Hindutva and Sangh Parivar

What is Savarkar’s ideology of Hindutva? What is RSS’s Guru’s views on Nationhood? What was Godse’s link with RSS and Savarkar? What is the history of Sangh Parivar and its ideological cousin Hindu Mahasabha?

IN 1906, in a lodging house for Indian students in North London, a young lawyer called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi dropped in on a law student called Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who happened to be frying prawns at the time. Savarkar offered Gandhi some of his meal; Gandhi, a vegetarian, refused. Savarkar allegedly retorted that only a fool would attempt to resist the British without being fortified by animal protein.

The meeting is said to have begun hostilities between the two young Indian nationalists; whether or not the story is apocryphal, there were real reasons for antipathy. The two men had very different approaches to the struggle against Britain. Gandhi, who became leader of the Indian National Congress (INC), was a pacifist with an inclusive attitude towards Muslims and Christians. Savarkar, who would lead the Hindu Mahasabha, was a right-wing majoritarian who spawned the idea of hindutva, or Hindu-ness—the belief that the Hindu identity is inseparable from the Indian identity.


What is Hindutva?

VD Savarkar was arrested in 1910 for his connections with the revolutionary group Abhinav Bharat. Following a trial, he was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment and transported on 4 July 1911 to the infamous Cellular Jail. From the time of his conviction, Savarkar wrote numerous mercy petitions till his release from jail. In 1920, the Congress leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Vithalbhai Patel and Tilak demanded his unconditional release. In 1921, Savarkar was moved to a jail in Ratnagiri, he was finally released in 1924 under stringent restrictions – he was not to leave Ratnagiri District – restrictions on his activities would remain till 1937.

In 1923, Savarkar defined the ideology of Hindutva in his 55 page pamphlet1Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?.[1]

Savarkar regarded Hindu as an ethnic, cultural and political identity. He considered the Indian subcontinent, which included the geographical area south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, or “Akhand Bharat” as the homeland of the Hindus.

Savarkar defined Hindus as those who consider India to be their fatherland (Pitrabhoomi) and also holy land (Punyabhoomi). He uses a Sanskrit couplet to state this:

आ सिंधु-सिंधु पर्यन्ता, यस्य भारत भूमिका
पितृभू-पुण्यभू भुश्चेव सा वै हिंदू रीती स्मृतः

Savarkar also argues vehemently that people of non Indic faiths can never be recognized as “Hindus”

That is why in the case of some of our Mohammedan or Christian countrymen who had originally been forcibly converted to a non-Hindu religion and who consequently have inherited along with Hindus, a common Fatherland and a greater part of the wealth of a common culture—language, law, customs, folklore and history—are not and cannot be recognized as Hindus.

For though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine.

According to Savarkar himself, Hindutva is different from Hinduism. He uses Hindutva as a cultural term of everything Indic. He said:

Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism, but a history in full. Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race

The pamphlet goes on to define Hindutva in terms of common blood, common culture, Common laws and rites.

First essential of Hindutva must necessarily be this geographical one. A Hindu is primarily a citizen either in himself or through his forefathers of ‘Hindusthan’ and claims the land as his motherland.

The second most important essential of Hindutva is that a Hindu is a descendant of Hindu parents, claims to have the blood of the ancient Sindhu and the race that sprang from them in his veins.

Thus the presence of this third essential of Hindutva which requires of every Hindu uncommon and loving attachment to his racial Sanskriti  enables us most perfectly to determine the nature of Hindutva

Savarkar clarified in his pamphlet that Hinduism is merely the religion followed by a majority of the “Hindus”, basically, his definition of “Hindu” includes followers of other Indic faiths, such as Sikhs, Buddhists or Jains.

Hinduism means the system of religious beliefs found common amongst the Hindu people.

