Book Review: Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right by Wendy Doniger and Nartha C. Nussbaum.

AuthorHirsch, Michael
PositionBook review

Doniger, Wendy and Nartha C. Nussbaum, eds. Pluralism And Democracy In India: Debating the Hindu Right. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xvi + 384 pages. Paperback, $38.50.

Over the past three years, I have been deeply involved in the study of, and work in, South Asia. One of the projects I am currently involved with is the peaceful reconciliation of India and Pakistan. Some of the major challenges to the success of reconciliation are the dynamics described in Pluralism And Democracy In India: Debating the Hindu Right.

Wendy Doniger (a History of Religions Professor) and Nartha Nussbaum (a Law and Ethics Professor) bring together leading scholars from a wide array of disciplines to discuss how India can protect its pluralistic values. The book focuses on an emergent and disturbing trend in Indian politics, that is, the rise of a Hindu Right. The major goal of this movement is the transformation of India from a secular to a Hindu (Hindutva) state. The three primary organizational advocates of Hindutva are Rashtriya Swayamesevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteers' Organization), the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council), and the Bharatiq Janata Party (BJP, People's Party of India), collectively known as the Sangh or Hindutvavadis. The movement also includes a women's auxiliary, the Rashtrasevika Samiti, which is organized to inculcate non-Sangh spouses into the ideology and obligations associated with Sangh membership. It does the same with children born into Sangh families.

In looking at the origins of this movement, the contributing authors suggest that the secularism of Gandhi and Nehru encouraged religiously inclined Hindus to shift into the orbit of xenophobic Hindu nationalists. During Partition in 1947--separating the Dominion of Pakistan from the Union of India--constitutional policies protected caste and ethnic minorities, but left religious minorities (primarily Muslims) open for attack. This occurred particularly in regions of the country such as Gujarat where the Sangh appropriated political parties, civil society, and government offices.

The authors explain that the rise of the Sangh, as represented by the election of the BJP's Narendra Modi as India's Prime Minister, evolved with (1) funding from Indian ex-patriots (many living in the United States), (2) the aid of a non-critical press, and (3) a systematic rewriting of Indian history that transformed myths into facts and demonized Indian Muslims. Also, pogroms...

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