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Soul and Sword: A Review and Analysis of Hindol Sengupta’s Book on Political Hinduism

Soul and Sword : The History of Political Hinduism

Author: Hindol Sengupta

Published by: Penguin Viking

Genre: Political History

Pages: 327

MRP: Rs. 699/-

Acknowledgement: Thank you @penguinindia for a media copy of the book


The book is an attempt to tell the intellectual history of political Hinduism, or the ideology of Hindu nationalism, that shapes the current ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The author argues that political Hinduism is the defining force of India’s present and future, and that it has a specific vision of India’s place and role in the world.

The introduction begins with a distinction between Hinduism, the religion, and political Hinduism, the politics. The author claims that this book is not about the former, but the latter. He then proceeds to explain why political Hinduism matters, by highlighting its influence and popularity in India and abroad, as well as its geostrategic implications and ambitions. He also acknowledges the controversy and debate surrounding political Hinduism, both within and outside India, and the different perspectives and interpretations of its origins and evolution.

The author then gives a brief overview of the history of political Hinduism, from the nineteenth century to the present day, and the main figures and movements associated with it. He mentions the role of colonialism, nationalism, and independence in shaping political Hinduism, as well as the challenges and opportunities it faced in the postcolonial era. He also introduces some of the key concepts and symbols of political Hinduism, such as Hindutva, or “Hinduness”, the RSS, or the National Volunteer Corps, and Ram, the king of Ayodhya and avatar of Vishnu.

The book is divided into six chapters and a conclusion, each focusing on a different aspect or phase of political Hinduism. The first chapter, titled “The Age of Fire”, deals with the emergence and rise of political Hinduism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in response to colonial oppression and Islamic invasions. The second chapter, titled “The Victory Seekers”, covers the period of the freedom struggle and the partition of India and Pakistan, and the role of political Hinduism in both. The third chapter, titled “Freedom, with Hindu Characteristics”, examines the post-independence era and the challenges and conflicts that political Hinduism faced from secularism, socialism, and democracy.

The fourth chapter, titled “The Third Way”, explores the attempts of political Hinduism to find a balance and a compromise between tradition and modernity, and between nationalism and pluralism. The fifth chapter, titled “The House of God”, discusses the controversial and violent issue of the Babri Masjid, or the Mosque of Babur, and the Ram Janmabhoomi, or the Birthplace of Ram, and its impact on the politics and society of India. The sixth chapter, titled “The Mouse Charmer”, analyses the rise and success of Narendra Modi, the charismatic and controversial leader of political Hinduism, and his policies and strategies. The conclusion, titled “The Age of Ram”, summarizes the main arguments and findings of the book, and reflects on the future of political Hinduism and India.

The book is a valuable and insightful source for understanding political Hinduism, as it covers its history and development from its origins to its present state in a comprehensive and chronological manner. The book also draws on a wide range of sources and examples, such as historical documents, biographies, speeches, interviews, media reports, and personal observations, to illustrate and support its arguments. Moreover, the book offers a critical and nuanced perspective on political Hinduism, acknowledging its strengths and achievements, as well as its weaknesses and challenges, and its diversity and complexity. Furthermore, the book engages with the current and relevant issues and debates that political Hinduism raises, such as democracy, secularism, pluralism, nationalism, globalization, and development, and their implications for India and the world. Additionally, the book is written in an accessible and engaging style, that appeals to both academic and general audiences, and that conveys the author’s passion and enthusiasm for the topic.

The book is a useful and informative source for understanding the ideology and the history of political Hinduism, and its implications for India and the world. However, it is also important to note that the document is not a neutral or objective account, but a subjective and persuasive one, that reflects the author’s own perspective and bias. Therefore, the document may not present a balanced or comprehensive view of political Hinduism, and may omit or downplay some of its criticisms and drawbacks. The book may also use selective or anecdotal evidence, and make generalizations or assumptions, to support its claims. Therefore, the book should be read critically and with caution, and supplemented with other sources and viewpoints, to get a more accurate and nuanced picture of political Hinduism.

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