India is living through its third most turbulent era. The first was Partition, the second was the Emergency and the third started ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister. If the first era was the crisis of a crystallisation of ideas from the freedom movement, impacting the existence of India as a unified nation, the second shook the edifice of our constitutional and democratic system. The present era features an attempt to disrupt an entire civilisational narrative in which different beliefs can coexist; this is not ideological warfare but a desire for civilisational conquest. It not only attacks a sense of being Indian but also rewrites Hinduism. This attempt is called “cultural nationalism” by my dear friend Rakesh Sinha, whom I have known personally for many years.
In ‘Not an Imagined Community’ (IE, April 22), Rakesh labouriously defends an argument that the Hindu rashtra is not a religious or political objective, but a way to define and aspire to “cultural nationalism”. He says this is not “reactionary” but “assimilatory”, based on mutual trust. These are not new arguments; they are as old as the RSS. Through its history, the RSS suffered from a crisis of credibility and a desire to be accepted in mainstream discourse. In 1925, when the RSS was formed, the world was disrupted by left ideology. Gradually, country after country fell to communism. The Indian elite, in a pursuit of intellectual excellence, sided closely with the communist understanding. Like its communist friends, it did have a certain contempt for western capitalism and a disdain for the RSS’s Hindutva.
Later, Mahatma Gandhi’s murder and the ban on the RSS by Sardar Patel further discredited it. What saved it was the organisation’s enormous patience and its instinct to survive; the RSS branched into so many avatars, it was impossible to distinguish one from the other — it seemed like formations were both independent and interdependent, one and many. So, one is political and religious at the same time; in the same vein, neither political, nor religious. How does one then define the RSS? Which is the BJP, which is the VHP? Both are different — both are one; is one political, the other religious? But Sinha calls them out as separate. The fact is, the RSS, the BJP and the VHP are not three entities — they are the same. It’s like one big corporation which has different verticals but where all report to the same boss, espouse the same cause, work for the same mission, in this case, to make India a Hindu rashtra.
Who can say that being Hindu is not a religious identity? I am a Hindu; this Hindu-ness distinguishes me from my Muslim, Christian and Sikh brothers. And “rashtra”, by definition, is political. So, to call the Hindu rashtra anything but a politico-religious entity is camouflage. Every politico-social formation has the right to create its own rashtra, but the objection here stems from the fundamentals of the RSS’s logic which is reactionary and non-assimilatory. Its whole ideology hinges on its anti-Muslim and anti-Christian articulations. Rakesh forgot to quote the RSS’s second chief, M.S. Golwalkar, who wrote in Bunch of Thoughts, “There are three enemies of India — Muslims, Christians and Communists.”
Rakesh, on the one hand, talks about the progressive continuation of civilisation, and on the other, attacks Christianity and Islam for “Semitic exclusive-ness”, forgetting Golwalkar’s words, “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas, but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture… or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving nothing, no privilege… not even a citizen’s right.” H was inspired by Hitler. Golwalkar says, “Germany has shown how impossible it is for races, having differences going to the roots, to be assimilated into one united whole…”
V.D. Savarkar’s entire idea of the Hindu rashtra is political; he obliged its proponents not with the idea of “common love”, but “common blood”. His concept of territorial nationalism is imbued with an “exclusive-ness” that refused to accept Muslims and Christians in one nation; he invented the concept of a “holy land” in Indian nation-hood. In a way, he supported Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Like Golwalkar, he was also of the opinion that minorities should not be granted equal rights as that would work as a veto to majority rights. An ideology born out of an inferiority complex was not only seeking revenge from history, but also preparing the ground for carving out a new civilisational logic, different from a culture based on the synthesis of divergent religions.
Interestingly, Swami Vivekanand was the best icon of this civilisational thesis. He is also revered by the RSS, but quoted rather selectively. Vivekanand says, “For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope… I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine they may be, are entirely valueless…” His words must sound blasphemous to the modern icons of Hindutva.
Therefore, “cultural nationalism” is a big hoax. It is neither Indian, nor Hindu. Rakesh Sinha quotes K.B. Hedgewar on the Hindu rashtra, discussing this as a continuation of the past, but the RSS is not prepared to accept medieval history; it treats it as an affront. Religion gives the RSS a mobilisational tool, politics offers it authority. The combination is a deadly cocktail; the crisis is grave but the answer does not lie in the RSS’s “cultural nationalism” because that is the crisis.