[This essay discusses the role of Hindu Nationalism in shaping narratives around CAA.]
Narrative – a term loosely understood as a story or an account of events and experiences, has been the most powerful tool in shaping society throughout the history of humankind.
The elites create certain societal narratives to nudge individuals to think in a certain manner, to want certain things, to observe certain rules, and to behave according to specific standards. They, thereby, are used as a justification for the actions of the elites.
In Germany in the 1930s, a certain narrative around Jews was told and retold to the German people through state-sponsored propaganda. The Jews were painted as an inferior race and a threat to German racial supremacy.
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 stripped the citizenship rights of Jews and forbade marriages and employment of Jews in Germany to justify protecting German Blood and German Honour. This resulted in the Holocaust by Hitler, killing millions of Jews in the concentration camps of Poland and Nazi Germany.
Role of Narrative in Hindu Nationalism
Narratives have the power to create and recreate histories. At times, the narratives are created as binaries of good and bad, in which the one identity is privileged and ‘the other’ is deprived. This further emanates into the objectification of someone as evil by providing the analogy of good, ultimately leading to the process known as ‘palingenesis’ or the recreation of the past.
Much has already been debated about the constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019. This Act amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to provide citizenship for members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities who had fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014.
The Muslims, as a religious group, were excluded from the Act, with the rationale that the three mentioned countries are Muslim-majority nations. The ruling party has substantiated the Act as an obligation towards Pakistani Hindus as agreed upon in the Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 1950.
Protests erupted across the country in the form of a mass movement against the CAA and the pan-India implementation of the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Act is violative of the secular doctrine as enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India.
Moreover, the Act is much more than just an amendment to the citizenship law in the Constitution. With the introduction of CAA, the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is redefining the narrative around the identity of India, which would alter the very nature of how one perceives India.
It redefines India as a nation for the Hindus, moving away from its proclaimed secularism. Even if India retains the ‘secular’ character, the act changes the psychological perception of how one views India. It enables a consciousness that India is a holy land for all Hindus worldwide and that Muslims have been benevolently sheltered within a predominately Hindu nation.
The nationwide implementation of NRC would be detrimental to Muslims, as many of whom would not be able to produce the papers that the government intends to seek from an individual. Evoking Derrida’s notion of ‘conditional hospitality,’ the Muslims are recognised and tolerated as the guest while also reminding them that it is not their own home.
The RISe of Hindu Nationalism
The CAA is a larger project of ‘numerical domination’ of Hindus, a basic premise of Hindu nationalism. To the proponents of this doctrine, India can retain its Hindu character only with the preponderance of numerical Hinduism. To Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the term ‘Hindutva’ meant the quality of being a Hindu.
Hindus, according to Savarkar, are those who consider India as the land in which their ancestors lived. In his Essentials of Hindutva (1923), Savarkar provides three distinct criteria for identifying Hinduness: ‘common nation,’ ‘common race and ‘common civilisation,’ which became the basis for excluding Indian Muslims and Indian Christians.
M.S. Golwalkar, a founding member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a prominent ideologue of Hindutva, goes a step ahead and declares Muslims as the enemies of the nation.
In his Bunch of Thoughts (1966), Golwalkar dedicates a chapter titled ‘Internal Threats’ to highlight the three pertinent threats to Indian society: Muslims, Christians, and Communists.
“It has been a tragic lesson of the history of many a country in the world,” Golwalkar laments “that the hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside.” He never trusted the patriotism of Muslims.
While referring to the Muslims, Golwalkar writes, “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan.” He goes a step ahead and declares that Masjids are the mere representation of ‘miniature Pakistans’.
These thinkers provide the ideological ground for Hindu Nationalism.
Recreation of History
In recreating history, the narratives get told as alternative facts. One of the pertinent arguments held by the believers of RSS and Hindu Nationalist ideologues is that the Aryans have been indigenous people and have never migrated from Central Asia to India.
Much has already been talked about the historical validity of such a claim being highly erroneous, and the claim is highly political rather than historical facts.
The term ‘Hindu’ is itself not succinct. It was more of a flexible cultural identity than any religion. Millions of gods and goddesses were worshipped in the subcontinent, with each holding its own unique value. Multiple cultural identities have been blurred into the formation of what Hindutva ideologues preach as Hinduism.
This process is not very alien to Indian history; it was spearheaded by the colonial rulers in their series of ‘investigative modalities’ in their quest to understand India.
