A constant refrain from non-south Asian media on the current Kashmir crisis and the wider India-Pakistan standoff is one which seeks to blame the entire matter on the British Empire’s hasty withdrawal from the region in the late 1940s. However, Britain’s withdrawal from south Asia only tells half of the story. While Britain’s tangled relationship with pseudo-independent Princely States (such as that of Jammu and Kashmir) helped to undermine the democratic will of Kashmiris and that of other peoples living in such Princely States, there is a separate phenomenon which helps explain why under the government of Indian Premier Narendra Modi, Kashmiris are currently dying in silence whilst the jingoistic pro-Modi media continues to fan the flames of hatred and war.
The fact of the matter is that not every post-colonial leader harbours blood-soaked expansionist ambitions against neighbouring post-colonial states – but Modi does. Not every post-colonial leader rules on the basis of promulgating sectarian hatred against minorities – but Modi does. Furthermore, whilst empires like that of Britain sought to divide and rule for the purposes of securing material gain, Modi’s BJP is governed by a principle which seeks something far beyond divide and rule. The end-goal of the Hindutva philosophy to which Modi subscribes is not to divide and rule but to divide and eliminate. In this sense, Hindutva + political power is far more dangerous than was a British Empire whose violence was motivated by avarice, rather than conducted as an end in itself.
Long before the Lahore Resolution of 1940 and prior to Choudhary Rahmat Ali’s Pakistan Declaration, the political so-called philosophy of Hindutva was born. Hindutva’s founding father Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is a man whose shrines Narendra Modi has visited many times. Savarkar was also a man who argued for the use of rape against Muslims and other minorities as a “legitimate” political tool. But while many throughout the world are familiar with those who committed atrocities on behalf of the British Empire, including in instances such as the Amritsar Massacre, few are aware that the Hindutva call for the British to de-colonise India was not a righteous one, but instead was a call to replace British rule with something far worse.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and his Hindutva brethren wanted Britain to leave so that the multicultural land that Britain ruled with an increasingly iron fist, could be transformed into a land where Hindu supremacy would be enshrined into the law of a modern state. As such, Savarkar opposed both the Quit India movement and later the partition of India. He did so however, not because he believed in a genuine multicultural democracy but because he believed in the opposite. The Hindutva political programme advocates for Hindu supremacist rule over not just the borders of modern India, but over the modern territory of Pakistan, Bangladesh and according to many Hindutva agitators, also Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, parts of Myanmar, and parts of China. This envisaged Hindutva empire known as Akhand Bharat, continues to be the default position of the Hindutva extremists of the RSS para-military group and its political wing, BJP.
Crucially, far from seeking to live harmoniously in a super-state, Savarkar and his comrades sought to subjugate and moreover eliminate non-Hindus based on the theory that Muslims and other minority religious groups represent an alien force living on supposedly pure Hindu lands. To bolster his fake view of history, Savarkar openly praised the fascist policies of Adolf Hitler who sought to cleanse Europe of supposed alien elements. He likewise praised Zionist leaders who believed were carrying out a unique duty to “reclaim” Palestine from “invaders”.
But just as these other exclusive ideologies refuse to realise that history is not a story of zero-sum “conquests”, so too did the Hindutva ideologues of the early 20th century, seek to turn Hinduism into an ethno-religious political programme that had no contact with even the most basic historical facts. Hindutva extremists from Savarkar to Modi seek to convince the world that there is a distinct and monolithic Hindu identity that had been historically oppressed by Islamic sovereigns. This ‘fake history’ belies the fact that the very word Hindu was invented as a means of describing people according to geography rather than their explicit identity – religious or otherwise. It furthermore, undermines the fact that those practising unique versions of Hinduism in southern India, have an entirely different culture and an entirely different worldview from the Hindutva extremism that was born and continues to thrive in India’s northern states.
The name India itself is derived from ancient Farsi – the lingua franca Achaemenid Empire. Making matters all the more embarrassing for contemporary politicians who seek to present Hindu religious culture as a monolith, the truth is that the very name Hindu itself has etymological roots as a geographical rather than religious distinction. The word Hindu has its origins in the Sanskrit word Sindhu which refers to what is now referred to in English as the River Indus, a waterway that is located primarily in modern Pakistan. Locals in Pakistan and parts of India still typically refer to the river as The Sindhu. Of course, the Pakistani province of Sindhi, derives its name from the same root word.
