Book Review

Roots of Hindutva

Print edition : November 22, 2019

Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressing a seminar titled “Guptvanshak Veer: Skandagupta Vikramaditya” at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi on October 17. Photo: PTI

RSS workers participate in “Path Sanchalan” march on the occasion of Vijayadashami celebration in Bhopal on October 8. The RSS was founded on Vijayadashami day in 1925. Photo: PTI

M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS’ second sarsanghchalak.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Photo: S. Sudarshan

Former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan. In 2006, Sudarshan sarcastically told Advani that the yatras appeared to be a political gimmick with no obvious end. Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives

BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj. He suggested that Hindu women have at least four children “to protect Hinduism”. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani (left) and other leaders paying homage to V.D. Savarkar on his birth anniversary, at Parliament House in New Delhi on May 28, 2014. Advani, the Iron Man, was to be reduced to acandle without a wick, and Modi’s star burned bright. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

The book narrates the saga of the RSS and how the ideology of Hindutva that is unfolding in the political arena now should not just be traced to 2014 but much further back.

POLITICIANS are not known to be exemplary students of history. They are more like seasonal birds who fly in, catch the worm and flit away. Blessed with a selective memory, they are masters at the pick-and-choose game. So when Union Home Minister Amit Shah made a spirited plea for rewriting history from an Indian standpoint while speaking at a two-day seminar on the Gupta king Skandgupta at Banaras Hindu University, it turned quite a few heads. Nobody has ever accused Amit Shah of nursing a predilection for academics. Rather, we all have been accustomed to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) relentless endeavour to project everything ancient as glorious and everything medieval as barbaric.

History with a twist

Consequently, when Amit Shah, in his address, spoke about Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s interpretation of the First War of Independence and how independent India needed to write its own history, he scored more than just a few brownie points. It seemed like an official announcement of a project of nationalisation of history. And Amit Shah seemed just the right man to talk of giving history the desired twist, an interpretation predicated on a predetermined set of heroes and villains.

“There is a need to rewrite our history. We need to come forward to do so. The historians of the country have a big role to play. It’s our weakness that we couldn’t reanalyse our history,” said Amit Shah.

“The uprising of 1857 wouldn’t have become a part of our history but for Veer Savarkar. It was he who wrote that the uprising of 1857 (portrayed by British historians as a mere mutiny or revolt by sepoys) was the first Indian War of Independence. Otherwise, we would have still been looking at this event through the eyes of the British.”

Of course, Amit Shah could not resist adding: “How long should we keep cursing Leftist, English and Mughal historians [for alleged distortion]?” His words made for ready headlines, but his instinctive pick-and-choose policy showed him in a not-so-splendid light. Before calling Savarkar a pioneer who treated the Revolt of 1857 as the First War of Independence, Amit Shah could have enlightened himself with some minor details of the subject.

A reading of A.G. Noorani’s The RSS: A Menace to India would have helped remove much of the cobwebs and maybe some of the prejudice too. The inimitable Noorani blunts Amit Shah’s argument with knife-like sharpness. About the man on whom the BJP wants to confer the Bharat Ratna, Noorani writes: “Savarkar also wrote a book on the Revolt of 1857: The Indian War of Independence of 1857. He excelled Asoka Mehta in praising the Muslims for their role in 1857. What were they that moulvies preached them, learned Brahmins blessed them, that for their success prayers went up to the heaven from the mosques of Delhi and the temples of Benares? The great principles were Swadharma and Swaraj. In the thundering roar of ‘Din, din’, which rose to protect religion, when there were evident signs of a cunning, dangerous and destructive attack on religion dearer than life, and in the terrific blows dealt at the chain of slavery with the holy desire of acquiring Swaraj.... [T]he principles of Swadharma and Swaraj will be embedded in the bone and marrow of all the sons of Hindustan!”

If this would have helped Amit Shah present a well-rounded depiction of Savarkar, Noorani’s words may have dissuaded many a Hindutva exponent from appropriating him.

