wing, an icon of Hindutva. However, at the time, he was a reviled figure. The RSS were wary of Gandhi’s popularity, and were quick to disown Godse. However, the evidence linking the two were simply too great to deny. The RSS was banned right after independence, and riots broke out against brahmins in Pune which killed four. The RSS and the Hindutva movement as a whole waned in the first two decades after independence.

Secular ideology and India’s position as a leader of the emerging decolonization movement made it impossible for the RSS to adapt and grow.

However, while the RSS was banned as an organization, its ideology could not be banned. The Gita press, one of the foremost instruments of Hindutva propaganda in the early days, remained and continued to flourish. The RSS ideology, especially in the realm of caste and attitudes to Muslims, remained strong. Much bitterness remained between Hindus and Muslims, and especially among those who had to flee their homes in Pakistan to come to India. These communities became the target of RSS propaganda.

After independence, the Mahasabha declined greatly, having been robbed of its core patronage in the form of Hindu Zamindars in Bengal. Land reforms in both West Bengal and East Pakistan, put an end to their socio-economic power. The RSS took the leadership of the Hindutva movement, and the umbrella organization of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, became a united front of these reactionary movements.

The Hindutva agenda to build a Hindu supremacist state in India now had to adapt to changed circumstances. They could not rely on British support, they could only rely on their own organization, and the support of India’s Hindu population, especially the upper caste. New social dynamics were at play, and the RSS needed to adapt.

The RSS grew over time but remained at the fringes, until the period of crisis of the mid 1960s set in when economic and political crisis threw India into a pre-revolutionary situation. The first great defeat to the Congress came in West Bengal where a United Front government with the Communist Party, overthrew the incumbent Congress Party government.

The sixties saw the rise of working class militancy in India, which culminated in the great railway strike of 1974. To counter this, the Congress party which still ruled the country, invested in a reactionary movement in the Shiv Sena. Parallel to this, the Congress had assumed authoritarian tactics to clamp down on left wing movements.

The crisis offered a unique opportunity to the RSS, which could position itself as a right wing oppositional movement. Not only to divert the masses away from the Communists, but also discredit secularism and socialism.

When Indira Gandhi implemented the nationwide emergency of 1975, the RSS emerged as one of its foremost opponents. This gave the organization credibility. Ram Manohar Lohia, a lifelong Gandhian and opponent of the now autocratic Congress Party, threw in his unconditional support to the RSS. The political landscape of India changed after the emergency was lifted in 1978, and elections took place that year. The Congress party lost power at the national level after ruling India uninterruptedly for thirty years. The new united front government could not finish a full term and collapsed in two years of its formation, but it had cemented the RSS as a political force in independent India.

The BJP would make its appearance at this time as the electoral wing of the RSS. This party bore the characteristics of the RSS, rooted in Hindutva, and the liberal right wing of the Congress who broke off from the main party and joined with the Jana Sangh.

No one in 1980 could have imagined, how the party which had won just 2 seats in the elections that year, would come to rule India so absolutely in a little under four decades.

As India turned towards liberalizing its economy, the forces of Hindutva found fertile ground to grow. Television became a mass medium from the late 1980s, right wing movie producers, and right-wing actors found an expression on Indian tv shows. In the meantime, the Congress party began leaning towards Hindu reactionaries to deal with the Sikh reactionaries, that it had supported, to counter the influence of the Communist Party in the Punjab. The toxic combination of this divide and rule policy culminated in the rise of Bindranwale and the birth of Sikh militancy. The events of 1984 was well known to most Indians, violent pogroms against Sikhs took place, at the same time violent pogroms against Muslims occurred in Bihar, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

The decade of the 80s ended with Indian capitalism in crisis, together with the Congress Party on shaky ground, losing power a second time to a united front, which again collapsed for lack of numbers. At the end of the decade, India saw the rise of Hindutva as a political force, after years of propaganda and conditioning through mass media, literature and party. Eventually, the BJP’s popularity exploded with the movement for the Ram Temple at Ayodhya.

