Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Modi Government as an Exponent of BJP Secularism

(Now that the Annual Conference of the American Academy of Religion is only a few days away, let me present the abstract plus explanation I sent in for last year's conference. It was written in February 2015 and draws attention to an important phenomenon with a strong and hitherto unrefuted predictive power, viz. the BJP variety of secularism. The AAR's "experts" were not interested, preferring their prestigious delusions to the hard facts.)

AB Vajpayee's NDA Government (1998-2004) heavily disappointed the experts who had predicted "all Moslims into the Indian Ocean" or similar doomsday scenarios -- or rather, it put them squarely in the wrong. Hindu "fascism" as a threat to democracy? When Vajpayee narrowly lost a confidence vote, he meekly stepped down. War against Pakistan? Though Pakistan unilaterally invaded India (Kargil 1999), Vajpayee forbade the Army to strike at the invaders' base across the border, and later opened a peace process, making symbolic concessions which Congress had always refused. Isolationism? He threw the Indian media market open to foreign media ownership, a move opposed by India's entire political spectrum. The only "Hindutva" thing the NDA ever did was HRD Minister MM Joshi's clumsy overhaul of the recommended history schoolbooks, changing nothing dramatic and easily reversed. When the Government created a Chair for Indic Studies in Oxford ("saffronization!"), it selected an outspoken opponent for the job, in the vain hope of receiving a pat on the back from its declared enemies.

With the hindsight knowledge of historical reality, it would be embarrassing to reproduce the predictions by Indian and foreign experts. Today, anti-BJP discourse is less shrill, but still confidently classifies the BJP among the "Hindu Right". This implies a prediction that once in power, the BJP would pursue distinctly pro-Hindu policies. However, in the light of our experience with the Vajpayee Government, it is no surprise that the present Government led by Narendra Modi fails to live up to this learned prediction, at least for now. (Of course, this paper will be updated by November as new developments take place.)

In spite of having a more homogeneous majority, it is reluctant to do anything pro-Hindu or perceivable as anti-minority. On the contrary, one of its first acts was to decree a new subsidy to Islamic schools. The stray Hindutva statements by loose cannon (Akshay Maharaj, Jyoti Niranjan) were followed by retractions, condemnations by Government spokesmen, and indignant innuendos by Modi-friendly journalists (Tavleen Singh, Swapan Dasgupta). Public reconversions by the allied VHP, heavily publicized and demonized by the media, were promptly discouraged by the Government. Having learned from Vajpayee's 2004 defeat, though, Modi does “keep the pot boiling”, does regularly throw crumbs of inconsequential Hindu symbolism to his support base, all while not formally changing anything. 

However, if many BJP workers are disappointed with this Government, is not for what it does but mainly for what it persistently fails to do. Thus, it inducted no figures with a strongly ideological profile (Arun Shourie, Subramanian Swamy). Likewise, some public figures who had crossed the floor (e.g. Madhu Kishwar) were conspicuously not rewarded -- a fact not considered here for disgruntled ego reasons but for illustrating the BJP's lack of strategy: it doesn't put people who have actually sacrificed for the BJP to any use, while awarding positions of influence to unreliable newcomers motivated by sheer opportunism. While some things on the Hindu agenda are either useless to Hinduism (e.g. declaring a "Hindu Rashtra") and others would arouse violent protests for which the media are sure to blame Modi (e.g. a Common Civil Code, though "secular" par excellence), others are perfectly feasible and, moreover, turn out to be the most consequential for the flourishing of Hinduism.

In particular, the amending of Constitutional Articles 28 and 30, which (de facto c.q. formally) discriminate against Hinduism in education, does not take away any rights from the minorities, yet lifts an enormous burden from Hindu organizations investing in education and eliminates a major reason for Hindu sects (Arya Samaj, RK Mission, Lingayats, Jains) to have themselves judicially declared non-Hindu minorities. Similarly, eliminating the legal basis of the discrimination against Hinduism in temple management, with rich temples (but not mosques or churches) nationalized and their income pocketed by politicians or diverted to non-Hindu purposes, would give an enormous boost to Hindu religious and cultural life, without impinging upon the rights of the minorities. It has to be noted, however, and it buttresses my case for "BJP secularism", that temple management is partly a competence of the States, and that BJP State Governments have not made the difference. At any rate, there are meaningful things a BJP Government could do specifically for Hinduism without endangering its non-religious agenda (development, cleaning India etc.) or its international standing, yet it chooses not to do them.        

As for the Hindutva fits and starts of some BJP members, now considered extremists but in fact only representative of what the erstwhile Jan Sangh (1952-77, predecessor of the BJP) stood for, it should be easy to bring them in line around a more reasonable but still credibly pro-Hindu programme. It is here that the BJP is most conspicuously failing -- conspicuous at least to insiders, for 99% of the outside literature about the BJP never mentions this phenomenon. Contrary to a consensus among academic and journalistic India-watchers, the supposed “Hindu extremist” party has no Hindu agenda. It relies on pro-Hindu workers to do the campaigning legwork, but once in power it cold-shoulders them, it publicizes and pursues an agenda of economic development only, and it tries to curry favour with the secularists.

The main reason is the long-standing deliberate lack of investment (pioneered by MS Golwalkar) in an intellectual and strategic vision of its own, the spurning of any analysis of the forces in the field and of the potential and limitations of the situation. It therefore also lacks competent personnel for the ideological struggle, e.g. for a textbook overhaul or, now, for nominating politically friendly new Vice-Chancellors. Consequently, most BJP leaders have an enormous inferiority complex vis-à-vis the secularists and, even when in office, try to live up to the norms laid down by their opponents.

This is hardly the impression created by most experts; but the primary data, the only source to which this paper pledges loyalty, tell a clear story: the present BJP is only termed a Hindu party in deference to the distant memory of its initial orientation.


Like the previous BJP Government, the present one fails to live up to the oft-heard predictions of strident pro-Hindu and anti-minority policies. This is due to a phenomenon insufficiently realized by most India-watchers: a desire to live up to the norms upheld by the secularists and an interiorization of the disinterest in "outdated" Hindu concerns, not just among the numerous opportunists who have flocked to the new party in power, but even in the loyal core of the BJP's personnel. Based on insider sources, this paper enumerates the data establishing the reality of "BJP secularism" and analyses the reasons for this emerging phenomenon.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Vandalism sanctified by scripture

(After Hindu activists demolished a mosque in a small town in Rajasthan, the on-line magazine OutlookIndia published a comment with an entirely predictable message by the well-known secularist Yoginder Sikand.  At the editor's invitation, I wrote the following rebuttal, published on 31 August 2001.)

In his article "Sanctified Vandalism As A Political Tool" (www.OutLooklndia.com, Aug. 23, 2001), Yoginder Sikand tries to explain away Muslim iconoclasm as marginal and uncharacteristic, all while accusing the Hindus and others of just such iconoclasm.  In both endeavours, he predictably relies on Richard Eatons book Essays on Islam and Indian History (OUP Delhi 2000).

According to Sikand, Eaton clearly shows that cases of destruction of places of worship were not restricted to Muslim rulers alone.  He recounts numerous instances of Hindu kings having torn down Hindu temples, in addition to Jaina and Buddhist shrines.  He says that these must be seen as, above all, powerful politically symbolic acts. Follows a list of such allegations against historical Hindu kings.

As it takes at least a page to evaluate or refute an allegation uttered in a single sentence, I cannot discuss those allegations here, so I will accept for the sake of argument that there have indeed been instances of Hindu kings looting Hindu idols and destroying Hindu temples for political purposes.  However, it is obvious that these do not create Sikand's desired impression of symmetry between Hindu and Muslim iconoclasm.  Such symmetry would require that like Hindu kings, whose goal was political rather than religious, Muslim kings also destroyed places of worship of their own religion.  Eaton and Sikand would succeed in blurring the contrast between Hindu and Muslim attitudes to places of worship if they could present a sizable list of mosques destroyed by Muslim conquerors.

In a further attempt to blame even Islamic iconoclasm on the alleged Hindu example, Sikand quotes Eaton again: It is clear that temples had been the natural sites for the contestation of kingly authority well before the coming of Muslim Turks to India.  Not surprisingly, Turkish invaders, when attempting to plant their own rule in early medieval India, followed and continued established patterns. How strange then that the Muslim records never invoke the Hindu example: invariably they cite Islamic scripture and precedent as justification for desecrating Pagan temples.  As we shall see, the justification was provided outside of the Hindu sphere of influence in 7th-century Arabia.

But at least Sikand admits the fact of Islamic iconoclasm: It is true that, as the historical records show, some Muslim kings did indeed destroy Hindu temples.  This even Muslims themselves would hardly dispute. However, Sikand claims that unnamed Hindutva sources have grossly exaggerated the record of Islamic temple destruction: Richard Eaton points out that of the sixty thousand-odd cases of temple destruction by Muslim rulers cited by contemporary Hindutva sources one may identify only eighty instances whose historicity appears to be reasonably certain.

