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 Progressive continuation embraces new elements, discards outdated customs.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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