Hinduism must necessarily mean the religion or the religions that are peculiar and native to this land and these people

To summarize,

    • Savarkar’s ideology of Hindutva defines nationhood in terms of religion, culture and race.
    • Savarkar considers other Indic religions at par with Hinduism, and treats their followers as Hindu.
    • It treats the followers of non-Indic faiths as having an unequal claim to the citizenship of the Hindu Rashtra of Akhand Bharat.
    • The ideology of Hindutva rejects the notion of a composite Indian identity brought about by a synthesis of different cultures and faiths.
    • The idea of a Hindu Rashtra based on Savarkar’s Hindutva is an exclusive Hindu supremacist one where minorities are, at best, second class citizens.

Two Nation Theory

Savarkar’s attitude towards Muslims, who made up a quarter of the population before partition, is revealing. He regarded them as alien and separate, in effect not as real Indians. Throughout his writings and speeches, he sets out Muslims as savage, immoral and eager to destroy the Hindu way of life. While addressing the 19th session of the Hindu Mahasabha in Ahmedabad, in 1937, Savarkar said:

“There are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India”

“India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation. On the contrary, there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Muslims, in India.”

So, it can be argued that Savarkar had proposed the Idea of Hindus and Muslims being two separate nations, the Two nation Theory, even before MA Jinnah of the Muslim League did in 1939.

On August 15, 1943, Savarkar said in Nagpur, [16]

“I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations.”

So, the hero of Hindutva, the group that blamed Gandhi for allowing the partition, nay vivisection, of the Motherland, to have taken place, actually himself supported the theory behind the partition, perhaps even helped it!

But, we are jumping the gun here, let us first examine how this pamphlet published in 1923, affected the history of Hindu Nationalism in India.

Pre-Independence History

Genesis of Hindutva Organizations

All India Muslim league was formed in 1906, and successfully campaigned for a separate electorate for Muslims in British India. In 1915, some prominent Hindu leaders, such as Lala Lajpat Rai and Madan Mohan Malviya, formed Hindu Mahasabha in response. However, the Hindu Mahasabha was dormant for several years, because of persisting difficulties between Arya Samajis and Sanatanis over social reform and also the internal disagreements over the level of resistance to the British.

Hindu nationalism as we know it today was born in Maharashtra in the 1920s. Its ideology was codified by Savarkar in his Hindutva pamphlet at a time he was still restricted to remain within Ratnagiri district, before he was officially associated with the Hindu Mahasabha.

While Savarkar provided Hindu nationalism with an ideology, he did not outline a plan of action by which Hindus ought to reform and organize themselves. This task was taken up by another Maharashtrian, K B Hedgewar, who was deeply influenced by the writings of Savarkar.

Hedgewar’s parents had died in his childhood, he used to stay with the Hindu Mahasabha president Dr. BS Moonje at Nagpur. They had a very close Father-Son like relationship. Dr. Moonje financially helped Hedgewar in completing his School as well as Medical Education at Calcutta. In March 1925, Dr. Moonje sent Hedgewar with a letter of introduction to meet Savarkar in Ratnagiri.

Hedgewar went to meet Savarkar who was then in detention in Ratnagiri. As there was an outbreak of plague in those days, Savarkar had moved to the house of Vishnu Pant Damle in Sirgaon. Hedgewar spent two days in useful exchange of views with Savarkar there.


Six months after this fateful meeting, in Sep 1925, Five Hindu Mahasabha leaders led by K B Hedgewar formed the RSS. It was initially envisaged as a youth front, and a nursery of Hindu Mahasabha. Ideologically, RSS was indeed very similar to the Hindu Mahasabha. RSS and HM continued to have a lot of common members until 1948. Both were banned together by Sardar Patel after Gandhi’s murder. Since then, RSS has tried to disassociate itself from HM.

Hedgewar had endorsed the idea of militarizing society in accordance with fascist organizational arrangement. His mentor, Moonje, had met Mussolini personally. In January 1934, Hedgewar chaired a conference on Fascism and Mussolini. In March, 1934 Hedgewar held a conference on how to organize Hindus militarily in accordance with the contemporary Fascist states of Germany and Italy. [2]

A 1933 secret report of British Intelligence titled ‘Note on the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh’ states that:

It is perhaps no exaggeration to assert that the Sangh hopes to be in future India what the ‘Fascisti’ are to Italy and the ‘Nazis’ to Germany.

