What was the common thread that united Hindu nationalists Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar? With their thinking, discourse and writings, all four influenced new thinking among Hindus that eventually paved the way for the Hindutva as we know today.
Savarkar was no doubt the most vocal votary of Hindutva. But the other three contributed no less even as the world viewed them largely as Hindu reformers. With admirable academic research, Jyotrimaya Sharma, who is no Marxist historian, brings alive the intellectual traditions that have helped to nourish Hindutva ideology.
Dayananda (1824-83) founded Arya Samaj with a missionary’s zeal: There had to be rigid adherence to the Vedas, there could be no compromise on that. The Jains, Buddhists, Shaivites and Vaishnavites had perverted the Vedic idea. Dayananda also rejected the reincarnation theory – the very basis of Hinduism. The divine origins of the Vedas rested on the fact that they were free of error and axiomatic. All other “snares” had to be rejected including Bhagavat and Tulsi Ramayan. He did not spare Christianity and Islam either. “Dayananda’s extreme vision of a united, monochromatic and aggressive Hinduism is an inspiration to votaries of Hindutva today,” says Sharma, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad.
For Aurobindo (1872-1950), Swaraj was to be seen as the final fulfilment of the Vedantic ideal in politics. After once taking a stand that ‘Mother’ should not be seen as the Mother of Hindus alone, he changed gears and began to take an aggressive stand vis-à-vis Muslims. His prescription to make the Muslims ‘harmless’ was to make them lose their fanatical attachment to their religion. Placating Muslims would amount to abandoning the greatness of India’s past and her spirituality. By 1939, Aurobindo was sounding more like a Savarkar. No wonder, Sharma is clear that Aurobindo’s contribution to the rise of political Hindutva is second to none. “The maharshi turned into a pamphleteer of the Hindu rashtra concept without being conscious of it.”
Vivekananda (1863-1902) was, according to Sharma, a proponent of a strong, virile and militant ideal of the Hindu nation. He was clear that Hinduism had to be cleaned of all tantric, puranic and bhakti influences and rebuilt upon the solid foundation of Vedanta. Overcoming physical weakness was more important; religion could wait. (“You will understand Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger.”) Hinduism knew tolerance; most other faiths were given to dogmatism, bigotry, violence and fanaticism. Vivekananda was far away from the oneness of faiths unlike Sri Ramakrishna, his guru. “India to him was always the Hindu nation.”
Savarkar (1883-1966) politicized religion and introduced religious metaphors into politics. His singular aim was to establish India as a Hindu nation. In that sense, Savarkar “remains the first, and most original, prophet of extremism in India”. His world-view was non-negotiable, strictly divided into ‘friends’ and ‘foes’, ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’. His commitment to Hindu rashtra superseded his devotion for India’s independence. Independent India, he felt, “must ensure and protect the Hindutva of the Hindus”. As he would say: “We are Indians because we are Hindus and vice versa.”