Publication Date

April 2015


William Pinch


History (HIST)


English (United States)


In 2014 a Hindu Nationalist political party was elected to head the Indian government for the first time in over two decades. This victory signals a wider resurgence within India of Hindu nationalist ideas – foremost among them, the idea of “Hindutva,” originally set out by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1923 tract, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? As an ideology, Hindutva refers to a conception of Indian national identity that is tied inextricably to the Hindu people. Although Savarkar is clear in his differentiation between Hindutva and religious Hinduism, many critics have argued that the ideology is inherently exclusionary towards India’s religious minorities – primarily Muslims. This thesis is an attempt to shed light on this complex issue, and most importantly on the character of V.D. Savarkar – a man who has been both under-studied and over-simplified in the decades since his death. Through a close textual analysis of Hindutva as well as an investigation into the social, political, and intellectual influences which Savarkar encountered up to 1923, I provide a new and more complete picture of the complicated ideological evolution which led him to the development of the idea of “Hindutva.” I argue that Savarkar’s intentions in writing his seminal tract have largely been misinterpreted and his text misread, leading to a disconnect between the definition of “Hindutva” as it is understood today and the definition originally crafted by Savarkar. Furthermore, I suggest that attempts to see Savarkar in black and white terms as either heroic or monstrous depend on an ideological reading of his life from a vantage point within or, conversely, in opposition to Hindu nationalism – neither of which provide an accurate depiction of Savarkar as he truly was. This thesis is not an attempt either to redeem or vilify this highly controversial figure, but rather an attempt to draw a fair and accurate representation of Savarkar and his now infamous text.



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