In his seminal book Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, independent Hindu historian Sita Ram Goel has listed two thousand cases where a mosque was built in forcible replacement of a Hindu temple.  Not one of these verifiable items has been proven false, not by Sikand nor by Eaton or other eminent historians.  It is also instructive to see for oneself what Eaton's purported eighty cases are, on pp. 128-132 of his book.  These turn out not to concern individual places of worship, but campaigns of destruction affecting whole cities with numerous temples at once.  Among the items on Eaton's list, we find Delhi under Mohammed Ghori's onslaught, 1193, or Benares under the Ghurid conquest, 1194, and again under Aurangzeb's temple-destruction campaign, 1669. On each of these three occasions, literally hundreds of temples were sacked.  In the case of Delhi, we all know how the single Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque replaced 27 temples, incorporating their rubble.  At this rate, Eaton's eighty instances easily match Goel's two thousand, perhaps even the unnamed Hindutva author's sixty thousand.

Sikand continues with the oft-used argument: Caution must be exercised in accepting the narratives provided by medieval writers about the exploits of kings, including their feats of temple destruction.  Most historians were employees of the royal courts, and they tended to exaggerate the exploits of the kings in order to present them as great champions of Islam, an image that hardly fits the facts that we know about them. So, as Sikand admits in so many words, the Muslim chroniclers were collectively convinced that they could enhance the standing of their patrons as champions of Islam by attributing to them feats of temple destruction.  Perhaps some of them were liars, as Sikand alleges, and merely attributed these feats of temple destruction to kings who had no such merit.  But fact is: all of them, liars as well as truth-tellers, acted on the collectively accepted premise that a good Muslim ruler is one who extirpates idolatry including its material places and objects of worship.  They all believed that Islam justifies and requires the destruction of idol temples.  And rest assured that, like the Taliban, they had received a far more thorough training in Islamic theology than Eaton or Sikand.

In a further attempt to minimize Muslim iconoclasm, Sikand claims: As in the case of Hindu rulers attacks on temples, Eaton says that almost all instances of Muslim rulers destroying Hindu shrines were recorded in the wake of their capture of enemy territory.  Once these territories were fully integrated into their dominions, few temples were targetted.  This itself clearly shows that these acts were motivated, above all, by political concerns and not by a religious impulse to extirpate idolatry.

In fact, there were plenty of cases of temple destruction unrelated to conquest, the best-known being Aurangzebs razing of thousands of temples which his predecessors had allowed to come up.  But I concede that stable Muslim kingdoms often allowed less prominent temples to function, most openly the Moghul empire from Akbar to Shah Jahan.  This was precisely because they could only achieve stability by making a compromise with the majority population.

Islamic clerics could preach all they wanted about Islamic purity and the extirpation of idolatry, but rulers had to face battlefield realities (apart from being constrained by the never-ending faction fights within the Muslim elite) and were forced to understand that they could not afford to provoke Hindus too far.

Akbar's genius consisted in enlisting enough Hindu support or acquiescence to maintain a stable Muslim empire.  After Aurangzeb broke Akbar's compromise, the Moghul empire started falling apart under the pressure of the Maratha, Jat, Rajput and Sikh rebellions, thus proving the need for compromise a contrario.

In order to justify this compromise theologically, the zimma system originally designed for Christians and Jews (but excluding polytheists, a category comprising Hindus) was adapted to Indian conditions.  This zimma or "charter of toleration" implied the imposition of a number of humiliating constraints on the non-Muslim subjects or zimmi-s, such as the toleration tax or jizya, but at least it allowed them to continue practising their religion in a discreet manner.  The long-term design was to make the non-Islamic religions die out gradually by imposing permanent incentives for conversion to Islam, as witnessed by the slow plummeting of Christian demography in Egypt or Syria, from over 90% in the 7th century via some 50% in the 12th century to about 10% today.  The system had the same impact in South Asia, yielding Muslim majorities in the areas longest or most intensely under Muslim control.

To varying extents, the zimma system could include permission to rebuild destroyed churches or temples.  But even then, non-Muslim places of worship, though tolerated in principle, were not safe from Muslim destruction or expropriation.  The Ummayad mosque in Damascus was once a cathedral, as was the Aya Sophia in Istambul; the Mezquita of Cordova was built in replacement of a demolished church.  Eaton and Sikand can propose their rosy scenario of Islamic iconoclasts emulating an imaginary Hindu iconoclasm only by keeping the non-Indian part of Muslim history out of view.  It is entirely clear from the Muslim records that these temple-destroyers consciously repeated in India what earlier Muslim rulers had done in West Asia.  The first of these rulers was the Prophet Mohammed himself.  And this brings us to the crux of Sikands argument.

When the Taliban ordered the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a secularist choir assured us that this had nothing to do with genuine Islam.  To me it seems rather pretentious for secularists with their studied ignorance of religions to claim better knowledge of Islam than the Taliban, the "students (of Islam)", whose mental horizon consists of nothing but the detailed knowledge of Islamic theology and jurisprudence.  Nonetheless, Sikand repeats the exercise: "Most importantly, a distinction must be made between Islamic commandments, on the one hand, and the acts of individual Muslims on the other.  The Quran in no way sanctions the destruction of the places of worship of people of other faiths."

In deciding what is genuinely Islamic and what is not, it must be borne in mind that Islamic law is very largely based on the precedents set by the Prophet.  Thus, it is lawful to kill Rushdie because the Prophet himself had had his critics executed or murdered.  Likewise, the Taliban could justify their destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas with reference to Prophet's own exemplary iconoclasm.  The primary Islamic sources on the Prophet's career (the Hadis and Sira) teach us that during his conquest of Arabia, he did destroy all functioning temples of the Arab Pagans, as well as a Christian church.  When he was clearly winning the war, many tribes chose to avoid humiliation and martyrdom by crossing over to his side, but he would only allow them to join him on condition that they first destroy their idols.  The truly crucial event was Prophet's entry into the Kaaba, the central shrine of Arabia's native religion, where he and his nephew Ali smashed the 360 idols with their own hands.

When prophet Mohammed appeared on the scene, Arabia was a multicultural country endowed with Pagan shrines, churches, synagogues and Zoroastrian fire-temples.  When he died, all the non-Muslims had been
converted, expelled or killed, and their places of worship laid waste or turned into mosques.  As he had ordered before his death, only one religion remained in Arabia. If we were to believe Yoginder Sikand, Mohammed'
s iconoclasm was non-Islamic.  In reality, Mohammed's conduct is the definitional standard of what it is to be a good Muslim.

It is true that the Quran has little to say on temple destruction, though it is very eloquent on Mohammed's programme of replacing all other religions with his own (which obviously implies replacing temples with mosques).  Yet, the Quran too provides justification for the smashing of the objects of non-Islamic worship.  It claims that Abraham was the ancestor of the Arabs through Ismail, that his father had been an idol-maker, that he himself ordered the idols of his tribe destroyed (Q.37:93), and that he built the Kaaba as the first mosque, free of idols. It further describes how Abraham was rewarded for these virtuous acts.  Obviously it cannot be un-Islamic to emulate a man described by the Quran as the first Muslim and favoured by Allah.

If Abraham existed at all, the only source about him is the Bible, which carries none of this "information".  It tells us that Ismail was the son of Abraham's Egyptian concubine Hagar, and that she took her son back to Egypt; Arabia is not in the picture at all.  Nor do pre-Islamic Arab inscriptions mention Abraham, or Ismail or their purported aniconic worship in the Kaaba.  The Quranic story about them is pure myth.  Considering the secularist record on lambasting myths, I wonder why Sikand has not bothered to pour scorn on this Quranic myth yet.

All the same, Islamic apologists regularly. justify the desecration of the Kaaba by Prophet Mohammed as a mere restoration of Abraham's monotheistic mosque which had been usurped by the polytheists.  This happens to be exactly the justification given by Hindus for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, with this difference that the preexistence of a Hindu temple at the Babri Masjid site is a historical fact, while the preexistence of monotheistic and aniconic worship established by Abraham at the Kaaba is pure myth.  At any rate, the Islamic account itself establishes that the model man Prophet Mohammed desecrated the Kaaba and forcibly turned it into a mosque, setting an example, particularly, for Mahmud Ghaznavi, Aurangzeb and the Taliban to emulate.

Let us conclude with a comment on Sikand's conclusion: "Hindus and Muslims alike, then, have been equally guilty of destroying places of worship, and, in this regard, as in any other, neither has a monopoly of virtue or vice.  The destruction of the mosque in Rajasthan and building a temple in its place, like the tearing down of the Babri Masjid by Hindutva zealots or the vandalism of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban, shows how sanctified vandalism and medieval notions of the politics of revenge are still alive and thriving in our part of the world."

Look how claims are smuggled into this conclusion which have not been established in Sikand's argumentation.  Even by Sikand's own figures, Hindus and Muslims were far from "equally" guilty, as a handful of alleged cases of temple destruction by Hindus do not equal the "eighty" well-attested Islamic cases.  Also, the notion of revenge, attributed here to Hindus and Muslims alike, does not apply to both.  The Hindu kar sevaks in Ayodhya were arguably taking revenge for the destruction of the pre-existing Rama Mandir, but the Islamic destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was not a case of revenge on anyone.  The Taliban or Afghan Islam in general had not been hurt or threatened by Buddhists or by any other religion.  Their iconoclasm was not a case of vengeance, but of unilateral and unprovoked aggression.