“The cultural effects of colonialism,” Dirks in Caste of Minds (2001) notes, “have until recently been too often ignored or displaced into the inevitable logic of modernization and world capitalism; and this only because it has not been sufficiently recognized that colonialism was itself a cultural project of control.” So much so that they privileged a certain identity while depriving the other.
In the Census of 1911, in parts of present-day Gujarat, some 200,000 people described themselves as ‘Mohammedan Hindus’. However, this did not fit into the narrative of what the Britishers claimed as an identity. As a result, they either boxed them into Hindus or Muslims.
These colonial experimentations created a new knowledge of India and its inhabitants. This knowledge also became a treasure to the Hindu nationalists towards pushing their Hindutva agenda.
Hindu nationalism first reinstated their ideologues as heroes. And then, they elaborated on the Hindutva ideas as alternate facts. And finally, they are on their path to establishing a Hindu nation. The ‘idealisation project’ of the Hindutva ideologues began with the reinstating of Savarkar as a freedom fighter and a revolutionary.
In 2006, on the occasion of Savarkar Jayanti, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee would go on to declare, “Savarkar meant Tatva (elements), Tark (arguments), Tarunya (youth), Tej (brilliance), Tyag (sacrifice) and Tap (penance).”
BJP, on several occasions, has declared its intention to award the Bharat Ratna to Savarkar.
After the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014, the recreation of alternate facts began in two forms: reasserting religion and reclaiming science.
The reassertion of the religion project began with ‘love-jihad,’ ‘lynching-in-the-name-of-cow,’ ‘renaming-cities,’ and ‘Ram-at-Ayodhya’. Several BJP leaders have been making provocative statements ever since.
In 2015, Sakshi Maharaj would go on to urge “Hindu women to produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion.” In another instance, he would go on to declare himself a true Muslim and that “Prophet Mohammed was a great yogi.”
As early as 2005, Yogi Adityanath envisioned, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu Rashtra.” Today, Yogi Adityanath is the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and he clearly seems to be in the direction of what he had once envisioned.
Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, in Parliament, declared the killer of Mahatma Gandhi as a ‘desh-bhakt’ (patriot). Insignificant members often make these statements of the organisation as they could easily be dismissed but still enable a public discourse.
The BJP’s recreation of alternative facts in a deliberate attempt to reclaim science has resulted in narratives derived from mythologies and epics. One of the BJP MPs would go on to state: “cow-dung and urine can cure cancer.”
Another added, “Cows exhale oxygen.” Another Member of Parliament declared Darwin’s theory as scientifically wrong. In his defence, the Member stated, “Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they ever saw an ape turning to a human being.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi once commented that there must have been some plastic surgery at the time of Lord Ganesh, who was affixed with an elephant’s head.
These narratives, in the form of speeches and declarations, are intended to recreate alternate histories and reclaim science. Through these narratives, an individual is created and produced as the subject of that ideology, often referred to as ‘interpellation’.
CAA and the Narrative of Hindu Nationalism
With the implementation of CAA, the BJP is in its final phase of altering the character of India into one of Hindu nationalism. Hinduism has been an inclusive religion. Throughout its history, the religion has coexisted with other religions in the subcontinent. It has welcomed and incorporated a variety of outside influences within its hold.
There is no one definition of Hinduism. It is personal. Hinduism is a compilation of many traditions, cultures and philosophies. However, with the introduction of CAA, we have been told, who qualifies as a Hindu, what it means to be a Hindu, and who qualifies as a Hindu. It is in this context that the Orwellian quote, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past,” becomes pertinent.
The narrative of Hinduism has been reinvented to suit the needs of Hindutva ideology, which aims at establishing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. However, the young and the old alike have risen to protect the democratic values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In the suburbs of Delhi’s Shahin Bagh, Muslim women have been protesting against the Government’s policies for more than a month now. There is a widespread civil society movement across India, with people taking streets against the CAA and NRC. The dream of Hindu nationalists still seems far-fetched. And the hope lives on!
References on Hindu Nationalism
 Savarkar, V. (1923). Essentials of Hindutva. 1st ed. pp.41-43. Retrieved from: http://savarkar.org/en/encyc/2017/5/23/2_12_12_04_essentials_of_hindutva.v001.pdf_1.pdf
 Golwalkar, M. (1996). Bunch of thoughts. 3rd ed. Sahitya Sindhu Prakashan, pp.148-154. Retrieved from: https://www.thehinducentre.com/multimedia/archive/02486/Bunch_of_Thoughts_2486072a.pdf
 Dirks, N. (2001). Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the making of Modern India, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.9.
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