True Hindutva, or, the whole point of the BJP's policies

The RSS roots of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideology seem not to be well understood even by its most ardent supporters—and that is by design

Representation of emergence of castes from the divine 'body' (image courtesy @kryes/X)
Representation of emergence of castes from the divine 'body' (image courtesy @kryes/X)

Aakar Patel

The Bharatiya Janata Party is India’s largest political force, but its ideology is not properly understood.

Some aspects of it — the opposition to dynasty, the promise of economic development — are clear, even though these may not be adhered to by the party fully.

However, the largest component of the ideology, what is called Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, is more vague. What does it mean and what is it intended to achieve?

Devanura Mahadeva, a famous writer from Karnataka, explores this in his work on the parent body of the BJP. In his book titled RSS: The Long and Short of It, Mahadeva attempts to understand what the RSS is and what it wants through the simple device of reading Hindutva's primary texts. These are V.D. Savarkar’s works and M.S. Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts.

The writer explains his motivation for this project through a parable: A sorcerer who spread turmoil was invincible because his life was stored in a parrot in a distant cave. He thus remained untouched by actions against his own person. The only way to get at him was to go after this life-soul, in that hidden parrot. Mahadeva, accordingly, is on a quest to find the life source of Hindutva.

In his encounter with Golwalkar, he finds that the RSS head worshipped caste and asked that the rest of us worship it. In Bunch of Thoughts, Golwalkar says that the Hindu people are his God and this God manifests itself through caste. Meaning, the organisation of Hindu society in the way Manu described it (Brahmin head, Kshatriya arms, Vaishya thighs and Shudra feet) is the entity that is worthy of worship.

In 1960, Golwalkar said that caste could be used for cross-breeding superior humans, like it was done in animals. This was done by Hindus earlier, through upper-caste men fathering the first child of a woman married to someone else.

It may interest readers to know that Europe in the feudal period may have had something similar, called droit du seigneur ('right of the lord'), allowing feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women on the wedding nights of the women.

That this is straight exploitation of the weak and not some noble thing does not appear to have occurred to Golwalkar.

If such things are not pushed now by the RSS cadre or the BJP, it is not because these statements have been withdrawn. It is because they are likely confident that few people will do what Mahadev has done and actually read the primary texts. However, it would be interesting to see a television debate today around whether or not the caste system should be worshipped and ossified as the RSS wants it to be.

Mahadeva makes a number of original observations. He says that the RSS has defanged the religions that sprang out of India, rejecting the caste system that it wants worshipped: ‘The RSS tries to pull out the teeth and nails of Jaina, Bouddha, Sikh, Lingayat and other dharmas that were born in India and rejected the Chaturvarna order.’ By merely saying that these are Hindu faiths, it sought to subsume them.

There is no resistance to this internally, he writes, because the RSS in fact does not encourage thinking. Of the title Bunch of Thoughts itself, Mahadeva says, there is not much thinking in the work, only a series of ‘random, dangerous beliefs and that too from a bygone age’.

Thinking is discouraged in the RSS, through the insistence on order over diversity. The RSS ’tames’ its volunteers, Mahadeva writes, and quotes Golwalkar as saying that they must ‘do what is told… if told to play kabaddi, play kabaddi; [if] told to hold [a] meeting, then [hold a] meeting… their discretion is not required’.

One other thing that this cadre is taught is that the Constitution of India is flawed. The very idea of ‘states’ is offensive to them, because there can be only one Bharat Mata and the existence of a Karnataka, Gujarat or Bengal is ‘wrong’.

Excerpt from Golwalkar's 'Bunch of Thoughts' (photo courtesy @Aakar__Patel/X)
Excerpt from Golwalkar's 'Bunch of Thoughts' (photo courtesy @Aakar__Patel/X)
Excerpt from Golwalkar's 'Bunch of Thoughts' (photo courtesy @Aakar__Patel/X)
Excerpt from Golwalkar's 'Bunch of Thoughts' (photo courtesy @Aakar__Patel/X)

The stress on homogeneity over diversity shows, Mahadeva writes, in such things as nomenclature. The RSS and the BJP refer to Adivasis as ‘vanvasis’ (forest dwellers), thus eroding their indigenous identity as the original civilisations and cultures of India.

Mahadeva calls Hindutva a ‘cow-faced tiger’, an entity that is eating at Indian society from within.

The prime minister, Mahadeva says, is popular but is only an ‘utsava murti’, a replica of an idol that is led out in a procession. ‘The real deity sits in Nagpur, inside the RSS shrine,’ he says. The only qualifications required of the utsava murti are the ability to put up a show and mesmerise the people. Mahadeva asks, ‘Don’t we see all of this today?’

The idolisation of Narendra Modi is part of the RSS plan—but he is not the ultimate icon, only a reflection of it
The idolisation of Narendra Modi is part of the RSS plan—but he is not the ultimate icon, only a reflection of it
National Herald archives

What does he offer as a solution? He gives the example of a village that is overrun by thieves:

‘Firstly, the entire town wakes up. At night the youth take turns patrolling and keeping watch in the mohallas. Women carry chilli powder with them. This is the kind of awakening and vigil we all need. Because these thieves can come in different guises; they may come for temple maintenance, for instance. Fake news can be spread. Hymn singing can be organised. The only way out is to first uncover the plot. This requires us to be vigilant.

‘Further, at least now, the sane voices which are a scattered few need to speak up about right and wrong. Words like love, tolerance, justice need to be heard from within our society.’

The intellectual content of books is sometimes judged by how long they are. Mahadeva himself refers to his own work as a ‘booklet’. Let this description not mislead the potential reader. This is a first-rate work, which is the most important intellectual attack on the times we are going through, and for that reason has also become the most popular.

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