Purushottam Agrawal - Why does the RSS hate the idea of India ? (2001)

Why does the RSS hate the idea of India ?

23 Feb 2001, Hindustan Times, Delhi

Salman Rushdie described the idea of India as one of the greatest ideas of the 20th century. He is both right and wrong. Right because he realizes the greatness of the idea. Wrong because by confining the idea to the 20th century he ignores its lineage. India as a nation-state is certainly a 19th or 20th century concept, but the idea of India as a multi‑vocal and multi-religious polity is of older vintage. It is rooted in the search for a political idiom appropriate to Indian pluralism. The national movement had evolved a consensus on a constitutionally defined democratic polity as the authentic political ideal for India. This consensus captured the essence of Indian cultural experience.  Till this day it constitutes mainstream political space. The fact that the political member of the Sangh-Parivar needed to discard its so‑called cultural nationalist agenda in order to overcome its political isolation underscores the consensual core of mainstream Indian politics. The idea informing this consensus is a pagan idea, that celebrates cultural and religious plurality instead of condescending to it.

This is the key to understanding the RSS’ pathological aversion to the pagan mindset informing the idea of India. The following quote from Jawaharlal Nehru underscores what I mean. In an interview to Link (August15, 1961), Nehru described himself as a pagan and clarified this as follows, “Only in the sense that paganism is opposed to rigidity…I don’t mind a person having his own beliefs, but I don’t like the other fellow trying to impose his beliefs on me. I may accept those beliefs... of my own free will, that is a different matter. The whole idea that others must conform to our ways, that we are the only true believers – this is contrary to my conception. It is this concept of having the whole truth, which is fundamentally opposed to the pagan concept. 

The whole truth is too big for any one people to grasp completely.” (R.M. Bakaya, One more November, and miles to go ‑ Mainstream November 18, 2000). Nehru was talking about non‑alignment here - and was contrasting the Judaeo‑Christian lineage of communism to a pagan conception. I have omitted those references in order to focus attention on the basic issue ‑ the epistemological ground of mainstream Indian nationalism. Violently opposed to the pagan moorings of this nationalism is the monolithic cultural nationalism of the RSS type. Historically, while one section of the colonial intelligentsia tried to find a modern idiom to articulate Indian plurality, the other tried to get rid of it. The former naturally felt inclined towards democracy and liberal values, while the latter felt easier with fascist conceptions of politics and culture. With great insight, Nehru defined communalism of all hues as the Indian variant of fascism. This essay is about the RSS, but I agree with Nehru that Indian fascism has a competitive form, in which Muslim communalism plays a crucial role in sustaining its Hinduttva variant.
The mainstream idea of India is exciting because it captures the pluralism of Indian culture and incorporates a wise ideal for the future. A democratic polity and a liberal mindset are natural corollaries to the plural tradition. On the other hand, the so‑called cultural nationalism of the RSS is a violation of it. Democracy and its attendant institutions may be a new and ‘foreign’ concept, but it sits comfortably with the social and cultural attitudes of ordinary Indians. That is why even the most illiterate and traditional of them took to democratic politics like ducks to water. But consider this - having expended seventy-five years years building the elusive ‘Hindu Nation’ the RSS even today has to put its basic issues on the back‑burner. The majority of Indians still do not share the fascist mentality of the RSS because the epistemology and politics of the RSS is diametrically opposed to the ‘paganism’ that informs the dominant idea of India. In such a situation it is natural for the RSS to hate this idea and seek to replace it with its own laboured conception of Hindu Rashtra.

Let us not be misled into believing that the RSS disapproves of plurality only in the context of present day politics. Let us also not fool ourselves that its self-designated task of setting right the wrongs of history is directed solely at minorities and mosques. Its world-view was constructed by a section of the colonial intelligentsia that suffered from a guilt complex about its pagan past (and present), and who pathetically tried to copy their masters. Obsessed as it was with inferiority, it disguised its fascination for ‘victorious’ Western culture in the garb of ‘uniqueness’; and its disdain for India’s cultural personality in the garb of love for ‘Bharat Mata’. Such manipulations were necessary in order to make its exotic alien ideology appear plausible. The RSS has always contested the mainstream idea of India in the name of Indianness itself. Its attitude towards Hindu plurality is as intolerant as its abhorrence of anything that stands in its way. 

Thus, the RSS locates contemporary political events within a framework of revenge, for which task it assumes the self‑image of a high priest supervising great sacrifices complete with bloody rituals. A statement made by Golwalkar in November 1948 makes this clear. According to him, “unfortunately the great latitude allowed to all individuals and groups resulted in the creation of many faiths and sects. The vastness of our motherland fostered many dialects which in time became so many sister languages, and gradually the grand unity in all the diversities of life began to crumble away”.

