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Imagining India as Hindu rashtra

Friday 24 February 2006, by SHARMA*Jyotirmaya

Golwalkar’s birth centenary celebrations are an opportunity for the RSS and the Sangh Parivar to come clean on their stand about their continued fidelity to the idea of a Hindu rashtra.

TODAY THE Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is launching the year-long birth centenary celebrations of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. After its founder, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar’s death in 1940, Golwalkar led the RSS for 33 years, until his death in 1973. In ways more than one, Golwalkar was the architect of the RSS in post-Independence India, as also the fabricator of the Sangh Parivar.

Knowledge of his ideological legacy is generally confined to two texts, the more accessible Bunch of Thoughts, as well as the more controversial We or Our Nationhood Defined, which has now been withdrawn. In the year of his centenary, it would be useful to move away from these two texts and to evaluate his thought on the basis of two entirely different documents.

The first of these is a collection of lectures Golwalkar gave between October 18 and 22, 1949, in Nagpur. Gandhi’s assassination, the ban on the RSS, and the lifting of the ban in July 1949 constitute the context for these lectures. Golwalkar begins by questioning the very content of the freedom attained by India in 1947. He expresses great cynicism about the manner in which the ordinary people in India, janasaadhaaran, were exuberant about the removal of foreign rule, and even in this, their opinion was divided. Golwalkar concludes that apart from the fact of removal of British rule in India, no real transformation had taken place.

Why was this so? Golwalkar is forthright in asserting that independence had brought about no real change in relations between various communities. Neither had a common enemy, the British, brought about any semblance of national feeling in the country. The allusion is unmistakably to the question of Hindu-Muslim relations. It is a mistake to assume, says Golwalkar, that removal of the British from the scene would render everything normal and rectify the sources of discord. The unfinished agenda was the consequence of lack of a pure idea of nationalism. Existence of true and untainted national feeling, he says, will only help in developing the ability to think through relations between various communities in a realistic way.

The greatest impediment in the way of "a true vision of the nation," as Golwalkar chose to put it, was the liberal idea that various communities — and here he means Hindus, Muslims, Christians — were to be considered as parts of a single nation. On the contrary, Indian national life was the ideal of Hindu rashtra. Here, the foremost Sangh ideologue speaks of the Hindu rashtra as an inalienable, eternal, unbroken, and unified identity. He calls it the reality of India, whether people accept it explicitly or not.

To argue otherwise was to lose sight of a clear conception of the nation. What about other communities living within India? Golwalkar is forthright in his exposition: "An unclear imagination of the nation — the impractical idea that whoever comes here and stays will be considered a part of the nation; even today if any alien comes and stays, he is deemed as part of the nation — it is to this level that there is lack of clarity of thought." While he is acutely aware of this stance being branded racial, communal, and narrow, he exhorts his audience not to be ashamed of the claims of the Hindus.

The Sangh alone, asserts Golwalkar, had the courage to say that Hindus were synonymous with the nation. For him, this was the only truth and nothing else was acceptable, and would remain so whether other communities remained in the country or not. Therefore, the responsibility of the nation was on the Hindu community, and whether India achieved power and glory depended solely on the Hindus. The clear articulation of Hindu nationalism could no longer be hostage to the arrogance of other communities, especially after the protection of foreign rule had been removed. In a thinly veiled, but extremely controversial, aside he says: "The Muslim community was there during foreign rule. It is now demoralised and defeated. Therefore, we must absorb it in ourselves. But is there the capacity to digest [the power of assimilation] present or not?’ He answers the latter by stating that the "conduct" of all the other communities will have to be watched.

Golwalkar addressed his last ideological session of the RSS, called chintan baithak in RSS parlance, in Thane from October 28, 1972 to November 3, 1972. The very first words that Golwalkar uttered were: "This is our Hindu rashtra." He declared the goal of the Sangh as the re-establishment of the glory, excellence and universal authority of the Hindu rashtra. There was a certain definitiveness, even stridency, in his tone. Those who did not believe in the truth of the Hindu rashtra were un-Hindu. Their criticisms, distortions and misinterpretations about the ideal were to be ignored. As long as the Sangh had unshakable faith in this principle of truth, no criticism was of any consequence.

In dismissing allegations of the RSS being anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, anti-Sikh, anti-Jain, and anti-Dalit as part of political opportunism and propaganda, Golwalkar resorts to a curious logic to defend himself and the Sangh. Hindu thought and way of life, says Golwalkar, had been in existence even before Islam and Christianity came into existence. Further, Jainism and Sikhism also fell within the ambit of Hinduism. Therefore, the question of Hindus being antagonistic to any of these did not arise. In other words, the Hindus were the "original" inhabitants of this land, and, therefore, the onus of hostility lay on those faiths or communities that came to live subsequently. To argue that this land belonged equally to all communities was to rob the word `Hindu’ of any life and salience.

Twenty-three years after he had addressed the Sangh in Nagpur, it was time now for Golwalkar to re-state his faith in the ideal of a Hindu rashtra one last time. The exposition this time was less circumspect and much more categorical. He was convinced that where the vision of the nation’s all-round development was at stake, it was possible only through the "preservation of Hindu faith, culture and society." He warned his audience that if they were to abandon this assertion, the nation itself would be lost. The unity or collectivity that constitutes the nation was founded on the principle of upholding the Hindu ideal. This argument, he warned, had to be put forth unapologetically, with pride and sharply.

Twenty-three years separate these two texts. Yet, Golwalkar remained steadfast in his advocacy of a deeply flawed ideal of the Hindu rashtra. There is another element that constitutes an organic unity between the two narratives. The Nagpur lectures of 1949 were suggestive of a condescending dismissal of the masses and the ordinary people. He was also dismissive of too much importance being given to, what he called, present-day problems. Poverty and terrible economic disparities were real issues, but these could not and ought not to come in the way of the more exalted goal of establishing the Hindu rashtra.

In 1972, this tendency in Golwalkar matures into questioning the very existence of India’s democratic model. In its place, he argued for a Platonistic framework of wise men leading society and determining its affairs. The illiterate of India were incapable of handling democracy, he argued. For democracy to flourish, the entire society must not only be well-educated, but also have expertise in economics, politics, and international relations. For him, it was a travesty that the representative of farmers in the present system could be a doctor or a lawyer. In what is today called technocratic and managerial government, Golwalkar was an early proponent of that system.

Nowhere in these two texts is there any reference to discussion, debate or conversation. It seemed axiomatic to Golwalkar that once the idea of Hindu rashtra would be "awakened in every single heart and its truth imprinted within," society would forget differences, fragmentation and disunity and transform itself into a well-organised, dynamic and effective machinery. Once this was achieved, people would begin worshipping the nation, realise a sense of oneness and transform into a moral collectivity.

The RSS of today, along with members of the Sangh Parivar, will do well to spend the Golwalkar centenary year in dispassionately evaluating his thought and legacy. More importantly, they will have to either own up the ideological vision of Golwalkar, or tell the ordinary people of India of their points of disagreement and departure with their ideological mentor. In recent months and years, there has been a clamour of disparate voices from within the Sangh as well as from its so-called "inspired" organisations. Is this a sign of the idea of Golwalkar’s nationalism getting fragmented once again? The people have a right to know.

Above all, this is the opportunity to come clear, once and for all, on the question of Hindu rashtra. The feeling among some sections of the RSS is that the organisation has ideologically moved more in the direction of Savarkar’s brand of extreme political Hindu nationalism, rather than Golwalkar’s own brand of extreme cultural Hindu nationalism.

(The writer’s book on Golwalkar’s thought will be published in November 2006.)

See online : The Hindu

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