Thursday, August 16, 2018

Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018): Kinder, Gentler Face of Hindu Nationalism

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away today in New Delhi, India, according to media reports. He was 93. He was seen as the moderate face of Hindu Nationalism. Mr. Vajpayee led Hindu Nationalists to their first-ever outright election victory with the majority of seats won by his BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in the Indian parliament in 1999. He had briefly held the prime minister's job twice earlier but the third time proved to be the charm. His third term in office lasted from 1999 until 2004.

Hardcore Hindu Nationalist:

Vajpayee represented kind and gentle face of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Beneath the surface, however, he was a hardcore Hindu Nationalist.  He joined the RSS at the age of 16.  The RSS has sought to make India a Hindu Rashtra (nation) since its founding in 1925, a year after Vajpayee was born.

Vajpayee stoked hatred against India's large Muslim minority. In a speeches to Hindu audiences he said: "Wherever there are Muslims in large numbers, they do not want to live in peace."

In 2003 as Prime Minister of India, Vajpayee installed a portrait of  virulently anti-Muslim Hindu Nationalist leader VD Savarkar in the Indian parliament house in New Delhi.  Savarkar, in one of his books titled Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, elaborates on why raping of Muslim women is not only justified but encouraged. Prime Minister Modi describes Savarkar as "worthy of worship". After getting elected to the highest office in India, Modi paid tribute to Savarkar by laying flowers at his portrait that still hangs in India's Parliament.

Hindu Nationalist Leader VD Savarkar

Savarkar has used revisionist Hindutva history to exhort his followers to rape Muslim women as payback for historic wrongs he believes were committed by Muslim conquerers of India. “Once they are haunted with this dreadful apprehension that the Muslim women too, stand in the same predicament in case the Hindus win, the future Muslim conquerors will never dare to think of such molestation of Hindu women,” he writes.

1971 India-Pakistan  War:

Vajpayee saw India's military victory over Pakistan in religious terms. He lavished praise on Indira Gandhi by calling her Durga, Hindu goddess literally meaning "the invincible",  on India's victory over Muslim Pakistan in the 1971 war in East Pakistan. `

Indian Muslims faced "insulting and provocative slogans" by Hindu Nationalists celebrating India's 1971 war victory over Pakistan. Here's an excerpt of a report from India:

"The chief reason for the resentment of the Muslims is that the event of the independence of Bangladesh and her severance of all ties with Pakistan was generally celebrated in India as if the 'victory' had been gained against the Muslims themselves. Insulting and provocative slogans were raised against them in public meetings in this country. A second reason is that the Muslims in general do believe that the war was primarily fought for the purpose of destroying the integral unity of Pakistan. Our Ministry of Information hands out all sorts of propaganda but does nothing to dispel the dejection and resentment of Indian Muslims" (Quoted in Sidq-i-Jadid; 21 January 1972).

Vajpayee's successor Prime Minister Narendra Modi has railed against Muslim rule of India by describing it as "bara so saal ki ghulami" (1200 years of servitude). Here's an excerpt of Modi's 2014 speech:

"Barah sau saal ki gulami ki maansikta humein pareshan kar rahi hai. Bahut baar humse thoda ooncha vyakti mile, to sar ooncha karke baat karne ki humari taaqat nahin hoti hai (The slave mentality of 1,200 years is troubling us. Often, when we meet a person of high stature, we fail to muster strength to speak up).

India-Pakistan Nuclear Tests:

Vajpayee ordered India's underground nuclear tests in 1998 to intimidate Pakistan and assert India's status as a nuclear power on the world stage.  Within weeks, Pakistan responded to those tests with six of its own, forever altering South Asian security.

Vajpayee threw away India's substantial conventional military edge over Pakistan by going nuclear.  It gave Pakistan the justification it needed to go nuclear a few weeks later, thereby achieving balance of terror with its much larger neighbor with a huge conventional military.

Indian analyst Krishna Kant explains his country's policymakers blunder as follows: "Nuclear weapons have reduced Pakistan defense cost while we (India) have been forced to spend tens of billions of dollars to acquire latest military hardware in a bid to retain the edge. Its shows in the defence budget of the two countries since 1999 nuclear blasts. All through 1980s and 90s, Pakistan was spending around a third of its government budget and 5-6% of its GDP on defense, or about twice the corresponding ratios for India. After going nuclear, Pakistan’s defense spending decelerated and its share in GDP is expected to be decline to around 2.5% in the current fiscal year, slightly ahead of India’s 2%. This is releasing resources for Pakistan to invest in productive sectors such as infrastructure and social services, something they couldn’t do when they were competing with India to maintain parity in conventional weapons."

