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Not an imagined community

Hindu Rashtra is not a religious or political objective, but a way to define and aspire to a cultural nationalism

Written by Dr Rakesh Sinha | Updated: April 22, 2017 8:33 am
RRS chief in Gujarat, Gujarat news, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, Bharatiya Vichar Manch, India news, National news RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

There has been, in recent times, an unabated debate on cow vigilantism and its violent repercussions. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has categorically said that violence on the pretext of cow slaughter has no space in the Hindutva movement. Bhagwat’s statement also unmasks those who deliberately used Alwar or Akhlaq to defame the Sangh Parivar. When people are arrested for their connection to the Indian Mujahideen/al Qaeda/IS, a set of intellectuals clamour that terrorists have no religion, no text, no ideology. But they don’t even pause before relating so-called cow vigilantes with an ideology, organisation and religion.

Since its inception, the RSS has never been a votary of a reactionary mentality. M.S. Golwalkar, its second chief, once narrated : A Hindu leader was asked to support the ban on cow slaughter. He argued that there was no use in preventing the slaughter of useless cows and added, “ But, since the Muslims are bent upon cow slaughter, we should make this an issue.” Golwakar wrote: “What does this show? We are to protect the cow, not because the cow has been for ages an emblem of Hindu devotion but because the Muslims kill it! This is Hinduism born out of reaction, a kind of ‘negative Hinduism’.”

The RSS has never lowered the debate to religious lines. Its campaigns on cultural issues have been confused with religion. This is not far-fetched since we see things from a Western paradigm. Our civilisational trajectory shows that India has been privileged with spiritual democracy through the ages. The bone of contention in India has not been the freedom of religion, or new religions, but organised and systematic religious expansionism, responsible for crippling our heritage and traditions of secularism. In our case, philosophies and culture are symbiotically linked with spiritualism.

The RSS concept of the Hindu Rashtra defines India’s nationalism in civilisational and cultural contexts. Our nationalism is not political, it is based on the progressive continuation of civilisation, and therefore, is a civilisational nation-state. Progressive continuation embraces new elements, discards outdated customs. Another characteristic has been assimilation based on mutual trust. Pre-Independence census reports cite many instances of assimilation. But these are exceptional cases in modern India.

Assimilation has been crippled by Semitic exclusiveness. The Indian tradition of secularism was mutated to support the conditional endorsement to multiculturalism by two major religions — Islam and Christianity. Multiculturalism presumes flexibility. Enjoying the privileges of multiculturalism without privileging it makes it hollow. The voluntary identification with the pre-religious status of culture, philosophies and civilisational trajectory does not mean religion’s devaluation. K.B. Hedgewar, RSS founder, asserted that India is a Hindu nation. Golwalkar delineated the RSS’s mission to liberate the people from the “forgetfulness” of their own culture. The Hindu Rashtra, therefore, is an adjective of a civilisational India, rather than an objective.

However, the predominantly pseudo-secularist Indian discourse interpreted the Hindu Rashtra as a theocratic programme to subvert democracy and subjugate minorities. The polemics of the anti-RSS forces remained largely unchallenged due to two reasons. One, the RSS — labelled by its Marxist-Nehruvian critics as akin to Nazism, the Taliban, even the Ku Klux Klan — was not considered appropriate enough to have an equal space in the discourse — from the media to academia. The second reason is more interesting: The RSS has adopted a strategy of engaging the masses through praxis. The critical conceptualisation of the Hindu Rashtra has given it an originality.

The RSS has not confined the contours of culture to legacies — both cultural and intellectual — but contextualised it in terms of the socio-economic imperatives of the Indian people. Nationalism based on rhetoric does not last long. RSS activities among tribals, Dalits, workers, farmers, etc., “subalternises” cultural nationalism. Mahratta, the English daily, wrote on June 28, 1940: “While sceptics… went on discussing whether the Hindu Rashtra idea is correct … a body of one lakh trained, disciplined youths pledged to the Hindu Rashtra spread over all provinces, has come into being.”

With the RSS taking centre stage, the delineation of the Hindu Rashtra becomes its moral and intellectual responsibility since, as Mohan Bhagwat aptly said, “Everything can be negotiated except the Hindu Rashtra”.

Competitive religious status and competition within a nation was a colonial strategy. It has, unfortunately, been integrated in post-Independence India. Under colonial rule, there was an erosion of the meaning of “Hindu” from a comprehensive way of life to a non-minority community. The RSS discourse on nationalism intends to resurrect its original meaning. As Golwalkar wrote, “Are we Hindus only by the force of circumstances or by ‘accident of birth’? Or because we have remained untouched by conversion to Islam and Christianity, as the proselytisers were very few and we were very large in numbers?” The essence of RSS bauddhiks (intellectual speeches) and the hundreds of songs sung in the shakhas and programmes is patriotic devotion which includes the land, people and culture.

Hedgewar defined the Hindu Rashtra as a continuation of the past and said, “Blinkered vision and fractured community cannot ensure this continuity, therefore we have taken the task of organising Hindus beyond all narrow feelings and divisions.” Hedgewar’s Hindu rashtra disqualifies Benedict Anderson’s concept of nation as an “imagined community”.

