Hindu Nationalism and Right-wing Ecology: RSS, Modi and Motherland Post-2014

Published date01 June 2023
AuthorMukul Sharma
Date01 June 2023
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Hindu Nationalism and
Right-wing Ecology: RSS,
Modi and Motherland Post-2014
Mukul Sharma1
This article analyses the environmental politics of Hindu nationalism in India after 2014, which is deeply
enmeshed with aggressive nationalism. Taking as its case study articles, newspaper reports and visuals
published in the Organiser, a leading magazine of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), it focuses
on four ubiquitous environmental themes—imagination of a great Hindu motherland; icons of mother
embodied in river and animal; climate change and renewable energy and the idealization of Prime
Minister Modi as an environmental saviour—that are visible in its pages. Through these themes, India
is projected as a great ancient ecological Hindu nation while hatred and violence are directed against
‘polluted’ Muslims. The ascendancy of Hindu nationalists to power since 2014 has indeed resulted
in radical changes which have signalled multiple governmental ‘green’ initiatives and brought climate
change and renewable energy to the centre stage. However, and as this article illustrates, these are
couched in an optic of purity and pollution, as well as caste and religion, on the one hand, and mobili-
zation of corporations and mega ‘clean’ industrial projects, on the other, which are propagated in the
name of people, development and environment.
Hindutva, Narendra Modi, motherland, RSS, climate change, renewable energy
Geographical entity, bounded by the mighty Himalayas in the North and the Mahasagar in the South is known as
Bharat, Hindustan or India. The inhabitants of this land are designated as Bharti (or Bhartiya), Hindus or Indians.
… The contribution of the Hindus in various elds of knowledge and thought has been admirable. Their views on
the importance of a sustainable environment and the existence of bio-diversity may provide solace to the strife-
torn world which is facing worst climate crisis today.
Shukla (2018, p. 59)
Original Article
1 Department of Environmental Studies, Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana, India
Corresponding author:
Mukul Sharma, Department of Environmental Studies, Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana, India.
E-mail: mukul.sharma@ashoka.edu.in
Studies in Indian Politics
11(1) 102–117, 2023
© 2023 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230231166197
Sharma 103
The quotation above is from an article in the Organiser, a widely circulated weekly English-language
magazine published in Delhi since 1947, and affiliated with the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The article recalls Hindu epics and religious texts that, according to the
writer, contain deep environmental consciousness and remind Indians of their glorious tradition of
protecting mother earth and the fatherland. Included in this article are two visuals, one showing a woman
wearing traditional ornaments and praying to the sacred Peepal tree (Ficus religiosa) and the other show-
ing a group of devotees, mostly women, dipping in the river and offering prayers to the Sun God—both
giving force to the claim that this is a people rooted in nature/culture. Several such texts and visuals in
the Organiser show how RSS, the progenitor and controller of many organizations including the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has governed India, including many of its states, since 2014, has
been active on environmental issues in multiple ways.
These organizations represent a Hindu nationalist politics that projects India as fundamentally a Hindu
society, defines Muslims and minorities as aggressors and outsiders and works towards recreating a golden
past based on caste, hierachy and a majoritarian nation. They espouse a Hindu system of thought, knowledge
and communication, which, allegedly, constructs people experiences of the environment. They carry out
regular activities and campaigns on specific environmental issues, and selectively target practices, people,
places and politics, either to condemn and attack them for various ecological reasons or to glorify a leader,
such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for his holiness, guidance and action to save the earth. Indeed, the
regular flow of environmental texts and visuals in the Organiser epitomizes a range of representational
modes: ancient, Vedic, cosmic, mystic and mythical; sacred gods, goddesses, animals, rivers and places;
networks of energy, power, electricity, production and transmission; mighty missiles, rockets, machines,
technology, successes of science and scientists and an entourage of visuals of the supreme leader, spread
across its issues.
Against this background, this article scrutinizes the environmental politics of Hindutva by asking the
following: What characterizes the environmental communication of the Organiser, representing
Hindutva, and how does it construct ideal Indian subjects, in relation to ‘others’, mother earth and the
fatherland? How do Hindu nationalists visualize the role of science, technology, climate change and
renewable energy in representing a great awakening of the motherland? And what are the specific
characteristics of the right-wing environmental politics in India, which are different from the right-wing
politics in some Western countries?
While extensive academic writings on Hindu nationalism and the right-wing politics in contemporary
India have also provided important intellectual resources, my analysis of environmental material in the
Organiser brings out some new trends and developments in the politics of the Hindu nationalists. Amidst
a diversity of environmental texts and visuals in the Organiser, this contribution focuses on four
prominent themes which have been identified on the basis of their frequency in the analysed material:
first, the envisioning of a great natural Hindu ‘Motherland’ and it’s past, present and future; second,
icons of the mother, embodied in river and animal, and her enemies; third, climate change and renewable
energy and fourth, the eulogization of Modi as an environmental saviour. Several other themes, such as
agriculture, organic farming, food, sanitation, cleanliness, pollution, cities, urban development and
natural disasters, also appear in the magazine and will be tangentially referred to. I do not deal here with
the relationship between the RSS and the BJP/Modi-led Indian government, and the conjunctions/
disjunctions between the RSS worldview and the BJP’s governmental activities on the environment, as
that would require a different article. Some important environmental initiatives of the BJP-led government
and Prime Minister Modi appear to demonstrate, and are in line with, the making of the RSS ideological
framework on environment.

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