The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

Synopsis

The rise of strong nationalist and religious movements in postcolonial and newly democratic countries alarms many Western observers. In The Saffron Wave, Thomas Hansen turns our attention to recent events in the world's largest democracy, India. Here he analyzes Indian receptivity to the right-wing Hindu nationalist party and its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which claims to create a polity based on "ancient" Hindu culture. Rather than interpreting Hindu nationalism as a mainly religious phenomenon, or a strictly political movement Hansen places the BJP within the context of the larger transformations of democratic governance in India.

Hansen demonstrates that democratic transformation has enabled such developments as political mobilization among the lower castes and civil protections for religious minorities. Against this backdrop, the Hindu nationalist movement has successfully articulated the anxieties and desires of the lange and amorphous Indian middle class. A form of conservative populism, the movement has attracted not only privileged groups fearing encroachment on their dominant positions but also "plebe

Excerpt

Within the past decade, the Hindu nationalist movement in India, led by the militant organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with branches and subsidiaries in many fields of life in contemporary India, has grown into the most powerful cluster of political and cultural organizations in the country. Hindu nationalist agendas, discourses, and institutions have gradually penetrated everyday life and have acquired a growing, if not uncontested, social respectability in contemporary Indian society.

In the general elections in February 1998, the political wing of the Hindu nationalist movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), polled more than a quarter of the popular vote in India and emerged as the largest party in the Lok Sabha in Delhi. In late March 1998, the BJP's leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee, became India's prime minister, in charge of a fragile coalition government formed by the BJP and twelve smaller regional parties. Less than two months later, on the 11th and 13th of May, in Pokhran in the Rajasthan desert, five nuclear bombs were tested. This instantaneously put India on the global map as a nuclear power and initiated a new phase in the decade-old arms race between India and Pakistan, and it generated deep worries in western governments and publics. The decision to assert India's place in the world by acquiring nuclear capabilities was met with general approval among political parties in India from left to right. The response from newspapers seemed even more positive, opinion polls indicated overwhelming support to the decision, and the BJP could now appear on the domestic scene in its much-desired role as the most resolute defender of India's national pride and its national interest. When a local RSS organizer in the western state of Gujarat told a journalist,“after the nuclear tests, many other nations have realized that India is not merely a developing nation, but a superpower,” he was not merely articulating a Hindu nationalist sentiment. His and the RSS's exhilaration at a newfound national self-respect seemed to resonate with widely held perceptions of nation, cultural pride, and India's place in global hierarchies. Complex questions of how, and why, India's Hindu nationalists could acquire the authority to enunciate this broader quest for recognition and national identity—of how and why they could ensure their . . .

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