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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 32 New Delhi July 27, 2019

RSS in Textbooks: Contrasting Concepts of Nation and Nation-building

Sunday 28 July 2019


by Ram Puniyani

Nationalism has been a matter of debate yet again. For last few years we saw individuals being labelled as anti-national for criticising the ruling government, we witnessed the attack on the JNU on the ground that it is a breeding ground of anti-nationals. At the same time those belonging to ‘Hindu nationalism’ have been presenting themselves as nationalists. The shrewdness involved in this is that they have been hiding the prefix Hindu to the word, nation. It is this prefix which shows that they in no way were a part of the process of India becoming a nation. Indian nation-building has been a multi-layered process. On the one hand it was to oppose the colonial rule and simultaneously it was a journey towards democratic values on the other.

This issue comes to the fore yet again as Sant Tukdoji Maharaj Nagpur University has brought in a damaging change in their second year BA History course. The earlier chapter in the book was on the rise of communalism in India. That has been replaced by the chapter on ‘History of the RSS and its role in Nation-building’. As the university spokesperson put it, “Nationalist school of thought... is also part of Indian history. Similarly, the history of the Sangh is a part of the nationalist school. Hence, introduction to the RSS was included in the course.” On the other hand, the State Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant disputes this by saying, “Where would Nagpur University find reference of the RSS and nation-building? It is the most divisive force which collaborated with the British, opposed the freedom movement, didn’t hoist the Tricolour for 52 years calling it inauspicious, wanted Manusmriti in lieu of the Constitution, spreads hatred.”

What have been the components of India becoming a nation? The earlier kingdoms were replaced by the colonial rule. The colonial phase was marked by introduction of major economic and social changes. These changes related to transport (railways), communication (post and telegraph) modern education (schools and universities), free press and modern judicial system, among others. With these changes the social relations began to take place. The process of breaking of the ‘iron frame of caste structure’ began. The subordinate status of women was challenged as the likes of Savitribai Phule started schools for education for girls. The new class of industrialists, modern businessmen and educated classes came up in the society. The political expression of these processes got reflected in multiple streams.

The major expression of this political phenomenon was the formation of the Indian National Congress. The movements for breaking caste inequality were inspired by Joti Rao Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar. The aspirations of the workers got expressed in the unions led by Narayan Meghaji Lokhande and Com Singara-velu. Revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh stood against colonial rule with the dream of a socialist society. This process of nation-building has two sides. One was to express the social aspirations of these classes coming up in society, workers, women, educated classes, bureaucrats and industrialists in particular. The other was the political expression: the struggle against British colonialists.

To oppose these social-political changes, a section of the declining classes, the kings and landlords and their fellow-travellers, threw up their organisations. These organisations had two aspects. One was to oppose the social changes related to caste and gender transformation and second was to harp on nationalism in the name of religion. They were the ones who were opposed to the anti-British national movement. These declining sections had religion as a prefix of their nationalism. Their aims were purely political. Their political agenda was to preserve the birth-based values of hierarchy, as manifested in feudal times.

Muslim League, on the one hand, and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS, on the other, stood for Muslim and Hindu nationalism respectively. In case of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha, religion is written on their sleeves; in case of the RSS, religion is the core part of their nationalism. Savarkar did work against the caste system in patches, but mostly these organisations were totally aloof from the social changes related to caste and gender transformation. As far as the freedom movement is concerned, as organisations they were never a part of any anti-British movement. Individually pre-Andman Savarkar was anti-British, but after his release his was a changed man. Similarly Dr K.B. Hedgewar, the RSS founder, as an individual did take part in the 1930 civil disobedience move-ment, but that was with the goal of finding like-minded workers in jail. As far as the RSS is concerned, the instructions were given by Golwalkar, not to disturb the peace of the British.

On the ‘Quit India’ movement, the second RSS Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar states: “In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too, routine work of the Sangh continued. The Sangh vowed not to do anything directly.” Defending his decision to keep aloof from the movement, he says: “We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of freedom of the country through defending religion and culture, there is no mention of departure of the British from here.” (Shri Guruji Samagra Darshan, vol. IV, page 40)”

While Indian nationalism is inclusive and plural, as expressed in the Indian Constitution, the RSS has been eulogising the ancient laws particularly those of Manu. Nationalism is not just the state and its boundaries, it is the social relationships. In case of Indian nationalism these values are Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. ‘Nationalism under the garb of religion’ regards these values of equality as Western, not suitable for this or that country. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt promotes feudal hierarchical values in the garb of Islam. It labels democratic values of equality, liberty as being ‘Western ones’. The RSS similarly regards the Indian Constitution as being Western.

With these types of changes in our educational syllabus, the attempt is to present the RSS as a part of Indian nation-building. This lie hides the fact that the RSS neither struggled against British rule nor for the democratic values of equality. The efforts like change in syllabus are attempts to give legitimacy to the RSS as the Indian nation-builder, which it is not.

(Courtesy: Secular Perspective)

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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