Agra Summit:

In 1999, during Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan, both countries agreed to the Lahore Declaration and pledged to make joint efforts for peace and stability in South Asia. The Kargil war came months later and proved to be major setback in this effort.

Contacts between India and Pakistan resumed at the highest level with talks in New Delhi between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in July 2001.  A.S. Dulat who has served as Chief of India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and as Special Director of India's Intelligence Bureau told Indian Journalist Karan Thapar of India Today that the Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting resulted in agreement on Kashmir and other major bilateral issue but still ended in failure.  He put the entire blame for its failure on India's Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. Here's an AS Dulat quote from the interview:

“This is when L. K. Advani surprised Musharraf by asking for Dawood Ibrahim. This took Musharraf back and a shadow was cast thereafter on the Agra summit.” “As Mr. Mishra put it: “Yaar, hote-hote reh gaya … Ho gaya tha, who toh.”

Rise of Hindu Nationalism: 

The rise of Hindutva forces that began with Vajpayee's 1999 election victory is tearing India apart along caste and religious lines as the country celebrates 71 years of independence from the British colonial rule.  Hindu mobs are lynching Muslims and Dalits. A recent  Pew Research report confirms that the level of hostility against religious minorities in India is "very high", giving India a score of 9.5 on a scale from 0 to 10. Pakistan's score on this scale is 7 while Bangladesh's is 7.5.

Chart Courtesy of Bloomberg


Atal Bihari Vajpayee represented kind and gentle face of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Beneath the surface, however, he was a hardcore Hindu Nationalist.  He led Hindu Nationalists to their first-ever outright election victory with the majority of seats won by his BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in the Indian parliament in 1999.  Vajpayee saw India's military victory over Pakistan in religious terms. He lavished praise on Indira Gandhi by calling her Durga, Hindu goddess literally meaning "the invincible",  on "Hindu" India's victory over Muslim Pakistan in the 1971 war in East Pakistan. Vajpayee ordered India's underground nuclear tests in 1998 to intimidate Pakistan and assert India's status as a nuclear power on the world stage.  Within weeks, Pakistan responded to those tests with six of its own, forever altering South Asian security. Vajpayee threw away India's substantial conventional military edge over Pakistan by going nuclear.  It gave Pakistan the justification it needed to go nuclear a few weeks later, thereby achieving balance of terror with its much larger neighbor with a huge conventional military.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Disintegration of India

Who's at Fault in India-Pakistan Conflict?

1971 India-Pakistan War

Dalit Death Shines Light on India's Caste Apartheid

India's Hindu Nationalists Going Global

Rape: A Political Weapon in Modi's India

Hindutva: Legacy of British Raj

India's Superpower Delusion

Riaz Haq Youtube Channel

VPOS Youtube Channel


Rashid A. said...

Great post, Riaz Sahib!

Agree with it completely! I view Vajpai as a decent leader who genuinely wanted to improve relations with Pakistan.

After his Lahore visit, Musharraf vitiated the atmosphere by the Kargil debacle. Even then the two leaders came to an agreement, only to be thwarted by Advani, and other hardliners.

Unknown said...

How does this Kindler Gentler face of Hindu nationalism stack up with this, from your all weather best friend

How lovely:

"The report suggested Beijing views Muslims in Xinjiang as suspect “enemies of the state,” bent on terror and insurgency. “Inside the camps, detainees are bombarded with propaganda, forced to recite slogans and sing songs in exchange for food, and pressured to renounce Muslim practices,”

Samlee said...

@Ravi K

That Is Because Most Of It Is BS Western Propaganda By CIA Influenced Paper.I Have Personally Been To China A Dozen Times.I Have Witnessed No Such Thing.No Doubt There Are Restrictions On Religious Practices But As Long As People Don't Challenge The State Government Tends To Look The Other Way

Riaz Haq said...

India's Wrong Step
The death of a former prime minister highlights the moment when the country lost its race with China.

