The politics of Hindutva has created its hegemony in Indian politics in the recent past, particularly after the 2014 general election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emerged as a popular and strong leader, who has not only made his mark in the rural areas of different States (particularly North and West India) but also created a huge fan following in urban areas and within the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) communities in different countries. Indeed the rising popularity of Hindutva ideology in urban, technologically sound, and English educated youth is phenomenal. The book under review, The Rhetoric of Hindu India, examines the late twentieth century rise of an urban, Right Wing Hindu nationalist ideology through the writings of many writers/columnist. They have presented an extensive analysis of diverse shades of Hindutva for global English speaking readers.
The book analyses the new intellectual structure which plays a crucial role in the normalizing of the ideology of ‘Hindutva’. Manisha Basu has read the writings of many public intellectuals including journalists, think-tank economists, politicos and fiction writers. Arun Shourie, Jay Dubashi, Francois Gautier, Swapan Dasgupta, Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi are these intellectuals. The writer accepts that this is not a ‘large sample’ but she argues that she keeps the number down, ‘so as to be able to pay close attention to illustrative examples of each author’s range of works’ (p.xi). It should also be noted that the agenda of the BJP’s Hindutva has always prevaricated on the question of language policies. However, there are those in its ranks that push towards, ‘Angrezi hatao’ (Ban English) movement, and others, ‘who recognized the importance of the Anglophone allegiance…’ (p. 138). And this study presents the complex arguments of some of the important writers of the latter group.
To understand the changes which occurred in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century the author has coined the term ‘metropolitan Hindutva’. She has argued that in its imperial avatar Hindutva is to be understood as an event of language that both manipulates the historical relationship between Sanskritized Hindi and imperial English as well as launches a foundational attack on the very concepts of history, memory and secular difference (p. xiii). She presents metropolitan Hindutva as the ‘afterlife of the postcolonial condition’. According to her the afterlife of the Indian postcolonial society is characterized by a general civic culture in which the intellectual and political power of the narrative of decolonization has collapsed and nations increasingly write themselves into empire, rather than oppose or counter it (p. x). Indeed the metropolitan Hindutva emerged in a particular context of the late twentieth century, which had the following important features: First, the opening up of the economy to global finance capital and consumer goods; second, the successful spread in urban and small town Indian centers information, telecommunication and transnational managerial forms; third, the rise in India of one of the most important business processes, outsourcing capitals in the erstwhile Third World.
Metropolitan Hindutva distinguished itself from an older variant of Hindu nationalism. This old Hindu nationalism was largely articulated in vernacular idioms, had strong regionist affiliations and was primarily associated with upper caste agrarian aristocracies and mid-caste merchant capitalists. In contrast, according to Basu, late twentieth century Hindutva aspires to be a pan-Indian, urban project and home to the emerging, digitally-enabled, technocratic middle classes of the nation. Indeed all the writers selected by Basu in the book have played a crucial role in normalizing Hindutva at a global level and they also support a neo-liberal regime for the Indian economy. For example, Arun Shourie is an interesting figure because he represents the very beginnings of a Right-Wing, urban, Anglophone, elite intellectual formation that forms the core of metropolitan Hindutva.
Jay Dubashi is one of the first ideologues to theorize metropolitan Hindutva as a political rather than a racial or religious concept. Basu accepts that the politicization of the category ‘Hindu’ had already begun in the 1920s with the work of V.D. Savarkar, who has often been referred to as the ‘father of modern day Hindutva’. However, Dubashi’s project is different from Savarkar in several ways. One of those involves the economic model he develops as the basis of the politicization of contemporary Hindutva. He demonstrates that political Hinduness is both the premise of the free market as well as its final objective. Indeed through his writings Dubashi addresses global readers regarding the positive aspects of a model which is based on Hindu tradition and provides a space for the neo-liberal model of economic system.