Hedgewar chose MS Golwalkar as his successor for RSS in 1939. Golwalkar was the RSS supremo (sarsanghchalak) for the next 34 years, and its most influential leader who has shaped RSS during the formative years.

Among Golwalkar’s disciples were Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L. K. Advani. They venerated him, as did many BJP leaders he had trained. When the 8 year old boy Narendra Modi joined the RSS in 1958, the halo around Golwalkar still hung around the organization. In 2007 Modi wrote a long, adulatory, profile of “Poojniya” Guru Golwalkar, suggesting Golwalkar’s influence on him was only second to Vivekananda.

RSS Ideology on Nationhood and Religion

Golwarlkar’s seminal book, We, or Our Nationhood Definedwas long regarded as the RSS’s Bible.

Like Savarkar, Golwalkar too uses the European ideas of Homogeneous Nation States,(Chapter II) to define a Nation as

Nation is a compound of five distinct factors fused into one indissoluble whole the famous five “Unities” – Geographical (country), Racial (Race), Religious (Religion), cultural (Culture) and linguistic (language).

Golwalkar saw the contemporary Nazi Germany as one of the perfect examples of a Nation to learn from. He also endorses the Nazi campaign targeting Jews, which had continued in Germany during the 1930s. Golwalkar Observes :

all the five constituents of the Nation Idea have been boldly vindicated in modern Germany

To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races–the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.

He rejected Secularism for India, suggesting that Hinduism was the true religion, and

Such Religion cannot be ignored in individual or public life. It must have a place in proportion to its vast importance in politics as well.

Golwalkar also reiterated Savarkar’s view that Hindus alone had true claim to India. In a footnote in Chapter VI, he uses an example of Maulana Mohammad Ali, who had died in London, but wanted his remains to be sent to Jerusalem (Golwalkar mistakes this for Mecca!), and echoing the Punyabhoomi arguments of Savarkar’s Hindutva, he notes:

This example strongly substantiates our proposition that in this country the Hindus alone are the Nation and the Moslems and others, if not actually anti-national are at least outside the body of the Nation.

Chapter V clarifies his stand on non Hindus who happen to live in India.

If, as is indisputably proved, Hindusthan is the land of the Hindus and is the terra firma for the Hindu nation alone to flourish upon, what is to be the fate of all those, who, today, happen to live upon the land, though not belonging to the Hindu Race, Religion and culture?

At the outset we must bear in mind that so far as ‘nation’ is concerned, all those, who fall outside the five-fold limits of that idea, can have no place in the national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion, culture and language of the Nation and completely merge themselves in the National Race. So long, however,
as they maintain their racial, religious and cultural differences, they cannot but be only foreigners.

There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.

“…the foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinate to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less preferential treatment — not even citizens’ rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt.”

In 2006, 67 years after its first publication, the RSS officially disowned M.S. Golwalkar’s book We, or Our Nationhood Defined on the ground that it was

“neither representing the views of the grown Guruji nor of the RSS”

So, had the RSS Supremo learnt from the failures of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and revisited his bigotry laced views? A 60 year old, grown up, Guruji Golwalker published his other book A bunch of Thoughts in 1966. Golwalkar writes that the

“hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside”. He identifies three major “Internal Threats: I: The Muslims; II: The Christians; III: The Communists”.

Hindu Mahasabha

The Hindu Mahasabha initially considered itself more of a cultural lobby group within Congress than an independent political party, and was content to operate as an adjunct of the Congress. The dominant consensus, as articulated by Malaviya in his 1924 presidential address, was that

‘it would be a shame for any Hindu to oppose the Congress

Indeed, until the practice was banned by Subhash Chandra Bose, a lot of Hindu Mahasabha or Muslim League members had a dual memberships of Congress as well.

This alignment with Congress continued under the next president, Moonje. However, when Parmanand became the leader in 1933, the Hindu Mahasabha began to assert itself.

