Book Review | What Explains Hindutvist Bigotry And Contempt?

Hindutvists' inconsistencies, their display of hyper masculinity, and their narrative of victimhood are all hallmarks of supremacism and fascism.

Book Review | What Explains Hindutvist Bigotry And Contempt?

Hindutvist hatred

Indians can be some of the nicest people that Pakistanis will come across. This was true with the welcome Pakistani cricket players received in Hyderabad. Indians can also be some of the most contemptuous people that Pakistanis will come across. This was seen in their behaviour in the Ahmedabad stadium. 

Perhaps, this has to do with the difference in the states, as Ahmedabad lies in Gujarat that has been a bastion for PM Modi’s Hindutvist politics. What this shows is that hate is stoked through politics and imbibed through exclusionary narratives. 

On social media spaces, the Hindutvist ilk reserves its ire for Pakistanis, Indian Muslims, and Indian Hindus who are pejoratively referred to as “secular” or “leftists”. This bigotry and contempt did not magically appear overnight. It was instigated over decades. 

 The inconsistencies of Hindutva

Ashoka Mody sheds light on this phenomenon in his latest book India is Broken. His central thesis is that India has failed over decades to provide decent employment to large swathes of people. 

It is the disenfranchised lot that forms the foot soldiers of the Hindutva brigade. Thus, whatever words and fury they unleash, it is a way of nursing their deep-rooted frustrations. This irrational hatred makes them blind to their own inconsistencies. 

For instance, they will argue that Indian Muslims should go to Pakistan. But they will equally argue for an Akhand Bharat. They will put down Muslims for their religious practice of circumcision and halal meat. But they will equally praise Jews despite their religious practice of circumcision and kosher meat. They extol Nazi Germany, but they equally support Zionist Israel. 

These inconsistencies, their display of hyper masculinity, and their narrative of victimhood are all hallmarks of supremacism and fascism.

 Hindutvists only reflect themselves

When they employ sexually explicit crass language, they showcase the deep-rooted misogyny that has led women withdrawing from the labour force in India. 

When they use words like “madrassachaps”, they exhibit their poor credentials from fly by night colleges and universities that lie far beneath the prestigious IITs. 

When they throw the word “jihadi”, they display their experience as henchmen for the Shiv Sena or the Bajrang Dal through the balidani jathas (suicide squads) (p. 245). 

Their obsession with “atta” reflects their work conditions as the precariat through the years with poor agricultural yield. 

Finally, their obsession with the word “bhikaristan”, reveals the dismal conditions of crowded living, poor sanitation, and lack of economic opportunities that have eluded them through decades. 

 Hindutvist violence against women

Hindutvists project themselves as idyllic peaceful Indians who gave refuge to others and respect women. However, violence against women is entrenched, as Hindutvists who gang raped Bilkis Bano were released and welcomed with garlands. 

They shared the tweet that “a bitch has died a dog’s death” on journalist Gauri Lankesh, an outspoken critic of Hindutva.  She was shot multiple times (p. 368). 

Mody also highlights violence against women by “minions of the law” who raped the wives of unionized railway men (p. 165). 

 Congress appeasement of Muslims?

Mody describes Hindutva as a majoritarian movement based on mob violence and nationalistic zeal (p. 18). The financial backing for this movement comes from urban traders, small industrialists, and middle-level professionals (p. 242). 

This movement emphasizes that Hinduism is in “danger” and reprimands politicians for appeasing Muslims (p. 241). This charge is specifically aimed at the Congress Party which is pejoratively referred to as the “Khangress” Party. 

However, narrow minded Hinduism was entrenched in the Congress Party in the earliest post-independence days (p. 32). 

While the Hindutva ideologue Savarkar died in obscurity, Indira Gandhi described him as imbued with “daring and patriotism” and remembered him as a “great figure of contemporary India” (p. 240). 

PM Modi simply continued this tradition when he tweeted a photo of himself with hands folded in front of Savarkar’s photograph (p. 375). No wonder, both autocrats (Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi) exhibited “cruelty and violence” (p. 405). 

Muslim residents faced widespread housing discrimination in many parts of Delhi especially under Sanjay Gandhi’s slum clearance (p. 183). 

More recently, the Congress Party joined the “soft Hindutva bandwagon” when Rahul Gandhi flaunted his Hindu Brahmin credentials and when the party promised to promote the “cause of the cow” (p. 376). 

Recruiting Hindutvist foot soldiers 

Just like Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was a medical doctor, the RSS founder Hedgewar was a medical doctor and his group recruited young men from gymnasiums with the expectation of their “uncompromising support and obedience” (p. 238).

PM Modi himself joined this group at the tender age of eight and when indoctrination comes this young it explains why he showed little compassion and refused to condemn the Gujarat riots under his watch as Hindus massacred Muslims across the state (p 331). 

For every IIT graduate in the Silicon Valley, thousands of poorly educated Indians stand in long queues for government jobs (p. 57). Thousands of college graduates, some with MBAs, compete for a sweeper’s position (p. 340). 

