M S Golwalkar’s idea of nationalism must be looked at in a holistic way, without being subject to selective criticism.
The Indian Council of Philosophical Research has called for papers on the topic “The Concepts of Nation and Nationalism in the thoughts of M.S. Golwalkar to understand Guruji Golwalkar’s ‘much misunderstood and maligned’ concept of nationalism ‘in a holistic way’. If you ask why such a project is needed, then look no further than this recent article.
Titled “Decoding RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar’s nationalism”, the article makes much out of Golwalkar’s stringent condemnation of territorial nationalism and his criticism of caste system as being always negative. Before moving forward, it is important to remember that Golwalkar, though venerated in Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), is not considered infallible even by the most ardent swayamsevak. On the contrary, they all know that his ideas evolved over a period of time with changing circumstances.
Condemnation Of Territorial Nationalism
Golwalkar was indeed against territorial nationalism. So was Dr B R Ambedkar, the architect of India’s Constitution. Even before Pakistan came into being, Ambedkar had started calling Muslim population in Western Punjab as ‘Pakistan’. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, although averse to the name Hindu, put forward a cultural nationalism rather than territorial nationalism. Consider these words from The Discovery of India:
The correct word for ‘Indian’, as applied to country or culture or the historical continuity of our varying traditions, is ‘Hindi’ from ‘Hind’, a shortened form of Hindustan. ... ‘Hindi’ has nothing to do with religion, and a Muslim or Christian Indian is as much a Hindi as a person who follows Hinduism as a religion. ... Today the word ‘Hindustani’ is used for Indian; it is, of course, derived from Hindustan. But this is too much of a mouthful and it has no such historical and cultural association as ‘Hindi’ has. It would certainly appear odd to refer to ancient periods of Indian culture as ‘Hindustani’. Whatever the word we may use, Indian or Hindi or Hindustani, or our cultural tradition, we see in the past that some inner urge towards synthesis, derived essentially from the Indian philosophic outlook, was the dominant feature of Indian cultural, and even racial development. Each incursion of foreign elements was a challenge to this culture, but it was met successfully by a new synthesis and a process of absorption. This was also process of rejuvenation and new blooms of culture arose out of it, the background and essential basis, however remaining much the same.
Note that Nehru stresses the Indian identity, not based on territory but on the cultural and historical processes. Even though he avoids the word ‘Hindu’, he highlights the word ‘Hindustani’, which the Congressmen were using more and more at that time, as historically and culturally incorrect. Note also that Nehru was a staunch believer in the Aryan invasion theory and hence he included ‘Aryans’ also as part of the absorbed and assimilated entities.
However, he emphasises the Indianness as something that is clearly cultural, historical and philosophical rather than territorial. Had our budding columnist taken the care to go further into Bunch of Thoughts (a book by Golwalkar), he would have found that Golwalkar himself praising Nehru for his idea of assimilating Christians and Muslims into the national organism. He refers to Nehru as having said that like Shakas and Huns, Christians and Muslims should be absorbed into Hindu society. Of course for Golwalkar, the term Hindu and Indian were synonymous, while Nehru would have used the term ‘Indian’ or ‘Hindi’ society.
Golwalkar had explained clearly to what kind of nation building he was opposed to:
Any attempt at reorganisation of our society on the basis of hatred of the British or the Muslims would therefore be to court degeneration and disaster. For, that would only pollute our minds by the constant remembering of their heinous crimes. Have we no positive, life-giving and sublime ideals at all to meditate upon and fashion our lives? Should we install a wicked aggressor in our hearts as a point of meditation?
Golwalkar was unhappy when a section of politicians, in the name of secularism, supported Muslims who refused to sing Vande Mataram.
But Golwalkar was happy and even proud that Muslims could occupy high positions in India. He said that it is on the “strength of this national tradition that a Muslim can and does adorn the highest position of Presidentship, become the Chief Justice of Supreme Court and hold important portfolios in the Central Cabinet and Internal and External Services”. He was not asking India to imitate Pakistan, citing the plight of Hindus there.
Golwalkar also said that there are Christians and Muslims, who are “well-meaning and patriotic at heart” and who respect the national ethos of India and who know their “individual religions do not mitigate against the national ethos”. To a question by some foreign Hindus as to whether they could include Muslims and Christians in their organisation, Golwalkar answered in the affirmative. Their religion is not at all a problem. They should “respect and accept their Hindu heritage and history”.