This event marks a decisive break with the status quo of socialism and secularism in India. Hindutva was the rising political movement, at a time when Islamic reaction was gaining ground in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Once more, reactionary forces were on the march, and progressive forces began a slow and long retreat.

By the time we reached 2014 when the BJP secured power through winning an absolute majority, Hindutva ideology was widespread, utilizing the opportunities made available by the opening up of Indian tv space to private channels. TV channels devoted to religion served as subtle Hindutva propaganda machine, while the internet and social media provided a new and toxic space for right wing propaganda to perpetuate. Decades of focussed organizational effort placed the RSS and the BJP in the right position to take the fullest advantage of these new opportunities.

The retreat of progressive and revolutionary forces from the field of politics opened up the right wing to take advantage of working class and peasant grievances. Rather than express anger through class hatred, Hindu workers of India were being incited to express their frustrations through communal anger. With rising unemployment, attacks on welfare and public enterprises, frustrations in society grew. The BJP was present to channelize all the anger present in Indian society against the Congress party. In 2014, after a decade of presiding over a neo-liberal state that ruled through institutionalized corruption, pursued neo-liberal jobless growth, and conducted outright war on tribes in the hinterland for the benefit of mining companies, Indians had had enough.

The BJP positioned itself as the right alternative to the Congress party, and sold a vision of corruption free India. Instead, we got an even more corrupt, even crueller government and aggressively neo-liberal state. Hindutva was the pill that would lull the masses into submission, while the BJP served the interests of their billionaire pay masters.

Caste and Hindutva

At its core, the movement to establish a Hindu Supremacist state in a Hindu Rashtra, is an upper caste ambition. The attitude of the Hindutva movement towards caste falls in line with the ambition of the dominant caste to establish a lasting hegemony over Hindu society. The appeal of Hindutva cuts across class line, between bourgeois, petty bourgeois, worker, farmer and labour aristocrat, but has a consistent appeal among the dominant castes.

The intellectual base of Hindutva comes entirely from the Brahmin intellectuals, with the intellectual core of the RSS forming the pillar of the movement. Hegdewar and Savarkar were both Maharashtrian Brahmins, and it is not chance coincidence that the headquarters of the RSS lies in Nagpur.

On the surface, the RSS claims to be ‘above’ casteism. The popular belief being that those who join the RSS ‘lose their sense of caste’. This is true only in words, not in practice. In practice, Hindutva is inseparable from upper caste hegemony, we are seeing this first hand in the last 10 years of BJP rule, most brazenly in the treatment of the Hathras rape case.

The indignity with which the Hathras rape and murder victim was treated showed not only the institutional bias towards Dalits in the state, it also showed the boldness with which this bias is shown under an overtly Hindutva government which presently rules Uttar Pradesh.

Understanding the Hindutva movement as an upper caste movement also helps explain it’s targeting the Muslim minority. Historically, a great bulk of Muslims in South Asia converted from Dalits or Buddhists wishing to escape upper caste hegemony. Islam and Christianity are both Semitic religions which at least nominally, challenge the caste system. Conversion to either religions represents a weakening of upper caste power and hegemony.

 Despite the fact that casteism runs rampant in both South Asian Christian and Muslim communities, Hindutva sees both religions as a threat to it’s national and world vision. It comes from a perception of enmity and a perceived threat to the Hindu way of life.

 The ultimate goal of forming a Hindu state, is to perpetuate and entrench the caste hierarchy, while also making space for the baniya/trader castes, who have acquired a new position as dominant castes under capitalism. The core of the Hindutva ideology becomes clear when one sees how it has muddled and nullified the use of affirmative action policies like reservation in education.

