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Hinduism Radical Hinduism May Still Emerge From The Woodwork


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
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R Jagannathan
R Jagannathan

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said the other day that Hinduism and terror do not go together. He may be right — and wrong. It all depends on which Hinduism one is talking about. While the broad approach of the aam Hindu is to live and let live, Hinduism is constantly changing and new forms are being created in response to the challenges the environment throws up.

Historically, Hinduism has been ever-changing. Jainism and Buddhism provided the earliest counter-views to Vedic Hinduism.

This is why during the Upanishadic period, Hinduism metamorphosed into something else. By the time Shankara arrived on the scene, Hinduism had been reinvented. The important critiques of Buddhism find a place in the Bhagavad Gita.
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With the advent of Islam — whose impact was felt most in the north-west of India — Hinduism faced a new challenge, and this gave rise to Guru Nanak and early Sikhism. By the time of the 10th Guru, Sikhism had developed its own strong identity as it took elements from Islam and Hinduism to meet the challenges of its time. The bottomline: religions borrow ideas from rival religions to strengthen themselves. Aggressive Sikhism branched off into a new religion after starting out as a reform movement in Hinduism. Ambedkar’s neo-Buddhism is quite different from the middle path rationalism the Buddha preached.

This brings us to Bhagwat’s comment that Hinduism and terror are incompatible. This is true to the extent that the idea is unlikely to appeal to old style Hindus. But one cannot say the same for younger groups who may be vulnerable to more radical forms of action just as some Muslim youths are attracted to al Qaeda or Lashkar ideology. The secular cabal in India paints the RSS as a radical Hindu nationalist outfit, but don’t be surprised if even more radical outfits emerge to appeal to younger Hindus. Given the social ferment brought on by globalisation, India is ripe for radicalisation — as is evident in the growth of the Maoist movement in some states.

It is also worth harking back to the Ayodhya movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Communal mobilisation was the goal, but the movement also tapped into the social discontent of
disempowered segments. One would have expected a communal movement to be led by the upper castes, but Ayodhya enabled the OBCs to emerge upfront: Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati, Vinay Katiyar, and Sadhvi Rithambara were all OBCs. The BJP’s biggest mascot — Narendra Modi — is also an OBC. The mass nature of mobilisation enabled previously disempowered groups — women, for example — out of their confines. Once women tasted street power, it was impossible to send them back to the kitchen without acknowledging their changed status. Women may be nowhere near challenging male domination completely as yet, but Ayodhya was an important turning point for non-upper class women.

At any point of time there are many Hinduisms contending for market share. So when Bhagwat says the term Hindu terrorism is an oxy{censored}, he is right only if he is referring to traditional and conservative Hinduism. But there are other Hinduisms waiting to emerge from the woodwork, and for some of them terror is not a strict no-no. Veer Savarkar’s version of Hindutva, for example, is a virile ideology that some groups have internalised. Terror is not something unthinkable for these groups. Compared to groups like the Abhinav Bharat, the RSS is practically a moderate force, and the VHP just a wee bit more radical. The new Hindu terror groups are further to the right of the Sangh Parivar, and may not even be a part of its outer fringe.

Will Hindu radicalism ever become a major threat? The answer is probably no, and we can learn why from the failure of the Ayodhya movement to gather momentum after the demolition of December 6, 1992. Two factors led directly to failure. First, 1992 was a turning point for the Indian economy. In the two decades after Ayodhya, broadbased economic growth has spread wealth and income far lower down the social spectrum than ever before. This nipped incipient radicalism in the bud. Second, the Ayodhya movement did not offer a radical social message to take the mass mobilisation forward. The movement created new OBC leaders, but this Hindu mobilisation failed to attract the lower strata of OBCs and had no message whatsoever for Dalits. Radical neo-Buddhism and the BSP brand of mobilisation had a larger appeal for them.

It is the failure of Hindu radicalism that enables the RSS chief to claim that Hindu terror is a misnomer. However, this need not be true forever. The minute religious appeal is combined with a broader social message of empowerment of the lower classes, it may be back in business. As the growth of Naxalism in tribal areas shows, radical ideologies do find purchase with the dispossessed. And India has no shortage of the poor and hungry to build an army of radicals with.

Globalisation generates its own discontents.

Radical Hinduism is an upsurge waiting for the right leader, the right social message and the right opportunity.