So, if one is to take a ‘holistic view’ then despite his harsh-worded criticism of ‘territorial nationalism’, the concept of nationalism Golwalkar advocated was completely inclusive. It asserted Hindu identity in the widest and all-inclusive meaning of the term. His vision did not require the exclusion of Muslims and Christians. On the contrary, he wanted Hindu unity and assimilation of Christians and Muslims into the national organism. This conception, as Nehru himself pointed out, has a historical, cultural, philosophical continuity, which is more primary than the mere geographical territory.
Caste And Social Inequalities
With regard to caste, again we see Golwalkar’s views evolving and changing. Our columnist simply highlights the sections where Golwalkar said that caste stopped conversions in mediaeval times and his critique of the argument that India fell before invaders because of caste. He gives arguments like Jaichand, who betrayed Prithviraj Chauhan, was from his own caste etc. However, he also criticises caste. That part has been left out. Golwalkar said caste has “degenerated beyond all recognition”. He said that caste system has “perversity aggravated over the centuries” and that the present polity has further intensified the rigidity and perversity of castes. It is not only polity, but also the religious mindset, and leaders too should be criticised for the present perversions of caste, according to him.
So, at the root of the malady of 'untouchability', he said, is the 'religious perversion', the belief that it is part of dharma. Despite various religious leaders trying to remove it, “the blot still remains”.
He narrated an atrocity and condemned it:
Even now the so-called higher castes refuse to treat the so-called untouchables as their equals. Papers have reported that in a village in Rajasthan a Harijan youth was beaten to death because he grew moustaches, which was supposed to be the prerogative of only the Kshatriya! Nor did our dharmagurus condemn such practices because even they mistook the custom for Dharma.
What about the destruction of the caste system itself?
He did not hold the caste system as sacrosanct to the Hindu society. He said very clearly that caste system would whither away:
As the older dried branches fall off a growing tree, to give place to the new ones, the society would shed Varna Vyavastha the existing social structure at one time and give place a new necessary one. This is a natural process of the development of the society.
Later, he stated:
I have told you once that for the sake of construction of a new house, old house requires to be destroyed. Similarly perturbed social system must be put to an end here and now and should be destroyed root and branch. Going further we should proceed to establish a pure and harmonious society on the basis of pure Nationalism.(From Samajik Darshan, Trans. Justice Rama Jois)
In 1969, in Kerala, when asked if people who feel discriminated against could be given the sacred thread, he answers in the affirmative:
They should be given equal rights and footings in the matter of religious rites, in temple worship, in the study of Vedas, and in general in all our social and religious affairs. This is the only right solution for all the problems of casteism found nowadays in our Hindu society.
That said, not all views of Golwalkar had been accepted by his successors. For example, he had said that the caste-based reservations should be discontinued after a stipulated period of time. But Deoras, his successor, declared that they should continue until the communities themselves feel that they do not need them. Hence, if our columnist had taken a ‘holistic’ look, he would have found that while Golwalkar was sceptical of making caste the reason for Hindu defeats, he himself had criticised general so-called upper caste Hindu attitude towards scheduled communities. Not only caste, even in the social interactions within the household, Hindu affluent classes need to show sensitivity and humaneness he said. Consider this passage from the Bunch of Thoughts:
It is in this, the factor of human touch, that we are falling short. This shortcoming is to be found not merely in plantations or factories; it is in villages, it is in the cities, it is in the everyday life of our entire people. For instance, there are persons in affluence who engage maid-servants for their household menial work. Often the maid-servant comes with her child to the master’s house, leaves her child in a corner and engages herself in the household work. It is also quite a common sight that the small babes left uncared for cry and cry themselves hoarse. But is it also not commonly observed that the mistress of the house turns a deaf ear to the weeping child? Nor does she ask the maid-servant to take a few minutes off the work and first soothe the crying babe.
