The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

By Thomas Blom Hansen | Go to book overview

Introduction
Hindu Nationalism and Democracy in India

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. 1 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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The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • The Saffron Wave *
  • Introduction - Hindu Nationalism and Democracy in India 3
  • 1 - Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in India 16
  • 2 - Imagining the Hindu Nation 60
  • 3 - Organizing the Hindu Nation 90
  • 4 - Democracy, Populism, and Governance in India in the 1980s 134
  • 5 - The Saffron Wave 154
  • 6 - Communal Identities at the Heart of the Nation 200
  • 7 - Hindu Nationalism, Democracy, and Globalization 218
  • Notes 239
  • Glossary 269
  • Bibliography 273
  • Index 289
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