India’s political divides increasingly look unbridgeable. Yet, when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee died last Thursday, he was mourned even by those who had been his opponents in life, whether within or outside his Bharatiya Janata Party. His successor, Manmohan Singh, compared his vision to that of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru – the highest compliment a member of the Congress Party can give. And Narendra Modi, whom Vajpayee tried to sack in 2002 as chief minister of Gujarat after thousands died in riots there, walked behind his cortege as it rolled through quiet Delhi streets.

As the first Indian prime minister not from the Congress Party to complete a full term, Vajpayee’s place in history is assured. Behind the mourning was a certain nostalgia; many remember his time in office as an enchanted moment, the high-water mark of confidence in India’s future. The country declared itself a nuclear power and survived the sanctions that followed. It was opening itself to investment and seemed to have weathered the Asian crisis of the late 1990s. It seemed reasonable, then, to put India and China in the same basket as rising powers.

Today, a decade and a half after Vajpayee was voted out, that optimism is a thing of the past. India has moved too slowly and let too many people down too often; many here now wonder if it has missed its moment entirely. You could blame Modi for this situation, or Singh. But, in fact, the foundations for this failure were laid during Vajpayee’s administration – and by his defeat in the polls.

This isn’t to say that Vajpayee’s government wasn’t reformist: It had more market-friendly ministers than any government since. It opened up the telecommunications sector, invested in roads and highways, and defused the fiscal time bomb that India’s state pensions were becoming.

But, the one moment you can point to as emblematic of the opportunities that India missed came in early 2001. Vajpayee’s finance minister, Yashwant Sinha – now a trenchant critic of Modi – had proposed that India’s draconian labor laws be relaxed. Criticism was widespread, including from within his own party. Eventually, Vajpayee backed off and the promise to amend labor law went unkept.

Vajpayee’s decisive turn away from reform of the world’s most restrictive market for labor – not to mention land and capital – is the biggest reason India went on to lose to China the race to become the world’s manufacturing hub. In the years since 2001, world trade in goods exploded, even as India continued to de-industrialize. It was just too difficult to run a decent-sized factory in India.

Larger companies needed government permission to fire even one worker. India became an IT services superpower; trade and telecom fired up its growth rate. But the country signally failed to create the manufacturing jobs that became the foundation of the Chinese miracle. Under Vajpayee, India backed away from the only path that leads to prosperity.

At the time, this was hard to see: As I said, we all felt optimistic. Vajpayee tried to distill that energy into a single two-word slogan in his 2004 reelection campaign: “India Shining.” When he lost, many assumed it was because of a backlash to that reform-friendly rhetoric.

That was never really an accurate explanation; indeed, Vajpayee himself said after the loss that the Gujarat riots were responsible. Yet the fear that economic reforms would be electoral poison has haunted Indian politicians ever since. Even Modi, with more political capital than Vajpayee ever had, has been overly cautious. One crack from his opponents that he was running a “suit-boot” government, too close to rich businessmen, was enough for him to turn into a red-blooded economic populist.

Riaz Haq said...

Bhagat Singh vs Savarkar: #BhagatSingh demanded the #British send a #military detachment to execute him by firing squad; #Hindu nationalist #Savarkar promised to give up the fight for freedom if released – and kept his word. #Hindutva #Modi

Eighty-five years ago, on March 23, 1931, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his two comrades-in-arms, Shaheed Rajguru and Shaheed Sukhdev were hanged in Lahore by the British colonial government. At the time of his martyrdom, Bhagat Singh was barely 23 years old. Despite the fact that he had his whole life ahead of him, he refused to seek clemency from the British as some well-wishers and family members wanted him to do. In his last petition and testament, he demanded that the British be true to the charge they laid against him of waging war against the colonial state and that he be executed by firing squad and not by hanging. The document also lays out his vision for an India whose working people are free from exploitation by either British or Indian “parasites”.

At a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party national executive has decided to make nationalism its rallying cry, it is useful to compare the patriotic attitude and vision of Bhagat Singh with that of the Sangh parivar’s icon, V.D. Savarkar, author and originator of the concept of ‘Hindutva’, which the BJP swears by.

Sent to the notorious Cellular Jail in the Andamans in 1911 for his revolutionary activity, Savarkar first petitioned the British for early release within months of beginning his 50 year sentence. Then again in 1913 and several times till he was finally transferred to a mainland prison in 1921 before his final release in 1924. The burden of his petitions: let me go and I will give up the fight for independence and be loyal to the colonial government.

