Hindu Rashtra: From Golwalkar To Bhagwat, Evolution And ‘Neti-Neti’

R Jagannathan

Jun 30, 2020, 06:48 PM | Updated 06:48 PM IST

M S Golwalkar and Mohan Bhagwat.
M S Golwalkar and Mohan Bhagwat.
  • Hinduism lives with many contradictions in its essential pluralism.
  • Whatever else it may be, Hindu Rashtra is not about replicating Islam in India.
  • The idea of a Hindu Rashtra defies easy definition for a simple reason: it flows from the difficulty in defining Hinduism itself. In Riddles in Hinduism, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s trenchant critique of Hinduism’s contradictions and some absurdities, he dismissed Hinduism as “a congeries of creeds and doctrines….” which “shelters within its portals monotheists, polytheists and pantheists…”.

    For Ambedkar, a Parsi, Christian or Muslim would know what his religion stands for and what he believes in, but a Hindu would be flummoxed when asked what makes him a Hindu.

    The same idea, this time with a positive spin, was put forth by Mahatma Gandhi, who said that Hinduism was not an exclusivist idea.

    There is room for the worship of all the prophets in the world….Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma and so it lives at peace with all the religions.

    This is not very different from what Swami Vivekananda said in his paper on Hinduism (not to be confused with his speeches), presented to the World Parliament of Religions in 1893:

    From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu’s religion.

    In short, Hinduism lives with many contradictions in its essential pluralism.

    Others have found cultural, geographical and racial features in Hinduism to claim coherence for a national identity which can be lumped under the rubric of Hindu Rashtra.

    For Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Hinduism was a “way of life”. In The Hindu View of Life, he said:

    The differences among the sects of the Hindus are more or less on the surface and the Hindus as such remain a distinct cultural unit with a common history, a common literature, and a common civilisation.

    Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the charismatic second sarsanghachalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), saw Hindus as constituting a “national race” in India, while Veer Savarkar held that all who regard “this BharatVarsha, from the Indus to the Seas, as his fatherland and Holy Land is a Hindu.” In theory, this implies that Muslims or Christians without extra-territorial religious loyalties would also fit this definition.

    Yet others saw nationalism embedded in the Hindu idea of a sacred geography, a theme that appears repeatedly from the Rig Veda to the Atharva Veda, and which continues today in the popular practice of going on pilgrimages.

    In the Abrahamic tradition, while there are many pilgrimage spots, religion can be geography-neutral. In the Hindu case all of its holy places are in India – or, rather, pre-partition undivided India.

    Historian and scholar Radhakumud Mookerji noted in his book ‘Nationalism in Hindu Culture’ – written more than a century ago:

    The institution of the pilgrimage is one of the distinguishing characteristics of ancient Hindu civilisation. In no other country of the world do we find such an elaborate network of shrines and sacred places as has been spread over this vast mother-country of ours by the religious enthusiasm of the people which has sought to adore the country in that particular manner. Indeed, if we carefully examine this peculiar institution that has made its influence felt throughout the country in all its parts and in all the ages of its history, we shall be bound to conclude that it is but one of the modes in which the patriotism of the Hindu has chosen to express itself.

    In short, Hindu Rashtra is much more about our sacred geography rather than theocracy.

    The same idea found resonance in Diana Eck’s book, India: A Sacred Geography, where she notes that India is a “land linked not by the power of kings and governments, but by the footsteps of pilgrims.”

    She adds: “It is indisputable that an Indian imaginative landscape has been constructed in Hindu mythic and ritual contexts, most significantly in the practice of pilgrimage. The vast body of Hindu mythic and epic literature is not simply literature of devotional interest to the Hindu and of scholarly interest to the structuralist, comparativist, or psychoanalytically-minded interpreter. Hindu mythology is profusely linked to India’s geography – its mountains, rivers, forests, shores, villages, and cities. It “takes place”, so to speak, in thousands of shrines and in the culturally created mental map of Bharata.”

    This sense of a Hindu Rashtra situated in its own geography takes the form of viewing India, that is Bharat, as motherland. This was epitomised best in Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Vande Mataram (meaning, Mother, I bow to thee), and the representation of Mother India as a goddess astride a lion.

    The same thought process continues in the RSS’s daily prayer at shakhas, which begins with the words, Namaste Sada Vatsale Mathrubhoomi (I bow to thee forever, my motherland”. The RSS is widely claimed to be a Hindu/Hindutva organisation, but in terms of its actual practice it is not an organisation that believes much in Hindu rituals, rites and festivals.

    Its key festivals are Varsh Pratipada, the most widely accepted Hindu New Year Day (in mid-April), Hindu Samrajya Din (Shivaji’s coronation day), Guru Poojan, Raksha Bandhan, Vijayadashami and Makar Sankranti. It does not celebrate the more popular festivals of Holi and Diwali. For the RSS, 15 August is Akhand Bharat Din, not our conventional Independence Day.

    If one were to parse through all these ideas of what various writers and intellectuals thought of Hinduism and what might be construed to be key elements of a future Hindu Rashtra, three things become clear: one, a Hindu Rashtra would not be a mirror image of Pakistan in terms of establishing a theocratic state; two, its key definitions include an exclusive geographical loyalty to the sense of India as it has evolved through five millennia; and three, a Hindu state may be defined by what it may not allow, and not what it may prescribe as mandated religious practices for its citizens.

    Even in the Savarkarite rendering of a unified Hindu nation, there is space for Muslims and minorities – but without special privileges.

