Majoritarian State

The BJP administration, led by PM Narendra Modi,has established an ethnoreligious and populist style of rule since 2014. As this majoritarian ideology pervades the media and public discourse, it also affects the judiciary, universities and cultural institutions, increasingly captured by Hindu nationalists. Dissent and difference are silenced and debate increasingly sidelined as the press is muzzled or intimidated in the courts.

Edited by Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot, Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India traces the ascendance of Hindu nationalism in contemporary India. It is a collection of essays that offers rich empirical analysis and documentation to investigate the causes and consequences of the illiberal turn taken by the world's largest democracy. The following is an excerpt from Tanika Sarkar's essay "How The Sangh Parivar Writes And Teaches History" of the book.

Let me begin with two Muslim names-Junaid Khan and Afrazul Mohammad-who have been flogged and hacked to death respectively. A fourteenyear-old filmed Afrazul's murder and posted it on social media for general enjoyment. Their killers were 'respectable' men of some substance and education: not at all the stuff that mobs are usually made of1. I have plucked their names at random out of many others who have met the same fate in recent years.

Both were killed by perfect strangers, in public places, and neither victim was accused of any wrongdoing, real or imagined. They were killed, not during riots, but in normal times: or let us say, in times when a new normal is being made. They were killed simply because they were Muslims.

Muslim bodies have become legitimate arenas where the most gruesome violence can be freely, joyfully, performed, with perfect impunity. Irrespective of electoral fortunes, such events do indicate a tectonic shift in Hindu popular common sense. Irrespective, again, of who does what in the coming elections, this shift, I think, will be irreversible for quite some time. How is such hate produced and sustained, how does it become hegemonic? More importantly, what does it hope to achieve, in the broadest sense?

Much can be explained, I think, by the critical role of the historical lessons that the Sangh conglomerate produces. What the 'science' of race difference was to Nazi ideology, the discipline of history is to Hindutva2: a claim to 'formal knowledge', which exalts political mission as accredited Truth. But whereas Nazi power lasted twelve years, the Hindu Right has been pursuing knowledge-production and dissemination for ninetythree years now3. Restricted till independence to the core organisations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), plans for installing an RSS version of the past at official and popular levels were systematically put together in 1973.4 RSS schools started to teach it even earlier, from the early 1950s, while daily shakhas have propagated it from 1925.5

Its own particular representation of the past is both the medium and the message for Hindutva's ideological apparatus and political agenda. It is important, therefore, to grasp what Hindutva wants to project as history in general, and Indian history in particular. This involves an understanding of its rhetorical and pedagogical strategies, and its organisational networks,through which history lessons circulate at multiple social levels.

I begin with their foundational ideological texts,written by V.D Savarkar and M.S Golwalkar. Then I track their refractions in school textbooks prepared by the RSS, whenever and wherever its electoral front, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, has been in power.6

Some textbooks were prepared for the RSS Vidya Bharati schools7 and some were published in 2002 under the National Curriculum of Education and Research Training (NCERT) for central government schools when an earlier BJP government was in power.8 For more advanced levels, I look at a recent course of lectures organised by the prestigious University of Delhi. Delivered to college teachers from different states, these 'Orientation' and 'Refresher' courses usually acquaint participants with new developments in their fields. In 2017, lecturers were hand-picked, largely from among BJP and Sangh functionaries, and many were not academics.9

  1. All India Press Trust of India, 2 July 2017 reported Junaid's killing. Afrazul's death was reported in Mander, Harsh, John Dayal, and Kavita Srivastava, 'Rajasthan hate murder: The other tragedy in Afrazul's killing is a famine of compassion,outrage,', 18 Dec.2017, rajasthan-hate-murder-the-other-tragedy-inafrazul-khans-murder-is-a-famine-of-compassion-outrage
  2. Hindutva is different from Hinduism as the faith of the Hindus. It is the self-designation of an organizational combine. The term was coined by V.D. Savarkar in 1923, who claimed that it referred to the cultural essence of Indian nationhood. We will discuss this later (see Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar, Hindutva: Who Is A Hindu, 1923; reprint Delhi:Bharatiya Sadan, 1989.
  3. The RSS, which calibrates the entire Hindutva combine, was founded in 1925.
  4. Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, Visions and Perspectives. Delhi: ABISY, 1973; Akhil Bharatiya ItihasSankalan Yojana, ltihas Darpan, Apt Delhi: ABISY, 2016; Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, Itihas Darpan, Oct. Delhi: ABISY, 2016.
  5. Sarkar, Tanika, 'Educating the Children of Hindu Rashtra: RSS Schools in Delhi, in C. Jaffrelot (ed.), The Sangh Parivar: A Reader, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005; Scroll,'India: RSS Schools in the Hindu Nationalist Education Project', 2009 Scroll. in.; Bakaya, Akshay, Indianise, nationalise, spiritualise: The RSS education project is in expansion mode,, 30 Aug. 2016,
  6. For the BJP, see Basu, Amrita, Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  7. On this, see Sarkar, 'Educating the Children of Hindu Rashtra: RSS Schools in Delhi, op. cit.; Scroll, 2016, op. cit.
  8. Ancient India (Textbook for Class XI), Delhi: NCERT,2002; Contemporary India (Textbook for Class IX), Delhi: NCERT, 2002.
  9. CPDHE, Orientation Course 90, Delhi University, Winter School, unpublished, 2017: Orientation Course 91, Delhi University, Winter School, unpublished, 2017; Refresher Course on Indian Thought, Culture and Thinking (Bharatiya Bodh), Delhi University, Winter School, unpublished, 2017.Some teachers attending the lectures handed their notes to me.A report on the course was also published (see The Wire,'Hindutva Politics in Command at Delhi University: Complaint of Teacher (Dis)orientation: The Wire. 19 Feb.2018,

About the Author
Tanika Sarkar is a Professor if History at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Her publications include Bengal 1928-1934: The Politics of Protest, (Oxford University Press India, 1987), Women and the Hindu Right(co-edited with Urvashi Butalia, 1995), and Caste in Modern India: A Reader(Permanent Black, 2013, two volumes, co-edited with Sumit Sarkar), among others.

This is an excerpt from Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India, edited by Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot. Published by Harper Collins in March 2019

Republished here with permission from the publisher through Indian Writers Forum