Nobody in this forum, or so I hope, claims a "monopoly of virtue" for the members of one religion, nor that of vice for those of another.  The problem with religions is that they can make virtuous people commit vicious acts out of innocent piety, viz. by ordaining vicious behaviour as divinely sanctioned.  In spite of Sikand's attempt to whitewash Aurangzeb, evidence remains plentiful that this Moghul emperor committed acts of persecution and iconoclasm which would generally be considered vicious (they certainly would if committed by Hindutva activists, witness the torrent of abuse after the demolition of the Babri Masjid).  Yet, by all accounts, Aurangzeb was a virtuous man, not given to self-indulgence, eager to fulfil his duties.  Likewise, the Kashmiri "militants" who massacre Hindus are not people of evil character.  They have left fairly cosy jobs or schools behind to put their lives on the line for their ideal, viz. bringing Kashmir under Islamic rule.  It is the contents of their religion which makes them cross the line between their own goodness and the evil of their terrorist acts.  The problem is not Muslims, the problem is Islam. 

The founding texts as well as the history of Islam testify to the profound link between iconoclasm and the basic injunction of the Prophet, viz. that "until ye believe in Allah alone, enmity and hate shall reign between us" (Q.60:4), i.e. between Muslims and non-Muslims.  I can understand that a peace-loving Muslim who is comfortable with religious pluralism would have problems with this quotation, and generally with the unpleasant record of the founder and role model of his religion.  Having wrestled with the Catholic faith in which I grew up, I know from experience that outgrowing one's religion can be a long and painful process.  Regarding a Muslim's reluctance to face these facts, I would therefore counsel compassion and patience.

But Yoginder Sikand doesn't have this excuse.  For him as a secularist, facing and affirming the defects of religions should come naturally.  One of the best-documented defects of any religion is the role of Islamic doctrine in the destruction of other people's cultural treasures, rivalled only by Christianity in some of its phases, and surpassed only in the 20th century by Communism.  A secularist should subject the record of Islam to criticism, not to a whitewash.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Guha’s Golwalkar

(Pragyata, October 2016)

Ramachandra Guha’s column “A question of sources – The unholy holy book of the RSS” (The Telegraph, 17 Sep. 2016) draws attention to the fiftieth anniversary of a major ideological manifesto of Hindu Nationalism: “Guru” Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar’s book Bunch of Thoughts. After the death of Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940), who in 1925 had founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or “National Volunteer Association”, the BHU-trained biologist Golwalkar (1906-73) was the second Sarsanghchalak, “Chief Guide of the Association”, until his own death. He is credited with greatly expanding the RSS’s presence in Indian society by creating a Parivar (“family”) of specialized organizations, including a pan-Hindu religious platform, a trade-union, a student organization, a network for tribal welfare,  and a political party.

This party, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS, “Indian People’s Association”), founded in 1951, was a venture into explicit politics which Golwalkar agreed to against his wishes, after the Hindu Mahasabha (“Hindu Great-Council”, °1922) had irredeemably fallen from grace with the murder of Mahatma Gandhi by one of its members. Reportedly, Golwalkar gave his consent to the party’s creation with the words: “Alright then, a house also needs a lavatory.” The party existed until 1977, when it fused with others to form the Janata Party (“People’s Party”), and was reconstituted in 1980 as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party at the time of this writing.

The book’s title was inspired by Jawaharlal Nehru’s collection Bunch of Old Letters, effectively a “bunch” or random collection of disparate writings. This was not the best choice for what was intended to be an ideological guidebook.

Books in Hindu Nationalism

Guha misrepresents (probably because he misunderstands) the role of books in the Sangh. His inference that the book somehow determines today's BJP government's policies is a typical secularist fantasy, if only because the BJP has emancipated itself from the RSS. Most BJP men today are not from the RSS, and even the RSS men inside or outside the BJP have rarely read this Hindutva manifesto. The short attention span of many Hindus (as an outsider, I would not dare to say this, but Hindu intellectuals themselves keep on bewailing this tendency) militates against reliance on hefty volumes like Bunch of Thoughts. Ploughing through demanding books is only given to few, among ethnicities mainly the Chinese, Northern Europeans and Jews, and even there not exactly the majority. Whenever you present a book to an RSS leader, he is bound to say: "Can't you summarize this volume to a small pamphlet?" (On the bright side, Hindu consciousness-raising is currently getting a tremendous boost by the developments in communication technology: through less demanding means like Twitter messages, and through the return to oral culture, as in webinars.)

This aversion to reading is especially true in the RSS. This has a historical cause as well as a conscious decision behind it. The historical cause is the circumstances of the RSS’s founding: Dr. KB Hedgewar came from the Bengal revolutionary faction of the Freedom Movement, and brought its secretive methods along. Like the revolutionaries, wary of feeding written evidence of their designs to police informers, RSS men never communicated in writing but travelled around to pass information orally. Hence the enormous physical locomotion performed by RSS officers. As the wife of an RSS veteran confided to me: “It is a status symbol for them.”  

The (indeed real) influence of Bunch of Thoughts in RSS discourse is mainly through oral sermons by bauddhik officers selecting a few nice passages. Most RSS men won't recognize the more difficult passages that Guha draws grim conclusions from. It is like the Bible in Roman Catholicism, where the raw passages are kept out of hearing distance: the flock is only fed the elevating passages through selected Sunday readings.

There is a big difference between BJP texts of thirty years ago and today, having become more sophisticated but also more secularist and less Hindu. In BJP discourse, pace Guha, the term Hindu Rashtra (“Hindu State”), dear to Golwalkar, is now unthinkable. While Congress has evolved from secular nationalism to making common cause with the Breaking India forces, the BJP has evolved from Hindu nationalism to secular nationalism. (Which, on the bright side, makes it the natural party of government.) This is to a lesser extent true of the RSS, but it is still closer to Golwalkar. However, the person-cult of Golwalkar, still as strong as ever, is unrelated to the influence of Bunch of Thoughts. The RSS position regarding Golwalkar's ideas might well evolve, all while the devotion to Golwalkar remains the same. Secularist intellectuals like Guha may find this absurd, but it is the reality. 


Guha’s critique is certainly not the lowliest kind of anti-Golwalkar polemic. In articles of that category, used unquestioningly as source in the majority of introductions to Hindu Nationalism, the targeted Golwalkar book would not be Bunch of Thoughts (1966) but his slim maiden volume, We, Our Nationhood Defined (1939). That attempt at ideological contemplation of the political challenges before Hindu society has earned notoriety because of two overquoted passages. In one, Golwalkar is selectively cited as seemingly supporting Nazi Germany. I have analysed this passage in the context of the book and of its time (one chapter each in The Saffron Swastika, 2001, and Return of the Swastika, 2006, or online at https://www.academia.edu/14793753/Disowning_Golwalkars_We), and found this common allegation, present in every introductory text on Hindutva, totally wanting. Thus, anti-Semitism was the core doctrine of National-Socialism, yet the Jewish people was the foremost role model upheld by Golwalkar for the “Hindu nation”. As for the Nazis’ militarism, he contrasts Germany’s champions of martial virtues with the sages who form the Hindu role models “in serene majesty”. This oft-quoted passage is irrelevant for the contemporary debates, except to show to what mendaciousness secularists and foreign India-watchers can stoop.

The other passage could have more to do with contemporary politics. It clearly distinguishes Christians and Muslims from the Hindus, as mere guests vis-à-vis the host society, entitled to protection and an honourable life, but to nothing more. Golwalkar proposes that they (“re”)-assimilate, or else accept a protected status as foreign residents “claiming nothing, not even citizens’ rights”. Yet, as the book disappeared from circulation in 1948 and Golwalkar vetoed its reprint for being “immature”, most Sangh members have never even seen that line. It doesn’t reflect the current party-line of the RSS let alone the BJP.

The only incriminating fact that still attaches to We is its disowning by the RSS. It officially disowned the book in 2006, only confirming half a century of the book’s factual non-existence, and with that decision, we have no quarrel. But it also claimed, quite mendaciously, that the book had not been written by Golwalkar and did not reflect his ideas. Nobody got fooled except the most obedient among the RSS’s own volunteers.


By contrast, the contents of Bunch of Thoughts remains a central part of most Sanghis’ ideological formation. The only book to rival it, is Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism (1965), adopted as official ideology by the BJS and (after some confusion with “Gandhian socialism”, finally agreed to be but another name for the same ideology) its successor body, the BJP. If you would want to honestly criticize the BJP through a book, it would be Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism, but even the sheer mention of that book is absent from the immense majority of “expert” publications about the BJP. Bunch of Thoughts only plays a role for the party’s old guard that was groomed in the RSS. The party has moved away from its parent body and most members today don’t have an RSS past.

While Bunch of Thoughts is of limited consequence to our evaluation of the presently governing BJP’s policies, it has a historical link to the party and may of course form the object of research. Without being fooled by the secularists into thinking that any fault found in it can be applied to the party, we will nonetheless take note of the Hindutva gems that Guha has discovered in it. 

