‘When the Saints Go Marching In’: The Curious Ambivalence of Religious Sadhus in Recent Politics in India
Rajesh Pradhan
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

India is full of stories of yogis, bursting in saffron on photo-postcards and mundane streets. These are saints who speak in many voices: calm and wise, vitriolic and adversarial, mystical and transcendental. Their non-worldliness sets them apart from the common man. But one event showed the world another face of the quintessential sadhu—that of the political actor.
When the Saints go Marching In documents the role played by sadhus in Indian national politics. They came together in 1992, to oversee the Babri-mosque demolition and propelled the BJP into national prominence. Then these sadhus splintered among themselves and with the BJP, and preferred reticence to the spotlight.

What were the factors that caused the theatrical union of these highly-individualistic, strong-willed and eloquent sadhus? How did the sudden splintering in their unity come about soon after 1992?
This volume is based on fieldwork across two decades and presents a unique insight into the mind of ascetics who were active in a political upheaval. By drawing our attention to their inconsistencies, worldliness and their human aspirations as actors in this political drama, this volume breaks the monolithic image of the sadhu that traditional narratives have scripted. This book makes necessary immediate reading, given the penetration of religious fundamentalism and its looming presence in national political life.

This book will be an indispensible read for students and scholars of political science and will also be of interest to general readers.

Dr. Rajesh Pradhan is a writer in the fields of urban planning and political science. Currently, he is involved with the publication of his poems in Hindi and a research assignment on the subject of Dignity and Development.

Introduction: The Book, the Frame, the Political Significance

one | Commonplace Fixtures of Daily Life: A Background on Sadhus and the Institution of Sadhus in India

two | Sadhus and Religious Nationalism: Going Back 200 Years or so 85

three | The Re-emergence and Splintering of Religious Nationalism: Sadhus in the Ramjanmabhoomi Conflict and Later

four | On Becoming Sadhus and the Political Awakening of Sadhus: Conversations with the Movers and Shakers

five | The Splintering: Outside Counter-forces, Diversity among Sadhus and the Common Demolisher Within

six | Conclusions and Political Implications


1. Review in Social Change - Journal of the Council for Social Development, September 2016
2. Political implications of Ayodhya verdict | The Tribune, New Delhi, October 2018

‘Rajesh Pradhan’s highly readable and fascinating book overturns stereotypical and simplistic views of sadhus for a more complex view of their lives, their values, their organizational capabilities and their commitment to a seemingly transcendent cause that propelled a political party into power and deepened Indian democracy.  Based on interviews with a wide range of sadhus, Pradhan has shed light on their role in the rise and fall of Hindu fundamentalism and religious nationalism, and on the diversity of views and individuals that will always make their influence powerful and, often, ephemeral.’ 

—Diana L. Eck
Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Harvard University
Author of Banaras: City of Light and Darsan, and India: A Sacred Geography


‘In When the Saints Go Marching In: The Curious Ambivalence of Religious Sadhus in Recent Politics in India, Rajesh Pradhan untangles a specific puzzle: how was it possible for a relatively small group of religious actors who had renounced involvement with official political organizations to have helped affect major political change in India in 1992? Pradhan’s research provides a glimpse into the minds of India’s sadhus, “spiritual agents” who came together to help bring down the Babri Mosque and help elevate the position of the BJP. Although Pradhan’s work addresses one case in detail, it provides insights for some core questions of politics. Specifically, the book addresses the relationship between nationalism and religion, challenges assumptions about the organizational necessities for collective action, and provides a vivid illustration of the power and possibility of collective charisma.’ 

—Roger Petersen
Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Author of Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth Century Eastern Europe.

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