In 1937, as soon as restrictions on him about remaining in Ratnagiri were lifted, Savarkar became the president of the Hindu Mahasabha and revived it. The same year, the Indian National Congress won a massive victory in the Indian provincial elections, decimating the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha. However, in 1939, the Congress ministries resigned in protest against British India joining the Second World War without consulting the Indian people. This led to the Hindu Mahasabha joining hands with the Muslim League and other parties to form governments in Sindh, NWFP, and Bengal.

On October 9, 1939, Savarkar met Lord Linlithgow, the viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow reported to Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India:

Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together.

The Hindu Mahasabha openly opposed the call for the Quit India Movement and boycotted it officially. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, leader of the Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal, wrote a letter to the British Government as to how they should respond, if the Congress gave a call to the British rulers to Quit India. In this letter, dated July 26, 1942 he wrote:

The question is how to combat this movement(Quit India) in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province.

Mukherjee became the president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1944.

In March 1943, Sindh Government became the first Provincial Assembly of the sub-continent to pass an official resolution in favour of the creation of Pakistan. In spite of the Hindu Mahasabha’s avowed public opposition to any political division of India, the Mahasabha Ministers of the Sindh government did not resign.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Assasination

On 20 January 1948, Madanlal Pahwa, Shankar Kistaiya, Digambar Badge, Vishnu Karkare, Gopal Godse, Nathuram Godse, and Narayan Apte came to Birla House in Delhi to carry out an attack on Mahatma Gandhi. The plan was that Madanlal Pahwa would explode a bomb as close to the podium as possible while Digambar Bagde or Shankar Kishtaiyya would shoot Gandhi in the head during the ensuing panic and stampede. This plan failed, and Madanlal Pahwa was arrested.

Ten days later, Mahatma Gandhi was killed by Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948 – he fired 3 bullets from a Beretta M 1934  semi-automatic pistol [8] at point blank range, as Gandhi was coming out of his evening prayers.

Born in May 1910 in a village in Pune district as Ramachandra Vinayak Godse, he was the first of many male children to survive. His mother, to ward off a perceived curse had his nose pierced with a Nath as baby girls often are — and this mark of the feminine he carried in his name, Nathuram.

Nathuram did not pass his matriculate examination, but he was drawn to politics. A meeting with Savarkar, the ideologue who defined Hindutva and preached a Hindu Rashtra, in Ratnagiri in 1929, proved to be a lasting influence.

Nathuram Godse joined the RSS at the age of 22, and accompanied Hedgewar and Baburao Savarkar (VD Savarkar’s brother) in an extended tour of western Maharashtra in 1932. Technically, it would be difficult to prove if Godse was a Sangh member, as RSS never kept any records of membership. Anyone who turned up at one of its Shakhas was treated as a member. These days, at least publicly, RSS does not acknowledge Godse as being a member.

In 1944, with a grant of Rs 15,000 from Savarkar, Nathuran Godse and Narayan Apte started the four-page daily, Dainik Agrani. Such was Godse’s veneration for Savarkar that he put Savarkar’s portrait on his newspaper’s masthead.

LK Advani while disowning Nathuram Godse had stated that

Godse had “severed links with RSS in 1933… had begun to bitterly criticise the RSS”.

Gopal Godse’s own admission

Advani’s assertion was flatly contradicted by none other than Nathuram Godse’s brother Gopal Godse, who was also an accused at the trial for conspiracy to murder Gandhi.

In an interview to ‘Frontline’ (January 28, 1994, Interview by Arvind Rajgopal) Gopal Godse said:

Q . Were you a part of the RSS?

A. All the brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattaaatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather in our homes. It was like a family to us.

Q. Nathuram stayed in the RSS ? He did not leave it ?

A. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.

Q. Advani has recently said that Nathuram had nothing to do with RSS.

A. I have countered him, saying it is cowardice to say that. You can say that RSS did not pass a resolution, saying that, ‘go and assassinate Gandhi.’ But you do not disown him (Nathuram). The Hindu Mahasabha did not disown him.