Golwalkar does indeed remain “the chief ideologue of the organization”, meaning the RSS, and till today, his “bearded visage is prominently displayed” at RSS functions. It may also be true that as an RSS veteran, Prime Minister Narendra Modi “hugely admires Golwalkar”. Yet, in general, it is a big stretch of Guha’s to claim that Bunch of Thoughts is “of enormous contemporary relevance” and is for the ruling party what the Koran is for Muslims. Firstly, the RSS impact on the BJP is limited and waning. Secondly, Islam is a “religion of the book” and is heavily determined by the contents of the Koran, to which it explicitly pays obeisance; but Hinduism is not that book-oriented, even when it pays plenty of lip-service to the Scriptures.

This counts even more for its Hindutva variety. Indeed, Golwalkar himself was emphatically anti-bookish and berated his volunteers when they were caught “idling” by reading a book. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the RSS’s anti-intellectual orientation, which has been very consequential: (1) a complete absence from the public debate;  (2) a propensity to make fools of themselves with fantastic claims, e.g. that “ancient Indians had airplanes”, as if India’s real contributions to science and technology weren’t good enough; (3) a complete passivity when Nehruvians and Marxists moved in to to monopolize the cultural and educational sphere; and (4) to really drive the negative implications home, an utter inability to give a credible defence of Golwalkar’s own books.


Golwalkar was a nationalist, and the movement he led, is known worldwide as “Hindu Nationalism” till today. Contrary to what the secularists allege these days, the RSS was very much rooted in the Freedom Movement, in anti-colonial nationalism. It started as a security force to protect a Congress meeting in 1925, and its founder, KB Hedgewar, had been trained by the Bengali revolutionary wing of the Freedom Movement. (This explains a working principle of the RSS, viz. its secretiveness and reliance on direct communication.) Its slightly older sister, the Hindu Mahasabha (1922), was originally a Hindu lobby within Congress.

This nationalism was a logical choice, at least in the 1920s. The immediate pressures from the anti-colonial struggle, and the international after-effect of the national passions of the Great War, made nationalism honourable and obligatory. Even associations for sports or music took the habit of marching in uniform as if they were armies marching to the battlefield. The RSS followed this pattern.

Emotionally, this nationalist appeal undoubtedly works. Election campaigns fought on a national issues tend to unite the ciizens around them, transcending and trumping the usual contests between collective self-interests (commual, casteist or regional), which are divisive.

 It is another question whether it still is such a wise choice after 1945, when nationalism got a bad name through its identification with the losing side in WW2; after 1947 and the decades of independence, when India has other concerns than its relatively assured national freedom; after 1947 again, as the year when many Hindus became citizens of the suddenly separate countries of Pakistan and (what was to become) Bangladesh; after the resettlement of millions of Hindus abroad and their acquisition of a foreign nationality (apart from those already in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Afghanistan); and after quite a few non-Indians have become Hindu. As I have argued elsewhere, “nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns”.

Thus, the reason why Muslim invaders destroyed Hindu temples, was not that they were “foreign invaders”, as claimed in most RSS pamphlets, for then they would have imposed “foreign temples” on the Hindu sites. No, it was because they were Muslim, a word avoided nowadays in RSS parlance, and they imposed mosques. In the discussions about Ghar Wapasi (“return home”), the reconversion of Christian converts to Hinduism, promoted by the RSS, I often hear the justification: “Christianization also entails Westernization” – as if Christianization without Westernization were alright. But that is not the problem: Hindus themselves are fast Westernizing (without the RSS-BJP doing anything against it), but this doesn’t make them non- or anti-Hindu. And at least the Catholic missionaries are responding to this complaint by “inculturation”, i.e. Christianization without Westernization. So that is alright for the RSS: Indian Christians smashing Hindu “idols”, as long as they duly wear dhoti? For “nationalists”, blind to the religious dimension, it is.

Hindu Rashtra

Why was the nation conceived as “Hindu” rather than “Indian”? In Hedgewar’s analysis, Hindu society constituted the Indian nation, while the minorities were mere guests. In older documents of the RSS and the Jan Sangh, you still find this idea of a “Hindu nation”, as evidenced by the oft-quoted Golwalkar sentence about minority inhabitants having “not even citizens’ rights”. However, even then the RSS and the BJS adopted terms like Bharatiya (Indian) and Rashtriya (national), and thus prepared the ground for a more recent shift away from Hindu identity politics and towards “secular” or “inclusive” nationalism. This shift, very outspoken in the BJP but also affecting the RSS, leads to inventive constructions such as that of the Indian Muslims as “Mohammedi Hindus”, a term repeatedly insisted on by LK Advani during the Ayodhya campaign of ca. 1990. Not that Indian Muslims will ever accept this contradictory label, but their honest opinion is not asked. The rationale for this term is the post-Golwalkar doctrine that “Hindu” is syonym with “Indian”.

Earlier, “Indian” was reduced to “Hindu” (subtracting any non-Hindu Indians from the “Indian” category, as in Golwalkar’s quotes above), but in the RSS discourse of the last decades, “Hindu” is being reduced to “Indian”. This purely geographical and thus “secular” notion was the meaning of the Persian word “Hindu” fifteen hundred years ago. But when the Muslim invaders imported it into India, it immediately had a religious meaning: all Indian Pagans in the broadest sense, i.e. all those who were not Jews, Christians or Muslims. This, then, is the original Indian meaning of Hindu: any Indian Pagan, whether Brahmin, Shudra, Buddhist, Tribal or any other grouping or denomination; but emphatically excluding Muslims and Christians. Since it is the historically foundational meaning, those who insist on giving it a different meaning, have the burden of justification on them. In this case, it is the RSS that owes us, already for a few decades, a justification for its absurd redefining of “Hindu” as simply “Indian”, including Christians and Muslims.

Haven’t the “experts” on whom Guha relies, noticed this shift in meaning of the all-important term “Hindu”? It explains, to name a current and important example, the grim and determined passivity of the Modi government regarding specificaly Hindu demands, such as the abolition of the blatantly anti-Hindu (so, communally partisan and hence anti-secular) Right to Education Act, which has forced hundreds of Hindu schools to close down. A Hindu party would be up in arms against anti-Hindu discriminations (and the BJS was, but did ot have the power), but in their present state of mind, the Hindu movement simply cannot conceive of “anti-Hindu” discriminations anymore, as this would mean “anti-Indian”.  

A government advisor confided to me that the BJP now, having learned its lesson from the AB Vajpayee government’s passivity on Hindu issues, wants to “keep the pot boiling”. It wants to throw some crumbs to its Hindu constituency, such as a punitive strike against Pakistani terrorist camps, to buy sufficient loyalty from its Hindu support base; but without doing anything substantive on important Hindu demands. The most important of these is not risky projects pregnant with communal violence, such as the Common Civil Code dear to the erstwhile BJS, but the perfectly reasonable and secular abolition of all legal and constitutional discriminations against Hinduism. (I invite the BJP to prove me wrong, not with denunciations but with legislative action.)  

This shift also means that both organizations, the BJP formally and the RSS effectively, have renounced one of Golwalkar’s core ideas: Hindu Rashtra, the “Hindu state” (though the RSS used to fussily insist that it means an ill-defined “Hindu nation” instead). It was an un-Hindu idea to start with: the Gupta or Chola empire or any other premodern Hindu political entity was coronated with Hindu rites and facilitated Vedic and Puranic traditions, but never called itself Hindu Rashtra. Further, Hindu states have always been pluralistic, regardless of the ruler’s personal orientation.

In India this is now termed ”secular”, an infelicitous term deviant from its original meaning of “non-religious” or “not acknowledging as consequential any religious identities”; but one that has been accepted by the RSS itself in its 1990’s slogan: “Hindu India, secular India”. By the RSS’s own post-Golwalkar logic, Hindu Rashtra, when analysed, would only mean: “a (genuinely) secular state”. Why then uphold a Hindu Rashtra as a distant goal in contradistinction to the present principle (admittedly very imperfect in its realization) of a secular republic? Golwalkar’s and the present RSS leadership’s positions on this question, and the probable difference between the two, would make an excellent topic for a thorough intra-RSS debate, followed by an authoritative publication explaining the whole question in detail and finally offering clarity. Are they capable of doing this?    

India’s unity

Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru, Golwalkar didn’t see this nationhood as a project, a “nation in the making”, but as an ancient heritage: "Long before the West had learnt to eat roast meat instead of raw, we were one nation, with one motherland." Indeed, in many RSS writings, it is claimed that the Vedic expression matrbhumi, “motherland”, meant “India”, in the sense of “the Subcontinent”.

That is not true, but the belief has a long tradition. A close reading of the Vedas shows a geographical horizon stretching from roughly Prayag to the Afghan frontier. The only Vedic seer credited with crossing the Vindhya mountains was Agastya, and that was noticed precisely because it was an exceptional adventure, not a visit to a province of his familiar motherland. In the Mahabharata, an epic based on a historical war of succession in the Vedic Bharata dynasty ca. 1400 BC, the geographical ambit of the events and persons involved is similarly limited. Yet, by the time of the final editing, around the time of Christ, dynasties from the farthest ends of India had had themselves written into the narrative. They wanted to belong to the expanding Vedic civilization, which is also why they invited Brahmin families and donated land to them, in order to have them confer Vedic legitimacy on their dynasties.

