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Remaking the Hindu Identity

Manjari Katju

By Jyotirmaya Sharma
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2003, pp. 205, Rs. 350.00

Edited by Amiya P. Sen
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 226, Rs. 495.00


Ideas and debates that went into the making and remaking of Hindu identity during colonialism and the dawn of modernity form the central questions of the books under review. Jyotirmaya Sharma examines the idea of Hindutva through an exploration of the writings and speeches of four influential religious/political leaders, namely, Dayananda Saraswati, Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Savarkar. He uses original texts extensively to demonstrate that the four thinkers shared the belief that Hindus and Hinduism constituted the core of India, and that today’s Hindutva draws on these ideas of theirs. Amiya Sen, in his edited work, situates the attempts at defining and redefining the Hindu self in debates around socio-religious reform in colonial India. Sen reproduces original writings and speeches of Keshab Chandra Sen, Vivekananda, Lajpat Rai, K.T. Telang, William Bentinck, Sister Nivedita, Jotirao Phule among others through an engaged introduction that brings out the complexities of socio-religious reform in India. The two books highlight how the articulation of a unified, national religion for all the Hindus became an important preoccupation of those trying to define and reform Hinduism and Hindus.       Present day Hindutva, both as a movement and as an idea, goes back to the colonial era. As a political movement its history can be traced back to the early 20th century, to the founding of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, if not earlier. As an idea, it can be traced to the 19th century writings of influential icons of the socio-religious reform and the national movement like Vivekananda, Tilak and Savarkar among others. Sharma’s exploration of Hindutva as an idea thus falls in the latter category.        Sharma’s choice of the four thinkers is significant as they are a part of the inspirational canon of the democratic anti-colonial movement. Post-1947 they were incorporated as icons for liberal-secular Independent India, not only by the official pedagogy but by all sections of political and academic opinion. Sharma’s central contribution is to starkly demonstrate that not only Savarkar, but also Dayananda Saraswati, Aurobindo and Vivekananda provide the intellectual bedrock for political Hindutva today. This book provides the most thorough exposition of that emergent strand in Indian social sciences, represented by the writings of scholars like Javeed Alam, Sumit and Tanika Sarkar among others, which critiques the unquestioning incorporation of these thinkers into the ‘secular’ pantheon.       Sharma argues that though it is in Savarkar’s ...

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