Savarkar before Hindutva: Popular Sovereignty in Indian Political Thought

Dr Vikram Visana (University of Huddersfield) discusses 'the founding father of Hindu nationalism' in our Global History Seminar Series.

“Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) is rightly regarded as one of the most influential and problematic political thinkers of the 20th century. The founding father of Hindu nationalism, his seminal text, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (1923) stakes a claim to India as a majoritarian Hindu nation and preaches the militarisation of the Hindu ‘race’. Hindutva espouses a distinctly Islamophobic doctrine that insists Indian Muslims admit their primordial ‘Hinduness’ even if they continue to espouse the Islamic faith.

“This paper proposes that existing intellectual biographies of Savarkar tend to read his earlier political thought through the lens of his 1923 work. I suggest paying closer attention to the specific context of Indian and global politics in 1900-1910 in order to frame Savarkar’s earlier writings more appropriately via a global intellectual history of the period. Specifically, in his Indian War of Independence (1909), I read Savarkar as a theorist of popular sovereignty and republicanism, rather than a Hindu majoritarian and identarian, who sought to use revolutionary violence to discover and demarcate the Indian ‘people’ for this first time in history. The goal was to actualise ‘general will’ in the face of the ‘ethnographic’ rule of the British colonial state and the stratification of the Indian caste system which reduced India to a set of competing ‘interest groups’. The paper will conclude with tentative suggestions as to why Savarkar’s ideas of what constituted the ‘people’ became more exclusionary in the interwar years.” – Dr Vikram Visana, University of Huddersfield

For additional information please contact: Sean Fear or Elisabeth Leake