THE BJP is India’s largest political force, but its ideology is not properly understood. Some aspects of it—the opposition to dynasty, the promise of economic development—are clear even though the party may not adhere to them fully. The largest component of the ideology, what is called Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, is more vague. What does it mean and what is it intended to achieve?
RSS: The Long and the Short of it
Devanura Mahadeva, a writer from Karnataka, explores this with his work on the RSS, the parent body of the BJP. The party was founded in 1951 after the RSS came under attack following Mahatma Gandhi’s murder. Its leader and many of his followers were jailed and the organisation was banned.
It determined that it required political protection to operate and entered electoral politics by forming the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS). Until 1980, the party, including all of its top leadership, was essentially staffed by RSS cadre. In 1980, after it demerged from the umbrella opposition Janata Party, A.B. Vajpayee renamed the BJS and opened the BJP to non-RSS individuals. The link with the RSS and the ideology remains, and its top leadership, including the Prime Minister, who was a pracharak, continues to come from members of the Sangh.
Mahadeva attempts to understand what the RSS is and what it wants through the simple device of reading Hindutva’s primary texts. These are V.D. Savarkar’s works and M.S. Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts. The writer describes his motivation to do this through a parable.
A sorcerer who spread turmoil was invincible because his life was stored in a parrot in a distant cave. He thus remained untouched by action against his own person. The only way to get at him was to go after this life-soul in that hidden parrot. Mahadeva thus goes on this quest to see what lies behind Hindutva.
In his encounter with Golwalkar, he finds that the RSS head worshipped caste and asked that the rest of us worship it. In Bunch of Thoughts, Golwalkar says that the Hindu people are his god and this god manifests itself through caste. Meaning the organisation of Hindu society in the way Manu described it (Brahmin head, Kshatriya arms, Vaishya thighs, and Shudra feet) is the entity that is worthy of worship. In 1960, Golwalkar said that caste could be used for cross-breeding superior humans, like it is done for animals. This was done by Hindus earlier, through Namboodiri Brahmin men marrying outside the caste.
It was also done, he said, through Namboodiri men fathering the first child of a woman married to someone else. It may interest readers to know that Europe in the feudal period may have had something similar called droit du seigneur (“right of the lord”), which allowed feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women on their wedding night. That this is straight exploitation of the weak and the marginalised and not some noble thing does not appear to have occurred to Golwalkar.
If such things are not pushed forth by the RSS cadre or the BJP, it is not because these statements have been withdrawn but because they are likely confident that few people will do what the author has done and actually read the primary texts. It would be interesting to see a television debate today around whether or not the caste system should be worshipped and ossified as the RSS wants it to be.
Mahadeva makes a number of original observations. He says that the RSS has defanged the religions that sprang out of India but rejected the caste that he wants worshipped. “The RSS tries to pull out the teeth and nails of Jaina, Bouddha, Sikh, Lingayat and other dharmas that were born in India and rejected the Chaturvarna order.” The mere act of calling these Hindu faiths is an attempt to subsume them.
There is no resistance to this internally, Mahadeva writes, because the RSS in fact does not encourage thinking. Of the title Bunch of Thoughts itself, he says that there is not much thinking in the work, only a series of “random, dangerous beliefs and that too from a bygone age”. Thinking is discouraged in the RSS through the insistence on order over diversity.
The RSS “tames” its volunteers, Mahadeva writes and quotes Golwalkar as saying that they must “Do what is told…. If told to play kabaddi play kabaddi, told to hold meeting then meeting…. Their discretion is not required.”
Among the things that this cadre is taught is that the Constitution is flawed. The RSS, and this is true even of the work of Deendayal Upadhyaya, the man who would later head the Jana Sangh, has always attacked federalism. The very idea of States is offensive to them because there can be only one Bharat Mata, and the existence of a Tamil Nadu or Gujarat or Bengal is wrong. Mahadeva links this to the goods and services tax, which has taken away or severely limited the rights of States to raise their own revenues.
A ‘cow-faced tiger’
The stress on homogeneity over diversity shows, the author writes, in such things as nomenclature. The RSS and the BJP refer to Adivasis as vanvasis (forest dwellers), thus eroding their indigenous identity. Mahadeva calls Hindutva a “cow-faced tiger”, an entity that is eating at Indian society from within. The Prime Minister he says is popular but is only an “utsava murti”, a replica of the main idol which is led out in a procession. “The real deity sits in Nagpur, inside the RSS shrine.” The only qualifications required of the utsava murti are the ability to put up a show and mesmerise the people. Mahadeva asks: “[D]on’t we see all of this today?”
What does he offer as a solution? He gives the example of a village that is overrun by thieves.
“Firstly, the entire town wakes up. At night the youth take turns patrolling and keeping watch in the mohallas. Women carry chilli powder with them. This is the kind of… awakening and vigil we all need. Because these thieves can come in different guises; they may come for temple maintenance for instance. Fake news can be spread. Hymn singing can be organised. The only way out is to first uncover the plot. This requires us to be vigilant. Further, at least now, the sane voices which are a scattered few need to speak up about right and wrong. Words like love, tolerance, justice need to be heard from within our society.”
Mahadeva’s work was originally published as RSS: Depth and Breadth, and he encouraged people to distribute it widely and even republish it on their own if they wished to do so.
The version being reviewed includes two essays, by Ramachandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav. The intellectual content of books is sometimes judged by how long they are. Mahadeva himself refers to his work as a “booklet”, and Guha speaks of it in his essay as a “pamphlet”. Let these descriptions not mislead the potential reader. This is a first-rate work. It is an important intellectual attack on the times we are going through and for that reason has become popular.
Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist. His most recent book is The Anarchist Cookbook: A Toolkit to Protest and Peaceful Resistance.
- In this book, Devanura Mahadeva explores the ideology of the BJP, India’s largest political force.
- The largest component of the ideology is Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. Many people do not know what this means and what it seeks to achieve.
- Mahadeva attempts to understand what the RSS is and what it wants through Hindutva’s primary texts: V.D. Savarkar’s works and M.S. Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts. Few other people have actually read these texts.
- In his encounter with Golwalkar, he finds that the RSS head worshipped caste and asked that the rest of us worship it.
- Mahadeva writes that in the RSS thinking is discouraged through the insistence on order over diversity, and the cadre is taught, among other things, that the Constitution is flawed. The RSS has always attacked federalism.
- Mahadeva’s work was originally published as RSS: Depth and Breadth, and he encouraged people to distribute it widely and even republish it on their own if they wished to do so.
- The version being reviewed includes two essays, by Ramachandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav.