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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 34, August 8, 2009

Will RSS see the Ground Reality and join to Salve India‘s Core Values?

Sunday 16 August 2009, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

Of late, the RSS has been accusing the BJP of inconsistency and also of failure to convey the real meaning of Hindutva. The BJP has certainly been inconsistent. It has been in two minds because like the Congress, it, too, is preoccupied, not with any principle or any concern for correct ideation, but with the slogan that can help it capture power. But on the question of the real meaning of Hindutva, is the RSS itself clear and consistent? It has a very large and committed cadre. Why does it depend on the BJP to “convey the real meaning”? To what extent has the RSS itself succeeded in conveying the supposedly real meaning?

The RSS has been saying that anybody who regards India as his/her motherland and a holy land is a Hindu and that the Indian Muslims are Mohammadi Hindus and the Indian Christians are Isahi Hindus and so on. Now, there is a large body of people who plainly call themselves Hindus. They are not the followers of any one Prophet or of any one Book. They have a large body of sacred books – the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Geeta and Puranas. They venerate many Rishis and adore some maryada-purushes like Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. How should they be described? They cannot be called Ramiah Hindus or Krishnaiah Hindus. They would not like to be called Sakti-ite Hindus, or Shivaite or Vaishnavaite Hindus. Saktism, shaivism, and vaishnavism have got so merged in their thinking that they are partly sakta, partly shaiva and partly vaishnava. They worship all these principles as different manifestations of the one Supreme Reality in differing circumstances.

If they are to be called “Sanatan dharmis” or in brief, “Sanatanis”, why did the RSS not launch a movement insisting that the members of the community, now plainly called Hindus, add a prefix “Sanatani” to bring consistency? Not to do that would mean they would continue to describe themselves as Hindus by religion, and again, as Hindus by nationality. This becomes ridiculous.

Hinduism is no particular religion. It is a philosophy of religions. The great nationalist leader, late Bipin Chandra Pal, described Hinduism as a “confederal principle of co-existence of all religions”. In deference to this spirit, the RSS had composed a verse in which the names of pious Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jains were included as persons to be remembered and revered early every morning, before beginning the day’s work.

Socio-Cultural Heritage got Degraded

IF this is Hinduism, how does Hindutva differ from it? The RSS’s cryptic answer is, Hindutva is the concept of “geocultural nationalism”. Implicitly, it says that long before India’s political unification, India had achieved cultural unification from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and from Arunachal and Meghalaya to Saurashtra through the medium of two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Geeta (which is truly a part of the Mahabharata). These great works of the ancient Indians, then universally called Hindus, had imparted values of parental love, filial duties, brotherly love, unshakeable fidelity to the spouse, the monarch’s obedience to the people’s wishes, the triumph of dharma over the mightiest wrong-doer—that is, values to be cherished in perpetuity. Hence Hindutva is value-orientation, the RSS claims.
But can the RSS deny that during the so-called Hindu period, caste hatred had taken firm roots as a value? In ancient India, desertion of the wife for no fault of hers also had become a tradition, as in the case of Sita. Murder of a shudra for reading the Vedas was sanctioned by the social ethos.

Merit of Religio-Confederal Concept

THE RSS needs to accept that the ancient Hindus had, at a certain stage, come to indulge in regressive social discrimination. The obverse side of “geocultral nationalism” was socio-cultural dominance of the higher castes and of the males among them. In the sphere of philosophical concepts, however, the ancient Hindus were the most liberal and the highest in cosmopolitanism (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam). Hence if the RSS does not want to nurture caste inequality and gender inequality, it should give up its “geo-cultural nationalism” (read the socio-cultural concept) of Hindutva. If it seeks to promote the philosophy of co-existence of all faiths, which is the ideal of Hinduism, it should opt for the religio-confederal concept of Hindustaniyat. The Muslims of this country have no problem with this, because they have been traditionally describing themselves as Hindustanis. The word Hindustan itself came from the verbiage of the Iranians.

Four Cardinal Considerations

THE RSS needs to recognise four things. First, the usage of a word in a restricted sense over centuries changes the original acceptation of the word. Secondly, the Koran not only teaches the oneness of the Creator. Its esoteric message is the unity of all of creation. The bigots fail to see this. Hence, for ages, the raging controversy within Islam, in the words of the eminent historian, the late Prof Mohammad Habib, has been “between Wahdat-ul-wujud (God is everything) and Wahdat-ush-shuhud (everything comes from God)”.
Those who believe in the former become attuned to tolerance, amicable relations between all religious and racial communities and (Emperor) Akbar’s doctrine of sulh-I-kul (Universal Religious Peace). The doctrine of Wahdat-ush-shuhud led to the worship of external shariat (shariat-i-zahiri) and communal hatred. (Vide Prof Habib’s Foreword to Dr S.A.A.Rizvi’s book “Muslim Revivalist Movements in Northern India in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”)

From the above, it follows that the pious people in other faiths should help in resolving the worldwide intra-Islamic controversy in favour of the former. Declaration of the principle of confederal principle in religion in India would largely help resolve Islam’s global problem and be a powerful blow against bigotry, for world peace.

Thirdly, India’s religio-philosophy’s contribution to Sufism in Islam, and Islam’s contribution to spurring religious reform movements in India constitute a glorious chapter in the world’s history. Historians agree that the growth of Sufism in early Islam was inspired as much by its internal urges as by the influences of Buddhism, the Vedanta and the Hellenistic religions. Islam’s strident call to equality was wedded to the Arabian nomadic tribes’ aggressive traits. It needed an Indian response. This provided the spark for the religious reform movements led by Ramananda, Kabir, Namdev, Tukaram, Guru Nanak and Sri Chaitanya. To talk of inequitous socio-cultural Hindutva as the motto is to belittle the fruitful intermingling of the religio-philosophical thoughts of early Islam and its contemporary Hinduism.

Sharing is a positive value within Islam. Sharing the means of sustenance is also an ideal of Hinduism so much so that Swami Vivekananda had proclaimed that the “Hindu ideal is socialistic”. Hence there is considerable convergence between the pristine Islamic and Hindu spirituality.

Fourthly, all the ideals of love and selfless service which the Ramayana and the Mahabharata had taught are getting eclipsed under the influence of the now globally dominant commercialism, selfism, and cut-throat competitivism in the name of efficiency. To restore ancient India’s sublime values, we need a joint fight of all people against the West’s consumerist and acquisitive philosophy of life and its accompanying paradigm of development. The Biblical value of universal love, the Koranic value of Raham and the Upanishadic teaching “love others as you do yourself” can join together to beat back the narrow self-centric modes of thought. For this also, the fascination for the word “Hindutva” needs to be given up to salve the basic values.

Hinduism’s ideal is synthesis, ever higher synthesis. It requires reconciliation by dissolving the sources of conflict in every unfolding situation. Its ideal is integration of the heart and the head (that is, emotion and intellect) of every individual; integration of individuals with the society; integration of the communities by elevation to newer peaks of harmonious existence. Its form of address must, therefore, be such as has a psychological appeal to all people. The language of negativism, or a language that has the flavour of bias against any group is alien to the spirit of Hinduism. We need inclusivism in letter and spirit.

Inclusivism is not an apologia for overlooking anybody’s hateful, divisive or separatist trends. But to successfully fight separatism, we must have a robust faith in the ultimate victory of the cause for universal good and the preparedness to make sacrifices for it. Success is assured if the approach is positive. Mere criticism/condemnation of any trend without a pointer to the workable alternative serves only to widen the gulf. It defeats the national purpose.

True, the virulent anti-Hindu, anti-Shia mujaddid movement in the 16th century, the bigoted ulama’s secretive conspiracies against Emperor Akbar’s policy of religious tolerance in the 16th century, the wave of Wahabi Jihadism from Arabia in the 18th century, the ani-Hindu tirade of the later-day incarnate of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the late 19th century and the mayhem for a separate homeland for the Muslims led by the later-day incarnate of Mohammad Ali Jinnah were all abominations and deserved condemnation. But the turning of the usually unruly Pathans into the volunteers of non-violence led by the Frontier Gandhi ( Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) was an index of the wonder that communal harmony and national unity could achieve.

Indian Muslims had no Pathological Separatism

IT must not be imagined that the Indian Muslims had always been under separatist influence. It is well known that in undivided Punjab, undivided Bengal and in Sind and the NWFP, and Balochistan, that is, in the Muslim-majority States which were to constitute Pakistan later, the Muslim League’s influence was meagre. In the elections to the provincial legislatures and the Central Assembly in 1937, just a decade before the Partition, the Muslim League had cut a sorry figure. In Punjab, it contested only seven out of 84 Muslim reserved seats and won only two. In Bengal, out of 117 Muslim reserved seats, it had won only 38. In Sind out of 133 Muslim reserved seats, it had secured only 38. In the NWFP, the League was trounced. The League did not get even a single seat in the Central Assembly. This showed the Muslims could be mobilised for national purposes if the national leadership could act wisely and avoid falling into traps.

True, a decade later the results were reversed. The Muslim League won all the 30 reserved seats for Muslims in the Central Assembly and 428 seats out of 492 reserved seats for Muslims in provincial legislatures. That happened because the elections were held in an atmosphere in which no civilised country would ever allow an election to take place. The ambience was vitiated by the British rulers’ intrigues, the Imams’ fatwas and false propaganda blitz that in the event of Muslim League’s defeat, the Muslims would not be allowed to congregate to offer prayers or to bury their dead and that the madrasas would all be closed. The Indian National Congress, which had the necessary moral resources and international prestige, could have asked for postponement of the elections unless there was a stoppage of the false propaganda and a calming down of the tempers. Moreover, it should never have agreed to the elections— a virtual referendum — being held on the basis of restricted franchise in which only 10 per cent of the population had the right to vote!

Deadly Poison Mix of Ruling Party’s Pseudo-Secularism and RSS’ Hindutva

IN post-independence India, the ruling Congress party, in the name of secularism, has been following a policy of appeasing the bigoted Muslim clerics. Thereby it encouraged “minority aggressivism” and further fuelled the communal fire. But Hindutvavad was no answer to this. Instead of mitigating the communal fire, it only served to corroborate Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s and later Jinnah’s thesis that the Muslims and the Hindus were two separate nations. What was needed instead was the pointer that concessions to the clerics were only a cloak for neglect of the Muslim masses’ material, intellectual and spiritual interests. Only Mahatma Gandhi’s kind of response could have been effective. During his Noakhali tour, with his ever-present declaration of Universal Love, he had challenged the communalist leaders to show him where the Koran had enjoined the killing of people of other faiths. Could the RSS challenge the communalists the way the Mahatma did?

One only wishes that the Mahatma had shown the same grit by standing steadfastly with Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in resisting Partition.

Hinduism’s unique teaching is: “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” Hinduism also teaches: “Love others as you do yourself.” “Love has the power to heal.” The Biblical teaching, too, is Universal Love. The Koran teaches Khuda’s Raham pervades the universe. Criticism by the way of pointer to the error is essential. But criticism without concern for the welfare of the wrong-doer is of no avail.

Half-hearted Compromise is no Solution

IN its latest meet, the BJP’s National Executive has tried to make a compromise between the RSS’ clamour for Hindutva and many of the BJP leaders’ belated realisation that the Hindutva slogan alienates not only the Muslims, Christians and large sections of the Dalits, but also the secular “caste-Hindus”. L.K. Advani’s middle-path declaration that the party would not accept “any narrow, bigoted, anti-Muslim interpretation of Hindutva” indicates it is unable to shed its fascination for the word it has so long been pledged to. In fact, the BJP would not be able to shed it until the the RSS realises how, by sticking to this word, it is hampering national unity and also defeating its own cherished values. This tightrope walking by the BJP will not have the healing touch. This will not unify the people.

Clearly discarding Hindutva and accepting Hindustaniyat will not mean any loss of face. This will rather show the courage to steer a change propelled by the depth of patriotic fervour.