In 1944 Nathuram started doing Hindu Mahsabha work when he had been a baudhik karyavah in the RSS.

Nathuram Godse’s letters to Savarkar

There is further circumstantial evidence that corroborates Gopal Godse’s version, and shows that Advani’s claims are factually incorrect. Nathuram Godse’s letters to Savarkar[3] reveal that he was actively supporting RSS during 1938-1946. In a letter dated February 28, 1938 to Savarkar, Nathuram Godse writes:

“Sir, your goal is the achievement of the Hindu Rashtra. There are 50,000 disciplined RSS cadres who carry the same aspiration in their hearts. These swayamsevaks are spread from Punjab to Karnataka. What they lack is your leadership and guidance and are waiting for it.”

CID Reports on RSS meetings

RSS was not directly implicated in Gandhi’s murder, but its main leader was not entirely averse to such a happening. Various CID reports indicate that RSS leaders were issuing threats to Gandhi, Nehru and other congress leaders in its meetings during 1947. On December 6, 1947, Golwalkar convened a meeting of RSS workers in the town of Govardhan, not far from Delhi. The police report on this meeting says it discussed how to

“assassinate the leading persons of the Congress in order to terrorise the public and to get their hold over them”.

Two days later, Golwalkar addressed a crowd of several thousand volunteers at the Rohtak Road Camp in Delhi. [4] Delhi police CID report,  records what Golwalkar said :

“Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course also.”

Sardar Patel’s letters

RSS was banned by Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel along with the Hindu Mahasabha following Gandhi’s murder.  In a letter to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, dated 18 Jul 48, Sardar Patel said:

“As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub-judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organizations, but our reports do confirm that as result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. There is no doubt in my mind the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasbha was involved in this conspiracy.

The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the Government and the State.”

The important part to consider here is that, regardless of which pawn pulled the eventual trigger, the hatred against Gandhiji was spread by the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. It was Golwarkar and Savarkar who declared Gandhi as anti-Hindu. They carried out a campaign that Gandhi was anti-national and anti-Hindu and that he was a lover of Islam and wanted India Islamised, his non-violence meant disarming the Hindus.

Savarkar’s complicity

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel strongly believed it was Savarkar who was the kingpin of the conspiracy to murder Gandhi. In his deposition before the court in the Gandhi murder case, Nathuram Godse was conscious to distance himself from RSS as well as from Savarkar.

Nathuram Godse even denied he had anything to do with the January 20 bombing, despite the testimonies of Pahwa, Badge, and numerous eyewitnesses at Birla House, as well as a trail of evidence (laundry with the initials NVG was found at the Marina Hotel rooms)

Savarkar himself denied all involvement in the conspiracy, and also claimed to have never met half of the conspirators. See #8 of his written statement to the court.

The other accused Shankar, Gopal Godse and Madanlal were never known to me, nor had I ever heard of them.

As the picture below shows, this was a blatant lie. However, this was not for the first time that Savarkar had used a pawn to accomplish his goals and then chickened out. After his death, several instances of political murders carried out on Savarkar’s orders have surfaced. [13]


Group photo of accused: Sitting: Narayan Apte, Savarkar, Nathuram Godse, Vishnu Karkare. Standing: Kistaiya, Gopal Godse, Madanlal Pahwa, Digambar Badge

In fact, the trial judge in the case had framed the first charge against all eight accused, including Savarkar,  that they had conspired to commit Gandhi’s murder. Curiously, he convicted all others but let off Savarkar on the technical ground that there was no corroborative proof to confirm approver Digambar Badge’s evidence who became prosecution’s key witness.

Digamber Badge had testified against Savarkar, but no corroboration was produced in court on his evidence that Nathuram Godse and accomplice Narayan Apte visited Savarkar at his house on January 14 and 17, 1948. On the second occasion he heard Savarkar’s encouraging words to Godse and Apte:

Yashasvi houn ya” (succeed and come) – Savarkar’s last words to Godse

That the conspirators had gone to Savarkar Sadan was well established. Film actress Shantabai Modak had deposed that she met Godse and Apte in the Poona Express and had dropped the duo opposite Savarkar Sadan on January 14. Similarly, taxi driver Aitappa Kotian told the court that on January 17, Godse and Apte got down from his taxi at Shivaji Park near Savarkar’s house.

