1951: When A Catholic Priest From Kerala Profusely Praised The RSS 

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Jul 25, 2016 12:55 PM +05:30 IST
1951: When A Catholic Priest From Kerala Profusely Praised The RSS Photo: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images
  • One of the earliest English books on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), “Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj” places the RSS, its ideology and mission in the context of the cultural, spiritual, and political needs of the post-colonial world.

    The book is also important in the annals of Indian political history because it was in this book the term “pseudo-secularism” was first introduced to characterise the secularism of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Three years after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, in 1951, an English book on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)— one of the earliest books on the subject— came out. A Catholic priest from Kerala had written it. An ordained monk of the Dominican Order, who completed his theological studies in Rome, Fr. Anthony Elenjimittam (1915-2011) had returned to India and joined the National Movement under Gandhi. A prolific writer, he had penned books which had already attracted good attention and accolades. In 1947, he had written a book on Subhash Chandra Bose titled “The Hero of Hindustan”. The foreword for his 1948 book “The Poet of Hindustan” was written by Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

Titled “Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj”, the book is dedicated to “the caste-creed-sex-free steel-nerved iron-willed, all-renouncing Patriots of New Bharat …countless sages, seers, bards, prophets, rishis, missionaries and apostles of Hindu-Buddhist Dharma who built up Greater India in Asian Continent… who repudiate the liability of birth-religion-labels…for attaining Truth, God, Over-Soul, Reality Supreme, Paramatman according to the Vedic dictum...”

The book on the very first page bluntly states that the Congress “the Mother of Indian Freedom” had “got diseased”; Bose, Gandhi and Patel, “the great minds that built the Congress …have gone from our midst…” (p.1) He then cautions that the Hindu-Muslim problem is not over with the creation of Pakistan:

Muslim communalism cannot be cured by merely creating Pakistan; on the contrary, it has made the communal cleavage between Muslims and Hindus more real, accentuated and intransigent. Pakistan has become a springboard for the communal Muslims to reach out to their wider scheme of re-constructing their old Mogul Empire in India and making it the centre of the entire Pan-Islamic confederation. (pp. 3-4)

He laments that Indian leftists, instead of exploring “unfathomable depths of their own country, their nation, their national culture and the spirit and aspiration of Indian people” look to “Moscow as their Mecca” and “parrot-wise repeat some sayings of Marx”. So what is the alternative? He categorically says it is not creating a communal counterpart to Islamist forces. Fortunately, “a new nationalistic force” is arising in the Indian horizon which transcends the right-left binary. “That new force is the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh in its ideal character.”(p.8). The introductory chapter itself makes it clear that India needs an Indic-rooted organisation working for the common good of all humanity and sees the RSS as the potential candidate, particularly given the “weak nature” of the Nehru government and extra-territorial preoccupation of Indian leftists.

The Context Of RSS

Rejecting the “communalism” of “either the Muslim League, Christian Church or Hindu Mahasabha, eternal philosophy of Vedanta, the psychology of Buddha and Buddhism, metaphysics of non-dualistic idealism of Sankara, the integrated ethics and psychological religion of Bhagavadgita” is provided as the alternative. (p.15) Then comes the term “Hindu”. Fr. Elenjimittam combines the territorial meaning of the term with a cultural-spiritual nationalist dimension:

“The term ‘Hindu’ today stands for the essential Indian spirit...The word Hindu stands for anyone who is born in the land of Ganges, who is conscious of his cultural heritage, specially of the Vedanta, Yoga, Buddha, Sankara, Indian art and literature, who struggles to realize those vital truths in his life, whose purpose of life is Self-Realization or God-consciousness for himself and the subsequent dynamic service of his fellow beings, in leading his people, his society , country, mankind to a better social, economic and political pattern. Birth is of little significance; quality life means everything.” (p.18)

The society started forgetting such national ideals and out of that agony, the RSS was founded. The founder Dr.Keshav Baliram Hedgewar of Nagpur was “a man whose breath was nationalism, patriotism, service, sacrifice.” (p.20) The Dominican monk draws a parallel between the founding of the RSS to the commune of Jesus and his disciples. Then he compares the birth of Sangh to the Sangha of the Buddha. The RSS is “the crowning and fulfilment of all that is best in Hindu and Buddhist traditions.”(p.22) The book traces the continuity RSS has with Hindu-Buddhist thought and the non-communal, non-fundamentalist nature of the Sangh. M. S. Golwalkar, the then head of the RSS, is quoted as saying that the RSS was founded and working “to revive all that is best in Hindu i.e. Bharatiya culture...(RSS) tries to destroy the fissiparous tendencies in the Hindu society.” (p.30)

Sangh As The Greater Vehicle

The book reveals the author’s in-depth knowledge of Indian spirituality and philosophy, not merely as academic subjects but as a lived-in experience and his ability to see the place of the RSS in that context. Fr. Elenjimittam touches a crucial point that plagues Indian academic establishments to this day: “Why should we look to a Max Muller, a Schopenhauer, Monier Williams and Estlin Carpenter to learn Indian philosophy or Indian philology? Is it not a disgrace? Does it not reflect a slave mentality?” Of course, the book does not deny that we are indebted to these Indologists but points out that, ultimately, it is for us “the children of the soil of India” to explore further, revitalize and make “what is lasting, true, eternal in Indian culture and philosophy” to be “preserved, defended, propagated and made a living reality in the lives and mental habits of our people and in every sphere of Indian life”(p.47).