Since the BJP came to power, scholarships to Dalits have dropped precipitously. At the same time, incidents of hate crimes and abuse of Dalit students have risen. The BJP government has pushed for an education model which greatly favours of those with access, which are overwhelmingly upper caste. While those without the means to access education will be left wanting.

Reservations in education and jobs have also been expanded to a new caste category of OBC (other than backward castes). The OBC category includes Jats, Patels and Marathas, neither of whom are backward, and are in fact part of the dominant caste of kshhatriya. All the while, the BJP and the RSS continues its attack on the very idea of reservation for Dalits in jobs and education. The recent proposal to have reservations pegged to economic status further dilutes the representation of lower castes.

The BJP’s apparent appeasement of so-called ‘reservation politics’ is nothing but a grand deception campaign and falls into the larger Hindutva strategy. As Ambedkar remarked, ‘Hindu society only finds unity in an anti-Muslimism riot’. It was a strategy seen in the politics of partition as well, to pit the lower caste traders, workers and farmers among Hindus against Muslim peasants who had been mobilized by the reactionary leadership of the Pakistanis.

For the hegemony of the upper caste to be maintained, the Hindutva agenda must be sold to the majority of Hindus, but the majority of Hindus are lower caste. The truly pernicious nature of the Hindutva agenda, is that the Dalit are sold their own subjugation, through deception and false promises. Islamophobia of the Hindutva movement is key to shepherd the vast majority into its reactionary agenda.

This deception inevitably runs into the inconvenient reality that Hindutva springs from Hindu society, where caste hierarchy still holds. That Hindutva is the ideology of the upper caste to perpetuate its dominance, has been made clear from the last 10 years of BJP rule.

The Hindu Rashtra that they dream of, will be nothing but a grand prison for Dalits, where institutions will be closed off to the multitudes of the scheduled caste, schedule tribes, and minorities, all in the name of ‘merit’.

Indian capitalism has a place for caste, since this enforces poverty and marginalization. The caste system ensures a steady flow of cheap labour for the Indian capitalist class, a massive reserve army of the unemployed. The Dalits are overrepresented in prisons, and in the lowest category of employment.

The baniya/middle caste of traders have been able to make out a place for themselves in the capitalist order. Their support to the BJP shows a common cause in enforcing this newly earned position under capitalism, they would have every incentive and reason to keep the lower caste of Dalit marginalized and oppressed. Caste is not always enforced through physical violence, but through structural violence. Dalit slums are almost always worse off, Dalits are barred from housing, better paying jobs in the private sector, deprived equal access to education. It is only through mass mobilizations and protest that they can force out concessions from the state. Even these concessions, like reservations in government jobs and education, face opposition.

Over the period of British rule, the upper caste, especially the Brahmin, were able to monopolize clerical positions and education. This is a powerful monopoly they wish to keep and enforce it today.

Hindutva ; Fascism or nNot ?

When we are dealing with Hindutva, we are dealing chiefly with two organizations, these are the most important Hindutva organizations. They have membership numbering in the tens of millions, and have enormous ideological and political influence over India today. Their actions, and their ideological positions tell us the character of Hindutva today. To answer the question whether Hindutva is an ‘Indian version of fascism’ or not, we must understand what fascism is, and compare it with what the BJP and RSS are.

Fascism emerged in Europe in a period of great crisis, where the working class, now inspired and empowered by the Russian revolution, posed an acute threat to the capitalist system. The bourgeoisie so threatened by working class power, found in fascism a political tool that could counter the rising tide of revolution with acute violence.

The first organized fascist movement in the world emerged in Italy and Germany, both nations which suffered tremendously during the first world war, and witnessed revolutionary mobilizations. In case of Germany, this mobilization became an actual revolution in 1918 which forced the Kaiser to abdicate and turned Germany into a Democratic Republic, but failed to advance towards socialism. In Italy, the revolutionary potential was nipped in the bud by organized violence from the fascist brown shirts.