Justice G.D. Khosla, who wrote the judgement for the Simla High Court’s full bench, confirming the conspiracy, said

“The evidence of Miss Modak, which is supported by the admissions of the two prisoners, corroborates to an extent the statement of Badge”

But the prosecution had not appealed against the trial judge’s acquittal of Savarkar and hence that chapter was not reopened in the high court.

Soon after Savarkar’s death in 1966, his bodyguard, Apte Ramchandra Kasar, and his secretary Gajanan Vishnu Damle, filled these loopholes even further before the Kapur Commission.

Kasar told the Kapur Commission that Godse and Apte visited Savarkar on or about 23 or 24 January, which was when they returned from Delhi after the bomb incident. Damle deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar in the middle of January and sat with him (Savarkar) in his garden.

Justice Kapur concluded:

“All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”

When Savarkar died in Feb 1966 after renouncing food for a month, two thousand RSS workers gave his funeral procession a guard of honour.

In 2003, the BJP government installed a portrait of Savarkar, the ideologue of Hindutva, the idea that killed Gandhi, in the central hall of parliament.


Post-Independence History

RSS – Sangh Parivar takes Shape

RSS had remained apolitical during the British Raj, and stayed away from the freedom struggle. Officially, the RSS had claimed to have no interest in state power even after independence of India, however, its main objective of forming a Hindu Rashtra was an eminently political goal.

After the ban following Mahatma Gandhi’s murder, RSS leaders realized they could not remain out of politics. A section of the movement’s leaders who were already favourably inclined towards involving the RSS in politics now argued that this state of things justified the launching of a party of its own by the RSS. KR Malkani, the Editor of the RSS mouthpiece – Organiser, wrote in December 1949

Sangh must take part in politics not only to protect itself.. it must develop a political wing for the more effective and early achievement of its ideals.

Though reluctant, Golwalkar allowed these leaders to discuss the matter with Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who had been president of the Hindu Mahasabha. After the death of Sardar Patel in 1950, and with even more hardline attitude of Nehru towards RSS, this attained even further urgency. These negotiations resulted in the creation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (forerunner of the present Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP) in 1951, on the eve of the first general elections.

In 1948 RSS cadres based in Delhi founded the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student union, and in 1955 the RSS gave itself a workers’ union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). In 1964, in association with Hindu clerics, the RSS set up the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). In 1984, VHP formed a  youth wing called The Bajrang Dal, and in 1991, it formed the the women’s wing – Durga Vahini. 

After SP Mukherjee died in 1953, The Jana Sangh was led by several leaders including Deendayal Upadhyaya, Balraj Madhok, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. The Jana Sangh always wavered between two strategies:

  1. Moderate, involved positioning itself as a patriotic party on behalf of national unity, as the protector of both the poor and of small privately-owned businesses, deploying a populist vein.
  2. Militant, was based on the promotion of an aggressive form of ‘Hinduness’, symbolized by the campaign to raise Hindi to the level of India’s national language and protecting of cows (by banning cow slaughter), the cow being sacred for Hindus but not for Muslims.

In 1977 the Jana Sangh merged with the Janata Party, which had just defeated Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party. In 1980 the former Jana Sangh leaders started a new party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which initially remained faithful to the moderate strategy. However, in its 1989 Palampur meeting, it adapted Hindutva as its ideology, and joined the VHP campaign for the Ram Mandir.

Hindu Mahasabha

In the afternath of Gandhi’s murder, there was an angry popular backlash against Savarkar, Godse and the Hindu Mahasabha as their involvement in Gandhi’s murder was revealed. The Hindu Mahasabha became more marginalised than ever. Its one-time rising star, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, left the party and established the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is today the largest Hindu nationalist political party in India.

