The Hindutva movement has been strengthening since the BJP's consecutive electoral victories. The RSS, previously outlawed multiple times for engaging in terrorism and communal violence, shapes the BJP's ideological direction. The BJP's ascendancy in Indian politics, with ambitions of an undivided India (Akhand Bharat), a nuclear-armed status, robust space program, booming economy, and a sizable modern armed forces, raises concerns about regional implications.
The Hindutva idea, established by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the 1920s, managed to become deeply ingrained in important facets of Indian society over more than a century. The Hindutva ideology gradually manifested through the raw power of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and eventually gained political representation in the form of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This practical outcome has resulted in a government driven by extremist ideology. While not all Hindus were treated as equals in practice, and other minorities, particularly Muslims, were increasingly demoted to the lowest ranks, Hindu Rashtra or majoritarianism was encouraged unopposed and promoted by other elements of national power at their disposal.
The alliance of prevalent global anti-Muslim sentiments with various interests held by major global players continues to embolden followers of the Hindutva ideology to pursue their goals of irreversible polarization within Indian society, institutions, and the armed forces. This alliance also poses serious threats to the sovereignty of neighboring nations, especially Pakistan, owing to historical reasons.
The BJP's rise to political dominance can be attributed to its strong advocacy of Hindutva in speech and action. In the 1990 Lok Sabha elections, the party could only win two of the 540 available seats. In the 1999 elections, the party rose to become the single largest party, winning 183 seats, and the result was replicated with a resounding victory in the 2019 elections. Many agree that the destruction of the Babri Mosque, the carnage in Gujarat, and, most importantly, the BJP's extremist Hindutva agenda all played an essential part in the rise of Hindu nationalism.
Contrary to a widespread misconception, the BJP's engagement with the Ayodhya Mosque/Temple Movement for political advantage is often overstated. During this period, L. K. Advani served as the party's president. In reality, the commitment to embrace the Hindu agenda had already been established earlier, leading to the creation of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization, by the RSS. The formation of the VHP aimed to secure access to influential Hindu religious circles.
However, the transformative moment for the Hindutva movement unfolded during the 2014 Indian elections. To extend its reach to lower and underprivileged sections, the RSS mobilized its volunteers, and the BJP forged a comprehensive social coalition. In translating these connections into electoral success, Narendra Modi leveraged not only his political acumen but also his charismatic appeal and identity as a member of a backward caste. This period marked a significant evolution in the strategy and impact of the Hindutva movement within Indian politics.
Many people view the BJP's five years in office as a significant achievement for the Sangh Parivar and the Hindutva movement. However, it has been the worst period for Indian democracy, secularism, and economic policy, particularly with the demonetization effort. The lynching of Muslims and Dalits by cow vigilante groups, with covert government support, became a disturbing new normal, along with the open abuse and marginalization of minorities.
Pure Hindutva themes were used to mould the public's opinion, including anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and pledges to repeal Article 370, which would allow for the annexation of Kashmir and the building of Ram Mandir, among other things. Huge sums of money were raised, and an RSS-led social media effort used technology and social media in ways never before seen. The Balakot attack was the pinnacle of the initiatives that have restored Modi and the BJP to power. The BJP's election manifesto, published on April 8, 2019, prominently emphasized extremist overtures. As the single largest party that could easily survive without partnership in the 17th Lok Sabha Elections, the BJP won 303 seats and saw its vote share rise to 37 percent.
Michael Kugelman opined at the two-day international conference held at National Defense University in July 2021 that Modi's government has ratcheted up its Hindutva agenda at the diplomatic level, which has hurt its relations with the key neighbors. There are some notable geopolitical consequences of the rise of Hindu nationalism in India. The institutionalization of Hindutva in India is not only Pakistan's concern; the international community has also started to see through the dirty politics of oppression unleashed on the minorities.
Article 370, which granted special rights to the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), was revoked by the government of Narendra Modi through a presidential order without any consultations with the Kashmiri people. The legality of this action faced challenges through 23 petitions in India's highest court, and after nearly four years, it was finally heard by a panel of Supreme Court judges. The Supreme Court passed judgment in favor of the Modi government, with remarks from the bench stating that "Jammu and Kashmir did not retain any sovereignty after accession to India." This act underscores the extent of institutional erosion suffered by state organs.
The Hindutva movement has been consolidating since the BJP's third straight electoral victory in 2019. The RSS, which was outlawed three times (1948, 1975, and 1992) for engaging in terrorism and acts of communal violence, sets the ideological direction of the BJP. The emergence of an extremist BJP, with its dream of Akhand Bharat (undivided India), a nuclear-armed country, and 1.3 million armed forces, does not bode well for the region.
The writer is a Ph.D. Scholar in Strategic Studies at Air University, Islamabad.