Not since a God-given eternity, but at least for more than 2000 years, all of the Subcontinent has had a sense of unity. This is far more than most countries can say, and it is enough to justify its political unity today. The pilgrimage cycles, the narration of the same epics in village squares all over the country, and the visible presence of the otherwise self-contained Brahmin caste and the monastic orders, created a degree of self-conscious cultural unity. This sometimes approached but never fully reached political unity, which at any rate only concerned the elites: changing borders made little difference to ordinary life. Clearly, poliical unity existed at least as an ideal.

Fact is that here, Golwalkar gave utterance to a feeling common among Indians. Whatever the details about the past, Indians believe in national unity. And this is not a nationalism “in the making”, on the contrary: the Nehruvian elites dish out all kinds of reasons why not Indianness but the separate communal identities are “real”, yet when push comes to shove, Indians stand united.  Before the Chinese attacked in 1962, Tamil Nadu was in the grip of separatist fervour; but when the invasion came, the Tamils, all while remaining wedded to the Dravidianist cultural demands, abandoned the separatist camp and threw their lot in with India. Also, history shows that the surest way to win an election lies in having just won an Indo-Pak war. The local and communal identities are real, but so is the “national” identity.
Hence Guha’s Golwalkar quotation: "Hindu Society developed in an all-comprehensive manner, with a bewildering variety of phases and forms, but with one thread of unification running inherently through the multitude of expressions and manifestations." Here Golwalkar’s observation is impeccable, though I would call this unity “civilizational” rather than “national”. Guha comments: “What precisely this unifying thread was is never defined.” Well, it is Hinduism. This is a vague and capacious notion, but adequate enough to explain India’s self-conscious unity.
Guha’s Golwalkar – 2
(Pragyata, October 2016) 
In part 1, we saw Ramachandra Guha drawing grim conclusions from the supposed influence of MS Golwalkar’s 50-year-old book Bunch of Thoughts on the ruling party. Here we discuss some more aspects of Golwalkar’s vision that, in Guha’s understanding, should be cause for worry.
World Teacher
According to Ramachandra Guha, another “assumption that Golwalkar works with is that despite their fallen state today, Hindus are destined to lead and guide the world”. He cites Guruji as asserting that it "is the grand world-unifying thought of Hindus alone that can supply the abiding basis for human brotherhood", so that world leadership, no less, "is a divine trust, we may say, given to the charge of the Hindus by Destiny".
It is not as if other nations are waiting for India’s contribution. Then again, what they did take or accept from India was the most precious contribution. China had no mean philosophy sprung out of its own soil, but nonetheless accepted and integrated Buddhism. Among the Greek philosophers, Pythagoras and later the neo-Platonists were but the most explicit in copying Indian concepts and even practices, and they influenced the whole of European philosophy a well as a bit of Christian theology. A much later revolution in European thought was wrought by Immanuel Kant, who admitted the decisive influence (“awakened from my dogmatic slumber”) from David Hume’s sudden development of a quasi-Buddhist view. Hume doesn’t mention Buddhism, and would perhaps have been laughed out of court if he had, but recently we have discovered that his philosophical awakening had been triggered by his reading two detailed accounts of Buddhist thought by Catholic missionaries posted in Tibet c.q. Thailand. Modern thinkers like AN Whitehead, CG Jung and Ken Wilber tapped directly into Indian thoughts and practices, even if not always acknowledging it (an attitude discussed by Rajiv Malhotra in his innovative thesis of the “U-turn”).
On the other hand, translating this natural attractiveness of Indian traditions for outsiders into a missionary spirit is not very Hindu either. When real Evangelists meet someone from a different religion, immediately their missionary mechanic sets to work: what buttons are there in him that I can click to make him open to my message? Hindus don’t have this at all. When they meet someone from a strange religion, they become naturally curious. They feel no need to destroy that foreign religion and replace it with Hinduism, but assume that there must be a core of wisdom in it, something essentially the same as what makes Hindus tick.
Moreover, this international appeal as a “world teacher” sits uncomfortably with Golwalkar’s nationalism. It is now the need of the hour to stress that Indian contributions are really from India (against e.g. American attempts to obscure the Sanskrit terms and Indian references in yoga), and that in some respects India has indeed been a "world teacher". But apart from that, the further propagation of Indian contributions abroad, as of foreign contributions inside India, will go on for some time. In a footnote of their schoolbooks, the brighter among Chinese or European or Latin-American pupils will still learn that yoga originates in India, or that the zero originates in India, but otherwise it will simply be part of their own life, c.q. their own mathematics. Just like rocket science came from Germany, the train from England, gun powder from China, and mankind from Africa. So many world teachers!
The Buddha’s cosmopolitanism
Like most Hindus, Golwalkar praised the Buddha. The Buddhists, by contrast, he accuses of beginning to “uproot the age-old national traditions of this land. The great cultural virtues fostered in our society were sought to be demolished." It could have made sense to accuse the Buddhists of neglecting certain virtues because they emphasized other virtues more. A slightly earlier Hindu Nationalist, VD Savarkar, had already considered the Buddhist (but not Buddhist alone) value of non-violence harmful for India’s defence. But the destructive design of “seeking to demolish” anything of value is not normally associated with Buddhism. While there is no doubt that foreigners were important in the history of Buddhism, especially the Indo-Greeks (Menander/Milinda) and the Kushanas (Kanishka), Golwalkar surprises us with the information that "devotion to the nation and its heritage had reached such a low pitch that the Buddhist fanatics invited and helped the foreign aggressors who wore the mask of Buddhism. The Buddhist sect had turned a traitor to the mother society and the mother religion."
This is bad history, and rather nasty towards the Buddhist fellow-Indians. But we can agree that Buddhism never set great store by defending India’s borders, which were not threatened in the north or east, where the Buddha lived and worked. The northwestern frontier was known to the Buddha, and indeed culturally familiar, not felt to be a foreign land at all, for his friends Prasenajit and Bandhula had studied there, at Takshashila University. (Yes, it existed before Buddhism: contrary to the Nehruvian received wisdom, the university as an institution was not a Buddhist but a Vedic invention.) But he was not in the business of defending it: at that very time it was not threatened either, and he indeed had other priorities anyway. But neither he nor his followers ever shot anyone in the back who felt called upon to fight aggressors.
Something similar counts for other Indian sects. The Vedas and Epics report a number of wars, but never a defence against foreign aggression. Once there was real aggression, by Mohammed Ghori, defender Prithviraj Chauhan was betrayed by Jayachandra, the latter as much a Hindu as the former. They were aware of some cultural unity stretching from Attock to Cuttack, but politically they were attached to their own part of the Subcontinent, and to hell with the neighbours. The RSS notion of a Deshbhakt (“patriot”, “devotee of the country”, meaning a devotee of the whole Subcontinent) did not exist in premodern Hinduism.   
Sects with any kind of spiritual goal had another purpose than nationalism: Liberation, Self-Realization, Knowledge, Isolation (of Consciousness from Nature), Awakening, or anything the different sects chose to call the ultimate state of consciosness. None of the classical manuals for the seekers of the ultimate mention India. If in recent centuries it does come up by way of geographical detail, it is still not invest with value pertaining to their goal. The Motherland is where you come from, a natural given; not where you go to, not the norm you aspire to reach. It is just there.
Then again, you do get the notion of India as a Punyabhumi, a territory fit for earning merit, which you have to purify yourself to re-enter after a stay abroad. Here you get the bridge between Hindu spirituality and Hindu nationalism. In my opinion, like in that of cosmopolitan secularists, this was a degenerative trend, but as an outsider I don’t want to tell Hindus what to do or to believe. So here we do have to admit that Golwalkar had a traditional basis for his assertion of India’s uniqueness.
Buddhism had come into the limelight in 1956, shortly before the book was written: with Dr. BR Ambedkar’s adoption of, or (in Guha’s borrowed-Christian construction of the event) “conversion” to Buddhism. Ambedkar had wanted to show a fist to caste Hinduism, yet that did not make him into a "traitor to the mother society and the mother religion", on the contrary: he explicitated that conversion to a foreign religion would harm the nation, which he did not want, hence his embracing a sect born in India. As Savarkar had commented: Ambedkar’s “refuge” in Bauddha Dharma was “a sure jump into the Hindu fold”. That is why the RSS, thanks to advancing insight, has gradually included Ambedkar in its pantheon. But that development was not on the horizon yet under Guruji. Guha correctly notes that Golwalkar “does not so much as mention the great emancipator of the Dalits”.
For people involved in a crusade against Hinduism, like the Nehruvian secularists, it was a foregone conclusion that whatever a Hindu leader ever wrote, he would most of all be judged for his position on caste. That this will always be a negative judgment, is an equally foregone conclusion. Hinduism, for them, is “caste, wholly caste, and nothing but caste”. This implies that a nominal Hindu is deemed to have turned against his religion if he takes an approvedly egalitarian position; only then is he the good guy. If he spits on his Mother, bravo! But if he chooses to defend Hinduism, as Golwalkar does, every possible position he takes will always be deemed an intolerable discrimination on caste lines. Even if he pronounces himself in favour of full equality, he is still lambasted for being patronizing and exercising his “Brahmin privilege”.
