Exploring the Nexus Between Religion and Politics: A Case Study of the Rise of Hindu Fundamentalism in India

India is the world’s largest democracy, with a population of over 1.3 billion people belonging to diverse religious faiths. However, in recent decades there has been a rise of Hindu nationalism and fundamentalism that has significantly impacted the country’s political landscape. This paper aims to examine the relationship between religion and politics in India through an in-depth case study analysis of the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and its growing influence.
Historical Context of Religious Demographics and Roles
India has always been a pluralistic society, with Hinduism being the dominant religion practiced by around 80% of the population. However, religious minorities like Muslims and Christians have also had an important presence. Traditionally, an unwritten principle of secularism ensured equal rights and protection of all communities (Jaffrelot, 2015). However, in the late 19th century, Hindu revivalist groups emerged that sought to establish cultural and political hegemony of Hindus (Bhatt, 2001).
Mobilization of Hindu Nationalist Groups

In the 1920s, Hindu nationalist organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were formed that promoted a fundamentalist Hindu identity-based politics. While initially a cultural movement, the RSS and its affiliates increasingly mobilized Hindus on an anti-Muslim, anti-minority agenda. They also disseminated the concept of a Hindu Rashtra or nation (Jaffrelot, 2007). In the 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) led the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, stoking communal tensions over the Babri Masjid site (Hansen, 1999).
Alignment of Religious and Political Objectives
In the 1980s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the political wing of the Hindu nationalist movement. It increasingly adopted the Hindutva ideology and agenda of the RSS. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014, the BJP has come to dominate Indian politics while promoting policies and laws favoring Hindus, such as the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (Varshney, 2021). This growing alignment between Hindu nationalist groups and the ruling BJP has cemented the politicization of religion.
Impact on Governance and Rights of Minorities

The rise of Hindu fundamentalism has emboldened Hindu majoritarian tendencies and undermined India’s secular foundations. Violence against religious minorities like Muslims and Christians has increased, including the 2002 Gujarat riots (Jaffrelot, 2015). Controversial policies like the CAA that discriminate based on religion have been enacted (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Scholars argue this threatens India’s status as a pluralistic, inclusive democracy (Varshney, 2021).
This case study of the rise of Hindu nationalism in India provides valuable insights into the complex relationship between religion and politics. The mobilization of a fundamentalist religious identity for political objectives and its alignment with the ruling party has significantly impacted governance, nation-building and minority rights. Continued monitoring and policy safeguards are needed to uphold secular principles of equality and justice in the world’s largest democracy.
Bhatt, C. (2001). Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
Hansen, T. B. (1999). The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Human Rights Watch. (2020, December). “Shoot the Traitors”: Discrimination Against Muslims under India’s New Citizenship Policy. https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/12/15/shoot-traitors/discrimination-against-muslims-under-indias-new-citizenship-policy
Jaffrelot, C. (2007). Hindu Nationalism: A Reader. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jaffrelot, C. (2015). The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India. New York: Columbia University Press.
Varshney, A. (2021). India’s Democratic Challenge. Foreign Affairs, 100(4), 124-135. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/india/2021-06-14/indias-democratic-challenge

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