RSS and Savarkar’s Idea of ‘nation building’
RSS claims its first and foremost aim is nation building. Why then does RSS dig up old quarrels, that cannot but divide Indians?
Nation building is as old as man. It has always been an attempt to strengthen the internal unity and cohesion of a family, tribe, clan, nation or modern state, in the face of a challenging environment, or an external foe, in order to triumph over it.
Members of a family, tribe, clan, nation or state often quarrel among themselves, at times bitterly and with deadly consequences. But nation building is always about forgetting and forgiving internal bickering and unite to face a shared future. It is never about raking up old quarrels, etching deeper fissures among members and trying to marginalise large sections as unwanted.
RSS claims its first and foremost aim is nation building. All its activities are geared towards creating a strong, cohesive, and united nation. Why then does RSS dig up old quarrels, that cannot but divide Indians? Why does it insist on identity-based politics, when it knows identities are never negotiable, being the very core of who you are? In fact, RSS’ world view was so at variance with the that of the mainstream after independence, that Sardar Patel had to ban it in the wake of Gandhi’s assassination.
RSS almost never talks of its vision of the shared future that awaits the nation that it wants to build. Why is RSS so rooted in the past, blinkered by the vicissitudes of history and so blatantly shy of delineating the shared future that awaits us as a nation? RSS’ idea of a nation, and who RSS thinks we are, has best been delineated by its three ideologues, V.D. Savarkar, M.S. Golwalkar and Deendayal Upadhyay. Of the three, Savarkar best explains RSS’ idea of who we are, in a generally accepted theoretical framework. So, let us examine his idea of Hindutva, nation, and state.
Essentially Savarkar traces the Sindhu Nation [I use ‘Sindhu’ here to distinguish it from ‘Hindu’ nation that brings in religion, an aspect that Savarkar did not hold as a prime signifier of Hindutva] to the advent of Aryans circa 2500 BCE, who settled down on the banks of Indus river and made the Indian subcontinent their home.
Savarkar in his writings is aware that the sacred land he talks about already had many thriving inhabitants that I call the autochthons (original inhabitants of the place). But apart from mentioning inter-marriage as way of assimilating them in his nation, by and large Savarkar ignores their existence. And so does our history.
The Aryan Jati’s sacred texts were the Vedas. [Savarkar used Jati as meaning race]. In time they spawned various schools of thought. Some broke away from the main Vedic society formed by the Vedic Aryans. These schools were Jains, Buddhists, etc. Circa 700 AD Islam entered India via Arab traders who took the lower reaches of the Indus, close to Surat, whereupon, the largely Buddhist population there converted to Islam. This was followed by the Ghouris and Ghaznis in the 13th century and the subcontinent came under a series of Muslim rulers.
The Muslims rulers allowed English traders [1608 AD] into Surat, the same port town that Arabs had used in 700 AD, who using their monopoly on trade by sea, built up a large enough treasure to capture the entire subcontinent, using local levies.
Through this thicket of contestable history, Savarkar tries to derive his idea of who we are.
His notion is that we are the inheritors of the glorious “Jati” of Aryans, who settled along the Indus and made the sub-continent their home. We may have split into various religious streams, but since we have common ancestors, and the various religious streams are indigenous, we are still one nation. This body of people- Hindus, Jains, Buddhists etc. - are one people, one nation. In common with most nationalists, Savarkar had no use for the individual in his scheme of things. The individual is but a cog in the sacred machinery of the nation.
What of the Autochthons? They were certainly not of the Aryan race to which Savarkar traces our nationhood. Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Jyotirao Phule explicitly identify a section of the autochthons as modern-day Dalits, who were marginalised by incoming Aryans. And yes, skin color played a large part in such marginalization, the autochthons being darker-skinned compared to the Aryans.
However, Savarkar, doesn’t discuss caste nor Dalits and/or the autochthons. He makes them disappear.
The Muslim question however dogged his mind. Despite being descendants of the same Aryans as Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, were they part of his idea of a nation or not? To give Savarkar his due, he did not exclude them with an easy mind. Nor was it easy to reconcile with them, given the bitter history and pre-partition politics between Hindus and Muslims. So Savarkar came up with dual test of nationhood.
A potential member of the putative Sindhu nation had to be one who considered Sindhu [territory east of the Indus, bound by the ocean on the other three sides that probably includes Myanmar] as his “fatherland” and also his “sacred land”. Savarkar was of the opinion that Muslims looked to Mecca as their “sacred land”, even as they shared the “fatherland” with others and were, therefore, not members of the Sindhu nation. But they could be, if they switched their sacred land.
The concept of “sacred land” is poppycock, invented to exclude Muslims. What is sacred? In a Constitutional democracy, the only thing sacred is the Constitution. But that’s Savarkar: who recognises no democracy, no Constitution, no individual but seeks to pronounce the final word on who can be a Sindhu national.
The operative part of this notion of what constitutes a Sindhu national has been adopted by the RSS de facto. Thus, only Hindus, Jains and Buddhists [the latter two being very small in numbers] and such minorities as Sikhs are nationals, Muslims are not; unless they explicitly adopt India as their sacred land.
That all Muslims had a choice to go to Pakistan but some chose to stay on in India, is a fact that neither Savarkar considered, nor the RSS takes cognizance of. In effect, this means Muslims must submit to RSS dictates, as RSS presumes to speak for all Hindus, never mind if many of them still consider RSS as the lunatic fringe among Hindus.
But how can there be a Sindhu nation, whose territorial borders don’t correspond to either the fatherland or the sacred land? And one that excludes some 15% of its population from the nation?
So, RSS has come up with the idea of a “state”, in which the Sindhu nation presently lives, along with others such as Muslims, who may or may not be nationals and/or a nation by themselves.
The State that is India as defined in the Constitution, is not the Sindhu nation. When the Sindhu nation not only dominates the Indian state, but also imposes its own Constitution on it, it will become a Hindu Rashtra, where the Sindhu nation is now identical with the Indian State. A name change will certainly follow.
What happens to the minorities who are not Sindhu nationals as per RSS? On what terms can they be assimilated? If not, where do they go? That is essentially an existential dilemma that RSS is keen to avoid discussing in the open. Nevertheless, it is a question that needs to be settled, if India is to continue as a liberal constitutional democracy.
Between the RSS’ claim of nation-building and its definition of a “nation,” lies an abyss, deep enough to sink the nation itself. Yet RSS’ strategy is to present this nation as a fait accompli, rather than discuss and debate issues.
Using vigilantes, backed by state power, Muslim lebensraum (the territory or space that the state believes is needed for it to grow) is being shrunk, socially and economically, in order to marginalise them, in much the same way our Aryans ancestors marginalised autochthons, to create the Dalits.
It is high time we bring such deep existential issues out into the open for debate and discussion, rather than allow a secretive organisation to impose its will on the polity through subterfuge.
(The writer is an independent commentator. Views are personal)