K. V. Hedgewar, founder of the still influential RSS

Socio-Political Movements

Within the reform movements, the Brahmo Samaj and Ramakrishna Mission accepted and assimilated many Western ideals. Gandhi, though in many ways traditional, was also amenable to Western influence. The Arya Samaj, however, rejected and opposed Westernisation and modernisation, and sought to reclaim those who had converted to other faiths. Thus they planted the seeds for Hindu nationalism.

The Hindu Mahasabha and the BJP

In 1909, Mohan Malaviha and other leading Arya Samajists founded the Hindu Mahasabha, the Great Hindu Assembly, to give Hindus a political voice apparently denied to them by Congress. The Mahasabha declared “Hindustan” as the land of the Hindus and demanded the right to govern themselves according to Hindu law. After the partition of India in 1947, it championed its reunification, expressed through the term Akhand Bharat, “Undivided India.” Its greatest advocate was Vir Savarkar (1883–1966) who coined the word “Hindutva” (Hindu-ness) to refer to the socio­cultural aspects of Hindu India differentiating them from “Hindu dharma,” the religion itself.

The Hindu Mahasabha demonstrated a pro-Hindu leaning that only increased with partition in 1947. After the creation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and the reported violent eviction of many Hindus, the Jana Sangha (People’s Party of India) was formed with a strong pro-Hindu bias. In 1980, a number of its splinter groups came together to form the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which became a predominant political force in India. Some reports at the time suggested that it played a major role in the upsurge of popular feelings that sparked the destruction of the Babhri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992. It has repeatedly utilised the religious theme of Rama-rajya, the ideal rule of Lord Rama as narrated in the Ramayana and advocated by Gandhi.

The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha)

Many members of the BJP are also closely connected to the RSS – The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (“National Self Help Association”). It was founded in 1925 by K. V. Hedgewar, a long-serving member of the Hindu Mahasabha. He was succeeded by M.S. Golakwar who declared that the Hindu nation had a divine mandate to re-spiritualise the world through the agency of the RSS. Today, it has grown into perhaps the most powerful Hindu organisation. It now claims a membership of over five million and declares its aims cultural rather than political.

The VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad)

The Vishva Hindu Parishad, “Hindu World Council,” was founded in 1964 by Swami Chinmayananda in conjunction with other religious leaders. Its organisational structure was determined in 1982 in Delhi, now home to its headquarters. The VHP aims to reawaken Hindu consciousness and to promote co-operation between Hindus throughout the world. It propounds a kind of universal Hinduism drawing extensively on the teachings of Vivekananda. It is ideologically conservative but in practice quite progressive. Its writers often attempt to show that Hindu thought is entirely consistent with modern technology and science, and even predated them. The VHP, through its numerous initiatives worldwide, continues to have major influence on the emerging identity of post-modern Hinduism.