. . . The ubiquity of Hindutva has ensured that everyone in India will have Savarkar’s ideas in mind for the foreseeable future. For Savarkar, Hindutva was never meant to be understood as bounded by national borders; his ambition was always planetary. Anyone with an interest in South Asia also knows that neither Hindutva nor Savarkar can be ignored today, no matter where they live. The challenge for all of us now is navigating the intellectual and political terrain to think with and against his ideas.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is a difficult figure. As an intellectual founder of Hindu nationalism, he has emerged as the most controversial Indian political thinker of the twentieth century. His arguments for Hindutva transformed political debate by rethinking the concepts “Hindu” and “Hindustan.”

He is remembered as an anti-imperialist who simultaneously longed for the resurrection of the lost Hindu Empire of centuries past. He is celebrated and condemned for his roles as a nationalist, a revolutionary, a political prisoner, and president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. He gained notoriety for his programme to “Hinduise Politics and Militarise Hindudom” while also arguing for permanent war against Christians and Muslims. He was never forgotten – and for many, never forgiven – for his associations with the murderers of MK Gandhi – the Mahatma. The consequence: Savarkar is declared a martyr by some and condemned as the enemy by others.

The historical significance of Savarkar’s life is acknowledged and accepted by those familiar with modern South Asian history. Less is known about the corpus of his work. His prolific writings have certainly not received the attention of those of his contemporaries or interlocutors.

Moreover, there is a lack of awareness of how much Savarkar actually wrote in his lifetime. The fact that his interpretations, conceptualisations, and ideas were at the epicentre of key debates that shaped the landscape of Indian political thought in the twentieth century is generally overlooked or simply ignored. There is no agreement about how his work should be represented or remembered given his polarising status within India. As a result, the reception of Savarkar’s ideas remains penumbral...

I begin this book with a simple observation: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar struggled with defining Hindutva. The publication of Essentials of Hindutva in 1923 marked an important conjuncture in the development of the conceptual history of “Hindutva.”

Savarkar was not the first to use the concept: it was already a part of Bengali vocabulary in the nineteenth century. Chandranath Basu is identified as the individual who invented or conceptualised “Hindutva” – a term he discussed in his book Hindutva (1892).

However, Savarkar was undoubtedly responsible for the proliferation of the concept in the twentieth century. He explained that Hindutva should not be confused with its “cognate,” Hinduism. For Savarkar, Hinduism was a “code” or a “theory” founded on what he called a “spiritual or religious dogma or system.”

He explains: “Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva.” And he continues: “Had not linguistic usage stood in our way then ‘Hinduness’ would have been a better word than Hinduism as a near parallel to Hindutva.”

But Hinduness is not Hindutva; it only serves as an approximation. To further complicate matters, Savarkar posited that Hindutva was indefinable: “The ideas and ideals, the systems and societies, the thoughts and sentiments[,] which have centred round this name are so varied and rich, so powerful and so subtle, so elusive and yet so varied that the term Hindutva defies all attempts at analysis.”

The argument is that Hindutva is conceptually defiant. If Hindutva were only the name of an ideology, a theory, a religion, or a movement, it may have been possible to define the term. But it was in fact indefinable because Hindutva was ontological: “Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.”...

The inclusion “of our Hindu race” is both important and problematic. It adds a new dimension to Savarkar’s conceptualisation. Hindutva as an entity could only be known by understanding all the actions and thoughts that have happened in its human form – in other words, that have taken human shape as a Hindu, or, in the plural, in the shape of the Hindu race.

It is important to note that, at this moment, Savarkar asserted himself as a Hindu too, staking a claim within and for “our Hindu race” as part of his conceptualisation of Hindutva. In sum, Savarkar was using the personal pronoun “our” on behalf of the Hindu race...

It was over this ongoing conceptual struggle that Savarkar tried to reveal his method for understanding Hindutva: namely, History. Perhaps the most audacious passage he penned appears in Essentials of Hindutva, where he states, “Hindutva is not a word but a history.” He explained that Hindutva was not a “spiritual or religious history,” it was “a history in full.”

Savarkar first identified Hindutva as a word in his text; he then asserted the negation of Hindutva as a word. This should not be seen as a negation of Hindutva per se, but as the negation of a word – and, by extension, language – that could not adequately represent the essence of Hindutva. And yet Savarkar knew he could not abandon the word “Hindutva” either; it was irreplaceable.

It is in this moment of what might be called an existential impasse for “Hindutva” – as a word and not a word – that Savarkar immediately offers “history” as an alternative to provide meaning to “Hindutva.” To clarify matters once more: Hindutva is not simply “history,” or “the history,” but it is “a history,” or more specifically “a history in full.”

Hindutva as a history is the singularity of Hindutva’s history – a single and singular history that is finite. And yet simultaneously Savarkar’s characterisation of it as a form of fulness suggests multiplicity, plurality, and completeness within that singularity or finitude.

Savarkar concluded that the question of the meaning of Hindutva is not to be found in the word “Hindutva” itself, but within the multitude that is encompassed within a history. The essentials of Hindutva are truly the essentials of history.

Hindutva and Violence tells the story of the place of history in Savarkar’s thought. The book is organised around Savarkar’s formulation of “a history in full” as the central conceptualisation in his writings. In many ways, I have been guided by Savarkar’s own argument. Hindutva may be indefinable, but the articulation that “Hindutva is not a word but a history” provides meaning to both “Hindutva” and “history.”

For Savarkar, the key point is that “a history in full” is Hindutva, too. In other words, he not only linked Hindutva to Being, he also made it clear that history was going to be his method of interpreting Hindutva: his “a history in full” was going to provide the ultimate interpretation of how Hindutva may be actualised, recovered, or approximated in language.

Hindutva and Violence: VD Savarkar and the Politics of History

Excerpted with permission from Hindutva and Violence: VD Savarkar and the Politics of History, Vinayak Chaturvedi, Permanent Black.