The Geopolitics of Hindutva - The Word Hindutva is Widely
0 comments | by Gunnar Bjornson
The author is a research scholar at Katehon Think Tank. This is an abridged/edited version of his long research article.
The word Hindutva is widely discussed across the world since Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India in 2014. The term is used to describe the special Indian religion-based political philosophy that emerged in the beginning of the 20th century. The Indian National Congress, which had ruled India through the half of the century, opposed such religion based nationalism. Hindutva is founded on religion, the defence of traditional values and culture, and rejection of western liberalism. It has both ideological and geopolitical dimensions that are closely interconnected. The first in is the defence of Indian uniqueness, culture and traditional religions that are believed to be the basis of identity. Western and Muslim influences are claimed to be dangerous for Indians. Support for social justice is coincided with the support for traditional Hindu values and social structures, including a reformed caste system.
Today, with the BJP’s coming to power and Hindutva becoming the most significant Indian conservative trend, it is important to explore the problem of its geopolitics. The question is whether Hindutva has an imminent geopolitical strategy, and if not, what it may be.
Despite the great importance of the issue, the geopolitical dimension of the Hindutva worldview has not been examined very well. Western scholars mostly concentrate on the critics of what they see as a political manifestation of Hindu religious fundamentalism. Their works lacks objectivity and is full of typical western prejudices towards other civilizations. Indian authors do not like to explore this theme. Some Hindus try to fill that lacuna but they cling to extravagant, but not elaborated ideas.
India as a sacred land: problems and prospects
The concept of Hindutva has always had geographical dimensions. According to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an Indian philosopher, who coined the very term Hindutva, the great advantage of India is that most of its inhabitants consider the land of India to be their Fatherland as well as their Holy land. For this reason, Indian Muslims and Christians in this conception are put aside from other Indians, because their Holy lands are in other parts of the world. This brings us to the problem of Indian sacred geography, as well as attitudes towards religious minorities. Perception of the space of the country as something holy, a holy land on the one hand to strengthen patriotism, on the other hand opposing the adherents of dharmic religions’ (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism) representatives of other religious traditions.
In this concept of Indian Space, Christians and Muslims are always in the position of second-class citizens, despite the fact that the prospect of understanding India as their holy land exists too. This is primarily due to the mystical Sufi tradition in Islam, which is filled with a widespread cult of local saints. Accordingly, the maintenance of the cult of sheikhs and ascetics who lived and died in India among Indian Muslims underlines the sacred status of the associated places in India. Such a promotion is in the interests of the Indian state and Hindu conservatives. Moreover such a policy fits into the original concept of Indian Sacred Space as it allows Muslims to understand India as a sacred land.
The same can be said about the Christians. Specifically, Indian religious groups are the "Christians of St. Thomas", descendants of the first Indian Christians - a group that has been around for almost two thousand years in India. The perception of their own land as sacred and associated with the names of Indian saints, the Apostle Thomas, who according to legend suffered martyrdom in India, is a unique feature of the Indian ancient Eastern churches. Another branch of Christianity characterized by emphasized national orientation is Orthodoxy. The example of the Japanese Orthodox Church shows the theoretical possibility of the formation of the Orthodox Christian discourse, which would completely resonate with the culture of the non-Western people; it would have been completely loyal to the state and civilization. Unfortunately, there is currently no understanding among the supporters of Hindutva of the need to support such particularist Christianity, as opposed to the expansion of universalistic Catholicism and Protestantism with a focus on Rome and the United States in India.
The situation is similar with traditional Indian Sufi Islam. The Muslim community of India is experiencing a serious impact on external centres in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, offering a globalized version of Islam refined by specific Indian cultural characteristics. At the same time, the extension of concepts of Indian Islam and Indian Christianity, as opposed to how secularism erodes traditional civilization identity and extreme Hindu nationalism’s destructive stability in the country, could on the one hand contribute to the realization of the ideas of preservation of Indian civilization specificities, and on the other prevent the split of the country along religious lines.
Another important part of the idea of the geopolitics of Hindutva is Akhand Bharat, or Undivided India. It involves the creation of a single state, which would have united the entire territory of the former British India, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. According to the founders of the ideology of Hindutva, the Indian "natural borders ran from the Indus to the Eastern Sea, and from the Himalayas (including Kashmir, of course) to Kanyakumari".
In their radical version it implies Hindu domination in the new state and territorial expansion towards Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. At the same time there is another possible interpretation of this idea, implying the creation of integration associations in South Asia, which would be able to remove the existing conflicts between the two major countries: India and Pakistan, like what happened in Europe, where the age-old enemies France and Germany became the nucleus of the new European Union association. In the Hindutva worldview, Indian natural borders ran from the Indus to the Eastern Sea, and from the Himalayas (including Kashmir, of course) to Kanyakumari, the future European Union.
In December 2015, Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary, on the Al Jazeera TV channel said that he hoped to create a Great India. According to him, one of the major geopolitical problems of his party is to create Akhand Bharat, or “Undivided India”, which would include India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to the representative of the ruling party, creating united South Asian strategic space will happen peacefully.