    In one of his speeches as President of the Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar said: “When once the Hindu Mahasabha not only accepts but maintains the principles of "one-man-one-vote"….(with) fundamental rights and obligations to be shared by all citizens alike irrespective of any distinction of race or religion. . . .any further mention of minority rights is on the principle not only unnecessary but self-contradictory. Because it again introduces a consciousness of majority and minority on communal basis. But as practical politics requires it, and as the Hindu Sanghatanists want to relieve our non-Hindu countrymen of even a ghost of suspicion, we are prepared to emphasise that the legitimate rights of minorities with regard to their religion, culture and language will be expressly guaranteed - on one condition only- that the equal rights of the majority also must not in any case be encroached upon or abrogated. Every minority may have separate schools to train up their children in their own tongue, their own religious or cultural institutions and can receive government help also for these,— but always in proportion to the taxes they pay into the common exchequer. The same principle must of course hold good in case of the majority too.”

    “Over and above this, in case the constitution is not based on joint electorates and on the unalloyed national principle of one-man-one-vote, but is based on the communal basis then those minorities who wish to have separate electorate or reserved seats will be allowed to have them - but always in proportion to their population and provided that it does not deprive the majority also of an equal right in proportion of its population too.” (Bold words and phrases are mine)

    Remember, this was written well before it was clear that Pakistan would be created, and the proposals were made for an undivided India with a “Hindu” majority and a large Muslim minority. Savarkar advocated proportionate representation for Muslims – which means their legislative power would be very strong assuming Hindu MPs were not united in what they wanted. The only caveat is that the Constitution would not allow special rights to minorities (as under articles 25-30), while perversely denying the same to Hindus, as is the case now.

    Savarkar’s views would thus indicate that a Hindu Rashtra would be Hindu only in terms of its political dominance, but not theocratically so. And Muslims would not have been submerged under it. But neither would Hindus be allowed to get submerged by increasing Muslim demography or other forms of demographic growth.

    Said Savarkar: “The Moslem minority in India will have the right to be treated as equal citizens, enjoying equal protection and civic rights in proportion to their population. The Hindu majority will not encroach on the legitimate rights of any non-Hindu minority. But in no case can the Hindu majority resign its right which as a majority it is entitled to exercise under any democratic and legitimate constitution. The Moslem minority in particular has not obliged the Hindus by remaining in minority and therefore, they must remain satisfied with the status they occupy and with the legitimate share of civic and political rights that is their proportionate due. It would be simply preposterous to endow the Moslem minority with the right of exercising a practical veto on the legitimate rights and privileges of the majority and call it a "Swarajya." The Hindus do not want a change of masters, are not going to struggle and fight and die only to replace an Edward by an Aurangzeb simply because the latter happens to be born within Indian borders, but they want henceforth to be masters themselves in their own house, in their own land." (Bold sentences mine)

    In a Hindu Rashtra, the principle of geography-based loyalty would imply that there would be laws to prevent inflows of foreign money for conversions, or border controls to prevent illegal migration from a future Pakistan (including East Pakistan that is now Bangladesh). On the other hand, Hindus living outside India might be given the right to emigrate back to India if they so choose – something that the Jewish state of Israel guarantees to Jews anywhere.

    The last element of Hindu Rashtra would be the Upanishadic principle of neti-neti: neither this nor that. Expounded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by Sage Yajnavalkaya, neti-neti implies that the greatest truth can only be understood or experienced, not described in words. Hence, not this, nor that. Like the idea of atman, the ideas of a Hindu Rashtra may be defined not by what it should be, but what it should not be.

    Given the essential plurality of Hinduism, where no one book, one prophet or one set of fundamentals is accepted by all, a Hindu Rashtra constitution may not tell citizens what to do, but what not to do.

    It could, for example, forbid certain activities like active conversions even while preserving the individual’s right to follow and practise any religion of his choice. True conversion is about adopting a better practice from another, not abandonment of one’s own truths.

    There would be no denial of other people’s approaches to god and truth, only discouragement of Abrahamic ideas of decrying “false gods” or designating non-believers as kafirs, etc.

    In the Rig Veda, where many tribes fought among themselves, the gods of the defeated peoples were never disgraced. They were always accepted.

    A Hindu Rashtra would not stand in the way of a Muslim doing the Haj or practising his religion, but would draw the line at Indian Muslims asking their Umma to work against Hindu or Indian interests, as recently done by the Delhi Minorities Commission chief, Zafarul Islam.

    Islam loudly thanked Kuwait for standing by Indian Muslims. He claimed that Indian Muslims had so far not complained to the Arab world about their alleged persecution in India, but the day they are “pushed to do that, bigots will face an avalanche”.

    What Zafarul Islam actually ended up doing was build a case for Hindu Rashtra in uncommitted Hindu minds by emphasising precisely what Hindus fear: extra-territorial loyalties among its minorities.

    One can surmise that the idea of a Hindu Rashtra is opposed not necessarily because of the actual threat it poses to minorities, but because of one particularly stark statement made by Guru Golwalkar in We, Our Nationhood Defined, where he made an unambiguous statement relegating Muslims to second-class citizenship.

    Golwalkar emphasised:

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

    This is a statement that embarrasses even his own organisation today, and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in September 2018 in a nationally reported speech that the Sangh does not subscribe to this view. Bhagwat said:

    We have published a book titled ‘Vision and Mission: Guruji’, which contain his eternal thoughts. We have removed all those thoughts that may have emerged in certain circumstances and included those that are eternal.

    The critics who keep slamming Golwalkar forget one simple thing: what he enunciated in Nationhood, is exactly what Islam prescribes for conquered peoples, or dhimmies, who are given limited rights and live as second-class citizens in Muslim-majority societies. No one who criticises Golwalkar has even mentioned the idea of how dhimmies are treated in Islam. The RSS has recanted from Golwalkar’s extreme position; Islamists have not.

    Whatever else it may be, Hindu Rashtra is not about replicating Islam in India.

    (This is the second part of my series on Hindu Rashtra. The first part can be read here)

    Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.

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