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On the Difference Between Hinduism and Hindutva

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Hinduism is the name given to the most ancient and persistent religion on the Indian subcontinent, and Hindutva is the name by which the ideology of the Hindu right, represented by the political party Bharatiya Janata Party, or Indian People’s Party (BJP), is known. It is also the ideology of the cultural body known as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Core (RSS), which was founded in 1925 and with which the BJP has strong links. Ever since the rise of the BJP on the Indian political scene from 1990 onward, and its recent successes in national elections in India in 2014 and 2019, the question of the relationship between Hinduism as a religion and Hindutva as a political ideology has come to the fore, because the word “Hindu” is common to both.1 The exploration of the relationship between Hinduism as a religion and Hindutva as a political philosophy has become a virtual academic cottage industry that shows no signs of slowing down.2 In popular writings on the subject, Hindutva has been variously described as “Hinduism on steroids,” as “Hinduism which resists,” or as “an illegitimate child of Hinduism.” A preliminary way of understanding the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva would be to recognise that Hinduism is a religion (however defined) while Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, is a political ideology, whose relation to the religion of Hinduism could be considered analogous to the relationship between Christianity and Christian fundamentalism or Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. There is, however, one key difference. Hinduism is a plural tradition, as compared to Christianity and Islam which possess well defined universal creedal formulations that are largely absent in Hinduism according to most observers. Therefore, Hindu “fundamentalism” is remarkably thin in terms of religious content as compared to Christianity and Islam. What follows is an attempt to analyze the differences between Hinduism and Hindutva by identifying the points that separate or divide them.


1. See Arvind Sharma, “On Hindu, Hindustan, Hinduism and Hindutva”, Numen 49, no. 1 (2002): 1–36.

2. Jaithirth Rao, The Indian Conservative: A History of Indian Right-Wing Thought (New Delhi: Juggernaught Books, 2019); Shashi Tharoor, Why I Am a Hindu (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2018); The Hindu Way: An Introduction to Hinduism (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2019); Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle, The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism (New Delhi: Penguin, 2019); Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle, Messengers of Hindu Nationalism: How the RSS Reshaped India (London: C. Hurst and Company (Publishers) Ltd., 2019); A.P. Chatterji, T. Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot, eds., Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism Is Changing India (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2019); and Swapan Dasgupta, Awakening Bharat Mata: The Political Beliefs of the Indian Right (New Delhi: Penguin, 2019); etc.