Sanskrit as a sacred language, and sacred texts formed thereon, are at the heart of the Indian identity according to Savarkar. Sanskrit is a language, like the other languages of the world cultures, which intended to convey specific religious revelations. Its structure and categories are designed to transmit a particular view of the world, which is understandable only in the context of the language. Usually the criterion of belonging to the Sanskrit civilization was used for its exclusion from Muslims and Christians in India, and the marginalization of Hindutva. However, this principle can be used in an expansive view. The Indian civilization of Sanskrit has had a major influence on the formation of local cultures in Southeast Asia. In Muslim Indonesia the influence of Hinduism is still felt, and the same situation is in the countries of Indochina, this effect is only intensified with the arrival of Buddhism, which also appeared in India.
The geopolitical dimension of Hindutva means the creation of Great Space (Grossraum) in South Asia which includes India, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Butan and a projection of power towards South Asian countries greatly influenced by Indian culture and religious traditions in the past. The inclusion of Pakistan in this sphere is important from both ideological and realistic positions. Previously the Bharatiya Janata Party strongly opposed the very existence of Pakistan, but from 2000 it behaved more realistically. If Pakistan cannot disappear it should become a part of an Indian-centric South Asia, they think.
A specific feature of the ideology of Hindutva is its emphasis on a realist character. For them the world is in complete agreement with the ideas of Hobbes, meaning the field competition sets powers, each selfishly pursuing their own interests only.
Ever since its inception, Hindutva supporters have paid considerable attention to military power as the main indicator of the security of the state. Savarkar wanted India to become a militarily strong power, like Russia, and criticized the country's leadership for insufficient militarization of the country. He believed in the maxim, 'might is right' as the leading principle in International Politics. According to the founder of Hindutva, force is more important than morality.
It is significant that Savakar, the first leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, its second leader who developed Hindutva - Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar and father of Indian independence movement Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak were of Marathi ancestry. It was Marathi who distinguished high militancy that allowed them to crush the 18th century Mughal, and fight the British colonialists for a century. Despite the fact that all the aforementioned authors represented the Brahman Varna, except Tilak, the most distinguished feature of them is their dynamic, Kshatriya approach that makes an emphasis on strength and material power.
On the future of expansionism of the Indian state, Savarkar wrote:
“Thirty cores of people, with India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holy land with such a history behind them, bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture can dictate their terms to the whole world. A day will come when mankind will have to face the force.”
The peculiarity of Hindu realism from its Western counterpart is the attention to the national and cultural base, which contributes to the unity of the nation. Savarkar Hindutva is understood as a way of ensuring the sovereignty of India, in order to protect it from falling under the yoke of the conquerors and colonizers.
Swaraj and Vasudeva Kutumba
The concept of Swaraj, self-management, is crucial for India's political culture. It was used by representatives of Congress, especially the anarchist Swaraj philosophy that Gandhi developed, as well as other political figures. For representatives of Hindutva, Swaraj meant to achieve cultural independence in addition to political independence, rejection of Western cultural, social and political practices and doctrines, India’s own special way of development against is Universalist logic imposed by Western civilization.
Swaraj is deep sovereignty, the sovereignty of civilization. The realist paradigm focuses on the protection of sovereignty, but it does not mean that the followers of Hindutva are hostile towards other civilizations. In the case of India, they respect civilizational uniqueness and are ready to engage in the process of a multipolar dialogue of civilizations.
In 2014, Prime Minister of India, Modi said:
I believe in Hindutva, which is based on the age-old concept of "Vasudeva Kutumba." I believe mutual respect for one another and cooperation should be the basis for relationships with foreign nations. And I am confident my Hindutva facade will be an asset when dealing with foreign affairs with other nations.
Surprisingly, for the outside observer, the inherent ideology of Hindutva may seem like an orientation to friendly relations with Israel. Indo-European, Hinduism and Judaism are indeed the most religious systems that are not similar. But there are things, which bring together their representatives.
Due to the fact that the other, in relation to which political identity built for the followers of Hindutva ideology, has traditionally been a symbolical figure of the Muslim, connections between BJP and Israel have become more apparent. Zionists as followers of political Hinduism have to oppose the Islamic world. Besides the very existence of the state being not Muslim or Christian, it is based on its own national religious tradition that arouses sympathy from supporters of Hindutva. Unlike the Congress, which has always supported Palestine, the BJP during the Cold War tried to maintain good relations with Israel.
With the BJP returning to power, Indo-Israel relations are set to deepen. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the first to congratulate Narendra Modi’s election as the Indian Prime Minister, and the two leaders have expressed their interest in further enhancing cooperation between their countries.
Israel today is the second largest supplier of military equipment to India (after Russia) and India is now Israel's biggest arms purchaser.
Hindutva proponents seek to restore India's status as a world power. Hindutva worldwide is both realistic and culturally based. It supports the state system based on sovereignty and world powers, sees war as an imminent part of world order. On the other side Hindutva asserts a more cultural, neo-Imperial approach, as opposed to a purely national one. It is not Nationalism in the proper sense, or internationalism, it is the ideology of Indian civilizational uniqueness and India as an Empire, as an independent geopolitical pole in a Multipolar World System.
 Savarkar V.D. Essentials of Hindutva. URL:
 Stuart E. Corbridge, ‘Cartographies of Loathing and Desire: The Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bomb, and the Political Spaces of Hindu Nationalism,’ in Yale H. Ferguson and R. J. Barry Jones (eds), Political Space: Frontiers of Change and Governance in a Globalizing World (Albany, NY: SUNY Press 2002)
 Siegfried O. Wolf. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s ‘Strategic Agnosticism’: A Compilation of his Socio-Political Philosophy and Worldview // Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics/ Working Paper No . 51 , January 2010. P48-50
 Savarkar V.D. Op. cit