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Book Review

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Hindu nationalist politics

Jyotirmaya Sharma

Describes the matrix of the Sangh Parivar and traces the rise of the right wing in Indian politics

THE SANGH PARIVAR - A Reader: Christophe Jaffrelot - Editor; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 675.

Lists can be tedious, but they also serve a useful purpose. At the outset, therefore, it would be useful to list the organisations that, in popular perception, constitute the entity known as the Sangh Parivar. These are: Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharat Vikas Parishad, Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojna, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Bharatiya Sikshan Mandal, Deen Dayal Shodh Sansthan, Hindu Jagaran Manch, Pragya Pravah, Rashtra Sevika Samiti, Sanskrit Bharti, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Sewa Bharti, Samajik Samrasta Manch, Vigyan Bharti, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Vidya Bharti and the Vanwasi Kalyan Ashram.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) calls these affiliates `inspired organisations', implying that they derive their inspiration from the overall philosophy of the Sangh. Conspicuously absent from this list are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bajrang Dal.

The deletion of the BJP from this list has more to do with the constant theme perpetuated by the RSS that its agenda is non-political. In fact, the RSS Constitution, Article 4(c), clearly states that the "Sangh is aloof from politics and is devoted to social and cultural fields only."

Periodic turbulence

Christophe Jaffrelot's useful introduction to this volume rightly likens the idea of the Sangh Parivar as a `purely descriptive proposition'. Jaffrelot's argument, on the other hand, that the RSS was largely inspired by Savarkar's philosophy is a proposition that needs infinite refinement and additional nuances.

The story of periodic turbulence within the so-called `parivar', largely due to the BJP's role within national democratic politics is also sufficiently well etched, though the similarity between the Sangh's discomfort with the Savarkar's brand of Hindu Mahasabha politics and the current political role of the BJP requires greater elaboration.

In effect, apart from the introduction, this volume is a collection of chapters or articles already published in well-known books. Many of these are classics, but require substantial updating.

The exclusion of excellent pieces from an issue of Ethnic and Racial Studies 23(3) is also surprising, since they appear as part of a chapter in yet another edited volume brought out by the Jaffrelot et al production line on Hindutva (reviewed in The Hindu on July 19, 2005) and published by the same publisher.

Paradigm shift

Overall, the volume suffers from the endemic academic and publishing peril of recycling. What could have potentially been a useful `reader' is reduced to a collection of well-known tracts, without covering the entire spectrum of the Sangh Parivar.

Only a handful of the `inspired organisations' mentioned above find any place in the volume. Extracts from the original texts of the Sangh ideologues would have been a useful addition as well.

Reviewers, however, can endlessly quibble about what a book under consideration ought to have been. But reviewers are also readers. For them, the crucial question is one of the bind in which the Sangh and its affiliates find themselves after the BJP's six-year stint in running a coalition government at the Centre.

The paradigm shift, therefore, lies in the inability of the Sangh to come to terms with democratic politics and its demands. Even the so-called cultural and social agenda of the Sangh requires democratic consecration. Sangh studies will now require a major reorientation towards taking into account this significant change.

In other words, the weight and vehemence of ideology has been tempered and compromised by the imperatives of public endorsement and scrutiny. This is not to suggest that the days of fundamentalist politics are over.

What it simply means is that the current configuration of forces within the polity and society are unprepared for jehadi Hindutva and its diabolical agenda. Democratic politics, unguided by secular institutions that command emotional and intellectual allegiance, can also endorse again the Hindu Right in the future.


There was a time when countries of Western Europe likened the Orient as despotic, largely as a ploy to argue for greater freedom within their own societies.

Many Western commentators today liken the Sangh Parivar and its politics to Fascism in order to make sense of the growth of extremist politics and intolerance within their societies. This simplistic transference has done great injustice to our knowledge of Hindu nationalist politics.

Neither does reducing Hindutva or the Sangh Parivar to preoccupations of postmodernism serve any purpose. Feminist attempts to study the Sangh are circumscribed by the very limitation that every ideology offers: unable to see the wood for the trees. There is yet another trend that reduces the Sangh Parivar to be a factor of deviant Hinduism.

The book partakes of all these limitations and at the same time offers intermittently small slivers of light out of these. Otherwise, it is an irregular collection, bound together by no thematic unity, other than the inevitability of having been published.

How else can one explain a Sangh Parivar Reader published in 2005 without a single piece on Gujarat after Godhra and the riots of 2002?

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