Fascism used nationalism to mobilize the greatest number of the petty bourgeois and lumpen proletariat in focussed, organized violence against the working class. The bourgeois supported and encouraged the fascist movements in Germany and Italy with a view to save their property and power.

Thus, fascism as we have seen it and understand it, come from the unity of these two forces. The bourgeoisie supporting and funding a party that mobilizes the petty bourgeois and lumpen proletariat. A fascist movement is at its core a reaction to capitalist crisis, where an acute threat of the working class exists.

The bourgeoisie would never choose to support fascism under normal ‘peacetime’ conditions, where it is confident in its political security, where the class consciousness of the working class can be kept low, either through material bribery (welfarist concessions, or outright corrupt trade unionism), or through the sizeable propaganda machinery of the state and the armed forces of the police and army. A combination of fear and concession typically works enough to douse any militancy.

Under periods of crisis, where the bourgeoisie feels compelled to transfer the burden of crisis to the shoulders of the working class. Concessions are rolled back, and it becomes harder for traitorous trade union leadership to sell out their workers. The standard means of oppressing the working class under bourgeois rule become harder, or even impossible. It is under these conditions that fascism is unleashed.

Not only can fascism challenge the working class in numbers, but also sway the working class with an anti-capitalist rhetoric. Of course, such rhetoric masks the true objective of a fascist movement, to stabilize and secure the rule of the bourgeoisie.

While fascism and Hindutva emerged around the same period of the 1920s, the conditions under which they emerged were different. Fascism emerged in the core of European imperialism, in a period of post war crisis, it grew with the support of the bourgeoisie which was alarmed by the rise of the revolutionary proletariat. India however, was a colony of Britain, and it suffered the crisis following World War I in ways very different to that of Europe.

Britain essentially shifted some of the burden of conducting its war on the shoulders of Indians. India provided enormous amount of jute, cotton, raw materials and manufactured goods such as railway stock, and weaponry, to arm the British Empire in its war across Europe and Africa. The most significant contribution was in manpower, with over a million Indians joining the British army to fight the Central powers.

The departure of such a huge manpower had its effect in Western India where most were recruited from. Returning soldiers, brought the plague in Europe back to Indian shores, the British administration responded with typical colonial mismanagement, racism and heavy handedness. The bungled response to the pandemic caused over 10 million deaths in India, a tenth of the global death toll.

The masses responded to the crisis in British imperialism, with their support for the independence movement. They fought with renewed vigour, eventually manifesting in the first large scale mass mobilization in the non-cooperation movement in 1920. Alongside the non-cooperation movement, came the Khilafat movement, which was a movement in opposition to the deposing of the Ottoman Sultan, the then Caliph of Islam.

The Khilafat movement brought out religion into mainstream politics, and alarmed many who believed in the Hindu supremacy. The 1920s was a time, when Muslim identity politics, along with the Muslim bourgeoisie was rising as a contending force to the then dominant upper caste Hindu intelligentsia, and the hitherto dominant Hindu merchant and business class. These two bourgeois interests would inevitably clash. It was in this context that the RSS was formed. It was also in this setting that the Hindu Mahasabha grew. The two pillars of the Hindutva movement in the pre-independence period, had as their target, Muslims and the interests of the Hindu upper caste.

The motivation, and the ideological roots of Hindutva, make it distinct from fascism, despite the fact that their leadership had openly admired both Mussolini and Hitler. They viewed the Nazi ‘final solution’ as a template to use for Muslims and Christians in India. The opposition to Communism, was not nearly as fundamental to the RSS cause, as it was to the fascists of Europe.  

This is not to say there aren’t similarities between the two forces. Fascist militarism, nationalism, and political organizing, gave the RSS an organizational template to use for itself.

Hindutva organizations like the RSS freely use lumpens as shock troops to conduct violence. The main pillar of support for the RSS and the BJP is the petty bourgeois, most of whom hail from the trading castes, and some members of the upper caste. This is equally reflected in the main political support base of the BJP which comes from the urban and rural petty bourgeois.

