The two princes of our times: Hind Swaraj and Hindutva

The battle is between Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince and the Machiavellian prince

The two princes of our times: Hind Swaraj and Hindutva
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Faisal CK

“Nationalism eliminates its opposites. Like Mao. Like Stalin. Like Napoleon. Like Modi. But there is an alternative to it. An Indian alternative. Gandhi’s dream in Hind Swaraj was an antidote to all the Napoleons and Modis of history. If Gandhi loses, then Savarkar’s history wins.”

  • Shiv Visvanathan (in his foreword to Hindutva or Hind Swarajby UR Ananthamurthy)

Human history may be interpreted as a perpetual struggle between good and evil. Biblically speaking, the struggle starts with Abel and Cain. After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, their first son Cain was born. Not long after, came the birth of their second son, Abel. Cain worked the fields and Abel was a keeper of sheep. Out of jealousy, Cain confronted his brother and then killed him. The struggle of good and evil started from here and it would last until the Armageddon. This struggle is reflected in all human endeavours of all times including political philosophy and praxis.

The age-old debate in political philosophy-whether man is essentially good or bad?-gave birth to contradicting political ideologies. The stream of thought that held that man is naturally virtuous and co-operative formulated liberalism. Anarchism is rooted in the overestimation of human virtue. In contrast, the opinion that man is essentially ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ inspired Fascism. Gandhian ideology is very proximate to Anarchism and holds that man is essentially virtuous, co-operative, moral and capable of autonomy. In this sense, Gandhism is diametrically opposite to Fascism.

Two princes in world literature symbolises these two streams. The first stream is represented by the prince in the story The Happy Prince by Irish author Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). It is about the story of a statue, the Happy Prince, covered with gold and jewels. It stands overlooking a city. One day a swallow seeks shelter under the statue and discovers the prince was actually sad. The bird becomes friendly with the prince and tries to make him happy by assisting him in his desire to ease the suffering of others. It plucks out the ruby, the sapphire and other fine jewels from the statue and delivers them to those who are poor and needy. The bird followed his words and picked off leaf after leaf of the gold, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey.

Then the snow came and the poor little swallow grew older and colder. But he did not leave the Prince. Eventually, he grew weak and died from exposure and exhaustion. Just at that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. It was, in fact, the leaden heart that had snapped right in two at the loss of the sweet and kind swallow. The statue was no more beautiful and useful. It stood deserted. So, the Mayor pulled it down. Then they melted the statue in a furnace but the broken heart did not melt. So, they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead swallow was lying. When God asked one of His Angels to bring the two most precious things in the city, the Angel brought him the leaden heart and the dead bird. Gandhi stood for the politics of the Happy Prince i.e., politics of love and compassion towards follow-human beings. Gandhiji’s heart that was broken by the bullets of Godse, was as precious as the heart of happy prince.

The prince of evil is the ideal prince conceived by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian Renaissance diplomat and philosopher, in his magnum opus, The Prince(1513). Machiavelli stood for godless, scheming and self-interested methods in politics and suggested an unprincipled lust for power, achieved through subtle policy, cunning roguery. “A damned Machiavelli”, commented Shakespeare, “holds the candle to the devil himself”. While Gandhi holds Non-violence and morality in politics, Machiavelli dismisses them both. Gandhi attempted to base politics in ethics, whereas Machiavelli emphasised the separation between ethics and politics.

Machiavellianism is very dear to Fascism. Giovanni Gentile, the self-styled philosopher of Fascism, who was influential in providing an intellectual foundation for Italian Fascism, like Benito Mussolini, was a great admirer of Machiavelli. Italian Fascism has its roots in Machiavelli’s thoughts. Hindutva, in its turn, was too motivated by Italian Fascists. Marzia Casolari in her article titled Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-ups in the 1930s: Archival Evidence has exposed the Fascist-Hindutva nexus (Economic & Political Weekly, January 22, 2000). B.S. Moonje, Dr Hedgewar’s mentor, had close contact with the Fascist regime and the dictator. In this aspect, Hindutva too is has its taproot in Machiavellianism. The Sangh’s aggressive and amoral Chatrapati is an Indian version of Machiavellian Prince.

The present manifestation of the Happy Prince vs. the Machiavellian Prince, is Hind Swarajvs. Hindutva, in contemporary Indian scenario. Hind Swaraj was written in 1908, in answer to the Indian school of violence and published serially in the columns of the Indian Opinion, edited by Gandhiji. Hind Swaraj takes the form of a dialogue between two characters, The Reader and The Editor. The Reader voices the common beliefs and arguments of the time concerning Indian Independence. Gandhi, The Editor, explains why those arguments are flawed and interject his own arguments. As 'The Editor' Gandhi puts it, "it is my duty patiently to try to remove your prejudice. "In 1921, Gandhiji, writing about the book, said: "It teaches the gospel of love in place of that of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It pits soul force against brute force.”

Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was originally published under the title - Essentials Of Hindutva - in 1923. This book is positioned against Hind Swarajin the battle of the books. Hindutva espouses a racial, parochial and aggressive nationalism that is exclusionary in nature. Like Fascism and Nazism, Hindutva deifies nation. But Gandhi and Tagore never considered nation as the last refuge and final destination of humanity. They stood for universal human brotherhood transcending all barriers. Tagore, as Albert Einstein, even considered nationalism an infantile disease and the measles of mankind.

In short, Hind Swaraj and Hindutva are scriptures of two contradictory ideologies evolved in the formative years of modern India. They are antithetic to each other. Hind Swaraj is the Happy Prince and Hindutva, the Machiavellian Prince of our times. But tragedy of our times is that the Happy Prince is vanishing like the morning star and the Machiavellian Prince is rising like the mid-day Sun.

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