According to Guha, “Golwalkar vigorously defends the caste system, saying that it kept Hindus united and organized down the centuries.” Yet, what follows is something else than a “vigorous defence”, it is a nuanced historical understanding that a social system at variance with modern homogenizing nationalism may yet have had its historical advantages: "On the one hand, the so-called 'caste-ridden' Hindu Society has remained undying and unconquerable... after facing for over two thousand years the depredations of Greeks, Shakas, Hunas, Muslims and even Europeans, by one shock of which, on the other hand, the so-called casteless societies crumbled to dust never to rise again." Whether a causal relation can be established between caste and the survival of Hinduism, should be investigated, but it is a reasonable hypothesis that deserves better than Guha’s blanket condemnation.
Bunch of Thoughts altogether ignores the suppression of Dalits and women in Hindu society.” Look at these double standards. Pray, Mr. Guha, show me a book written in defence of Islam that expounds on the mistreatment of women in Islam. After you have done that, you may ask this very similar question about Hinduism. As a prolific writer, have you published anything about the oppression of women in Christianity, a critique developed by the very originators of feminism in the world? Why do you single out Hinduism here? We have never seen you ask feminist authors why they haven’t contributed anything to the struggle for Hinduism’s self-respect against its many enemies, so why the reverse? Further, we may speculate that the women’s viewpoint just didn’t occur to Golwalkar as a confirmed bachelor leading an all-male organization; and that in the India of the 1960s, women’s issues were not as high-profile as today.
By contrast, caste inequality has continuously been on the agenda in the Indian republic. Golwalkar was not silent about it, but gave much less prominence to caste than anti-Hindu authors do, who assume that “Hinduism is caste, wholly caste, and nothing but caste”. RSS veterans who still knew Golwalkar in person told me he took a nationalist and non-conflictual view of the issue: as a nationalist, he believed in the minimization of all divisive factors and in a large measure of equality for all members of the Hindu nation, but not in social engineering, much less in quota or reparative discrimination (“affirmative action”). Thus, when a Brahmin neophyte at first refused to eat together with the other castes, he allowed him to eat separately, until he was familiar enough with the RSS attitude that he himself came around to eating with the others. That way, his acceptance of inter-caste commensality was much better anchored then if imposed on him. The RSS boasts of being the only caste-free civil organization in India. By contrast, the political parties that for historical reasons call themselves “anti-caste”, practise naked caste advocacy. They typically are informal or even self-designated interest groups of a particular group of castes.
Guha accuses Golwalkar of paranoia vis-à-vis Indian Muslims and Indian Christians, and quotes him: "What is the attitude of those people who have been converted to Islam and Christianity? They are born in this land, no doubt. (…) Do they feel it a duty to serve her? No! Together with the change in their faith, gone are the spirit of love and devotion to the nation."
The memory of the Partition was still fresh, and of the fact that a vast majority of the Muslim electorate had voted for it. The missionaries too had considered it likely that with Independence, India would lapse into chaos, so that some Christian-dominated areas in Kerala and the Northeast could declare their independence. It had also been noticed in the Northeast that non-Christianized tribals gave “Indian” as nationality to census officers, while Christians gave their tribal identity. So, Golwalkar’s suspicion of the minority, while not to be accepted like that, still had a core of truth in it.
Then, Guha goes in for the kill: “There is a striking affinity between the questions Golwalkar asks here and those asked by European anti-Semites in the 19th and early 20th centuries. French, German and British nationalists all suspected the Jews in their country of not being loyal enough to the motherland.” Aha! So Golwalkar was a Nazi after all!
Well, not exactly. First of all, before the Jews became the object of World Conspiracy suspicions, the allegation of a foreign or international loyalty originally concerned not the Jews but the Catholics, with the Jesuit Order as their main weapon of aggression. The Protestants, somewhat like the Orthodox Christians, were organized nationally and accepted docrinal differences, at least within the confines laid down by the Bible; by contrast, the Catholic Church was a global monolith with aspirations for world domination. My own country, Belgium, was a Catholic frontline state, with institutions for Irish, English and Dutch Catholics to support them and eventually allow them to topple the Protestant domination of their countries. There were also real-life incidents that nurtured the suspicion of a Popish Plot, most famously the “gunpowder plot” by Jesuit agent Guy Fawkes to blow up the British Parliament. So, there was a core of truth to those suspicions.  Even in demography, these suspicions were not baseless. As late as the 1950s, Dutch Protestants used to warn: “Be careful with those Catholics, with their large families they may overtake our country.” And indeed, today the percentage of Catholics is larger than that of Protestants,-- only, between them, they are not even the majority anymore, and the Protestant-Catholic dichotomy has become irrelevant. Also, the Cathoic birthrate has plummeted to the national average.
The suspicion of a Jewish World Conspiracy was mainly based on a forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, originally fabricated by the Czarist secret police, though dispproved of by the Czar himself. When Islam critics in the West point out that Islam has ambitions for world domination, the Guhas in our midst try to be funny and allege that we fantasize, after the same model, a “Protocols of Mecca”. No: the Zion Protocols were a forgery, the so-called Mecca Protocols for world domination are real. The Quran itself, authoritative for every single Muslim (though ignored by many, fortunately but un-Islamically), says: “War will reign between us until ye believe in Allah alone.” The Jewish Bible has a doctrine of domination too, but only of the Promised Land; while the Quran speaks of world domination.
So, the difference between the anti-Jewish and the anti-Islamic suspicion is one between a falsity and reality. I am aware that for propagandists, reality doesn’t count, only perception does. With the studied superficiality typical of Nehruvian secularism, the seemingly similar perception of the anti-Jewish versus the anti-Islamic suspicion is enough. They can throw that around as a grave allegation, as here in Guha’s article, and be confident that no one will step in to correct them. The endless mendaciousness of the secularists would have been remedied to a large extent if there had been a counterparty capable of responding to them and diagnosing their errors. But the only counterparty to be reckoned with was the Hindu Nationalists, and they had been fixed in argumentative impotence by Golwalkar himself. 
Christians have a similar doctrine of world conquest, though less confrontational. In its formative first centuries, Chrristianity lived as a minority in the vast Roman Empire, and unlike Islam, it had to accomodate national laws not of its own making. This fitted Saint Paul’s repudiation of the Biblical Law: it is the spirit (viz. of charity) that counts, not the letter of the law. This means that Christianity became naturally secular: it separated the religious sphere, thoroughly Christian, from the worldly and political sphere, dominated by non-Christian forces. During the heyday of Christian power, Christianity impinged ever more on the political sphere, but in the modern era, it did not have too much difficulty returning to its original “secularist” position of accepting the separate identity of the political sphere. A telling criterion: comparatively few people were killed in the struggle to wrest worldly power from the Churches, compared e.g. to the struggle between secular ideologies in the 20th century. And in this struggle, the secular forces were more violent than the Christian forces, witness the French Revolutionary genocide in the Vendée or the persecution of Christianity in the Soviet Union.
However, in a more moderate and sophisticated way, Christianity does have an ambition of world domination too. Like in Islam, all non-believers are deemed to go to hell, though few Christians now take this seriously anymore. Jesus’ injunction to “go and teach all nations” means that India too is on Christianity’s conversion programme. When the Pope came to India in 1999, he said openly and in so many words that his Church wanted to “reap a great harvest of faith” in Asia, which implies destroying Hinduism the way the native religions of Europe and the Americas were destroyed. He thereby badly let his secularist allies down, for they had always ridiculed the Hindu Nationalist suspicion that Christianity only meant destruction for Hinduism. Yet, after being put in the wrong so bluntly, here is the secularist Guha again shamelessly ridiculing Golwalkar’s suspicion against Christianity.
On one point, though, Golwalkar is blatantly wrong: it is not India that the Christians want to destroy, but Hinduism. Here again, nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns. Not the nation is their target, but the religion. Christians were loyal to the Roman empire, of which the 5th-centuriy Germanic enemies were already Christian too, but when the Empire fell apart, they adapted: after all, their main loyalty was not a political structure but a religion. And then they became loyal citizens of Wisigothic Spain, of Ostrogothic Italy, of Frankish France, a political loyalty that was inevitably secondary. They were not Deshbhakt, they were Yesubhakt. And similarly, they sing the Indian anthem with as much conviction as their Indian compatriots. And they will do so even more when they come to live in a “post-Hindu India” (of which Christian convert Kancha Ilaiah dreams). But if a different political structure comes to replace the Indian Republic, they will effortlessly adapt to that too. Defending the nation against the Christian onslaught leaves their real target undefended: the Hindu religion.
Guha quotes Golwalkar as asserting that "the foremost duty laid upon every Hindu is to build up such a holy, benevolent and unconquerable might of our Hindu People in support of the age-old truth of our Hindu Nationhood". This was never said in the Upanishads, it is not part of the fabled Hindu spirituality. But then, Hinduism has survived because of other factors than spirituality. At times it is simply right to emphasize the martial virtues. Proof a contrario: Buddhism was purely about spirituality and didn’t practise self-defence, so when it was really attacked, during the Muslim invasions, it was wiped away from Central Asia and India in one go. In spite of Golwalkar’s unhistorical view of “Hindu Nationhood”, he was right to extol the project of “unconquerable might”.
