-    Fr. Cedric Prakash *


Introduction :


“Nationalism” and “Communalism”  are synonymous in an Indian context and are negative concepts.  They are identified with the misuse  of religion in politics.  Worldwide, the first such misuse of religion in politics took place in late 19th century in America when the Conservative  Protestants in the face of rationalism and scientific values came up with reassertion of  ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity.  Essentially, this was an attempt to re-impose  the pre-modern values of birth based hierarchy of gender and class.  Later, in Europe, the Nazi and fascist onslaughts  used race for similar reasons.


In recent times, we have seen the rise of Islamic  or communalism in several countries of the middle-east , typified by Ayatullah Kohemini in the Iran of eighties and nineties. 


Communalism in India made its major appearance, in the pre-Independence era, in 1886, with the formation of two communal streams – the Muslim League (based on Islam) and the Hindu Mahasabha  and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (based on Hinduism).   Over the years, these two streams have constantly tried to fan the communal passions of their followers, be it in the Shah Banoo case or the perennial dispute with regard to the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.  With the  emergence of the Hindu right-wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a major political force in the country, the proponents of Hindu communalism, better known through its ideology “Hindutva”,  seem to have gained the upper hand.




Hindutva :


The fundamental goal of the “Hindutva” ideology is the establishment of a Hindu-Nation state exemplified in the fascist doctrine of “one nation, one culture, one language, one religion”.  It is a very narrow type of “nationalism” which seeks legitimacy through demonizing other religions and faiths, very specially Islam and Christianity.  Whilst it is not representative of the Hindu majority of the country, it makes every attempt to appear to champion the concerns of mainstream Hinduism. 


These posturings have created a great deal of disharmony in various parts of the country particularly in the last fifteen years when in 1990 one of the main exponents of the “Hindu Rashtra” namely, Mr. L. K. Advani, (a former Deputy Prime Minister of the country and currently  the President of the BJP) went across the country on a “Rath Yatra”.  This created a great deal of animosity, blood-shed and deepened the divide between the Hindus and Muslims of the country.


In the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992, India became divided even more, on communal lines.  This was followed by several other instances of communal violence which include the  bashing up of Christians in Gujarat (North-west India)  in  1998 – 99 and the Gujarat Genocide of 2002 (when more than 2000 Muslims were killed in Gujarat); among the other communal incidents were  the horrendous murder of the Australian Missionary Graham Staines and his two sons (in January 1999 in Manoharpur, Orissa) and the attack on the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Kerala in October 2004. 




Comparison between Hindu Rashtra and Secular Democratic India :


It is important at this juncture to emphasis that the Constitution of India is a secular one in which all citizens are equal  and which guarantees freedom of thought, expression and belief to every single Indian.


India is therefore not a theocratic state and any “nationalism” based on religion or on fundamentalism is bound to create chaos and confusion and ultimately division.


The Hindutva ideology, based on the theory of the nation-state, talks essentially about the “Hindu Rashtra” (nation).  This is in total opposition to the Constitution of India which speaks about a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic (see appendix).


We need therefore to see the various differences between the Hindu Rashtra and the Constitution of India.  The noted author-activist Ram Puniyani in his book “Communalism” (an illustrated Primer) provides us with the following table :


 Hindu Rashtra

Secular Democratic India

This concept began as the goal of RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, which were not part of the freedom struggle.

This concept evolved as a part of the freedom struggle led by the Indian National Congress.  Revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose and of the streams led by Baba Saheb Ambedkar stood for this.

Supporters of this concept in the earlier period were Brahmins, Banias, Zamindars.  And now this gets support form upper caste and uppermiddle class Hindu elite.

Supporters :  vast mass of poor peasants, workers, dalits and sections of industrialists.

Concept crystallized by ideologues of Hindutva :  Savarkar, Golwalkar, etc.

Concept enshrined in Indian Constitution which was formed by constituent assembly:  fairly representative of Indian people.

This nationalism is based on race, religion and hatred of ‘others’ on the grounds of race or religion.

Based on recognition of pluralism and geopolitical diversities.

Inherent special status to elite.

Based on formal equality of all.

Strengthens ‘status quo’ based on caste, gender and class.

Provision of liberal space to struggle for the rights of the oppressed.

This society is to be guided by Hindu clergy (Mahants, Acharyas).

Social life to evolve through mutual interaction of people and communities.

Impose monolithic values and culture on society.

Space for plurality.  Respect for diversity.

Franchise to be controlled as per the dictates of the elite, the ‘self appointed’ leaders of ‘Hindu society’ i.e. by the leaders of the Sangh Parivar.

Universal franchise.  Everybody has voting power.  All equal in the eyes of law, irrespective of caste, class and gender.

Brahminical norms, elite Sanskristed values to be the ‘official’, ‘mainstream’ laws.

Indian Constitution to guide social and political life.

Everybody has to accept ‘Hindu’ values (Brahminical cultures).

Communities free to pursue their own culture.

Concept close to Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany, Khomeini’s and Taliban’s Afghanistan.

Aspires to be a Democracy.  Values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for all.  Nurtures liberal space.

Hindu elite and co-opted ‘other’ elite will dominate and dictate terms.

Possibility of everybody constituting the political process.

Conclusion :


These past years, as we will see in the film that follows, has been extremely difficult for India.  The emergence of a small but very aggressive group of Hindu fundamentalists has been sufficient to polarize a good part of the country.  We have seen bloodshed and hate in all its viciousness.


Those of us who have been trying to put a stop to this are convinced that religion should not be used in politics and vice-versa.  In fact, religion, if true, has to be used only for the promotion of communal peace, harmony, justice, love and compassion.  Any religion worth its salt will not  do otherwise.


Hoping that this brief presentation into “The rise of Hindu nationalism in India would have given you some insight into the reality we face back home, I invite you in joining me in praying a favourite prayer of mine which was composed years ago by the poet laureate of India (a Noble Prize Winner for Literature) Rabindranath Tagore :



Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where knowledge is free,

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls,

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit,

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action,

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, led my country awake !


Thank you very much !




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* This paper was presented on 22nd  November 2004 at a  workshop on “ Nation, Religion and Political Power :  A case study of Hindu Nationalism from Gujarat, India“  at the “Tools for Peace ? – The role of Religion in conflicts”  Conference held in Soderkoping, Sweden from 21st to 24th November 2004.


Fr. Cedric Prakash is  the Director of PRASHANT,  the Jesuit Centre of Human Rights, Justice and Peace based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, North-west India.   He is actively involved in issues related to Religious Harmony, Inter-faith Dialogue, Justice and Peace.  He is a member of the Citizens for Justice and Peace that set up the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal to look into the Gujarat Carnage which took place in 2002; he has also testified before the US Commission on  International Religious Freedom on the carnage.   In 1995, he was awarded India’s highest civilian award for the promotion of communal harmony and peace,  the Kabir Puraskar by the President of India. Among the other awards which he has received are :   the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for Humanitarian Service by the Indian Muslim Council, USA, ( June 2003)  and  the Communication for Peace Award by the XIC, Bombay, ( January 2004). 


Fr. Prakash can be contacted at :

‘ PRASHANT ’,   Post Box  4050,  

Navrangpura,  Ahmedabad   380 009

Gujarat,  INDIA


Tel:   0091 79 27449744 /  27455913  

Fax:  0091 79 27489018

Email[email protected]