Back then, Noorani reminds us, Savarkar was different, very different, a far cry from the boy who grew up throwing stones at a local mosque and an adult who wrote apologies to the British from his cell in the Andamans.

Noorani writes: “The feeling is unmistakable; The Indian War of Independence was written by a man proud of his religious and cultural heritage, proud of Maharashtra’s past and yet someone who sought to blend regional and religious loyalties together in an overarching loyalty to the Indian nation. Interestingly, there is an entire chapter devoted to Ayodhya (chapter 4). The chapter, however, contains none of the falsehoods retained by his political heirs of today. The message throughout is one of national unity, of Indian nationalism.”

Tracing the roots

Did Amit Shah have the Savarkar of 1857 in mind or the one who sought clemency from the British? Or the one who believed in an exclusive Hindu Rashtra? Noorani’s book is not just an eye-opener. It is a book which tell us that in the Hindutva scheme of things, yesterday never dies. What we are witnessing today should not, and cannot, be traced to 2014. It has its roots in the very foundation of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the days of M.S. Golwalkar as its second sarsanghchalak, the one whose book We or Our Nationhood Defined the RSS has disowned.

More immediately, it can be traced to 2008, when the RSS talked of having a vote bank by 2019 and a totalitarian regime in place, leaving the opposition redundant.

Noorani can change the way you look at modern and post-Independence history. He is painstaking, meticulous, with an unerring eye for detail and he expects similar patience from his readers. He encourages them to think, to introspect, and join the dots between seemingly intractable elements. After reading him, one realises that nothing a BJP leader says or does is ever removed from the guidelines provided by the RSS.

Tools of RSS

Noorani’s arguments are flawless. The way he unfolds the Hindutva drama is like watching a film in flashback. Reading him makes it easier to understand where it is coming from when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks of a Congress-mukt Bharat or Amit Shah presses on with his divisive, sectarian, indeed anti-constitutional views cloaked as the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Or even when sundry BJP leaders such as Sakshi Maharaj become the laughing stock of urban India for asking Hindu women to have at least four children “to protect Hinduism”. It all goes back to the parent body, the RSS, where all the eggs are hatched. Modi-Amit Shah are merely the latest tools (or is it weapons?) for the RSS.

As Noorani happily tells us, the BJP is often regarded as the political department of the cultural body. Rather than beating around the bush, Noorani says it as it is. The name of one of the chapters suffices: “RSS Selects India’s Prime Minister”.

Taking generous help from media clippings of the day, he proceeds to show the absolute dichotomy between the Constitution of India and the oath of the RSS and how a BJP MP who is also an RSS member does not even realise the anomaly of it all.

Noorani writes: “On October 2013, The Indian Express carried this interesting report from Mumbai: RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has said: the Sangh Parivar has not yet decided on a P.M. candidate. Bhagwat was in Mumbai to attend a conclave on nation building through social sectors. Last week, BJP national president L.K. Advani had met Bhagwat in Nagpur. Advani said he was holding discussions with the top RSS leadership on his proposed rath yatra against corruption. Neither was being truthful. Bhagwat and the RSS had already selected Modi for the job. Advani was not seeking Nagpur’s approval for his favourite ploy, the yatra; but to canvas support for his candidature to the office of Prime Minister. What escaped notice was the RSS’s arrogation publicly of a right to select India’s future Prime Minister from one of its own fold. He would be one who had taken this oath on admission to the RSS: ‘Before the all-powerful God and my ancestors, I most solemnly take the oath that I have become a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in order to achieve all-round greatness of Bharatvarsh by fostering the growth of my sacred Hindu religion, Hindu society and Hindu culture. I shall work for the Sangh honestly, disinterestedly, with my heart and soul, and I shall adhere to this oath all my life.’”

This, Noorani does not fail to remind us, is in total contradiction to the Constitution of India or the “Oath he would take as Prime Minister of India. It would bind him to regard all equally—‘I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.’”