Guha compares this “supremacist point of view” with what M.K. Gandhi regarded as the duty of Hindus: “to abolish untouchability and to end the suppression of women”, and to “promote inter-religious harmony”. Indeed, Mr. Guha, “there could not be two visions of what it takes to be a Hindu, or an Indian, that are as radically opposed as those offered by Golwalkar and Gandhi respectively”.
There are several things wrong with this picture. Factually, it is not true that the Mahatma opposed “suppression of women”; on the contrary, he notoriously practised it. Perhaps his wife Kasturba accomodated the arrangements Gandhi imposed on her, but there cannot possibly be an illusion that their relation was one of equality. Towards his wife as well as his children, he was an unmitigated family tyrant. His relation to the young women with whom he carried out his “experiments with chastity” was also perversely exploitative.
As for untouchability, Gandhi made it his priority, and at that junction in history it was indeed a necessity; but to make it a defining trait of Hinduism is simply wrong. For thousands of years, Hindu society didn’t know of hereditary untouchability, which is not mentioned in the Rg-Veda (and no, you shrill screamers out there, not even in the Purusha Sukta). Later it did, and was comfortable with it. For opposite reasons, Hindus in those periods were not preoccupied with abolishing untouchability: first because it wasn’t there, then because they thought it was alright. One can be a Hindu without practising untouchability, but also without being fired up to abolish untouchability. Today’s Hindu communities I know in Holland (Bhojpuri-speaking Rama worshippers from Surinam) have only the faintest notion of caste and none of untouchability, but are very much Hindu. In the same spirit, the RSS ranks were not tainted with untouchability either. In that respect, Golwalkar’s vision was different from but by no means “radically opposed” to Gandhiji’s.
Abolishing untouchability is a good thing to do, but it is not the essence of Hinduism, nor of anti-Hinduism. Hinduism is a lot more and a lot bigger than caste. It is only the ignorant Nehruvians who can’t pronounce the word “Hindu” without manoeuvering the word “caste” into the same sentence. If Gandhi put an unusual stress on this, it may have been a necessity of the times, and that is not what I want to hold against him. What was wrong with him, however, was that, regardless of caste, he had a very warped view of Hinduism.
Thus, Gandhi was wrong to equate Hinduism with non-violence, which is extolled as a virtue on the spiritual path, but not a virtue for the warrior. No matter how the warrior class is recruited, at any rate it is deemed necessary in the real world. Hinduism is a complete system: it accounts for society’s needs as much as for the requirements of the spiritual path. Gandhi’s version of Hinduism was very unbalanced and morbidly moralistic. It ought to be a warning sign for Hindus that the secularists are so insistently dangling Gandhi as a role model before them.
Likewise, “interreligious harmony” was a natural practice between the many sects within Hinduism, and partly even towards Christianity and Islam. When Muslims pass a mosque, they greet it, but not a temple or church. It is only Hindus who greet any building or object that is deemed sacred to anyone. This was the practice long before Gandhi. But these Hindus, or certainly their intellectual vanguard, had the power of discrimination, sharpened by their many debates between the different sects. Being nice to Muslims and sympathizing with the piety that finds its expression in prayer or fasting, is different from assenting to the illusory Islamic doctrine, starting with the funny belief that Mohammed was God’s exclusive spokesman. In Gandhi’s days, this critical role vis-à-vis Christianity and (at the cost of a number of murders) Islam was taken by the Arya Samaj, which Gandhi lambasted. His role in this regard was entirely negative, abolishing the power of discrimination in the Hindu worldview. He thus prepared the ground for the wilful superficiality characteristic of the Nehruvians. He also, through his wider inflence on all Hindus, prepared the ground for the complete ideological illiteracy among RSS men, along with Golwalkar.
The differences between Gandhi and Golwalkar are dwarfed by one overriding influence on their Hindu contemporaries that they had in common. It is that both of them sold a voguish Western import as quintessentially Hindu. Gandhi’s view of non-violence came from some quietist Christian sects. Remaining unmoved and without fighting back when thugs manhandle you, is typical for the Amish and similar Christian pacifist sects. Through Tolstoy and other exalted Christians, Gandhi inserted a lot of Christian infuence into Hinduism. Similarly, Golwalkar’s nationalism was a belated import of a 19th-century influence, particularly through the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, whose political manifesto had been translated by VD Savarkar. Today in the West, nationalism has gone out of fashion; but in India, nothing ever dies, and so nationalism keeps on working its distortive influence on the movement for Hindu self-defence.
What Hindus should urgently do, is to forget both Gandhi and Golwalkar. (That means two idols less on Narendra Modi’s house altar.) Gandhi is now only artificially kept alive by the secularists and some sentimental Hindus, purely for Hindu consumption. (Nobody is telling the Muslims that Gandhiji was there for them too, and that they should emulate his very Christian message of turning the other cheek.) The problem is not that what they imported, came from abroad. As the late Bal Thackeray said: “You cannot take this Swadeshi [= own produce, economic nationalism]  thing too far, for then you would have to do without the light bulb.” So, if Gandhi’s moralistic sentimentalism or deliberate lack of discrimination had something positive to offer, we shouldn’t mind it being of Christian origin. If Golwalkar’s nationalism helped in properly diagnosing the problems facing Hindu society, we should not complain of its Italian origin. But the thing is that they are not beneficial at all; or if they ever were, they definitely have outlived their untility.
Another very important thing they had in common, was their emphasis on emotions, as opposed to thought. As RSS activists are wont to say: “Do you need to read a book to love your mother?” Working on the emotions quickly creates a popular appeal: both Gandhi and Golwalkar were hugely successful at getting crowds marching. The Marxists were never equally popular, but more successful in determining actual policies. They worked on people’s minds instead, and that had a more penetrative and lasting effect.
Instead of following false prophets like Gandhi and Golwalkar, Hindus had better return to their real role models: to Dirghatamas and Vasishtha, to Rama and Krishna, to Canakya and Thiruvalluvar, to Vishnu Sharma and Abhinavagupta, to Ramdas and Shivaji. Their contribution in ideology and the art of living should be made relevant to the present, they had everything in them that we need. Hindus should not follow Western categories, like “national” vs. “anti-national”, or like “Left” vs. “Right”, not because they have been imported, but because because by now they have been sufficiently put to the test and found wanting.  
Vanguard of Hindu society
According to Ramachandra Guha, the RSS fancies itself the vanguard of Hindu society: “Golwalkar further assumes that if Hindus are destined to lead the world, the RSS is destined to lead the Hindus.”
In better days, and even recently, the rest of the world has eagerly drunk from Mother India’s nipples. In spite of all her defects, she has a lot to offer, and this has been proven already from the distant past onwards. This much is indisputable. By contrast, the RSS’s claim to leadership over the Hindus (or more up-to-date, over the Indians) is a tall claim that deserves to be put to the test.
Certainly, the RSS does a lot of good work at the basic level. Best known in India, though passed over in silence by the world media in emulation of the English media in India, is their disaster relief work. This indeed cannot be praised too much, if only to compensate for the culpable silence about it in every anti-Hindutva article, including this one by Guha. Whenever a flood or earthquake strikes, RSS men immediately come on the scene and do the thankless jobs that secularists feel themselves too precious for.
It is all the more tragic that all these constructive energies of millions of ordinary Hindu volunteers are not channeled towards a higher goal. The RSS at one time wanted to serve Hindu society; today it is only busy perpetuating itself. The RSS leadership has failed to set useful and attainable goals for Hindu society. It has failed to map the Kurukshetra or do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the different forces in the field. According to the ancient Chinese strategist Sunzi, knowing both your enemy and yourself yields constant victory, knowing only one of the two sometimes yields victory and sometimes defeat, and not knowing either will end in assured and ignominious defeat. By this criterion, the RSS, in spite of its size, is headed for complete defeat.
And effectively, for advertising itself as the “vanguard” of Hindu society, the RSS has little to show. Is India more Hindu today than in 1925? Several parameters show a definite decline: demographic percentage of Hindus; percentage of Hindu-controllod schools (not to speak of the hard-to-quantify degree of Hinduness of those schools); percentage of Subcontinental territory where Hindus can live with honour; percentage of soil and other assets controlled by Hindu temples; percentage of men who wear dhotis or of women who wear saris; and the proportion of conversions to the different religions relative to their demographic weight.
Ah, the RSS will say with a triumphant smile, at least we managed to bring our political party to power! Yes they did, and that precisely is where you can see their failure. Just compare the programme with which the BJS started in 1951 and the actual policies of the BJP in power. Rather than Hinduizing secularist India, the Hindu party has been secularized. In 1947, the Hindu forces deplored the inclusion of the green colour in the Indian flag; but by 1980, they themselves put green into their party flag. This is a visual symbol of how they now wholeheartedly support what they originally condemned as “minority appeasement”.