If the RSS and/or the BJP could drop Hindutva as its motto, it would be able to challenge the Muslimist bigots more effectively. Like Dr Rafiq Zakaria and in one voice with all truly secular people, it will be able to tell the bigoted clerics:

During the British rule, you accepted the replacements of the Koranic punishments by those which the then rulers had imposed in their civil and criminal courts. At that time, you acquiesced in the banning of the stoning of the adulterous to death, though this ban violated the Koranic injunction. You paid interest on the loans taken from the banks though it was prohibited by the Koran. Now, you raise a hue and cry about carrying out some essential reforms in Muslim Personal Law even though some Muslim countries have already enacted them. In protest against the Supreme Court’s righteous verdict in the Shah Bano case, you got enacted a law of maintenance which has thrown many Muslim women divorcees to the streets. ‘Triple talaq at one go’ is barbaric and against the spirit of the Koran; still you cling to it.

After it drops the outmoded Hindutva slogan, it would be able to mock the shariat enthusiasts in the manner of Akbar Allahabadi: “The Shaikh advised his followers, why do you travel by train when you could travel on camel’s back?”

Writing on the Wall

MAYBE, all these pleas will fall flat in the RSS leadership’s ears. In that case, the RSS should read the writing on the wall: the RSS will break up or become moribund. Despite its claim of being a monolith with no divergence of views among its members, the RSS will face a grave existential crisis if it does not change its tune in keeping with the times. There are already sufficient indications. In the1980s—I forget the exact year—I was invited by Deendayal Research Institute, headed by Nanaji Deshmukh, to give a series of lectures on my ideas of environment and development. Lala Hansraj Gupta was in the chair. When I came to say “Hinduism is no religion. It is a way of life”, I heard an exclamation in endorsement: “Exactly. Those who talk of ‘Hindus, Hindus’ but have no interest in the lives of Muslims are not genuine Hindus.” The voice was Nanaji’s. I was pleasantly surprised because Nanaji was a prominent RSS member and I did not expect this from an RSS leader of his stature. Later I had many discussions with him, in course of which I asked him: “Why don’t you tell your opinions to Balasaheb Deoras?” He told me that he was writing down his viewpoints but these would be published after his death. Presumably, he did not want to annoy the RSS leadership for fear of their non-cooperation in his other constructive activities at Gonda or Chitrakut.

I know some senior BJP leaders who would be happy if Hindutva is dropped as the guiding principle. How long can the RSS keep such people together under the banner of Hindutva? The slogan of Hindutva does conjure up fear of “Hindu cultural domination” in the minds of today’s non-Hindus, even if Hindu Rashtra is ruled out. Rationalising has its limits.

If the RSS changes its archaic ideas and accepts Hindustaniyat as the religio-confederal principle, it can play a much larger role on the national horizon. During invasions by China and by Pakistan, its volunteers played a very useful role in mobilising the people against the invaders, and working as service providers to our military and internal security forces. It also played a significant role in regulating traffic and maintaining law and order even-handedly. In recognition of this, the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, invited the RSS leadership to be a member of the National Security Council. In times of violent attacks on the Sikhs following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, it did laudable work in giving shelter and succour to the Sikhs. Dr Hedgewar had links with Bengal’s legendary revolutionary leader, Trailokya Nath Chakrabarty also known as ‘Maharaj’; and therefore, this nation’s hero, Subhas Chandra Bose, had even thought of utilising the RSS’ organisational skill in raising a nationalist volunteer force. During Jayaprakash Narayan’s anti-corruption and anti-Emergency movements and Bihar flood relief, the RSS had earned fulsome praise from JP.

Will the RSS let all this goodwill to be besmirched or lost by its dogmatism and obsolete ideas? It needs to realise that its Hindutvavad does stir up, among its unthinking followers—which is by far the larger part—fanaticism, blind prejudices and hatred against all those who now refuse to see themselves as “Hindus”. If the RSS did not suffer from the Nelson’s eye syndrome, it would have seen that a large section of the Dalits and even the Sikhs, who were once the vanguard of saving the Hindus from forced conversion, do not now like to be counted as Hindus.

The author is one of the country’s earliest environ-mentalists and a social philosopher.

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