However, simply being a petty bourgeois organization does not make it fascist, nor even having a reactionary ideology. In the Indian political landscape, the use of lumpens to commit violence against political rivals is not something unique, almost every bourgeois party does it to one degree or the other. This too cannot be a distinguishing feature of the RSS as a fascist party.

Rather than see Hindutva as a fascist movement, it is more correct to see it as a unique reactionary movement rooted in caste, and emerging under the specific conditions found in 1920s India.

How to Fight Hindutva

The supporters of Hindutva will never admit it, but the Hindutva movement is a caste based movement. It is a movement to perpetuate the hegemony of the upper caste Hindus, and in that it serves the rule of capitalism in two ways. Firstly, it creates an artificial wall of hate dividing the working class on the basis of religion, and secondly, it divides the working class over caste.

Hindutva has a toxic effect on the mind of the worker, giving a false reactionary consciousness in place of class consciousness. Hindutva propaganda trains him to see the fellow worker and himself in terms of religion and caste. The worker is told to see a bourgeois co-religionist as an ally, even as he is being skinned by them!

The power of the Hindutva movement in its ability to channel frustration towards communal hate. To give a sense of false strength with the fake solidarity in terms of religion, to divide the classes. Hindutva helps perpetuate the domination of the capitalist class, even as it wages communal war against Muslims, Christians, Dalits and indigenous tribes.

To combat this, we must answer reactionary hatred with revolutionary solidarity. The farmer’s protest showed, even with every institutional power in the hands of the Hindutva organizations, they could not play up a strategy of divide and rule. Despite every effort to paint the farmer’s movement as a reactionary ‘Khalistan’ movement, backed by alleged ‘anti-national’ forces.

The class based solidarity trumped reactionary communalism. This is an important lesson to imbibe. Equally important, is to understand that the victory of the farmers did not require depending on the bourgeois democratic institutions of the election, or any bourgeois political party. The fact is, that Hindutva has to one degree or the other influenced every mainstream bourgeois party and their regime.

It is worth remembering that the Hindu Mahasabha initially worked inside the Congress party. Six decades of Congress dominance in India witnessed numerous anti-Muslim pogroms, and the sustained marginalization of Muslims and Dalits. The brief ban on the RSS, and the ad hoc opportunistic attacks against Hindutva have failed to give any permanent solution to the menace of Hindutva. Should the Congress and its bourgeois allies win the next national elections, the Hindutva movement will not end, nor will its influence.

The inescapable conclusion one must reach, is that bourgeois parties in India, be they the regional bourgeois parties or the various offshoots of the Congress party, can’t beat back the Hindutva movement. The workers and peasants of India must rely on themselves to fight Hindutva.

To fight Hindutva we must have an understanding of it, as well as a strategy. The core of Hindutva is caste, and in the struggle of Dalits must we find its counter. The central alliance that must be built, is the united forces of the working class, peasantry and Dalits.

Building this solidarity is the key part of any revolutionary strategy to counter Hindutva. This must include an armed force capable of defending against overt attacks by Hindutva thugs, as well as a sustained propaganda effort aimed at fighting Hindutva propaganda. Ultimately, struggle is the best educator for the worker. Through fighting against the capitalist system, they can see the lies of the Hindutva movement. They can see through the propaganda of the BJP when temples fail to provide them a living, when their lives are wrecked by billionaire oligarchs while the leaders of Hindutva try to incite them against Muslims.

The false promises of the BJP and the RSS are exposed easily before the Dalit, when they see them standing beside their oppressors, while their kin are tortured and tormented.

It is our task to lead them in struggle, and build the solidarity that can destroy the Hindutva movement. To overcome this reactionary movement has been one of the key historical tasks of the Indian revolution, and today this has come to face us in full force with a BJP government in power. The task has assumed a more urgent character than ever before.

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