Savarkar’s defenders insist his promises were a tactical ploy; but his critics say they were not, and that he stayed true to his promise after leaving the Andamans by staying away from the freedom struggle and actually helping the British with his divisive theory of ‘Hindutva’, which was another form of the Muslim League’s Two Nation theory.

Riaz Haq said...

#Hindu Nationalist guru VD Savarkar, in his book titled Six Glorious Epochs of #Indian History, says #rape of #Muslim #women is justified. He supported it. #Modi has described #Savarkar as “worthy of worship”.

Riaz Haq said...

A new book examines VD Savarkar’s project to establish Hindutva not as an ideology but as history
An excerpt from ‘Hindutva and Violence: VD Savarkar and the Politics of History’,

by Vinayak Chaturvedi.

. . . The ubiquity of Hindutva has ensured that everyone in India will have Savarkar’s ideas in mind for the foreseeable future. For Savarkar, Hindutva was never meant to be understood as bounded by national borders; his ambition was always planetary. Anyone with an interest in South Asia also knows that neither Hindutva nor Savarkar can be ignored today, no matter where they live. The challenge for all of us now is navigating the intellectual and political terrain to think with and against his ideas.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is a difficult figure. As an intellectual founder of Hindu nationalism, he has emerged as the most controversial Indian political thinker of the twentieth century. His arguments for Hindutva transformed political debate by rethinking the concepts “Hindu” and “Hindustan.”

He is remembered as an anti-imperialist who simultaneously longed for the resurrection of the lost Hindu Empire of centuries past. He is celebrated and condemned for his roles as a nationalist, a revolutionary, a political prisoner, and president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. He gained notoriety for his programme to “Hinduise Politics and Militarise Hindudom” while also arguing for permanent war against Christians and Muslims. He was never forgotten – and for many, never forgiven – for his associations with the murderers of MK Gandhi – the Mahatma. The consequence: Savarkar is declared a martyr by some and condemned as the enemy by others.

The historical significance of Savarkar’s life is acknowledged and accepted by those familiar with modern South Asian history. Less is known about the corpus of his work. His prolific writings have certainly not received the attention of those of his contemporaries or interlocutors.
Moreover, there is a lack of awareness of how much Savarkar actually wrote in his lifetime. The fact that his interpretations, conceptualisations, and ideas were at the epicentre of key debates that shaped the landscape of Indian political thought in the twentieth century is generally overlooked or simply ignored. There is no agreement about how his work should be represented or remembered given his polarising status within India. As a result, the reception of Savarkar’s ideas remains penumbral...

Riaz Haq said...

by Vinayak Chaturvedi.

I begin this book with a simple observation: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar struggled with defining Hindutva. The publication of Essentials of Hindutva in 1923 marked an important conjuncture in the development of the conceptual history of “Hindutva.”

Savarkar was not the first to use the concept: it was already a part of Bengali vocabulary in the nineteenth century. Chandranath Basu is identified as the individual who invented or conceptualised “Hindutva” – a term he discussed in his book Hindutva (1892).

However, Savarkar was undoubtedly responsible for the proliferation of the concept in the twentieth century. He explained that Hindutva should not be confused with its “cognate,” Hinduism. For Savarkar, Hinduism was a “code” or a “theory” founded on what he called a “spiritual or religious dogma or system.”

He explains: “Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva.” And he continues: “Had not linguistic usage stood in our way then ‘Hinduness’ would have been a better word than Hinduism as a near parallel to Hindutva.”
But Hinduness is not Hindutva; it only serves as an approximation. To further complicate matters, Savarkar posited that Hindutva was indefinable: “The ideas and ideals, the systems and societies, the thoughts and sentiments[,] which have centred round this name are so varied and rich, so powerful and so subtle, so elusive and yet so varied that the term Hindutva defies all attempts at analysis.”

The argument is that Hindutva is conceptually defiant. If Hindutva were only the name of an ideology, a theory, a religion, or a movement, it may have been possible to define the term. But it was in fact indefinable because Hindutva was ontological: “Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.”...

The inclusion “of our Hindu race” is both important and problematic. It adds a new dimension to Savarkar’s conceptualisation. Hindutva as an entity could only be known by understanding all the actions and thoughts that have happened in its human form – in other words, that have taken human shape as a Hindu, or, in the plural, in the shape of the Hindu race.