Of special interest is the misuse of the phrase ‘unity in diversity’ ‑ which in the fascist fantasies of Golwalkar seems to mean little more than benevolent permission granted by a master! Note his discomfort with dialects becoming full-fledged languages. In the RSS’ pseudo‑linguistics all Indian languages are daughters of Sanskrit and if not they ought to be! Such statements reveal its intellectual strategy. Instead of articulating its own crude theories, it borrows (steals?) respectable phrases like unity in diversity, tolerance, purity in public life etc. What happens in practice is a different matter. 

The RSS calls itself a cultural organization. Indeed it is! However, its ‘culture’ refers neither to individual creativity nor to social reality energized by common experiences; creative interventions and conflicts of power. ‘Culture’ in the Sangh’s lexicon means a system of concealing conflicts and oppression through the deployment of the rhetoric of hatred and violence. Deception and deceit define the culture of the RSS. Such ‘qualities’ may represent evil in an individual’s life, but are a ‘must’ for the life of the nation! - thus goes the Kautilya-style logic of the RSS. That is why Govindacharya can compare the hoodlums destroying Deeepa Mehta’s film sets with French revolutionaries, why  Uma Bharti can claim that she was in Ayodhya to save the mosque; and why (to top it all), the Sarsanghchalak can speak the untruth of the millennium without blinking an eyelid. The mosque was not demolished - it was blown up by a secret bomb!

The idea of “selfless deceit” is central to the RSS conception of public life and raises fundamental questions about politics and its relation with the notion of truth. These questions must be examined separately. But it explains the RSS’ flair for conspiratorial politics and its hatred of democracy, both as organizational principle and political philosophy. Deception in the RSS style of politics is neither incidental nor contextual. It is integral to its worldview. This worldview motivates the RSS to maintain a balance between formal and informal communication; official and authentic pronouncements of intent and policy. Because of this deception, many commentators find nothing objectionable in its ‘official’ pronouncements. If they compared such pronouncements with what transpires in informal communication they would be in for a rude shock.

The RSS was forced to describe itself as a cultural organization and adopt a written constitution as part of a deal with the government after the assassination of Gandhiji. It has never discarded its political designs. ‘Cultural’ status is a matter of convenience. It is cultural when it wants to control its political outfits from behind the scenes, and it is not cultural when it has to fulfill the legal and social obligations required of a cultural body. A.G. Noorani has given an instance of its manoeuvres.  In 1978, when the joint charity commissioner held the RSS liable to register under Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950 (since it claimed to  be a cultural organization), Rajendra Singh and Bhaurao Deoras filed a legal document stating that although the RSS did not participate in day‑to‑day politics it had a political philosophy within its sweep of cultural work. It was possible for the Sangh to change its policy and participate in politics.(The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labour ‑ Leftword, New Delhi). However, the RSS does not need to participate in mundane politics since, apart from its offspring the BJP, it has enthusiastic adopted children such as George Fernandes and Maneka Gandhi.

Noorani’s essay contrasts Europe’s resentment at Herder’s neo-Nazis sharing power in Austria with the absence of similar concern when the RSS rose to the centre of power in India. This is indeed noteworthy, but Noorani fails to analyse the role of the left and secular parties in according respectability to the RSS. All of them, for decades, refused to confront the fascist essence of communal politics. The struggle for secularism, instead of preventing the fascist takeover of the polity has been reduced to a balancing act between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. That is why the ideologues of anti‑congressism tried to ‘reform’ fascists of all hues by  co‑operating with them. Even the communists used United Front tactics not against the fascists but in collaboration with them! With this background, how may we expect wide‑spread resentment at the RSS ascension to the centre of power? Particularly when it has responded positively to the clarion calls of reformers like George, Mamta and Chandrababu and permitted the BJP to put its core issues on the back‑burner? 

Sooner rather than later the reformer brigade will be shocked beyond their wildest apprehensions and will have all the time in the world to record their historical blunders for posterity. Where giants like JP failed, worthies like George cannot succeed.  The reason is very simple. The RSS is not just another organization seeking legitimate space in a democratic polity and plural culture. Its agenda is fundamentally hostile to the very idea of India which gave birth to that polity. The RSS is ‘cultural’ in the sense that it seeks to replace the cultural mode itself. It has its own monolithic idea of the nation and is bound to hate India as we know it. Its paranoid campaign of hatred and deceit has converted the RSS into the very “internal enemy” that it has been conjuring up over the decades. Whether India will survive this onslaught from within is up to us.

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