These jobless Indians became recruits for criminal networks and Hindu nationalism (p. 208). In the state of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena sainiks (troops) were educated in colleges but had limited upward social mobility (p. 245).  

Mody notes that the BJP has 1.2 million volunteers to run its social media campaign (p. 372). The BJP IT cells are notorious for online trolling. 

Angry, frustrated, and underemployed young Hindu men care little about PM Modi’s ability to create jobs or fix corruption if they are fed the “India will rule” chants and directed towards “fighting Muslims” (p. 359). 

Hatred in Maharashtra

Hindutva is not restricted to Modi’s Gujarat or Yogi’s UP but includes Thackeray’s Maharashtra and other places in India where the Hindutvist narrative was instigated. 

This narrative is instigated by the Indian film industry, which is making hagiographies on the likes of prominent Hindutvists like Savarkar (2023) and Thackery (2018).  

Over the years, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery had led his crusade against South Indians in Maharashtra.  Later, he wanted to kick out Muslims from India to Pakistan and said, “There is nothing wrong if they are treated as Jews were in Germany” (p. 269). 

He pushed back that where Muslims had Dawood Ibrahim, Hindus had Amar Naik and Arun Gawli. He lionized them as aamchi muley (our boys) (p. 270). 

Like other Hindutvist ideologues, Thackeray was able to draw from the anger of unemployed youth. Many Maharashtrians had well-paying jobs as textile workers and with the decline of that industry and livelihoods they deflected towards Muslims with the politics of envy and hate. This is because some Muslims had obtained decent jobs in the Middle East (p. 269). 

 Criminals in the Indian Parliament

Hindutva has been abetted by those in positions of power. Many politicians with criminal charges are in the Indian Parliament and government officials support Hindu rioters (p. 402).

More than 25% of Indian Parliament members face criminal charges including murder, kidnapping, and extortion. This figure is an underestimation as many use their influence to have their misdeeds expunged from the records (p. 373). 

PM Modi’s cabinet in 2021 had 31% (24/78) ministers with serious criminal charges of assault, attempted murder, rape, and kidnapping pending against them (p. 19). Similarly, 45% of Yogi Adityanath’s ministerial colleagues in UP had serious criminal charges. Yogi himself had charges of intimidation, attempted murder, and rioting (p. 368). 

Tamil Nadu state legislators also have serious criminal charges. It is therefore not surprising that South Indian movies are quite popular, as they showcase hyper masculine rebels that battle a rigged system. This “genre of violent cinema” is lapped up by viewers with “lack of opportunities in their life” (pp. 366, 367). 

Silencing Critics

With criminals in the Parliament, Hindutva is instigated, as the government suppresses public dissent and intimidates journalists (p. 402). However, such suppression goes back to the Congress Party.

Indira Gandhi responded to the Naxalite-led peasant uprising with a ruthless police force that killed protestors and activists (p. 234). Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi introduced a bill that allowed the government to push anti-defamation charges against journalists (p. 235). 

This suppression continued with the BJP. Thus, when Rahul Bajaj criticized the government and spoke of violence and intimidation by Hindu nationalists, he was accused of “harming the national interest” (p. 377). 

Raids were conducted on a newspaper group that published stories on the government use of Israeli software to spy on journalists and political opponents (p. 394). 

Activists Father Stan Swamy and Sudha Bharadwaj were accused of being “Maoist” terrorists and were arrested for standing up for Adivasi (indigenous) rights in opposition to corporate Adani interests (p. 393). 

In contrast, state sponsored vigilante forces continued to protect corporate interests by inflicting terror on the Adivasis (pp. 328, 329). 

India is Broken

Mody is highly critical of PM Modi, who dismisses his critics as “pseudo-secularists” (p. 332). 

He critiques his silence, as Hindus slaughtered Muslims throughout the state of Gujarat with the police standing to the side (p. 301). 

He critiques his policy to change the demographics of Kashmir flouting concerns by Amnesty International (p. 375). 

He criticizes the flashy BJP drive to build toilets, as many did not have water, many were dysfunctional and broken, and there was the risk that human waste would contaminate groundwater (p. 371).

Overall, he says that “India is Shining” only for the Top 15% of the people. 

Tired Tropes

Thus, when Hindutvist trolls put down Pakistanis, they may note that usually the talk comes from a lot that is underemployed in a broken India. Or it comes from the nouveau riche who can only feel good about themselves by putting others down. 

Yet, for all their grandiose talk, Mody alludes to Salman Rushdie who wrote that “the tired description of India as ‘the world’s largest democracy’” has grown “exhausted” (p. 213). And Khushwant Singh, who stated that “India may retain its secular façade but the spirit within it will be militant Hinduism” (p. 273). 

In a nutshell, Hindutvist bigotry and contempt has been instigated over the decades through narrative builders and abetted by criminals in positions of power.