In other words, the Constitution does not permit him to foster the growth of Hindu religion. So, when a Sakshi Maharaj asks Hindu women to produce at least four children to protect the religion or advocates the death sentence for those indulging in conversion, you know it all stems from the oath of the RSS, that pledge to work for the growth of “my sacred Hindu religion”.

Interestingly, in recent years, many in political circles have expressed sympathy for Advani and even questioned the way the Loh Purush, Iron Man, has virtually been consigned to an old-age home masquerading as a Marg Darshak Mandal. Almost everybody pins the blame on the Modi-Amit Shah duo for the indignities that have come to visit Advani in his sunset years. The trail, Noorani reveals, goes back a long way. The author exposes Advani as a dogged man, driven by ambition and never shackled by scruples.

Writing about the time the RSS gained complete control over “the political department”, Noorani says: “Tightening its control over the BJP was not such a difficult problem for the RSS. Its assets were many. With [A.B.] Vajpayee and Advani out, there was none to seek accommodation for his ‘political judgment’; i.e. tactical compulsions. The path was not a smooth one, though. The RSS had not reckoned with the ferocity of Advani’s ambition, his talent for intrigue and his capacity to struggle doggedly, shamelessly to return to his former pre-eminence. He fought hard from 2004 till 2014 when Narendra Modi was confirmed in the post of Prime Minister.”

Indeed, Advani gave it his all in his bid to be the party’s prime ministerial candidate. From 2004 to 2014, when the United Progressive Alliance was in power, Advani nursed his dream with a series of meetings with opposition leaders, all the time seeking to widen his appeal. He even opened a communication link with Muslims, which was to prove to be his undoing. In the same period, for a few years, he even groomed Modi to be his successor.

Remember Vajpayee’s talk of Raj dharma after the Gujarat genocide and how Advani won a breather for Modi? It is another matter that Modi proved to be the man responsible for his ouster. Writes Noorani: “Votes melt hearts. Advani went back on his earlier assertion on primacy of Hindu interests when he wooed a gathering of Muslim women in New Delhi on July 13, 2008. He said he disapproved of the slogan raised by his partymen during his famous ‘Rath Yatra’, ‘Wahi desh par raj karega, jo Hindu hith ki baat karega (Only those who talk in favour of Hindus will rule the country).’

“I always suggested that they say, ‘Wahi desh par raj karega, jo rashtra hith ki baat karega (Only those who talk of national interest will rule the country).’”

The meeting was part of Advani’s failed bid to present an age-old hawk as a modern-day dove. Soon, he went back to his original avatar. During the 2009 election, he launched his campaign from Gorakhpur with the pledge of constructing the Ram temple. Ah! The more things change, the more they stay the same. The BJP went on to lose the election, giving Advani baiters a handle. The old hawk refused to go down though, still driven by a singular ambition to be Prime Minister. But the RSS threw its weight behind Modi. Every BJP leader fell in line with the RSS decision while Advani withheld his consent.

Noorani lifts the veil of mystery from these developments: “Despite hectic parleys, cajoling, persuasion by top leaders for the last few days, Advani refused to relent. In his letter to the BJP chief [Rajnath Singh] Advani made it clear that he was ‘unhappy’ with the decision. ‘This afternoon, when you had come to my residence to inform me about the parliamentary board meeting, I had said something about my anguish as also my disappointment over your style of functioning.’ Advani did not even spare the BJP chief who, apparently under RSS pressure, decided to go ahead with the parliamentary board meeting. Modi, who flew down from Gujarat, entered the meeting… slightly late. Singh moved the proposal naming Modi as the P.M. candidate and it was endorsed by all. The meeting was a formality.”

It was particularly humiliating for Advani, who had built up Modi as his successor, not as the man who would pull the carpet from under his feet.

