Hindutva and Nationhood
On Vijaya Dashami, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat delivered a speech to mark the founding of the RSS in 1925. The RSS’s role in inculcating ideas of nationhood in the minds of youth for nearly nine decades has been consequential at least in the intellectual domain at the popular level. Bhagwat’s October 3 speech should, therefore, be examined for the assumptions and relevance of ideas he put forth before Indian youth. Ideas influence us as social beings when we listen to or visually imbibe them, whether or not we want to follow them.
Bhagwat noted the RSS’s role in building “a virtuous, strong and organised society”, urged “reconstruction of this great nation” and spoke of India’s rising status: “The entire world is today waiting for this eternal nation to stand up in its own form.” However, the speech leads to questions of ideas and assumptions that suck India into isolationism, teach moral relativism that precludes among Indians a conception of what is good and what must be opposed, and propel a world view that drowns the Indian mind into excessive spirituality that is not grounded, which means that Indian youth are good at writing software but are unable to invent hardware.
One, Bhagwat celebrated Indians who travelled “from Mexico to Siberia” and “without attempting to conquer any empire or without destroying way of life of any society, prayer systems or national identity” shared Indian ethos. It means India’s intellectual thought is caught in relativism in which Indians nurse a value-neutral world view. It also means: Indians going to work in Saudi Arabia will accept its burqa-based value system that subjugates women. The issue is not burqa, but the Indian inability to choose and reject. Bhagwat defined Hindutva as an “unbroken current of national thinking” that “assimilates and accepts all of them with full respect”. Think over: “full respect”.
Two, Bhagwat’s uncritical celebration of “without attempting to conquer” is an intellectual challenge that Indians must reject quickly. It is the reason foreigners invaded India while Indians rarely went beyond borders, barring exceptions. In 2005, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam reflected: “In 3000 years of our history, people from all over the world have come and invaded us, captured our lands, conquered our minds. From Alexander onwards, the Greeks, the Turks, the Mughals, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch, all of them came and looted us... Yet we have not done this to any other nation. We have not conquered anyone.” Add here: Kargil and 26/11. Indians must embrace Kalam’s concern, reject Bhagwat’s indifference.
Three, Bhagwat criticised the Western powers who “want to expand their own empires in the name of establishing peace” and compel other countries to remain “helpless in the name of non-proliferation of (nuclear) weapons”. How history unfolds depends on three inter-dependent factors: process in which everything flows from the past; turning points such as wars after which we leave something irreversibly behind; leaders who proactively shape history. Foreigners cannot create empires if a people are intellectually capable and willing to militarily fight. The West’s rise derives from rational thought, a weakness of Indians, too, preoccupied with spirituality.
Bhagwat spoke in a received language, of the international Left; he blamed the West’s “oil interests” as cause of war, but wars have never taken place for oil. Indians must ask what the RSS leadership thinks about the use of nuclear weapons and India’s nuclear programme—also because Bhagwat dismissed the non-proliferation movement as mere Western politics.
Four, he blamed the Western countries for the rise of jihadists like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, noting that their “selfish interests… is responsible for a new incarnation of terror”. For Indian youth, two questions arise: is selfishness wrong in itself or is it something that fuels individual drive; secondly, is a reductionist view of history’s progress valid in which only the West charts its path, or wouldn’t others do the same if the West didn’t exist? Think about Islamists’ unprovoked invasions of Europe and India.
Five, Indian philosophy nurtures an inward-looking nation. On all international issues, Indian diplomats refrain from taking positions. The philosophical questions raised in this article can also be raised about prime minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the UN authored by diplomats, though Modi’s other speeches in which he takes personal interests do propel India forward. India must grasp a notion of power before claiming the UN Security Council seat. Bhagwat said India has been “the top leader of the world for centuries”. Think if this is a valid statement.
Six, the RSS leader rightly lauded the success of Indian scientists in sending Mangalyaan into the orbit of Mars but this is the result not of the original Indian intellectual thought that he advocated but of Western material sciences. Reproducing wheat is no contribution to human knowledge; the original thinker invented how to grow wheat. Perhaps, Bhagwat spoke from a higher intellectual plane, but his was not a statesman’s speech to propel India into the orbit of great powers in the international state system.
Positively, Bhagwat spoke about the concept of “integral humanism”, advocating an ecologically sustainable lifestyle. Hearteningly, he stepped into the real world when democracy spoke through him. To illustrate, he extolled the election of the Modi government and recognised India’s place in the world: “We have also made the world realise that the common citizen of Bharat takes part in the process of future-building of the nation through execution of her/his democratic responsibilities.” Earlier, Modi was clearer: “We can look in the eye of the world because we are a democracy.”
Insofar as Bhagwat was articulating a conception of India based on Hindutva, it appears Hindutva is intellectually incapable of engineering India’s rise in modern times. Indian youth must shun intellectual streams rooted in Ashoka’s renunciation of war and learn from Kautilya who conceived the Mauryan Empire’s rise. India’s thought leaders, or those who buy Fair & Lovely cream, cannot continue to blame our inferiority complex on foreign invasions, even if correct.
The author is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.