The Greater India Experiment
Hindutva and the Northeast
South Asia in Motion
Published by: Stanford University Press
336 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503614222
- Published: December 2020
The assertion that even institutions often viewed as abhorrent should be dispassionately understood motivates Arkotong Longkumer's pathbreaking ethnography of the Sangh Parivar, a family of organizations comprising the Hindu right. The Greater India Experiment counters the urge to explain away their ideas and actions as inconsequential by demonstrating their efforts to influence local politics and culture in Northeast India. Longkumer constructs a comprehensive understanding of Hindutva, an idea central to the establishment of a Hindu nation-state, by focusing on the Sangh Parivar's engagement with indigenous peoples in a region that has long resisted the "idea of India." Contextualizing their activities as a Hindutva "experiment" within the broader Indian political and cultural landscape, he ultimately paints a unique picture of the country today.
What kinds of practices and techniques are used to inscribe an Indic presence in the region that has historically questioned its links with India? Arguing for a more nuanced way of understanding modern cartography as a complex system of knowledge making and place experiencing, crafted under certain cultural habits and practices, I will show how the Sangh Parivar make two points regarding this formation. First, I argue that establishing a direction by plotting "a course from one location to another in space" establishes a map. Second, acts of naming and place-making are intimately tied to how they relate to and thus possess the region. Invoking the idea of "One India, Great India," the Sangh Parivar in effect create roots, in the sense of both rooted in land and rooted in history that transforms the region as India, a continuous, integral, and totalizing force.
This chapter grapples with the construction of the terms Hindu, Hinduism, and Hindutva in colonial discourse and their contemporary national and global resonances. It examines how the Sangh Parivar has sought to refine and evolve the notion of Hindutva in order to appeal to, and be included within, the concept of indigenous religion. I show how notions of Hindutva, based originally on Savarkar's idea of civilizational identity, have been employed as a useful heuristic device to construct arguments of indigeneity and indigenous religions. It allows them to construct and make certain worlds possible, worldings. While it was largely orientalists (European scholars) and Indian elites who undertook this earlier exercise of consolidating Hinduism as a single, coherent entity, in this chapter I will examine a similar process of how the Sangh Parivar work with the regional elites to "syndicate" their practices and traditions into a coherent religion.
This chapter focuses on prophecy—as revealed knowledge—that discloses a certain understanding of India as a Hindu state, which has denied the Christian Nagas their birthright: that of sovereignty. Using prophecy archives, I paint an alternative history of the Naga movement for sovereignty as a starting point to think more broadly about Christianity in the region and its interaction with the Indian state. I argue that prophecies rise to the surface when there is much political uncertainty. Certainly, the Indo-Naga conflict has decades of traumatic memories etched deep onto the landscape. It is in these moments where "hope as a method" continues unabated. Using recent anthropological works on prophecy, I argue that prophecy produces new knowledge that supports the fashioning of hope in these uncertain times through the "agency in abeyance," not as passive surrender but as a productive gaze that waits for God's response.
This chapter examines the construction of a Christian Hindu through three key points. First, Christianity's association with Western ideals has meant a loss of "original" culture. The Sangh Parivar suggests that indigenous culture needs to be recovered to salvage an "authentic" self, making the notion of Hindu/Indian possible. Second, Christian and Sangh Parivar ideas of what it means to be Hindu/Indian are compared, and perceptions about the territorial integrity of Mother India are examined. Third, the characterization of Christianity as solely "the profession of belief" encompases it within the broader spatial domain of India. I argue that the boundaries between Hindutva as cultural nationalism and its religious underpinnings are usefully maintained because they allow Sangh Parivar activists to relegate Christianity to "a state of mind rather than [an] activity in the world."
Who is Rani Gaidinliu, and why is she such an enduring presence in the Sangh Parivar imagination? Rani Gaidinliu is especially important because of her status as a tribal, non-Christian figure, who can be incorporated into the Hindutva version of India. Her conciliatory personality counters the recalcitrance of Naga nationalists and churches in acceding to the idea of India. I examine the ways institutions and movements like the Sangh Parivar use icons as signs that generate symbolic and cultural capital. By interrogating the use of icons, the chapter highlights the complex discussions around gender, nation, and iconicity taking place in India today. I argue that the verdant iconicity of Rani Gaidinliu represents the Sangh Parivar ideology of "one nation, one culture," indexed through the feminine subject who becomes the "geobody" of India, meant to inspire the masses into action.
This chapter focuses on the central question of citizenship. It examines the way political alliances through elections were brought about over three decades and what this means in a landscape dominated by national parties, such as the Congress and the Communist Party of India. An anthropological analysis of the "vernacularization of democracy" provides crucial insights into how a redefinition of indigeneity, territoriality, and ethnic and monetary politics was central to the success of the BJP in the Northeast. I draw attention to the state of Tripura to tease out the nuances in the politics of citizenship. I argue that although the BJP is often acknowledged to make astute alliances with indigenous peoples' parties all over the region, playing on their mantra of being a national party with a regional outlook, there is a larger Hindu majoritarian strategy at play.
This chapter synthesizes the key arguments and themes of the book. In this global context, what can we learn from a region in India that has been marginalized for so long? It is not only an example of a right-wing organization investing in a region resistant to its ideology and changing and adapting to make alliances with its audience. But it also enables us to reflect on how indigeneity and indigenous movements are appealed to and utilized, to make this broader goal of uniting India while, at the same time, reinforcing its division from others. In this way, the question remains: Will the Sangh Parivar's ability to be malleable and changing, in such a contested space, enable the region's inclusion within Hindutva? Or does this process of becoming, being made, produce a parallel process in the indigenous resistance?
"This vivid ethnography of Hindu nationalist militants in Northeast India brings to life an encounter of contrary convictions. It explores how enthusiasts for the idea of a singular Indic identity feel forced to adapt their tactics in a region where this identity is soundly challenged. Subtle and surprising, this extraordinary study is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary Hindu nationalist politics." ~Willem van Schendel, University of Amsterdam
"Arkotong Longkumer presents readers an original, impressive study on the religious foundations and anxieties of Indian nationalism. This is powerful work that intimately engages with issues of sovereignty, democracy, secularism, and culture in postcolonial India." ~Sanjay Barbora, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
"This is the first book accounting for the rise of Hindutva in India's Northeast. Longkumer's deeply ethnographical approach allows him to painstakingly analyze the modus operandi of the Hindu nationalist activists at the grassroots level in a part of India where ethnic tensions are mounting dangerously." ~Christophe Jaffrelot, CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS and King's College London