The writing, however, had been on the wall for a long time. Except that Advani did not read it at all. Soon, the Loh Purush was to be reduced to a candle without a wick, and Modi’s star burned bright. Back in 2006, there was a meeting with the RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, which should have served as a sign of things to come. Advani had gone to meet Sudarshan in Nagpur, ostensibly to talk of another yatra, his pet subject whenever his career floundered. At the meeting, Sudarshan is said to have given the veteran leader a dressing down.

Quoting the noted journalist Sanjay Basak’s commentary in The Asian Age, Noorani recalls: “As the meeting went on, Sudarshan attacked Advani for other things. He said Advani deliberately delayed his resignation as the BJP chief by nine months so that [Rajnath] Singh would get only a year and three months at the helm till March 2007.... The sarcastic Sudarshan said the yatras appeared to be a political gimmick with no obvious end. ‘Whose ekta are you trying to achieve?’ he asked Advani. ‘Hindu-Muslim? India-Pakistan? Or the unity of parties you are talking to in order to become P.M.?’ He accused Advani of deliberately keeping the RSS in the dark about his intentions. A stung Advani was told finally: ‘You have no credibility. You’re not to take the Sangh agenda forward.’”

Thus the mighty Advani, the second tallest BJP leader of the era, underwent a diminution.

Noorani’s book, however, is not about one man’s failed ambition or another man’s unrestrained exercise of authority. It is a book that tells us that everything we see unfolding around us today has its roots in yesterday. In the RSS mindset, yesterday never dies. Whether it is about the distant past of Muslim invaders razing sundry temples to the ground or the more recent utterances of some of the early leaders of the RSS fold, the past stays alive.

Thus, while the media might go on reporting how the Assam government plans to bring a Bill that would prohibit anybody with more than two children from applying for a government job, or a Pravin Togadia tells his Hindu audience to go home, worship the phallus and produce more children, the roots, inevitably, go back to the RSS because the world awaits directions from the Hindu society. Here again, Noorani quotes Sudarshan from a 2006 meeting, where he came up with a prognosis of how the world was heading for a nuclear supremacy struggle between the West and the backers of jehadi Islam and how India, home to 73 different Muslim groupings, would emerge as an island of peace and a world power.

In the RSS’ internal meetings, Muslims were not neglected. Sudarshan asked Muslims to regard Krishna as their own god, just as his predecessors had suggested that they call themselves Mohammadiya Hindus, with one condition: Hindus would agree to install an idol of the Prophet in some of their temples. That was the time, around 2005, the BJP began to rewrite its own history, something which Amit Shah wants the nation to undertake on a much larger scale now.

Back then, Noorani, again quoting from Sanjay Basak’s report, says: “The ‘Party Document’ detailing the birth of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh between 1952 and 1980 claims that ‘atrocities’ committed by Muslims against Hindus were responsible for the rise of the RSS. The sixth volume of the document, authored by saffron historian Makhan Lal and senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur, quoted Deen Dayal Upadhyaya describing Muslims as ‘goondas, ruffians, thugs and hoodlums’. It also spoke of the advent of Gandhi and Muslim appeasement. With the RSS now embarrassed by its ‘negative documentation’, the BJP has withdrawn copies of the volume from all book stores and will relaunch it after ‘necessary corrections’.”

A little after the “necessary corrections”, the then party president Rajnath Singh asserted at the party’s national council on December 26, 2006: “Give us a clear majority and 10 years’ time—five years will not do—and I promise the BJP will put an end to the politics of Muslim appeasement that is ruining the nation.”

A little over seven years later, Modi asked the country for 10 years to get rid of 1,200 years of serfdom.

Major document

As for Noorani’s book, it merits space on your bookshelf. It is not a book meant to be read in a hurry. Nor was it written in a hurry. It is a major document of the unfolding saga of the RSS and its often tenuous relationship with the minorities and its more accommodating one with the BJP. Noorani brings all his long years’ mastery into play here. Through one page and another, through one chapter and another, Noorani exposes the RSS for what it is: an all-pervasive organisation with naked political and civilisational goals, masquerading as a cultural body.

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