In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Political Hinduism

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • An Ethnic Brand of Nationalism
  • The Sangh Parivar
  • Themes of Hindu Nationalist Politics
  • Hindu Nationalism and the Politics of Violence
  • Hindu Nationalism Abroad

Hinduism Political Hinduism
Christophe Jaffrelot
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0040


Hindu nationalism is one of the oldest ideological streams in India. It took shape in the 1920s soon after the first Indian communist party and before the first Indian socialist party. In fact, it runs parallel to the dominant Indian political tradition, the Congress, which Gandhi transformed into a mass organization in the 1920s. Hindu nationalism then developed an alternative political culture to the dominant idiom in Indian politics. This came about partly because—in the wake of the discourse of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (b. 1856–d. 1920) and his apologia of a Hindu tradition of violent action—the Hindu nationalists rejected nonviolence as a legitimate and effective reaction against the British. The movement also rejected the Gandhian and the Nehruvian conceptions of the Indian nation. Mahatma Gandhi until the end insisted that he spoke on behalf of all communities and that the Congress represented them all. Jawaharlal Nehru, even before he became the first prime minister of India, looked at the Indian nation in a similar universalistic vein, considering that it was a collection of individuals who were equally entitled to citizenship rights. In contrast, the Hindu nationalist movement has evolved and cultivated an ethno-religious definition of the Indian nation.

Introductory Works

Van der Veer 1994, Ludden 2005, Rajagopal 2000, Jaffrelot 1996, and Jaffrelot 2007 explain the rise of Hindu nationalism using a multidisciplinary perspective. Van der Veer 1994 focuses on the anthropological dimension and emphasizes the limitations of the so-called toleration tradition of Hinduism. Ludden 2005 covers a wide ground, with special attention given to the historical perspective, to show the degree to which secularism is at stake in India—especially since the 1990s. Rajagopal 2000, using the same chronological framework, stresses the impact of electronic media spreading a new, militant Hindu identity in India. Jaffrelot 2007 provides significant—even classic—texts of Hindu nationalism, and the author identifies the roots and cyclical reactivation of Hindu nationalism in India by focusing on the recurrent feeling of vulnerability of the majority community of India, the policies of the state (from the British divide-and-conquer strategy to the not-so-secular strategy of the Congress party in postindependence India), and the activism of ideologically minded groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and some religious figures.

  • Jaffrelot, Christophe. The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s: Strategies of Identity-Building, Implantation, and Mobilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

    The first chapter of this book scrutinizes the making of the Hindu nationalist ideology as a reaction to the so-called threat posed by the British (including the missionaries) and the Muslims (including the pan-Islamic Khilafat movement which resulted in communal riots) in the first two decades of the 20th century.

  • Jaffrelot, Christophe, ed. Hindu Nationalism: A Reader. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    The essential writings of key players in the Hindu nationalist movement and other documents pertaining to significant issues in the movement, such as Kashmir, language, and (re)conversion to Hinduism.

  • Ludden, David E., ed. Making India Hindu: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    A rich collection of essays analyzing the historical and sociological roots of Hindu nationalism by paying attention to its techniques of violence and mobilization. The main argument of the book pertains to the different ways in which Hindu nationalism affects the secular fabric of Indian society.

  • Rajagopal, Arvind. Politics after Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    A fascinating essay on the impact of audiovisual media on the success of Hindu nationalist politics in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • van der Veer, Peter. Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    A groundbreaking anthropological study of Hindu and Muslim nationalism from an historical perspective. An interesting critique of the Hindu notion of toleration, which does not imply a recognition of the other religious traditions.

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