A Melting Pot

Empirical corrections to the discourse will bring out this facet of the RSS.

Written by Prof Rakesh Sinha | Updated: March 4, 2016 12:27 pm
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat inspects the swayamsevaks during a conclave, near Hinjewadi. (Express Photo by Pavan Khengre) RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat inspects the swayamsevaks during a conclave, near Hinjewadi. (Express Photo by Pavan Khengre)

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

The writer is associate professor at Delhi University and honorary director, India Policy Foundation.

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  1. V
    Verma
    Mar 5, 2016 at 7:14 am
    Many in the country that news channels / papera like times of india , indian express, ndtv...etc have the thinking of communist , they never try to unit themsleves nor unit the citizens in their diversity in the one ness of natuon first. They just want to follow the principles , agenda of foreign origin which they are unable to protray to the maximum people so by these channel under their control want creat a atmosphere of incertanity among the youth.
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    1. P
      Parikshit
      Mar 7, 2016 at 2:53 pm
      The negative reply to the ideny of the concept of cultural unity is interesting. Try defining the RSS aim of cultural unity in positive terms. Secondly, I'm you have supported the notion that the RSS cadre plays an active role in communal riots. Thanks for the confirmation by the way.
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      1. P
        Parikshit
        Mar 4, 2016 at 12:27 pm
        Professor Sinha talks of cultural unity. Okei. Accepted. Two questions. Unification according to whose views? Secondly, why does a pluralistic nation need unification. We have already achieved political unity. Why should we try to achieve cultural unity? Is it even feasible? How to define a culture? Does it encomp language? Clothes ? Social customs? What does Professor Sinha imply when he speaks of cultural unity? And this wishy washing of the RSS does not stick, for when on one hand i have seen the cadre of this organisation come out in earthquakes, I've also seen them come out in communal riots to pillage and per. I don't understand the point. The Hindu Mahasabha is dead. And the RSS has inherited the hotheads of the erstwhile Mahasabha. What was said a hundred years ago is of little relevance considering the Hard Hindu Right no longer has the Mahasabha as its voice. Only the RSS remains, as the inheritor of the ideologies of both the Mahasabha and the pre-independence RSS.
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        1. A
          ak dev
          Mar 4, 2016 at 2:01 pm
          RSS needs to give space to atheism. Many of it's leaders ideas are outdated and are impractical in modern India. Most beliefs of Hindu religion have little value in a modern scientific world. The need is to support ancient claims with today's research and not mare statements from Puranic stories. Being pro RSS, I want RSS to unite Indians and fight the lefties divisive forces.
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            ak dev
            Mar 4, 2016 at 5:07 pm
            Well said. Those Muslims who had decided to remain in India can maintain their separate ideny and continue to hare Hindus. They must become first Indian and then Muslim.
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            1. A
              ak dev
              Mar 4, 2016 at 4:52 pm
              You have used the correct word - rediscovered. This is what's needed but by Indians and not Europeans. Not all in RSS are ready to give space to Atheism. As long as intolerance for badly depiction of HIndu Gods remains among Hindus, RSS ideology will be looked with suion by fance sitters. I am for open mined RSS that has courage to challenge its own beliefs.
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              1. A
                Apoorv Garg
                Mar 4, 2016 at 8:18 am
                Great article, based on historical facts and not just perception.
                Reply
                1. A
                  Arun Mehta
                  Mar 4, 2016 at 1:36 am
                  I never knew that sar sangh chalak mr. golvarker has met MUSSOLINI ? Mr. KANHYA educated this to w INDIA, why he met with him ? what were the reasons ? do it was against HI and NEHRU ? or against our freedom movement ? Experts pl. educate and give honest answers
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Arun Mehta
                    Mar 4, 2016 at 6:03 am
                    In your reply foul and rotten bhakti is evident , i wanted simple answers but you crossed limits. HOPE good sense will come in u one day, otherwise visit near by doctor immediately
                    Reply
                    1. B
                      Barb Dewyre
                      Mar 4, 2016 at 1:56 pm
                      Why do we need cultural unity? Why can't we live and appreciate cultural diversity? Sinha and his clan have never reconciled to the the two nation theory and the fact that India decided to remain a secular republic. He cannot wish the minorities away and their philosophy, being put into implementation now, is only serving to unify the minorities. What a recipe for a disaster.
                      Reply
                      1. V
                        vijaykumar
                        Mar 4, 2016 at 4:06 am
                        RSS is doing lot of service socio economic service works which none of the opposion is doing. first understand the RSS then make comments against it. RSS and COmmnist parties started in 1925 same year . now see where r both?
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                        1. A
                          Archpagan
                          Mar 5, 2016 at 6:10 am
                          By cultural unity the RSS does not mean cultural homogenization. Hindus generally do not fight over God, language, dress or social practices. A Vaishnavite respects Shiva and vice versa. Let Abrahamites learn that from Hindus. Don't spoil them. You said 'I've also seen them come out in communal riots to pillage and per.' Haven't you seem buffaloes chasing away their predators? Do you call it intolerance?
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                          1. A
                            Archpagan
                            Mar 5, 2016 at 5:59 am
                            Then follow the murderer-rapist-perer.
                            Reply
                            1. A
                              Archpagan
                              Mar 5, 2016 at 5:57 am
                              I am an atheist. But I identify the characters in Epics and Puranas with my ancestors and revere them as a normal human being. Every people should rely on the wisdom of their ancestors, not on self-professed messengers of God.
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                              1. A
                                Archpagan
                                Mar 4, 2016 at 2:43 pm
                                Accepting two-nation theory would mean acceding to 2nd, 3rd, 4th ---- nth parion of the country in the future. Minorities are welcome to leave India, if they don't like Hindu nationalism.
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                                  Archpagan
                                  Mar 4, 2016 at 1:10 pm
                                  Religion is not a substantive ideny as it takes just one minute to change religion. All Indians have common ancestry and heritage. Taking pride in that is called nationalism. RSS being the only nationalist organization in India, I love it.
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                                  1. A
                                    Archpagan
                                    Mar 4, 2016 at 2:40 pm
                                    Hinduism has enough space to accommodate atheism. Sankhya philosophy does not accept God. Our six Darshanas are not fairy tales. Europeans rediscovered it in 16-17 century.
                                    Reply
                                    1. D
                                      D
                                      Mar 4, 2016 at 1:07 pm
                                      Let the melting pot publish its melting position in Organiser,Panchjanya and other national dailies and condemn Fringe Sena,Sikh Seperatists along side Muslim and Ahom! Accept everyone in the Shakha,let a muslim or christian or dalit or tribal ascend to Sarsangh Chalak post.Then we will see !
                                      Reply
                                      1. A
                                        A. M.
                                        Mar 4, 2016 at 5:42 pm
                                        And who is this rashtriya shaitan sangh to tell me what I should think ?
                                        Reply
                                        1. A
                                          A. M.
                                          Mar 4, 2016 at 5:40 pm
                                          Before the Britishers, all the soo called bharatwasis were fighting amongst themselves for their own kingdom - 562 approx. Other than this, the soo called great culture had devised their system where dalits were not to be touched.
                                          Reply
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                                            A. M.
                                            Mar 4, 2016 at 5:44 pm
                                            Interesting... You might be a regular good hearted guy like lakhs of other people who gets fooled by the rashtriya shaitan sangh. Once in power and in complete control, then they will show their true colours. At that time, it will be too late for even regular good hearted guys to control the monster
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