Swapan Dasguta also underlines the globally recognizable aspect of Hindutva. He speaks to the question of how Right Wing Hindu nationalism must seek political success by usurping the place of privilege long given to a Left-liberal intelligentsia in the Anglophone media. He is one of the few ideologues of Hindutva who unequivocally points to the English language as a crucial tool in the remaking of Hindutva for a new age. Manisha Basu has anlaysed Swapan Dasgupta’s column ‘The Notion of Dharma’ which appeared in an important online portal only a few months before the dramatic Indian Parliamentary election of 2004 in which a coalition led by the Congress got a surprise victory over the ruling BJP. Dasgupta questioned the reporting of Indian politics based on the ‘celebration of fragment’. He underlines the need of a democratic expression, which would be ‘another name for the sacrosanct parameters of consensual nationalism’, and also as a mode of governance ‘that articulates and sustains itself through the notion of consensus’. In other words, counter to liberal expectations, ‘the object and objective of such democracy is cohesive unification rather than dissenting debate’
The French-born journalist Francois Gautier provides Hindutva a cosmopolitan aspect because he combines it with the global spread of Hindu spirituality in the modern western world. Though he shares the political discourse of Hindutva as it appears in figures like Arun Shourie, Swapan Dasgupta and Jay Dubashi, unlike these writers Gautier received his training in Europe. He came to India at the young age of 19 and met the Indian nationalist and spiritual guru Sri Aurobindo’s French collaborator, Mirra Alfassa and became part of the experimental community of Auroville in Pondicherry. However, later he became a prominent voice in the campaign of Hindutva and began to move outside Auroville to more metropolitan centers like Banglore and New Delhi. Unlike above mentioned thinkers (Shourie, Dasgupta and Dubashi), Gautier had an early interest in Indology and it is from this perspective that he celebrates the India of the Vedas and Upanishads as the kind of formation that should expand and extend itself to the far reaches of the world. But before turning toward this vaster terrain of influence of dharma, India must free its economy, decentralize its industries from the heavy hands of government, Indianize its education methods and political systems and even, if need be, rewrite its Constitution. According to Basu, these later ideas are related to Gautier’s thinking and the discourse of metropolitan Hindutva (p. 144).
Amish Tripathi and Chetan Bhagat also focus on the place of India, and Hinduism in the western world. Basu contends that both these authors represent the millennial avatar of Hindutva. They have presented in their works a new Hindu India that is already cosmopolitan and no longer needs to reach out to the West to prove its global feasibility. She argues that the English language prose of Bhagat and Tripathi has moved inwards toward ‘non-regionalized local form’; the conversations have become internalized and the jokes private, never italicized or translated for an audience of supposed India watchers. Basu argues that both the writers are claiming for Hindutva a ‘post political and post-ideological character’ (p.xii). Bhagat and Tripathi function like the new-age managers of Hindutva who ‘promise to give it an important image makeover, shifting the focus from its genocidal politics to its ostensibly apolitical digital competencies and from its attacks against the ideology of secularism to its championing of the seemingly creedless practices of free market’ (p. xii).
Though the author has eloquently analysed the writings of many authors related to ‘metropolitan Hindutva’, there are many aspects which are absent from the investigation. First, there is no discussion about the relationship between metropolitan Hindutva and more aggressive Hindutva, which radically emphasizes on ‘Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan’ and focuses on ‘Go-raksha’, ‘Love Jihad’, ‘Anti-Romeo squad’ kind of politics. It should be emphasized as to how far metropolitan Hindutva and aggressive Hindutva are complementing each other or are different from each other. Second, some of the thinkers who are analysed in the book have been continuously published in Hindi newspapers and magazines too. Indeed the writing of Arun Shourie have appeared in the most popular Hindi daily (Dainik Jagran) in Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s. Similarly, Dasgupta also contributed in the weekly magazines like India Today (Hindi) and other newspapers, and Chetan Bhagat’s columns have appeared in many Hindi newspapers in the recent past. The content and impact of the writings of these writers in Hindi and English should be properly analysed. Third, it seems from the book that metropolitan Hindutva is comparatively less narrow and claiming for a global stature for Hinduization and also makes an attempt to address a global audience. However, there is no concrete proof that the readers of these writers and supporters and/or foot soldiers of so called ‘metropolitan Hindutva’ are distinct from rural and semi urban supporters of Hindutva. Indeed there is strong need to present field studies based clear outline of the different characteristics of the supporters of the metropolitan Hindutva. Fourth, though the book is centred on the concept of ‘metropolitan Hindutva’, it seems that the author herself is not clear about the areas where this term could be used. She accepts that she has not addressed this question in great detail in the book (p. xii-xiii). Indeed there is need to refine the concept of metropolitan Hindutva.
There is, however, no doubt that this book is an important contribution to the study of the complex character of Hindutva and the first extended scholarly effort to theorize a politics of language in relation to the dangers of such an imperializing Hindutva. This book also opens new areas of research related to the complex world of Hindutva, particularly in urban and global manifestations.
Kamal Nayan Choubey is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Dyal Singh College, Univeristy of Delhi, Delhi.