Savarkar and the Making of Hindutva “Secularism”

The rise of Hindu nationalism – or Hindutva – is often regarded as the apotheosis of religious ethno-nationalism in India. Adherents of Hindutva insist that theirs is a secular ideology but this seemingly paradoxical claim is poorly understood beyond a crude majoritarian calculus. In focussing on the architect of Hindutva, V. D. Savarkar, this paper reconstructs his political thought to show that secular ideas of glory and humiliation were foundational to his understanding of how and why Hindu-ness ought to be actualised as a sovereign political category. In so doing, the article traces the genealogy and development of Savarkar’s Hindu nationalism from his incarceration, and initial critique of the colonial prison’s ethnographic liberalism from 1911, through to the polarised politics of inter-war India and, finally, partition. Savarkar justified Hindu parity with, and later, dominance over Muslims by renovating and repurposing the Gita’s concepts of the gunas and prakriti in order to provide a perspectivist account of how reason, passion, and political truth had historically mediated Indian social relations. In identifying the singularity of Savarkar’s thinking on the secular as a fraught social – rather than state – constitution, this paper contributes to the modern Indian and global history of secularism.

Dr Vikram Visana is Senior Lecturer in South Asian and Global History at the University of Huddersfield, with a particular focus on political thought. He was awarded his PhD in the history of Indian Political Thought under the supervision of Chris Bayly at the University of Cambridge in 2016. He has taught at the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Global History, Freie Universität Berlin. Dr. Visana’s research focuses on Indian political thought from the nineteenth century to the present. To date, Dr. Visana has published on Indian iterations of liberalism, republicanism, sovereignty, peoplehood, populism, and political economy. Ongoing research has articles in preparation for leading political theory journals and edited volumes. These new publications consider contemporary Indian political theory from the mid-20th century to the present with a particular focus on authority, multicultural justice, and majoritarianism in Indian conservative political philosophy and Hindutva. Dr Visana’s book, Uncivil Liberalism: Labour, Capital and Commercial Society in Dadabhai Naoroji’s Political Thought, which seeks to radically reinterpret the political thought of Dadabhai Naoroji, is forthcoming in 2022 with Cambridge University Press.

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