Let me state at this point what has made me write this article. A BJP worker of RSS background asked me to write a reply to this article by Guha. In response, I pooh-poohed Bunch of thoughts: while not endorsing Guha’s critique, I still expressed my skepticism of Golwalkar’s worldview. He got angry with me, a case of “turning a good man into an angry man” by banking too much on his goodwill and understanding. I owed this man a lot, and it was rude and inconsiderate of me to belittle his Guru like that. I sincerely apologize for it, and I hope to repair it a little bit by writing this counter-critique.
Yet, at the same time, I cannot help noticing that this incident at the personal level is a very small part of the very large tragedy wilfully wrought for decades on end by the RSS leadership, including Golwalkar. There cannot bet wo opinions about the idealism and loyalty of numerous RSS men; but the leadership has channeled this enormous reservoir of constructive energies towards nothing better than the RSS itself. What their own rank and file had assumed to be a service to Hindu civilization, is diverted away from that goal. If the RSS had not existed, many of those activists would not have found an outlet fort heir dedication to the Hindu cause. Yet, many others would have set up their own initiatives, and the net result is that the Hindu cause ould have advanced much further than where it has landed uder RSS tutelage.
India’s unitary structure
Ramachandra Guha raises the issue of the Constitution’s place in the Hindu Nationalist scheme of things: “Narendra Modi may swear that the Indian Constitution is his only holy book, but his guruji, Golwalkar, believed that document to be deeply flawed and that it must be rejected or at least redrafted”. The logical conclusion would be that after fifty years, Golwalkar’s ideas have given way to new ideas. That Modi, in spite of his personal veneration for his Guruji, had evolved away from Golwalkar’s opinions. But instead, the same way committed Muslims always go back to the Quran and live as if in 7th-century Arabia, Guha expects Modi to live by the old book, without any changes.
Guha quotes Bunch of Thoughts: "The framers of our present Constitution also were not firmly rooted in the conviction of our single homogeneous nationhood." He thinks Golwalkar “was angry that India was constituted as a Union of states, for in his view the federal structure would sow ‘the seeds of national disintegration and defeat’.”
The framers did indeed sow the seeds of divisive politics steered by sectional interests, though not with their purely symbolic definition of India. On the other hand, their responsibility should not be exaggerated: a good political structure is not all-powerful and cannot indefinitely prevent the eruption of divisive tendencies. Golwalkar’s obsession with this “single homogeneous nationhood” is historically incorrect, but so is the Constitution’s claim that “India is a Union of States”. An example of a union of states is the European Union, where separately existing countries threw in their lot together. Or the budding United States, where thirteen separate British colonies, upon their gaining independence, formed a union. In India, even the nominally independent princely states were effectively part of British India, so the Indian Republic was but a continuation of an existing unitary political entity.
According to Guha, “Golwalkar wanted the Centre to be all-powerful. Modi may now speak of the virtues of co-operative federalism, but his guru, Golwalkar, wrote of the need ‘to bury deep for good all talk of a federal structure of our country’s Constitution’.” Here again, we see that Modi simply, and quite normally, doesn’t follow the Book written by Golwalkar. In this respect, though, Modi does stand in a Hindu tradition and even a BJP tradition, from which Golwalkar was deviating. Ancient Hindu empires had to respect each vassal-state’s swadharma: it had its own ways, and even the inclusion i a larger political structure should not interrupt that vassal-state’s attachment to its distinctive ways.
As for modern India and the BJP, the AB Vajpayee government split the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to give political expression to the relative distinctiveness of the Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Uttarkhand areas. It also extended recognition as official language to several “tribal” languages. Like in some other respects, Golwalkar’s and the RSS’s view deviates from the wise Hindu attitude encapsulating the wisdom of millennia. Modi sets an example for all RSS followers by abandoning the pro-monolithic Golwalkar view and re-embracing the Hindu tradition of pluralism and differentiation.
An unexpected positive side to Golwalkar’s stand is that it is more democratic in spirit than Modi’s or anyone else’s veneration for the Constitution: "Let the Constitution," he insisted, "be re-examined and re-drafted, so as to establish [a] Unitary form of Government." Regardless of his doubtful concern for the unitary form of government, he very correctly refused to worship the Constitution. In a democracy, laws are a human product, which we can choose to keep unchanged or to amend. They are not above us, we ourselves make them. Modi had better stop treating the Constitution as holy writ and give it a critical look to see for himself that some articles in there are undesirable and in need of being amended. 
Ramachandra Guha concludes thus: “No one who reads Bunch of Thoughts can reach a conclusion other than the one the (entirely representative) quotes offered above suggest -- namely, that its author was a reactionary bigot, whose ideas and prejudices have no place in a modern, liberal democracy. If ever the prime minister has the courage to give an unscripted, no-holds-barred press conference, the first question an honest journalist should ask him would be, ‘Sir, how do you reconcile your (long-standing) admiration for Golwalkar on the one hand with your (new-found) respect and regard for Ambedkar and Gandhi on the other?’"
Guha’s passing assurance of representativeness is false. Just as has happened in the usual references to Golwalkar’s book We, here too passages have been cherry-picked for the virtue of making him look bad. Bunch of Thoughts is a repetitive and mediocre book, but is on the whole rather harmless. It rarely raises the reader’s indignation. If it were not like that, i.e. if things with the book were as bad as Guha claims, then this indictment of the book would at once be a serious indictment of its faithful readers. And not just of its actual readers, a minority of RSS activists, but of everyone alleged by Guha to be an obedient reader, including Narendra Modi.
Now to the contents of Guha’s advice to Modi. It is a doubtful trait of Hinduism that in can reconcile contrasting entities. At best, this means finding common ground underneath a seeming opposition. But often it means untruthfully papering over real conflicts of interest. Hence Guha’s suspicion that Modi juxtaposes these three characters on his home altar yet is unable to reconcile their worldviews. To reconcile Golwalkar with Gandhi is not so bizarre, they actually have fundamental traits in common, as argued above. To reconcile Ambedkar with Gandhi is already harder, though this is a couple whose like-mindedness Guha seems to take for granted; in fact, they had a sharp conflict between them, which neither of them had with Golwalkar. Not only was their outlook on both religion and modernization very different (rationalist versus crassly sentimental), but they actually clashed on what to Guha is clearly the most important topic in the universe: caste. However, the real challenge here is to reconcile Ambedkar with Golwalkar.
Well, first off, they were both ardent nationalists. Even when Ambedkar collaborated with the foreign occupiers of his country by serving on the Viceroy’s Council, he did so because in his judgment, British rule was best for his country, and in particular for his own Depressed Castes constituency. It is to Jawaharlal Nehru’s credit that he took Ambedkar, who had been his opponent during the Freedom Struggle, into his first national cabinet so that the country could avail of his service. His rejection of the Christian missionary seduction in favour of Swadeshi Buddhism was nationalist par excellence. It did not endear him to Golwalkar in so far as we know, but it won him the sympathy of the later RSS including Narendra Modi. To some, this element of nationalism is less essential, but to RSS men, it is all-important.
Secondly, while Ambedkar was more emphatically egalitarian than Golwalkar, the latter’s nationalism equally had egalitarian implications. In the feudal system, the nobility was not tied to a nation. Till today, the remaining royal dynasties in Europe are biologically the most pan-European families. By contrast, the commoners were mostly tied to a particular nation and easily rallied around the banner of the modern nation-states. Moreover, nationalism allowed those commoners to feel equal to their upper-class compatriots. And historically, it is nationalism, frst through the initiative of Otto van Bismarck, that created a social security system and its consequent strong bond of self-interest between the commoners and their nation. Likewise, even if Golwalkar was a Brahmin (and already for that reason fated to be forever hated by the Ambedkarites and the foreign India-watchers in their pocket), he advocated a common identification of everyone with the nation, regardless of caste.
Contrary to the secularists’ hazy assumption, Hindu Nationalism is distinct from Hindu Traditionalism, and the central point of contrast is precisely caste. Genealogically, in the 1920s Hindu Nationalism sprang from Hindu reformism as incarnated in the Arya Samaj, intended as a stalwart Hindu movement (“back to the Vedas!”), but emphatically anti-caste. The foundational insight of this Vedic egalitarianism was that Vedic society had no castes,-- which is accurate at least for the age of the Rg-Vedic Family Books. Several leading early Hindu Nationalists had been Arya Samajis. The main self-imposed task of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS was Hindu “self-organization”, Sangathan. This was the practical application of Swami Shraddhananda’s book Hindu Sangathan, Saviour of the Dying Race (1924). If one book can make you understand modern Hindu activism in general, of which Hindu Nationalism and a fortiori the RSS is only one current, it is that one, far more than Bunch of Thoughts. But Swami Shraddhananda, murdered by a Muslim in 1926, had been a radically anti-caste Arya Samaji.   
Undoubtedly, Ramachandra Guha’s comment has the merit of drawing attention to Guru Golwalkar’s main political manifesto. However, to a moderate extent, it suffers from the main flaws of the Nehruvian depiction of Hindu Nationalism. Based on a very hazy knowledge of the facts on the ground within the Hindu movement, it cultivates a stereotypical enemy-image. It also conflates very distinct strands, such as Hindu traditionalism vs. Hindu reformism, and anachronistically takes past states of affairs to be still in force. It further imagines the Hindu movement to be a powerhouse and fails to realize its weaknesses.  

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