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All-encompassing ideology? Savarkar's Hindutva was 'on the fringe' till late 1990s

By Shamsul Islam*
The term Hindutva took birth with the appearance of VD Savarkar's book “Hindutva” in 1923. Savarkar’s “Hindutva” was declared to be the “Holy book of Hindu sangathan or organization”. MS Golwalkar, who headed the RSS after KB Hedgewar, too regarded Savarkar’s Hindutva as a great scientific book which fulfilled the need of a text-book on Hindu nationalism (Dhananjay Keer, “Veer Savarkar”, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1988, p 527).
According to a biography of the founder of RSS Hedgewar published by the RSS, “Savarkar’s inspiring and brilliant exposition of the concept of Hindutva marked by incontestable logic and clarity, struck the cord of Doctorji’s [Hedgewar’s] heart” (HV Seshadri, “Dr Hedgewar: The Epoch-Maker”, Sahitya Sindhu, Bangalore, 1981, p 65).
Despite such statements glorifying Hindus. In fact, even the title of the book seemed to have been an afterthought.
A perusal of the original edition (1923) will show that the booklet was printed with the title Hinduism but subsequently a separate piece of paper on which Hindutva was printed was pasted on the title page of the book. Since the term remained alien even to the Savarkarites, by the 4th edition "Hindutva" as title was dropped and it was published under a new title “Who Is a Hindu?”
In 1963 Maharashtra Provincial Hindusabha published it as part of Savarkar’s collected works with the title Essentials of Hindutva. Another notable fact about this book was that it was published under the pen name ‘A Maratha’ signifying a regional identity of the author whereas book stressed only the Hindu identity of the country and its inhabitants.
Savarkar admitted at the outset that the ‘term Hindutva defies all attempts at analysis’ (A Maratha [VD Savarkar], “Hindutva”, VV Kelkar, Nagpur, 1923, p 3). He began by trying to make a clear-cut distinction between his theory of Hindutva and religion Hinduism. But few pages later it became clear that Hindutva was nothing else but political Hinduism.
According to his definition a Hindu
"…is he who looks upon the land that extends from Sindhu to Sindhu, from the Indus to the Seas, as the land of his forefathers -- his pitribhu, who inherits the blood of that race whose first discernible source could be traced to the Vedic Saptasindhs [seven holy rivers] and which on its onward march, assimilating much that was incorporated and ennobling much that was assimilated, has come to be known as the Hindu people, who has inherited and claims as his own the culture of that race as expressed chiefly in their common classical language Sanskrit and represented by a common history, a common literature, art and architecture, law and jurisprudence, rites and rituals, ceremonies and sacraments, fairs and festivals… 
“These are the essentials of Hindutva -- a common rashtra [nation] a common Jati [race] and a common Sanskriti [culture, though in later editions it is translated as civilization]” (A. Maratha [V. D. Savarkar], Hindutva, VV Kelkar, Nagpur, 1923, pp. 102-103.)
According to Savarkar, these were the Hindus with Aryan blood who established the Hindu nation the day...
"when the Horse of Victory returned to Ayodhya unchallenged and unchallengeable, the great white Umbrella of Sovereignty was unfurled over that, Imperial throne of Ramchandra the brave, Ramchandra the good, and a loving allegiance to him was sworn, not only by the Princes of the Aryan blood but Hanuman—Sugriva—Bibhishana from the south— that day was the real birth-day of our Hindu people" (Maratha [VD Savarkar], “Hindutva”, VV Kelkar, Nagpur, 1923, p 11).
Major parts of the book contained repetitive discussions over the origin of nomenclature like Hindu/Hindusthan, folk literature, evils in Buddhism, how Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists were Hindus and description of perpetually continuously raging conflicts between Vedic and non-Vedic sects in Hinduism.
The concept of Hindu nation as elaborated in Hindutva remained a fringe thought despite the fact that Savarkar while presiding over the 19th session of Hindu Mahasabha at Ahmedabad in December 1937 declared it to be the goal of Hindu Mahasabha, there were not many takers for the book.
With the ascendancy of the RSS-BJP in the Indian parliamentary politics in late 1990s idolizing of Savarkar began
The dismal reach of the book can be gauged by the fact that after the publication of its first edition in 1923, the second edition could appear only in 1942. With the last edition appearing in 2003, only seven editions of the book came out in more than eight decades.
However, with the ascendancy of the RSS-BJP in the Indian parliamentary politics in late 1990s idolizing of Savarkar began. While renaming the Port Blair airport after VD Savarkar on May 4, 2002, the then Home Minister LK Advani declared that “Hindutva propounded by Savarkar was an all-encompassing ideology with its roots in the country’s heritage”.
The glorification of the prophet of Hindutva did not stop there. On February 26, 2003, a portrait of Savarkar was unveiled at Parliament. Savarkar thus came to share the eminence accorded to Gandhi and other prominent leaders of the freedom struggle in the Central Hall of Parliament.
However, we need to have a convincing answer to the question that if Savarkar with his eternal love for the two-nation theory can be glorified as an Indian nationalist and patriot, who can stop Mohammed Ali Jinnah from claiming this status?
The present RSS-BJP rulers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi keep on declaring publicly that they are committed to usher India into a Savarkarite model of Hindu nation.
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*Formerly with the Delhi University, click here for some of Prof Islam's writings and video interviews/debates. Twitter: @shamsforjustic. Blog: http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/

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