Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha

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A group photo taken in Shimoga in 1944 when Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (seated fourth from right, second row) came to address the State-level Hindu Mahasabha conference. The late Bhoopalam Chandrashekariah, president of the Hindu Mahasabha State unit, is seated to Savarkar's left.

The Akhil Bhāratiya Hindū Mahāsabhā ( English: All-India Hindu Assembly) is a far-right Hindu nationalist political party in India. It was founded as an alternative for Hindus, the religious majority of India, who were not attracted to the secularism espoused by the Indian National Congress yet sought to oppose the Muslim separatism promoted by the All India Muslim League and other Islamic organisations. Although the oldest Hindu nationalist political party, the Hindu Mahasabha has remained marginal in its influence on Indian politics, both before and after independence.

History

In 1910, an All India Hindu Conference was organised in Allahabad by leading Hindu social and political leaders who sought to organise Indian Hindus politically in response to the rise of the Muslim League. The Hindu Mahasabha was founded in 1914 in Amritsar and established its headquarters in Haridwar. Amongst its early leaders was the prominent nationalist and educationalist Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who founded the Benaras Hindu University, and the Punjabi populist Lala Lajpat Rai. Under Malaviya, the Mahasabha campaigned for Hindu political unity, for the education and economic development of Hindus as well as for the reconversion of Muslims to Hinduism.

While not loyal to the British Raj, the Hindu Mahasabha did not actively support agitations against British rule in India. Under the leadership of Mohandas Gandhi, the Congress led several nationwide campaigns of non-violent civil disobedience. The Mahasabha refused to endorse any of the movements and participated in the legislative councils established by the British, which were otherwise boycotted by the Congress and most of the population. Malaviya's desire for independence through constitutional means made the party seem to cooperate with the British at a time when nationalist feelings were running high. The Mahasabha was also affected in its fortunes by appearing to be a party dominated by the upper caste Brahmins. Although it opposed untouchability, the Mahasabha's orthodoxy on other matters concerning Hindu law and customs were a handicap in attracthing the support of a vast majority of Hindus.

In the late 1920s, the Mahasabha came under the influence of nationalist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a former revolutionary who had been banned from anti-British political activities and opposed the secularism of the Congress. Under Savarkar, the Mahasabha became a more intense critic of the Congress and its policy of wooing Muslim support. The Mahasabha suffered a setback when in 1925, its former member Keshav Baliram Hedgewar left to form the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu volunteer organisation that abstained from active politics. Although ideologically similar to the Mahasabha, the RSS grew faster across the nation and became a competitor for the core constituency of the Mahasabha.

Savarkar met Subhash Chandra Bose at his residence in Mumbai in 1940. This was the first and only time Savarkar met him. The meeting was part of Bose's efforts to meet all national leaders across party lines, to build up support for a united effort against the British rule. [1]

In a tactic to get more Indians to pick up military training that could turn against the British later, Hindu Mahasabha opposed the Quit India movement in 1942. The Mahasabha was not alone. The Communist Party of India and the Muslim League, supported the British war effort in the Second World War. Even so, the Hindu Mahasabha performed poorly in the elections for the central and provincial legislative assemblies in 1937 and 1946.

Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

In the 1940s, the Muslim League stepped up its demand for a separate Muslim state of Pakistan. Although the Congress strongly opposed religious separatism, the League's great popularity amongst Muslims forced the Congress leaders to hold talks with the League president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Even though Savarkar agreed with Jinnah and recognised Hindus and Muslims to be separate nations, he condemned the secular Gandhi's overtures to hold talks with Jinnah and regain Muslim support for the Congress as appeasement. After communal violence claimed the lives of thousands in 1946, Savarkar claimed that Gandhi's adherence to non-violence had left Hindus vulnerable to armed attacks by militant Muslims. When the partition of India was agreed upon in June 1947 after months of failed efforts at power-sharing between the Congress and the League, the Mahasabha condemned the Congress and Gandhi for agreeing to the partition plan.

On January 30, 1948 Nathuram Godse shot Mahatma Gandhi three times and killed him in Delhi. Godse and his fellow conspirators Digambar Badge, Gopal Godse, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare and Madanlal Pahwa were identified as prominent members of the Hindu Mahasabha. Along with them, police arrested Savarkar, who was suspected of being the mastermind behind the plot. While the trial resulted in convictions and judgments against the others, Savarkar was released on a technicality, even though there was evidence that the plotters met Savarkar only days before carrying out the murder and had received the blessings of Savarkar. The Kapur Commission in 1967 established that Savarkar was in close contact with the plotters for many months.

Aftermath

There was an angry popular backlash against Savarkar, Godse and the Hindu Mahasabha as their involvement in Gandhi's murder was revealed. The Hindu Mahasabha became more marginalised than ever. Its one-time rising star, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, left the party and established the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is today the largest Hindu nationalist political party in India. The Hindu Mahasabha remains active as an organisation, but it only a marginal presence in some parts of the Indian state of Maharashtra and negligible instances through the rest of the country.

Ideology

Although the Hindu Mahasabha did not call for the exclusion of other religious communities from government, it identified India as a "Hindu Rashtra" (Hindu Nation) and believed in the primacy of Hindu culture, religion and heritage. The Mahasabha advocates that Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are also Hindu in terms of national and political identity. It argues that Islam and Christianity are foreign religions, with their holy places being in Arabia, Palestine and Rome, and that Indian Muslims and Christians are simply descendants of Hindus who were converted by force, coercion and bribery. At various points in its history, the party called for the re-conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. The Hindu Mahasabha stridently opposes Westernization, which it regards as a decadent influence on Indian youth and culture. It calls for a revival of the Sanskrit language and the primacy of Hindi. The Mahasabha opposed socialism and communism as decadent foreign ideologies that do not represent India's indigenous needs and conditions.

Although opposed to untouchability and caste discrimination, the Mahasabha continues to support the Varna caste system and argues against what it regards as the political appeasement of lower castes by reservations and affirmative action. Although Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was in favour of abolishing the entire caste system, the Mahasabha's membership remained conspicuously Brahmin.

The Mahasabha advocates orthodox Hindu law as the best solution for India's problems. It advocates the study and implementation of the principles of the ancient Manusmriti, which is controversial for its espousal of caste boundaries and restrictions on the freedom of women.

Hindutva

The Mahasabha promoted the principles of Hindutva, a Hindu nationalist ideology developed by its pre-eminent leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.the Mahasabha identified India as "Hindu Rashtra" (Hindu Nation). Although it broadly supported the Indian National Congress in its efforts to attain national independence, it criticised the Congress commitment to non-violence, civil disobedience and secularism, as well as its efforts to integrate Muslims and engage in dialogue with the separatist Muslim League party, which the Mahasabha deemed to be appeasement.

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