Book review: Koushiki Dasgupta, Sadhus in Indian Politics: Dynamics of Hindutva

AuthorShashank Chaturvedi
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
300 Book Reviews
Koushiki Dasgupta, Sadhus in Indian Politics: Dynamics of Hindutva. New Delhi: SAGE Publications. 2021.
284 pages. `847. ISBN: 9789391370961.
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221135824
This book aims at unpacking the ongoing tussle between the resurgent Hindu Right and the more ‘tradi-
tionalists’ who stand for Sanatan Dharma, that is, sadhus. While explaining the dynamics of mobiliza-
tion around religious symbols and personalities, Dasgupta poses some serious questions to the dominant
discourses on secular–communal binary and secularization thesis. In this exercise, the author chooses to
‘see politics mainly as janaseva (social service) not as rajniti (politics)’ (p. 2) to ‘uncover the quirky
relationship shared by the sadhus with Hindutva’ (p. 20).
The introductory chapter in the book opens up the debates on Hindutva, the complexities of polysemy
attached to the term ‘Hindutva’, and its treatment during British rule and after that, since India’s inde-
pendence. Dasgupta invites readers’ attention to fact that Hindutva, in its original incarnation (cultural
Hindutva), differs in its appeal from its constructed avatar, that is, political Hindutva. It is through these
two tropes of Hindutva that the book ‘explores the zest of individualism reflected by the sadhus in both
the organized and unorganized domains of politics’ (p. 20). Central to the book’s argument is ‘a crucial
understanding of what political involvement means for the sadhus who had operated from the associa-
tional space of ascetic Hinduism or from an exclusive political party of their own’ (p. 20). While discern-
ing asceticism during the introductory remarks, the book should also have enlightened the readers about
how power and violence are related to and, in fact, built into the phenomena under study here, that is,
‘Sadhudom’. In her formulation, Dasgupta has not taken into consideration that power and violence are
inherently exhibited by ascetics of India from ancient to modern times.
The author has succeeded in revealing the dialectics of Hindutva as a ‘flexible category’ that in turn
confronted with the meta-narratives of a Hindu Rashtra offered by the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS). In short, the book meticulously underlines the simmering tension between the diverse voices
within the idea of Hindutva and the monochromatic idea of Hindutva of the RSS. The author also posi-
tions ‘the notion of politics as a newly invented category of self-recovery and self-regeneration’
(p. 33). Challenging the dominant understanding of familiar patterns of encounter between religion
and politics, the chapter explores the potentials of seva (service) as a normative domain for reflecting
greater political interests. The following chapter brings to the fore the inherent contradiction and conflict
between ‘traditionalism’ and modern democratic structure in the Indian polity through the exploration of
‘the spirit of individualism reflected by the Sanathan sadhus in organized politics’ (p.79). The next
chapter, ‘(Re)making of Hindutva’, captures the growing tension within the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
(VHP) for control over sadhus with institutional affiliation. The last chapter focuses on the impact of
neoliberal economy and technological innovations on the status of Hindutva politics. The chapter
ponders how ‘New-Age Gurus’ have turned into the votaries of spiritualism and thus have stepped into
Hindutva politics.
While the book does succeed in dissecting the inherent tension within the politics of the Hindu Right,
it fails to probe deeply into the complexities of Hindutva politics. The canvas of the book solely focuses
on sadhus, and thus it is not expected to underline and expose all the fundamental contradictions of
Hindutva politics. The book does highlight some of them but fails to answer a few pertinent questions:
Do Sadhus, proponents of Hindutva and those who favour neoliberal economic development have
common goals in contemporary India? Are they completely merged or is any kind of opportunistic alli-
ance formed in the recent past which has led to their presence at the national and transnational platform?
How has the VHP, a sociocultural organization whose worldview is shaped by community-based society,

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