Unlike the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha never disowned Nathuram Godse, and still celebrate his death anniversary as ‘Balidan Diwas’ (The Sacrifice Day) annually. While ideologically still faithful to the same ideology of Hindutva, they are sometimes critical of the Sangh Parivar for disowning Godse.

In 2008, Himani Savarkar, daughter of Gopal Godse,  who is married to VD Savarkar’s nephew, was elected as the President of the Hindu Mahasabha. She was also the president of Abhinav Bharat, an organization orignially founded by Savarkar in 1904, whose recent members Swami Aseemanand and Sadhvi Pragya Thakur have been accused of being involved in several acts of terror including bombings in Malegaon, and in Samjhauta express. There are allegations of links with RSS again, including Swami Aseemanand’s own statements, but RSS has distanced itself from this too.

The more things change, the more they stay the same”


This post tries to explain what Hindutva really is – a supremacist, communal ideology, which is fundamentally at odds with the non-dogmatic and tolerant traditions of Hinduism – a religion that had once allowed even atheist schools of philosophy, such as Carvaka, in its fold. 

It also shows that the hero of Hindutva, Savarkar, despite all his bravado in his writings and speeches, was the cowardly plotter of the murder of the father of the nation – Mahatma Gandhi, and was someone did not even have the courage to own up his actions.

We also see that the history of Hindutva organizations has been that of admirers of fascism and collaborators of the British and the Muslim League.

Today, Sangh Parivar has conveniently disowned Godse and even Golwalkar’s seminal work, but they still adulate his Guru, Savarkar.

The way the story of Indian independence is told is beginning to change. Mr Modi and the BJP are keen to celebrate muscular, “nationalist” figures. In 2008 Mr Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, inaugurated a website (savarkar.org) that promotes a man:

“largely unknown to the masses because of the vicious propaganda against him and misunderstanding around him that has been created over several decades”,

In 2012 he also launched a Gujarati-language biopic on Savarkar. I have already referenced his adulatory essay on Golwalkar.

As Kapur Commission report showed, Savarkar was certainly involved in Mahatma Gandhi’s murder.

Yet the final reason why Savarkar should remain unacceptable in modern India goes beyond suspicion over Gandhi’s murder. It lies in his attitude to his fellow, non-Hindu, Indians. In his own writing he relates joyfully how as a 12-year-old boy he led a gang of schoolmates to stone his village mosque and smash its windows and tiles, in the aftermath of Hindu-Muslim riots. Relating how “we vandalised the mosque to our heart’s content”, he adds that when confronted by Muslim boys, he and his pals wielded knives and sticks and chased them away. [10][17]

An idea that relies on using religion as the defining characteristic of any Indian, is utterly against the secular constitution of India. Those who promote Hindutva and echo Savarkar or Golwalkar, whip up stories of all wrongs done by the Muslims, to exploit religious tensions. Such majoritarian politics, when a larger religious group sets out to absorb or flatten a minority, is utterly destructive. One need only look at the failure of Pakistan as a reminder of that. If Savarkar’s influence grows, India’s tolerance and moderation will be at risk.


  1. Hindutva: who is a Hindu? Savarkar 1923
  2. Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s
  3. Godse’s letters to Savarkar
  4. Golwalkar threatened to kill Gandhi
  5. The BJP and Nathuram Godse
  6. How Savarkar escaped the gallows
  7. The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India: Christophe Jaffrelot, 1998
  8. The mystery of the pistol that killed Gandhi
  9. Savarkar and Gandhi’s murder
  10. The man who thought Gandhi a sissy
  11. Retracing Nathuram Godse’s journey
  12. Who Killed Gandhi, a TV Documentary
  13. Was Veer Savarkar really all that brave?
  14. The Mastermind, Outlook, September 2004
  15. Kapur Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi
  16. A lamb, lionised 
  17. Bundle of contradictions
  18. Savarkar cannot be regarded as a role model
  19. The Guru of Hate

‡It was originally published under the title Essentials Of Hindutva in 1923. The name was chaged to Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu? when reprinted in 1928.

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