The Saffron Wave

The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

Thomas Blom Hansen
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Saffron Wave
    Book Description:

    The rise of strong nationalist and religious movements in postcolonial and newly democratic countries alarms many Western observers. InThe 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 large 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 "plebeian" and impoverished groups seeking recognition around a majoritarian rhetoric of cultural pride, order, and national strength. Combining political theory, ethnographic material, and sensitivity to colonial and postcolonial history,The Saffron Waveoffers fresh insights into Indian politics and, by focusing on the links between democracy and ethnic majoritarianism, advances our understanding of democracy in the postcolonial world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2305-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction. Hindu Nationalism and Democracy in India
    (pp. 3-15)

    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...

  4. 1 Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in India
    (pp. 16-59)

    Through all the richness and diversity of public life in contemporary India there traverses one remarkably coherent narrative: declining standards in the realm of politics and public administration. Corruption, declining quality of leadership, shameless display of self-interest by groups and individuals, violence, and lethargy in administration and the judiciary are phenomena routinely explained by the invasion of politics into all spheres of life. The national press debates how the independence of the judiciary and the administrative capacity of the state are threatened by “political interference” in court cases and in administrative routines. In urban neighborhoods, mob violence or demands for...

  5. 2 Imagining the Hindu Nation
    (pp. 60-89)

    Nineteenth-century nationalism in India was organized around an “orientalist mode of production of the people.” Based upon the colonial objectification and codification of cultural differences, the imagination of an “Indian people” took the form of a series of discrete and well-bounded communities divided primarily by religion, but also by caste and custom. Three processes unfolding in the latter part of the nineteenth century molded this imagination.

    The first of these was the governmental objectification and aggregation of existing cultural categories of caste or religion into larger and more abstracted categories, already touched upon in Chapter One. The second was the...

  6. 3 Organizing the Hindu Nation
    (pp. 90-133)

    Like other forms of cultural nationalism that hold the nation to be a single unifying thread that always/already unites “the people,” Hindu nationalism is marked by a fundamental ambivalence vis-à-vis modernity and its release of desires and social fragmentation. Cultural nationalisms are generally projects of ideological control, which seek to shape and control the always unfamiliar and unpredictable social forms generated by capitalist modernities. The corollary of such a project of control is an emphasis on discipline and a tight corporate structure that seeks to realize the ideological utopia within the microcosm of the organization. Another corollary is an emphasis...

  7. 4 Democracy, Populism, and Governance in India in the 1980s
    (pp. 134-153)

    It is tempting to view the “saffron wave” from the late 1980s onward as a logical outcome of decades of disciplined, well-planned organizational and ideological expansion of the Sangh parivar (see, for example, Basu et al. 1993, 6). This interpretation tends, however, to reproduce the RSS’s narrative of its own history as an unbroken, consistent, and thus irresistible effort to “organize Hindu society” and to “awaken the Hindu.” Such an interpretation excludes from view the specificity of the political space created by the broader societal transformations in the 1980s, which the Hindu nationalist movement and a multitude of other forces...

  8. 5 The Saffron Wave
    (pp. 154-199)

    The Sangh parivar emerged stronger than ever from the upheavals of the 1970s. The movement was entrenched in an expanded network of shakhas and subsidiaries all over the country, and was more selfconfident than ever regarding its ability to shape and organize Indian society. The RSS now devoted most of its energy to relaunching the original project of Hindu nationalism, Hindu sangathan, the organization of Hindu society. With the Ekamata (“one mother”) Yatra campaign in 1982–1983 in south India, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) became the main vehicle of this strategy. One of the significant ritual innovations in this...

  9. 6 Communal Identities at the Heart of the Nation
    (pp. 200-217)

    Canguilheim argued with respect to the human body that pathologies are known as deviations from notions of normality that in themselves are always/already products of contestation and historical change. Medical thought is marked by two alternating conceptions of the pathological—one locating the cause of pathology in disturbances caused by factors external to the healthy organism, another locating the cause in internal imbalances transforming an otherwise healthy function into a state of excess that damages the body. In the first case the “evil” is constructed as extrinsic, as something to be expunged, in the other case it is intrinsic, as...

  10. 7 Hindu Nationalism, Democracy, and Globalization
    (pp. 218-238)

    In the general elections in 1996, the BJP emerged for the first time as the largest political party in India. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was given two weeks to explore the BJP’s possibilities of forming a government, but the party’s systematic use of communal rhetoric had antagonized both Congress and left-of-center political forces to the extent that no coalition was possible. The BJP had won the election but not power, and was soon returned to a position of “mighty marginality.” Once again, the party could portray itself as the unjustly neglected voice of the true majority of Hindus. In the following...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 239-268)
  12. Glossary
    (pp. 269-272)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-288)
  14. Index
    (pp. 289-293)