Criticisms Against The RSS

In the subsequent chapters, he deals with the various criticism and charges levelled against the Sangh then. Earlier he had cautioned the critics of the RSS, who were then entrenched in the seats of power, that all their “persecutions and calumnies, slandering and back-biting can only strengthen the RSS” (p.33). He differentiates the “neo-nationalistic gospel of the RSS” from the “racial myth of Rosenberg” as propagated by the Nazis. (p.70) The RSS, though a disciplined force, is not fascist because the discipline of the RSS is devoid of “fascist totalitarianism, imperialist dreams and militarist pride” but is “born out of the culture or sanskriti of the land and not on the military might or myths of the twentieth century.” (p.122)

Most of our “secularists” are struck with the oft-repeated and out of context quotes from the 1938 “We - Our Nationhood Defined”. Any random book or article, written by leftists on the RSS, would obsessively present the following excerpt from the “We”, which Golwalkar wrote when he was not the head of the RSS:

The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens’ rights.

Fr. Elenjimittam quotes elaborately from the then contemporary lectures of Golwalkar to reveal a mindset that is contrary to the words written during the heated circumstances of pre-Partition era:

The word Hindu state is nowadays unnecessarily misrepresented as a theocratic one, which would wipe out all other sects. On the contrary, I want to state today that this State of country which has been made over to us is a Hindu State and it is also a secular state and all those who are now non-Hindus have equal rights to live here as Hindus do. From the point of view of what is considered a democracy, i.e. the rule of the majority, when vast majority of the people are Hindu the state is democratically Hindu; but the State cannot exclude all those who live here to occupy any position of honour in the State. (p.145)

It is interesting that none of the modern “Western observers”, like Christopher Jaffrelot or neo-Gandhian writers of Nehruvian establishment like Ramachandra Guha, have taken any efforts to look into this particularly significant change in the ideological stand of the Sangh’s “Sarsanghachalak”.

Historical Significance Of The Book

Though well aware of the Communist threat to freedom, Fr. Elenjimittam was not the typical Christian anti-Communist of that age. He clearly understood the real factors which fanned the fire of Communism, particularly in the newly liberated countries under colonialism. He opts for an Indic solution:

Indian philosophy, Indian social system and above all the new upsurge of creative and dynamic nationalism can teach that not class struggle, as the Marxist Communists uphold, but class-co-operation is the right method and the royal road to lasting peace. The RSS believes India to become the Jagatguru. The Communist challenge can be met through the cultural soul of Mother India when she could show practical methods of class-cooperation. (p.150)

It is interesting to note that one man who, under the support of Patel rather than Nehru, founded a successful cooperative model for dairy in Gujarat was Dr.Verghese Gurien. Another Kerala Christian, he was attracted by the patriotism of RSS chief Guruji Golwalkar and even had his body cremated, according to Vedic rites. Drawing cues from Golwalkar’s speech on ideal society, Fr. Elenjimittam envisions a “cooperative economics of a really and truly free people, emancipated from the clutches of totalitarianism and monopoly capitalism.” (p.179) Here, the Fr. plays a remarkable visionary— foreseeing the fall of the gross national product (GNP) and an inclusion of values in gauging human progress.

In the RSS, Fr. Elenjimittam sees the potential for a radically different alternative system that is holistic and though, right now, nationalistic can later flower into a global movement— preserving the best in all native traditions and spirituality. The book places this significant burden on the RSS, which was then just an infant organisation, just recovering from the ban imposed on it by Nehru government. He cites the yeomen service work the organization has been doing for the refugees pouring into West Bengal. The RSS is the only national organisation serving all people in India, apart from the duty-bound government. And he concludes that “Hindu nationalism is Bharatiyata or Indianism”. (p.186)

The book is also necessary for introducing into the political vocabulary of India a term that would become famous with the “Ayodhya movement”. Fr. Elenjimittam was perhaps the first person to coin the term “pseudo-secularism”, which he used to denote the “new fad” of Nehru and other Congress leaders and contrasted it with the civilizational secularism that is inherent in Indian culture. However, that “religious secularism and nationalistic patriotism of…the modern architects of India have nothing in common with the pseudo-secularism of the type…which, unfortunately Sri. Nehru continues to repeat as “his pet secularism” (pp.188-9). Then, the author points out the responsibility of RSS in the context of the scheme of planetary evolution— almost echoing Catholic Jesuit anthropologist, Teilhard de Chardin:

Being tarred with the same brush, germinating from the same seed of the protoparents, evolving from amoeba to the highest species of homo sapiens, this Manava Dharma, anti-communal religion, has a lasting value. It is this the RSS in India represents; it is this the Indian patriots uphold. (p.194)

Mostly, this book provides the anticipation that RSS created in a generation of intellectuals who placed RSS in the broadest possible context and taking a sympathetic view to the Indic vision of RSS. This book by Fr. Elenjimittam, a Catholic Gandhian monk, shows a very deep understanding of Indian culture as the world was entering a post-colonial era and positions the RSS as an indigenous, post-colonial, socio-cultural-spiritual movement with a lot of potentials and promises. After almost 65 years, today, the RSS has become an organisation that has gained the capacity to influence and lead the nation. From its ranks, many state Chief Ministers and at least two Prime Ministers have emerged.

Nevertheless, this book provides a sound basis for stocktaking by the Sangh and its affiliates.

Book Details

Anthony Elenjimittam. Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj. Laxmi Publications. 1951 (Pages: 241)

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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