Robert Frykenberg

Hindutva as a Political Religion: An Historical Perspective


Whether viewed from an analytical or from an historical perspective, the question of whether the ideology of “Hindutva” is a melding of Hindu fascism and Hindu fundamentalism has been posited. That “Hindutva” is a profoundly religious and profoundly, even aggressively political form of nationalism, seems clear. From earliest glimmerings of its inception, its supporters seem to have combined ambiguity with confrontation, compromise, and contradiction – as tactical devices for achieving long range corporatist designs, for gaining paramount power and imposing a totalist agenda upon all of India. The agenda of “Hindutva” Ram Rajiya aims to forge One Nation (in One State), One Culture, One Religion, an One Language. In Lord Rama’s Name, a single “Hindu Nation” for the whole Indian Continent must be ruled by precepts of Arya Dharm, of Sanãtana dharma. Sanskriti icons, norms, and symbols, invoking cosmic and eternal verities of Vedic Law must be reflected in principles on which this Nation must stand. Under this regime, a changeless social structure – “Four Colors (Chatur Varnya), as manifest in varnshrãmadharma – must maintain and preserve each birth or caste (jãti) community within its rightful rank, status, and strata of relative purity or impurity. Birth and Earth, Genomes in Sacred Blood and Molecules of Sacred Soil are to determine every person’s place within an all-encompassing and cosmic “World Order” (Vishwa Dharma).


Dr. Frykenberg was born and reared in India, trained in America and Britain (Ph.D., London [SOAS], 1961), and has been at Wisconsin since 1962. His Guntur District, 1788-1848: A History of Local Influence and Central Authority (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), initiated a local, “bottom-up,” Indocentric approach to India’s history. Similarly, his Land Control and Social Structure in Indian History (Madison, 1969; New Delhi, 1978), Land Tenure and Peasant in South Asia (Madison, New Delhi, 1977, 1981), and Delhi Through the Ages (New Delhi, Oxford, 1986, 1993) broke new ground in the historiography of India. The same can be said for many articles, chapters, and essays in scholarly journals and volumes, such as:

“The Concept of ‘Majority’ as a Devilish Force in the Politics of Modern India,” Journal of
Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, XXV:3 (November, 1987), 267-274;

“The Emergence of Modern ‘Hinduism’ As a Concept and As an Institution: A
Reappraisal With Special Reference to South India,” Hinduism Reconsidered
(Heidelberg: South Asia Institute, 1989), 1-29, edited by Gunther Sontheimer and
Hermann Kulke (republished in New Delhi: Manohar Books, 1997), 82- 107;

“Constructions of Hinduism At the Nexus of History and Religion,” Journal of
Interdisciplinary History, XXIII: 3 (Winter 1993), 523-550;

“Hindu Fundamentalism and the Structural Stability of India,” in Fundamentalisms and
the State: Remaking Polities, Economies, and Militance (Chicago: 1993), 233-55;

“Fundamentalisms in South Asia: Ideologies and Institutions in Historical Perspective,”
Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements (Chicago:
1994), 589-614 [The Fundamentalism Project], edited by Martin E. Marty and R.Scott

“Hindutva as a Political Religion: An Historical Perspective,” Totalitarian Movements &
Political Religions (London : Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, In Press), edited by
Robert Mallett.