Present day Hindus are probably the strongest opponents of Marxism. They are horrified at its doctrine of class-struggle. But they forget that India has been not merely the land of class struggle but she has been the land of class wars. – B. R. Ambedkar, Philosophy of Hinduism.
I often find myself in a bind over whether or not to respond to supposed RSS ideologues, given that they simply trade in lies and hatred with the supreme arrogance of ignorance. One such is the upcoming star on the RSS horizon, a gentleman called Rakesh Sinha, who like the rest of his pack (led by the supreme leader) is currently engaged in a cheap attack on the outgoing Vice-President, Hamid Ansari. His piece in the Indian Express today (linked above) is an instance of a combination of all these things. So, why should one bother about such a character? Why take him and his discourse seriously? Well, someone had better respond because, because, for one thing they are in power, and are going to teach generations of students that valorous ‘Hindus’ like Maharana Pratap won all the wars, though by some magic, ‘Muslims’ continued to rule for about 8 centuries! For another, there are enough gullible types who really think these people ‘have a point of view’, which should be debated.
As we have repeatedly seen, their ‘having a point of view’ has nothing to do with debate. It is to be enforced by gangs of gorakshaks, anti-romeo squads, hoodlums deciding what will or will not be taught in universities and schools, what will be written, how people should dress and love – and when nothing works, ‘win’ a ‘debate’ like Arun Jaitley claimed they did, by simply arresting the opponents and slapping sedition charges on them. Given this, I do not really address, in person, the ideologue, Rakesh Sinha, who has now made it a fine art to pick up some phrases from the toolkit of what is understood as ‘postmodernism’ by many. Wasn’t it postmodernism, one can hear them say, that said all viewpoints are equally valid and ‘everything goes’? Wasn’t it postmodernism that challenged the hegemony of Western thought, its logocentrism, its Rationalism (with a capital R) from within that very tradition? Wasn’t it postmodernism again, that by decentering West’s logocentrism, actually gave these RSS-type creatures the gumption to claim that their utterly unsubstantiated viewpoint about the past too was as valid as that of historians who struggled with evidence, painstakingly putting together texts, artefacts and procedures of dating in order to produce a plausible account of the past?
The answer to all these questions cannot be an unambiguous one. If some of these effects did come to the fore once the heavily guarded doors of theoretical and philosophical knowledge were opened, we must certainly attend to the challenge posed by them. But that does not and must not thereby lead us to an unthought return to the ‘Enlightenment legacy’. In fact, it can be argued that in many instances, it was the way modern Western thought rewrote the history of thought (excising Arab, Persian, Chinese, India, and African entirely from that history) in the world, relegating entire cultures to the domain of the ‘irrational’ and the ‘backward’, that constitutes the single biggest factor behind the emergence of what Nietszche would call the man of ressentiment (or resentment) that is, KB Hedgewar, MS Golwalkar, Mohan Bhagwat, Narendra Modi, Rakesh Sinha…
In a very profound sense, these characters, the resentful slaves, are the most direct product of colonialism – its mirror image, as it were. The pathology of nationalism that colonized and the pathology of the nationalism of the colonized share one thing in common: they draw sustenance from each other and live off each other, just as Nazism and Fascism (pathologies of the first kind) always inspired the Golwalkars, Moonjes and Hedgewars (pathologies of the second kind). That is why , notwithstanding Rakesh Sinha’s apparent critique of ‘the West’, Hindutva in all forms shunned struggle against the British. Their utter failure of nerve and intellect in the face of the power of colonial assault, made them turn their resentment against another target – the ‘Muslim’ – no longer the ruler, but reviled by Christiandom (and Western colonialism) since the time of the Crusades. The rising Hindu/tva intelligentsia imbibed all its intellectual nourishment in terms of the villainization of Islam, directly from colonial/ Christian sources. It is worth keeping in mind that the Hindu intelligentsia of the precolonial (that is, say the Mughal) period, be it Tulsidas or the Navya Nyaya philosophers like Raghunatha Shiromani (to name just two out of a galaxy of flourishing Sanskrit and vernacular thinkers), showed little or no trace of the anxieties about Muslim rulers that their descendants of the colonial period display. Not even about the Babri Masjid, which so troubles Rakesh Sinha’s tribe today!
