New Login   

Hindu-Nationalism and Violence Across India

Ward Berenschot

By Amrita Basu
2015, Cambridge University Press, Delhi, 2015, pp. 334, $94.99

VOLUME XL NUMBER 10 October 2016

Why are some parts of India more prone to Hindu-Muslim violence than others?  That is the question that Amrita Basu takes up in her engaging, insightful yet not fully convincing book Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India. Why have States like Gujarat or UP seen so much violence, while Kerala or Andhra Pradesh experienced much less Hindu-Muslim strife—despite having almost similarly sized Muslim populations? This puzzle is quickly becoming a ‘classic’ in the study of Indian politics, as scholars such as Ashutosh Varshney, Steven Wilkinson and Paul Brass have also sunk their teeth in it. Their answers have been varied: Varshney attributes relative peacefulness to the existence of a strong civil society connecting religious communities, Wilkinson focuses on electoral incentives and argues that violence is unlikely where the ruling party depends on Muslim votes, while Brass attributes violence to the existence of local networks—he calls them ‘institutionalised riot systems’—that derive benefit from the violence. The answer that Basu develops in her book is closest to Brass’s, while also differing in a number of important respects. Amrita Basu, a professor of political science at Amherst College, relates India’s communal violence to the evolution of India’s Hindu-Nationalist (HN) movement. Using her decades long experience in studying Indian politics to examine the patterns of violence in UP, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, Basu argues that extensive violence is most likely when an ‘alignment of forces’ takes place. She argues that violence can occur when the BJP has achieved power in the State while maintaining close ties with both Hindu-nationalist organizations (such as VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal) as well as the national government. In doing so, she puts the spotlight on the role of social movements and civil society (in casu: Hindu nationalist organizations) in fostering violence. To make this argument, Basu offers illuminating and well-researched chapters on the political history of these selected Indian states. These comparative chapters are by themselves highly recommended reading for anybody wishing to read up on regional political histories. By providing these histories, Basu aims to show that when communal violence occurs, the BJP is in power and benefits from its close links with other Hindu nationalist organizations, who play no small role in getting the violence going. Gujarat seems exhibit A for this argument: former RSS pracharak Modi was in power when in 2002 the incident in Godhra brought a dark coalition ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.