“(Hindu) Workers of India, Unite!”: How Class Politics Shape Hindutva’s Ascent in India

Smriti Upadhyay, Johns Hopkins University

How do right-wing movements secure support from workers in class-specific ways, even as they make claims to represent collective entities defined along cross-class lines? To answer this question, I use the concept of hegemony to theoretically frame the efforts of the Hindu right to secure support from workers and incorporate them into the cross-class collectivity of the “Hindu nation” through India’s largest labor union, the right-wing Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). Through a historical investigation of the origins and the rise of the BMS within the Sangh Parivar, this chapter explores how the role of organized labor transforms over time in the process of consolidating hegemony. This historical perspective reveals two important findings: (1) Communism and capitalism, and therefore questions of labor and class politics, have played an important role in shaping the hegemonic project of Hindu nationalism, including its organizational forms, strategies for mobilizing support, and its ideologies pertaining to economic growth and national development. (2) As the institutional manifestation of the Hindu right’s corporatist claims of an inherent unity and class-based integrity within the Hindu nation, the BMS has a difficult task. Despite—or rather because of—its size and its potential to politicize class divisions and growing class inequality within the imagined entity of the Hindu nation, I argue that the BMS over time has become increasingly marginalized within the Hindu nationalist movement. The BMS thus gives us a lens into the class-based fissures within the hegemonic project of Hindu nationalism and reveals an important point of instability in the foundation of Hindu right-wing power. The chapter ends by contemplating how a sociological inquiry that is theoretically and empirically rooted in South Asia provides a fertile ground for understanding how labor and class are central in the constitution and potential disintegration of right-wing power.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 62. Decolonizing Sociology From South Asia