Open Forum

Uttarakhand, an intriguing case of Hindutva politics

If we want to deconstruct Hindutva, we need to look at is regional avatars – its many regional Hindutvas. Uttarakhand is a case in point.  
Aug 4, 2018
By Bhoomika Joshi
The recent attack on Swami Agnivesh by a mob of Bhartiya Janta Party Yuva Morcha members in Jharkhand ought to strike us with the core tenet of political Hindutva. That it is not only framed in opposition to other religions but also to the multiple strands and schools within the Hinduism. While this deep revulsion of anything but fundamentalist-majoritarian Hinduism may appear to us as new, we only need to look closely to find out how it has become entrenched in our political, social and cultural ethos. If we want to deconstruct Hindutva, we need to look at is regional avatars – its many regional Hindutvas. Uttarakhand is a case in point.
Uttarakhand is iconically Hindu – home to the char dham – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamnotri and Gangotri; the sacred landscape from where emerge the Ganga and Yamuna; site for pilgrim-tourism to Haridwar and Rishikesh; part of the pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar - it is a poster child for its description of devbhoomi. If that didn’t make it credible enough, the spread of ashrams, new age and old, increasing construction of temples across towns and villages and the high value attached to the gatherings of bhagvad katha and corresponding gurus has solidified a physical and cultural landscape that is supportive  of the kind of political Hinduism that believes itself endangered and isolated.
While electoral politics in the Hindi heartland has been compelled to acknowledge the caste constituencies and coalitions emerging from the backward castes and Dalit sub-castes, Uttarakhand retains the status –quo of its Brahmin-Thakur dominance. It holds the unique position of the highest proportion of Brahmins (25%) and a rather high percentage of Thakurs (35%) to the total population of the state in India. Majority Hindu (85% of the total population) and majority forward caste Hindu (60% of the total population) demography lend to Uttarakhand the conservatism that allows little or no room for the strengthening of any politics challenging their entrenched authority.
On the contrary, a seemingly benign pilgrimage Hinduism is flourishing. Modi’s faith in and commitment towards Kedarnath is fabled in the political gossip in Uttarakhand and among BJP workers and supporters. As Modi has acknowledged publically, he undertook the Chardham Yatra frequently as a young RSS pracharak prior to becoming the chief minister of Gujarat. There it is believed, is the source of his seemingly invincible blessing for electoral success! If this is credible by any stretch of imagination, Modi and his faith in the Shiva temple has only strengthened by the same stretch; BJP supporters in the state suggest that is why he has always been so concerned towards the upkeep of the shrine. Upon his visit to Kedarnath as a prime minister in October 2017, much controversy arose when Modi claimed that he had offered to rebuild Kedarnath in the aftermath of the June 2013 disaster as the Gujarat CM but the then UPA government at the centre and Congress led government in Uttarakhand disallowed him. Whether or not that is true, the then Gujarat government did send in large volumes of relief assistance even if they exaggerated while claiming that they had rescued 15000 Gujarati pilgrims in one day! The rumour mill is doing the rounds again to suggest that Modi will launch the election manifesto for 2019 from Kedarnath, which should explain the rush to complete the Char Dham road building targets. Modi’s visit to Kedarnath on the eve of election campaigning in Karnataka may be seen as a test case, and a failed bid to woo the Lingayat voters of Karnataka since the Shiv temple of Kedarnath has been managed by a Lingayat head priest since it was revived by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century AD.
This kind of majoritarian politics embedded in ashrams and mathas with seemingly charitable purposes has produced its own varieties of political Hindutva. Ajay Singh Bisht aka Yogi Aditynath is a Thakur from the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand who joined the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1980s, and emerged as a leader of the Gorakhnath Math, a sect which has a significant following in Uttarakhand. The Hinduization and even Brahmanization of the Gorakhpanthi discourse is widely acknowledged as is its militant-masculine avatar under Yogi who led the charge with the formation of the Hindu Yuva Vahini. If such a brand of political Hindutva won Yogi the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh on the one hand, Baba Ramdev’s rise as a Yoga guru, healer and brand ambassador of swadeshi under the umbrella of the Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar has solidified capitalist Hindutva on the other. It is no secret that the Patanjali Yogpeeth’s ‘tax exempt’ status is a tax exemption towards a dangerous mix of revivalist Hinduism and pseudo-science that enables the core agenda of political Hindutva while it charts big gains in the FMCG sector under the banner of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. Such brands of Hindutva have reasserted Uttarakhand’s own political discourse in the face of a nationalised Hindu project – a mix of pilgrim-tourism, capitalist and caste Hinduism.
Uttarakhand is an intriguing case of such Hindutva politics because it has been long entrenched, almost impervious to national scrutiny. It is therefore imperative that we see beyond nationalized Hindutva whose propaganda has seeped in deep through media of all kinds but not without the kind of commandeering in different regions through different stratagems. It may be time for us to start looking closely and deeply at what the so called Hindutva looks like in India’s regions, and how majoritarian forces continue to make gains out of them. While the Muzaffarnagar model of Western UP can stoke Hindutva through acutely gendered communalization in the name of love jihad and ghar wapasi, the Eastern UP model banks on militant youth muscle in the tradition of a revivalist Hindu masculinity. While electoral gains in Assam are made on the projection ofdemographic reengineering of citizenship through the arrival of Bangladeshi Muslims, Hindu sectarian politics has been compelled to play out in Karnataka. Cow protection politics has echoed with casteist and communal politics in Rajasthan and Haryana and an aggressive denial of conversion choices operates through the adoption ofanti conversion laws in states like Jharkhand. Hindutva politics from the headquarters may hide in plain sight but its regional variants may be our blind spot.
(The author is doing her Ph.D  in anthropology at Yale University. She can be reached at )

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