And of course, what was imbibed from the source/s of these anti-Islam narratives relayed through colonial-Christian sources, fitted very well with the fears and anxieties of new intelligentsia (one belonging to what Sinha calls ‘more subaltern than any other group or idea’). That this group, in colonial times, was upper caste despite its cultural marginalization, is a matter the likes of Sinha do not want to be reminded of. And what precisely were the fears and anxieties of this section that drove them to readily digest the anti-Muslim propaganda of the West? The perceived threats to their own social position from the now restive Shudras and Atishudras or Panchamas who welcomed the openings provided by the advent of colonialism. As their hegemony and dominance collapsed, and the Shudraatishudras made strategic common cause with colonial power, the need for Hindu consolidation began to be felt more and more. Hindu consolidation however, was sought to be achieved without displacing the virulent upper castes from their pre-eminent position in society. The fear of the virile Muslim man out to abduct innocent Hindu women and to procreate at rates that would marginalize effeminate Hindu men (a fear still very rampant). came in very handy. He was the villain the Shudratishudras, especially the Dalits should be afraid of, in the new discourse of fear that took hold of the late 19th century and early 20th century intelligentsia.
Having said this, perhaps it is also worth responding to a couple of formulations that Mr Sinha makes. His central contention is that calling ‘cultural nationalism’ (a code word for Hindutva) illiberal betrays Hamid Ansari’s pandering to the ‘western notion of nationhood’. The way Sinha goes about enumerating all the activities of the RSS (except for engineering ‘riots’ or murdering Gandhi) – for instance, its running of schools and ‘1,60,000 social projects to empower the poor’, it seems as if the scale itself is enough to make the argument that the RSS upholds the civilizational legacy of what we know as India. So let us get this out of the way first: it says nothing about anything. At best, all of Sinha’s arguments can be arguments for majoritarianism.
What is really interesting (and intriguing for those who do not understand how a convoluted RSS mind works), is the way he goes on to tell us about nationalism – Indian and Western. Some day, it will also be necessary to do a proper study of what one can only call Hindutvaspeak – which is but another form of Brahmanspeak. Its hallmark is that it never talks directly, it always says something when it means another. But that is better left for another occasion.
What is truly mind-boggling, as I said earlier, is the sheer scale of ignorance of history and scholarship, not to speak of the ‘tradition’ in whose name the RSS and Sinha speak. So he tells us that the Western notion of nationalism is based on the idea of ‘otherness’ which is missing from Indian idea of nationalism. So what is the Indian idea of nationalism? Sinha leads us back to the prithvi sukta of the Atharva Veda, where it is proclaimed that ‘the earth is our mother and and we are her sons.’ From this Sinha concludes (and wants us to believe him) that “humanitarian concern is at once embedded in India’s cultural nationalism and ‘otherness’ is largely missing from its narratives.”
In conclusion, let us note a few things:
- There is only one quote that Sinha has produced that he thinks allows him to make a sweeping generalization about ‘otherness’ missing from Indian cultural nationalism’s narratives. We might suggest a reading of Manusmriti, for instance, among many others that expound on the varnashramadharma, for a robust discourse of otherness. Ambedkar’s quote as the epigraph to this post is meant to underline precisely this point, as well as to underline that much of the Hindutva rant against ‘the West’ is utterly misplaced.
- Second, Sinha is either blissfully unaware or deliberately misleading when he makes the above deduction, that this idea as well as that of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which generations of Hindu intellectuals of the non-Hindutva kind, have used, underlines the fact that the world is a family. There is no question in this understanding of the territoriality of a nation called India – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh along with all other parts of the world are part of the world that the Atharva Veda talks of, NOT the territorial, Hindu tinged entity called India. In that sense, it is Hamid Ansari who truly inherits the mantle of the Atharva Veda idea, not the resentful men of the Sangh.
- Now, what is it that makes the likes of Sinha and RSS read into the Atharva Veda the territorial boundaries (including say the Macmohan Line) that were created by British colonialism? What except the fact that they are colonialism’s disavowed children? Their anti-Islamism, as much as their idea of India, is derived from the colonial project, with a little bit of fantasy (Akhand Bharat) added to it, that has been the hallmark of all nationalisms – namely expansionist fantasies of colonizing neighbours.
- RSS nationalism is then a direct product of the colonial project.
- Lastly, Sinha believes that the ideal of ‘One People, One Nation’ that refuses to recognize the existence of any religious or any other minority, is an Indian idea. Any primer on fascism and Nazism would have told him that such is not the case. It is the ambition of every nationalism and the pathology of every fascism – and Western in its inspiration from the beginning to the end. That the idea of ‘One People One Nation’ has always been behind the idea of the elimination of the Jews in Germany for instance, is something Mr Sinha would do well to update himself on. In India, all those who rejected the Western idea of nationalism – Tagore and Gandhi foremost among them, rejected the idea of ‘One People, One Nation’ and celebrated the plurality and diversity of India. In a different way, so did Ambedkar.
- The Sangh has always been a surrogate of Western imperialism and that is something that should never be lost sight of.