(My column in Mint Lounge, July 15 2017)
Jumping to conclusions, admittedly, is a very naughty predilection. And so when the Indian Council of Philosophical Research convenes a seminar to discuss, “in a holistic way”, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue M.S. Golwalkar’s “much misunderstood and maligned” views on nationalism, we must welcome the intention instead of succumbing to outrage on autopilot. Indeed, in the run-up to this seminar—papers had to be submitted by 27 June—we must make every effort to study Golwalkar’s writings in order to enlighten ourselves in the “proper context”, opening our minds to his idea of dharmocracy and to the possibility that we might learn something new. Where else, then, to begin but with Golwalkar’s Bunch Of Thoughts, which this columnist revisited with unashamed enthusiasm for this very purpose.
Since nationalism is the issue under debate, let us start there. Territorial nationalism is, to Golwalkar, the worst by-product of modernity. “It is like attempting to create a novel animal by joining the head of a monkey and the legs of a bullock to the trunk of an elephant!” Such “unnatural, unscientific” efforts to mechanically unite territories can only result in a “hideous corpse”. And the sole resultant activity, he adds colourfully, is that of “germs and bacteria breeding in (a) decomposing” polity. Instead, we must acknowledge that a nation is “not a mere bundle of political and economic rights”—it entails culture as well. And in India, this culture is “ancient and sublime” Hinduism, full of love and “free from any spirit of reaction”. In other words, instead of acting like bacteria in that dead body called a pluralistic democracy, our salvation lies in embracing Hindu dharmocracy.
While this is all decidedly thought-provoking, Golwalkar could spark a great deal of geopolitical anguish too. After all, from his perspective, India is an expansive concept. “Afghanistan,” he says, “was our ancient Upaganasthan.” Even “Iran was originally Aryan…guided more by Aryanism than by Islam.” But what of Zoroastrianism in ancient Persia? The Zend-Avesta, Golwalkar dismisses, “is mostly Rig Veda”, so that settles the matter. Meanwhile, Burma (now Myanmar) must be recognized as “our ancient Brahmadesha”, and altogether the splendid picture we form is of a “motherland with the Himalayas dipping its arms in the two seas, at Aryan (Iran) in the West and at Sringapur (Singapore) in the East, with Lanka (Ceylon) as a lotus petal offered at her sacred feet”. Leaving aside Sri Lankan sentiments on being declared an offering at India’s feet, this all-encompassing entity does not appear to Golwalkar as a contradictory monkey-headed bullock state—because Hinduism pervades it.
But if Hinduism is integral to nationalism, what of that embarrassing detail we call caste? To Golwalkar, the argument that caste weakened India is unadulterated nonsense. On the contrary, it was the absence of caste that invited calamity. “We know as a matter of history,” he states, “that our north-western and north-eastern areas, where the influence of Buddhism had disrupted the caste system, fell an easy prey to the onslaught of Muslims…. But the areas of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, which were considered to be very orthodox and rigid in caste restrictions, remained predominantly Hindu even after remaining the very citadels of Muslim power and fanaticism.” So Uttar Pradesh must be our model for national reinvigoration, as it is proof that “the so-called ‘caste-ridden’ Hindu Society has remained undying and inconquerable…(while) casteless societies crumbled to dust”. And caste, which presumably B.R. Ambedkar got completely wrong, must be restored to its rightful dignity as an instrument of modern nation-building.
This, of course, brings us to the Muslim question—people who came, according to Golwalkar, as bloodthirsty invaders (when in fact they came as peaceful traders) and vilifying whom is entirely justified: “We, in the Sangh, are Hindus to the core. That’s why we have respect for all faiths and religious beliefs…. But the question before us now is, what is the attitude of those people who have been converted to Islam or Christianity? They are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to its salt? Are they grateful towards this land which has brought them up? Do they feel that they are the children of this land and its tradition and that to serve it is their great good fortune? Do they feel it a duty to serve her? No! Together with the change in their faith, gone are the spirit of love and devotion for the nation.” In other words, Golwalkar appears to believe in asking pressing questions of Indian Muslims—and then answering them himself.
The antipathy of the Muslim to Hindu India, in fact, is so pronounced that sweeping generalizations are also fully justified: “Whatever we believed in, the Muslim was wholly hostile to it. If we worship in the temple, he would desecrate it. If we carry on bhajans and car festivals, that would irritate him. If we worship cow, he would like to eat it. If we glorify woman as a symbol of sacred motherhood, he would like to molest her.” This being the case, there is only one form of redemption. “It is our duty,” Golwalkar offers, “to call these our forlorn brothers, suffering under religious slavery for centuries, back to their ancestral home. As honest freedom-loving men, let them overthrow all signs of slavery and domination and follow the ancestral ways of devotion and national life”. In other words, there is nothing a quiet ghar wapsi cannot solve when it comes to the building of a good dharmocracy.
In sum, as you prepare for the forthcoming seminar on Golwalkar’s nationalism, picture a land of homogenized Hindus, united not by a celebration of pluralism but, of course, by endearing practices of caste and cow-love, spread across charming geographies from Tehran to Singapore. And if you don’t accept this constructive world view, all that your polity constitutes, sadly, is a “bundle” of decomposing rights, in a nation without a soul—and without a worthwhile future in this strange, strange time that we call the 21st century.