Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat reiterated at a book release programme in New Delhi earlier this week that ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is the bedrock of the RSS. “Bharat is a Hindu Rashtra. No one can change that. The rest can change according to time, period and circumstances.” Invoking RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar, Bhagwat said that the RSS is not bound by any single idea or ideology, which is open to change. “The only thing that stays constant is that Bharat is a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ since this is not something that an organisation or individual has thought of, or created, but it has been handed down since ages.
The word ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is known to set off ‘liberal’ alarm bells. The non-RSS ideological discourse around India as a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ has consistently tried to portray the concept as a monolithic idea and positioned it as an antithesis to the concept of a secular state. Most academics compare the RSS’ idea of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ with Islamic and Christian states that follow laws and conventions based on their respective religious teachings and where minorities have to live as second-class citizens.
Does the RSS also want to take India down that path? Does it plan to use the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its ideological protégé, to bring this on?
Hindu Rashtra or State?
The RSS has never said that it wants to create a Hindu State.
Rashtra is a socio-cultural construct based on a rich heritage of memories and a keen desire to live together. French philosopher Ernest Renan had once pointed out that people are a nation because they want to be a nation, which is “a soul, a spiritual principle”. Speaking the same language or belonging to the same ethnic group does not constitute a nation, but having accomplished great things in the past and wishing to accomplish them again in future.
A State, on the other hand, is an entirely political construct with elements of land, people, government and sovereignty, and abides by a Constitution. Even when there was no unified Indian State as it exists today, there existed a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ that kept its people together. Nation-State is a modern phenomenon, which came into existence after the Treaty of Westphalia in Europe.
By itself, the word ‘Hindu’ is a geo-cultural construct and does not fit into the Western notion of religion where a holy place, holy book and a prophet are primary requirements. A Hindu may not visit a temple, may not recite any scripture, may not believe in any holy figure – and she may yet be as much a Hindu as any practising devout. If you consider India as your motherland or holy land, you are deemed as a Hindu.
V.D. Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva philosophy, understood ‘Hindu Rashtra’ as a political construct while the RSS looks at the concept as a socio-cultural idea. M.S. Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, had written in one of his essays that being part of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ means you are committed to the motherland, follow your duties, and aspire for your rights.
Sunil Ambekar, an RSS prachark whose book The RSS: Roadmaps for the 21st Century Bhagwat released Tuesday, offers a precise understanding of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. “Hindu Rashtra is a result of thousands of years of experiential living and history. It is not an ‘ism’ propelled by any political or economic motivation. It is a comprehensive conception of civilisation developed through the observance of certain values and cultural ways of life.”
What is RSS aiming at?
There should be no doubt that the RSS does not want to make India a Hindu State. Since 1967, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and later the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political wings of the RSS, formed governments in many states and have ruled at the Centre for more than 11 years. Since Jawaharlal Nehru, opposition parties and their extended supporters in academics and media, have been signalling that the RSS was trying to create a Hindu State. But this has never reflected in the resolutions, manifestos or executive meeting proceedings of the RSS or the BJP.
Now, if the RSS already considers India to be a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, what exactly is its goal then? The cue to this appears in their daily prayer. ‘Param Vaibhav’ (Ultimate Prosperity) is sought for the nation, envisioning it as a harmonious, prosperous and capable society that has the strength to become a ‘Vishwa Guru’ (world leader) that provides knowledge and direction to the world. Those who are co-travellers in this journey are considered as Hindu by the RSS. However, speaking at the same programme in New Delhi, Sarsanghchalak Bhagwat said that the RSS considers as its own even those who do not call themselves Hindus but consider themselves Indians.
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Why the confusion?
So, what is the RSS’ ideology? What ‘ism’ does it subscribe to? The answer is: none.
The RSS is criticised on the basis of a booklet that it has disowned or references of Hitler are given to trace ideological similarities.
Bhagwat also pointed out that the RSS is not an ideology and could not be understood through one book. During another programme at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi last year, he had disowned a few sections of Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts, often cited as ‘the sacred book of the RSS’ by those who oppose the organisation. Speaking at another platform, Bhagwat had also said that the concept of Hindutva will cease to exist the day Muslims are told they are not wanted in India.
Taking a Western point of reference while trying to understand the RSS and its idea of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ creates misconceptions. Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam talk about the negation of other beliefs and emphasise one truth or one god, which does not hold true for indigenous religions of India. References like Hitler’s puritan Aryan race or ethnic cleansing derail us from understanding the RSS as an idea and an organisation.
As Sunil Ambekar writes in his new book: “Without Bharat Bodh, or deep spiritual awareness about India, one cannot comprehend India nor have a vision for its future.”
The author teaches Political Science at Delhi University. Views are personal.