Can Hindutva win votes?
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Yet, in many respects, Hindu nationalism as a contemporary political phenomenon departs from the visions of these early ideologues. Hindutva's interaction with democratic politics has produced many ironies, but perhaps none greater than the fragmentation of a doctrine of standardisation. These differences are apparent across states: the issue of religious conversions is far more central to the Sangh's Hindutva agenda in Orissa than in Uttar Pradesh, while the issue of Ayodhya is far less so. Similar distinctions are also evident between Hindu nationalist organisations within the same state. For example, activists with the Sangh's "service wings" (such as Seva Bharati and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram) are often uncomfortable with the polarising rhetoric and mobilisations, including violence, emphasised by the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Such disagreements are more tactical than philosophical. Many seva activists worry that episodes of large-scale violence highlight the most polarising face of Hindutva, and inhibit their own attempts to ingratiate themselves among Dalit and adivasis communities wary of Hindutva's upper caste image. Finally, service activists themselves highlight different aspects of Hindutva, depending on to whom they speak. In fundraising efforts among upper castes, they emphasise Hindutva's mandate to offer welfare as a political counter to similar efforts by Christian missionaries. Yet, when trying to recruit lower caste or tribal voters, these activists present themselves as politically neutral welfare providers. They have also shown an increasing flexibility in their willingness to subsume local rituals into the structure of Hindu practices they advocate.
The purpose of pointing out such distinctions is to remind us that a voter's perception of "what Hindutva is" can vary depending on which state they live in, which caste community they come from, and which organisation has the dominant presence within their neighbourhood or village. Such variation cannot be captured through national surveys, and requires more localised surveys and ethnographic study. Yet even such studies will need to be careful in determining how to assess whether these local faces of Hindutva actually help or hinder the BJP's electoral performance, and the channels through which they do so.