While Golwalkar had been very critical of expansionist tendencies and was totally against conversions, he did not demonise the missionaries. He gave due credit to whatever humanitarian work they were doing then. His condemnation of their conversions does not come in the way of appreciating whatever genuine services they rendered to humanity, even if their aim was conversion. He asked Hindus to imbibe the quality of service from them and work with our own brethren:
It is now up to us to go to these neglected brethren of our society and strive our utmost to better their living conditions. We will have to work out plans by which their primary physical needs and comforts could be satisfied. We will have to open schools, hostels and training courses to equip them to benefit from these schemes. Alongside this physical amelioration love and pride in Hindu Dharma and the spirit of identity with the rest of Hindus have to be rekindled in their minds through the channel of devotion to God. For that, we have to give up false notions of high and low and mingle with those brethren in spirit of equality. ... See how the foreign missionaries are working in these areas. What a tremendous amount of effort and perseverance they display! What an amount of trouble they cheerfully undergo! They come from far-off lands and go and settle in the deep jungles. They live there in small houses just like the local people. They mix with them, learn their languages and become one with the local habits and customs. They behave with sweetness and sympathy. Can we not take a leaf out of their experience and do something?
So his social vision is again not an elite casteist one as our columnist tries to portray. We see in Golwalkar a person with genuine concern for the marginalised and the downtrodden. There is not only a consistency, but an ever-growing, all-inclusive love in his vision. Take, for example, this personal letter he wrote to a then budding RSS worker in 1970. He writes:
Many workers appear to take delight in blaming others for all ills. Some may put the blame on the political perversities, others on the aggressive activities of the Christians and Muslims and such other faiths. Let our workers keep their mind free from such tendencies and work for our people and our Dharma in the right spirit, lend a helping hand to all our brethren who need help and strive to relieve distress wherever we see it. In this no distinction should be made between man and man. We have to serve all be he a Christian or a Muslim or a human being of any other persuasion: because calamities, distress and misfortunes make no such distinction but afflict all alike. (14-01-1970)
What is a progressive columnist if he does not mention beef? It is well known that Golwalkar took forward the cow protection campaign as a mass movement in India. No less than Varghese Kurien, father of the White Revolution in India, who was totally opposed to cow slaughter ban, regarded Golwalkar as a great patriot after interacting with him. Kurien was able to see Golwalkar holistically despite the fact that they sat on a panel with totally opposing views. Kurien wrote:
What impressed me most about him was that he was an intensely patriotic Indian. You could argue that he was going about preaching his brand of nationalism in a totally wrong way but nobody could question his sincerity.... Of course neither did I concur with him on cow protection nor did I support his argument for banning cow slaughter on the committee. However, I was convinced that in his own way he was trying to instil a pride across our country about our being Indian. This side of his personality greatly appealed to me. That was the Golwalkar I knew.
Golwalkar also said that Hindus should not indulge in cow protection merely because Muslims kill the cow, and he characterised such an attitude as ‘negative’ and ‘reactionary’. Regarding beef consuming tribes, Golwalkar, who was touring the North East, explained in an interaction with RSS workers that it was wrong to blame them for that. Stopping of beef “should be voluntary and on their own”. Any work among tribal communities should be done from “an equal plane and not from a high pedestal”. He further criticised certain attitude of Indian government officials to impose their dress and tribal hair styles on the Nagas.
In the history of Indian socio-political thought there are two personalities, who have been depicted by a dominant group of Left academicians and a section of dominant establishment media as having an agenda. One is Dr Ambedkar. His quotes condemning Hinduism and criticising Hindu caste system have been repeated countless times and he had been portrayed as anti-Hindu. Another one is Golwalkar. His quotes have been selectively taken and portrayed as him being the stereotyped hate-peddler, venomous anti-Muslim pro-Brahminical Indian version of Nazi. Sadly, to maintain these stereotypes, the views of Golwalkar and Ambedkar themselves are either misrepresented, or hidden.
So which one of the representations is truer? Criticisms of Dr Ambedkar’s views on Hinduism and Hindus can be attributed to him for being a nationalist. He bitterly opposed caste-ridden Hinduism because he wanted Hindu unity. He converted to Buddhism and wrote in the Constitution that legally a Buddhist is a Hindu. So include all his criticism of Hindus, still his love for Hindus and his uncompromising patriotism, still stands. But it can never be the other way round.
The same is true in the case of Golwalkar. Most academics and media have picked no more than a few quotes from his book ‘We...’ or as our budding comrade columnist from Kerala does highly selective half sentences. A true student of Golwalkar should not refrain from studying all these aspects – his intemperate words and reactions, and as he grew, his all embracing vision and in all these an uncompromising love for his motherland.