It is important to note that, at this moment, Savarkar asserted himself as a Hindu too, staking a claim within and for “our Hindu race” as part of his conceptualisation of Hindutva. In sum, Savarkar was using the personal pronoun “our” on behalf of the Hindu race...

It was over this ongoing conceptual struggle that Savarkar tried to reveal his method for understanding Hindutva: namely, History. Perhaps the most audacious passage he penned appears in Essentials of Hindutva, where he states, “Hindutva is not a word but a history.” He explained that Hindutva was not a “spiritual or religious history,” it was “a history in full.”

Riaz Haq said...

by Vinayak Chaturvedi.

Savarkar first identified Hindutva as a word in his text; he then asserted the negation of Hindutva as a word. This should not be seen as a negation of Hindutva per se, but as the negation of a word – and, by extension, language – that could not adequately represent the essence of Hindutva. And yet Savarkar knew he could not abandon the word “Hindutva” either; it was irreplaceable.

It is in this moment of what might be called an existential impasse for “Hindutva” – as a word and not a word – that Savarkar immediately offers “history” as an alternative to provide meaning to “Hindutva.” To clarify matters once more: Hindutva is not simply “history,” or “the history,” but it is “a history,” or more specifically “a history in full.”

Hindutva as a history is the singularity of Hindutva’s history – a single and singular history that is finite. And yet simultaneously Savarkar’s characterisation of it as a form of fulness suggests multiplicity, plurality, and completeness within that singularity or finitude.
Savarkar concluded that the question of the meaning of Hindutva is not to be found in the word “Hindutva” itself, but within the multitude that is encompassed within a history. The essentials of Hindutva are truly the essentials of history.

Hindutva and Violence tells the story of the place of history in Savarkar’s thought. The book is organised around Savarkar’s formulation of “a history in full” as the central conceptualisation in his writings. In many ways, I have been guided by Savarkar’s own argument. Hindutva may be indefinable, but the articulation that “Hindutva is not a word but a history” provides meaning to both “Hindutva” and “history.”

For Savarkar, the key point is that “a history in full” is Hindutva, too. In other words, he not only linked Hindutva to Being, he also made it clear that history was going to be his method of interpreting Hindutva: his “a history in full” was going to provide the ultimate interpretation of how Hindutva may be actualised, recovered, or approximated in language.

Excerpted with permission from Hindutva and Violence: VD Savarkar and the Politics of History, Vinayak Chaturvedi, Permanent Black.

Riaz Haq said...

In a 30-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire to discuss his book ‘India’s Pakistan Conundrum’, Sharat Sabharwal ( ex Indian Ambassador to Pakistan) identified three preconceived notions that the Indian people must discard. First, he says it’s not in India’s interests to promote the disintegration of Pakistan. “The resulting chaos will not leave India untouched”.

Second, Indians must disabuse themselves of the belief that India has the capacity to inflict a decisive military blow on Pakistan in conventional terms. “The nuclear dimension has made it extremely risky, if not impossible, for India to give a decisive military blow to Pakistan to coerce it into changing its behaviour.”

Third, Indians must disabuse themselves of the belief that they can use trade to punish Pakistan. “Use of trade as an instrument to punish Pakistan is both short-sighted and ineffective because of the relatively small volume of Pakistani exports to India.”


Historically, the relationship between India and Pakistan has been mired in conflicts, war, and lack of trust. Pakistan has continued to loom large on India's horizon despite the growing gap between the two countries. This book examines the nature of the Pakistani state, its internal dynamics, and its impact on India.

The text looks at key issues of the India-Pakistan relationship, appraises a range of India's policy options to address the Pakistan conundrum, and proposes a way forward for India's Pakistan policy. Drawing on the author's experience of two diplomatic stints in Pakistan, including as the High Commissioner of India, the book offers a unique insider's perspective on this critical relationship.

A crucial intervention in diplomatic history and the analysis of India's Pakistan policy, the book will be of as much interest to the general reader as to scholars and researchers of foreign policy, strategic studies, international relations, South Asia studies, diplomacy, and political science.

Riaz Haq said...

Ravi Nair
This BJP spokesperson says that Savarkar wrote a series of mercy petitions to the British Crown because Chhatrapati Shivaji wrote five mercy petitions to Aurangazeb!!!