The recent debate on nationalism brought the RSS to the centre of the discourse. The nature of debate hasn’t changed since the 1960s. A convention (December 28-29, 1968) organised by the Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, headed by Subhadra Joshi, had said: “Ideology of the RSS is opposed to the values of nationalism and democracy as adopted by the Indian people in the Constitution.” The same accusation has been repeated by the RSS’s critics during the JNU row. It’s indicative of the lack of substantive debate on the RSS and the dominance of polemics.
Repeated accusations have created a secularist definition of the RSS as “fascist” and “majoritarian”. As a natural corollary, its presence and intervention in the discourse have been considered illegitimate. Its ideology, dynamics and propositions remained undebated. Its understanding of nationalism, Hindu rashtra, decolonisation of the Indian mind were lost in sloganeering. Such an intellectual onslaught also gave pro-RSS academics an opportunity to camouflage the intellectual lethargy to change the direction of the debate. Moreover, the highly charged polemical debate occasionally led fringe elements to hijack ideological positions of the Hindutva movement. People began to evaluate the RSS on its statements. On all such occasions, the RSS leadership, from M.S. Golwalkar to Mohan Bhagwat, decried these as “reactionary Hinduism”. But critics shrewdly use such statements to categorise the entire Hindutva movement as the “Hindu Right”, a most inappropriate term for the RSS — whereas the Sangh’s social base and socio-economic philosophy are replete with progressive virtues. Its fronts, from the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh to the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, are engaged with socio-economic realities.
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The secularist discourse on the RSS suffers from an infantile disorder — because of the empirically wrong premise that the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha constituted a monolithic Hindutva movement during the colonial period. This produced a lot of ambiguity in understanding RSS philosophy. The Mahasabha couldn’t accept the RSS as anything more than a volunteer body of trained cadres, to be used for its political agenda. Unlike the Mahasabha, the RSS extended unconditional support to the Civil Disobedience Movement in the 1930s. K.B. Hedgewar led a march in Pusad. He was arrested and awarded a year’s rigorous imprisonment. It led the Mahasabha to deliberate on its relationship with the RSS and it decided to form a parallel volunteer body, the Hindu Militia (Ram Sena).
There’s a fundamental difference between the two on Hindutva. While the Mahasabha accepted the categories of majority and minority created by the Western mind and pursued a majoritarian politics, the RSS rejected the majority-minority dichotomy as a colonial ploy and considered majoritarianism as anathema to cultural nationalism. Cultural unity is key to the Sangh’s philosophy. It believes religion can’t be absolute in a given context, which mandates close interactions with other cultures, histories and faiths. Accepting culture as a part of nationalism acknowledges the limitations of religion.
The differences became more acute after the Second Round Table Conference (1931). Mahasabha leader B.S. Moonje returned from London and said the British shouldn’t leave till Hindus were in a position to take power. He warned that in the prevailing situation, Muslim domination would ensue. Moonje’s view was rejected by the RSS. Hedgewar rebuked him: “The Hindu-Muslim question is a domestic issue and no third party has the right to meddle in it. Let the Britishers leave India first.” Moonje hardly had an impact on the RSS. But anti-RSS literature takes recourse to him to criticise the organisation.
The myth that Moonje was a guide for the RSS was dispelled in a debate in the Legislative Council of CP and Berar on March 7, 1934. Home Minister Raghavendra Rao faced a vociferous attack for using Moonje’s politics to deride the RSS. Nevertheless, critics blame the RSS for the activities of Moonje, who had once met Mussolini.
The RSS attracted all kinds of Hindu activists. It’s this organisational skill and flexibility — an ideological melting pot — that created its hegemony in the Hindutva movement. This also prevented the growth of reactionary Hinduism. The deterrence exercised by the Sangh causes discomfort to such tendencies. The discourse on the RSS needs a serious empirical correction. An honest engagement would benefit the discourse, but it’s unlikely to be accepted by the Marxist elite and academics groomed in anti-RSSism.
By Rakesh Sinha
The writer is associate professor at Delhi University and honorary director, India Policy Foundation