The word Sindhu was eventually Persianised (centuries before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, PBUH) as Hindu and came to refer not only to the river itself but to the peoples who lived east of the river. Likewise, the term Indoi (from which the word India is derived) was merely a Hellenised version of the Persian Hindu. Furthermore, it was only in the late 18th century when European imperialists in south Asia began to refer to the non-Muslim populations of south Asia collectively as Hindus.
In this sense, the contemporary BJP narrative of a dominant Hindu culture that was somehow eradicated by Islamic rulers of Turkic or Turko-Mongol descent who were culturally Persianate, is not actual history, but instead represents a deeply narrow minded distortion of history. With the exceptions of the ancient Maurya Empire and Gupta Empire, the medieval and late modern sovereigns that have come closest to uniting India and south Asia as a whole, have either been those led by Muslim rulers or in the case of the British Raj, European rulers with no indigenous connection to Asia.
Far from just creating a new history, Hindutva extremists including the current BJP government seek to actively erase centuries of Indian history based on the fact that Hindutva extremists refuse to recognise the importance that Islamic sovereigns have played in shaping India’s modern culture, languages and customs.
This in fact was one of the reasons why Pakistan’s founding father Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a late convert to the two-nation theory which argued for a creation of a separate state for Muslims, once Britain withdraw from south Asia. One only needs to realise that as Hindutva became a growing force among Indians, many Muslims feared that rather than live in a harmonious post-colonial country which embraced all periods of south Asian history, including those shaped by Islamic cultural traditions – they would instead eventually find themselves living under a tyranny of Hindutva.
Those supporting the creation of Pakistan were vindicated as early as 1947. On 14 October, 1947, the BJP aligned Hindutva militia group RSS instigated a massacre against Muslims in Jammu. 2,37,000 were killed in the violence according to the Times of London. It was this event which triggered retaliation among Pashtun tribesmen living in a newly formed Pakistani state. This subsequently lead to further rebellions in Jammu and Kashmir against the Princely rule of Maharaja Hari Singh. It was only after the Jammu massacre and subsequent anti-Princely rebellions that Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of ascension to India on 26 October 1947 – thus sealing the fate of Kashmiris in the most anti-democratic way imaginable.
The RSS led massacre of Muslims in Jammu therefore demonstrated that the creation of Pakistan was necessary in order to guarantee the survival of the region’s historic Muslim populations against a Hindutva onslaught. Far from a Gandhian approach to peace, it was none other than Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who was arrested on the suspicion of having a hand in Gandhi’s murder, after years of criticising Gandhi for refusing to allow India to gain what Savarkar described as “independence from Muslims”. While secular Congress led Indian governments subsequently banned Savarkar from engaging in politics, it is clear that as of 2019, the followers of Savarkar have taken control in India and the followers of Gandhi have clearly lost.
It was the Hindutva extremism which came to life in 1947 that made it abundantly clear that Muslims would have been unable to live in a post-British Hindutva Empire, one whose creation is supported by Hindutva extremists of the 21st century. While such an empire was not created in 1947, the propaganda encouraging Indian aggression against Pakistan has the word ” written all over it.
History makes it self evident that whilst Muslims resisted British colonial rule, had Akhand Bharat (Hindutva Empire/Greater India) become a reality, the bloodbath of Muslims would have been vastly more severe than any of the violence which existed during the British Raj. This is the case because those convinced of their own extremist ideology are always more dangerous than foreign imperialists who simply mould an ideology to justify the violence that is committed in the name of material greed.
Ultimately, amoral violence committed in the name of greed is the lesser of two evils when compared with an ideology in which violence is both the means and the end. Because of this, whilst imperialism can be blamed for many contemporary troubles in south Asia, it is an utter cop out to blame the bloodshed in the name of Hindutva on a partition of India that occurred decades after the first tracts of Hindutva “philosophy” were authored.