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

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  1. tejeswi negi
    May 7, 2017 at 2:10 pm
    nice article
    1. Anand Krishnamurthy
      Apr 23, 2017 at 7:11 am
      The religion we follow is an accident of birth, as is the language spoken at home, or the country that we belong to. When a country grants full rights and freedoms to all, without usurping their religious, linguistic or cultural iden y, it becomes very special. India belongs to that exalted status. Unlike US it does not ask people melt into a pot. Unlike most of Europe the right to practice the religion one follows, wear clothes that one is comfortable in, is not taken away. RSS's concern is that in a multicultural India, does the legacy of Hinduism and its cultural ethos get diluted. THe answer today is a resounding no. Hinduism continues to be practised, studied, rediscovered, by its followers in a myriad ways. With economic growth and improved infrastructure, religious sites are getting improved patronage like never before. RSS needs to step away from mixing nationalism with Hindu ethos and focus on India.
      1. D
        Dirgha Raj
        Apr 23, 2017 at 7:03 am
        Nepal and India are only the two pious Hindu countries in the world.Hinduism educated us global brotherhood, humanitarian and respectful coexistence among differences. The Hindu kingdom and cons utional monarchy are typical identifying symbols of Nepal. In India 80 per cent of the po tion is Hindu. During the 1000 years of Muslim and English rule the Hindu shrines were destro and vandalized; and India desecrated and Hindu values harmed. India became Independent in 1947 after a great struggle by Indian nationalists. The cons ution of the independent India declared itself 'secular'. A secular India was established following a joint effort between Hindu, Muslim and Christian’s to draft a new cons ution. It is not possible now to declare India a Hindu nation. It is not possible cons utionally. India should have been a Hindu nation from 1947. But Mahatma hi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders wanted secular system to create the harmonious among the religions. D.R.Prasai
        1. M
          Apr 23, 2017 at 6:37 am
          Stani politicians and most Indian politicians are both obsessed with minorities. In the first case the worry for them is how to reduce Stani minorities from 22 percent (including Shias and Quadianis) to "0" percent - to make "pure" "Sunnistan". In the second case, the worry is how to increase India's minorities to 50 percent, so that the same parties can rule India for ever through "vote banks"....
          1. M
            Apr 23, 2017 at 3:59 am
            The only country in South Asia, where Shias, Borahs, Kojahs, Ismailis, Sufis and Ahmadis feel safe is INDIA. Exiled Afghans, Baloch and B'deshis choose India to live out their peaceful lives. Without Hindutva India cannot remain united. India will break into several Stans as the Abrahamics spread into different parts of India. History proves it. Safety of ALL religions can be guaranteed only by a overwhelming Hindu majority in India. RSS and Hindutva for the SAFETY OF ALL INDIANS...
            1. A
              Apr 23, 2017 at 4:37 am
              There are ways to keep india as a Hindu majority state not the one followed by RSS or modi govt ! you can go for uniform civil code and two child policy for all that makes sure that hindu po tion will remain as 80 of the country. abolish your caste system so that tribals and dalits will not convert to other religion to get some dignity! instead you guys use cow to subjugate and terrorize the people. India was not in RSS hands til this time that is why all coomunities thrive here and india was united until your sanghi govt started the cution of minorities. RSS is creating 400 million enemies within our country to weaken it from within and that will make sure that india will disintegate into many countries, there will be resistance in south and east and you can already see that in kashmir!
              1. M
                Apr 23, 2017 at 6:31 am
                Reform your religion and set us Hindus an example to emulate. You observe caste but lied to the Dalits you had converted that there was NO caste in your religion. From 6,000 B.C. India has been pluralistic because of Sanatan Dharma. Nothing whatsoever to do with any government or ruler that India remains tolerant - ONLY because of Hindutva is India, the tolerant India. By overwhelming the Hindus in different parts of India, you will obliterate Plurality. In your beloved Kerala you would have the Islamic State sooner than any Hindu Rashtra. Antonys will meet the same fate as Iraqi and Syrian Christians.
                1. G
                  George Cruz
                  Apr 23, 2017 at 6:48 am
                  Total non sense. The truth is that the patriotic organizations like RSS who democratic, secular, inclusive of every Indian citizens and their aim is to make India a great country and naming it Hindu Rashtra is not a bad idea because the majority of the po tion is Hindus. But it wouldn't be like Islamic Caliphate which hates everyone other than Muslims, theocratic ruled by the Mullahs who preach 7th century islamic ideologies of Jihad/Sharia. The RSS is and has been demonized first by the British because there was no other organizations in 1930's to protest the brutal and heinous conversions across India. After the independence the congress party's m ive campaign to demonize the RSS, divide the people pf India based on the religion/caste favoring Muslims for vote bank, demonize the upper caste but at the same time looted country's wealth using various scams. Yes, the majority of the Hindus unite and defeat the evil forces and work towards the real progress of the country.
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