‘All religions have space in Bharat’: Senior RSS pracharak J Nandakumar
The term Hinduism itself is an oxymoron. Because Hindu can never be an ‘ism’, which implies a closed book.
Senior RSS pracharak J Nandakumar is one of the most well-articulate and visible faces of the Sangh Parivar’s ideological core. He is the national convenor of Prajna Pravah, the cultural think tank of the RSS. He tells TNIE his views on a plethora of subjects such as Hindu nationalism, allegations of ‘rewriting’ history, religious conversions, and the BJP’s performance in Kerala.
Hindutva vs Hinduism has been a national debate for quite some time. While the RSS explains Hindutva as cultural nationalism, the opposition alleges it is an agenda to impose Hindu supremacy…
It is an unnecessary controversy. For the RSS, there is no difference between Hindutva and Hinduism. Both are the same and synonymous. Some people found the need to create this binary as they felt humiliated in being called a Hindu. Motilal Nehru once said, ‘Call me an ass, but don’t call me a Hindu.’ His son Jawaharlal Nehru said, ‘I am a Hindu by accident.’ The term Hinduism itself is an oxymoron. Because Hindu can never be an ‘ism’, which implies a closed book. Being a Hindu is a continuous process; not a fixed phenomenon. Hindu is not a closed book. It is not a fixed revelation but an ever-growing tradition. Hindutva is those cultural values that make one Hindu.
But, can we put Hindu in a compartment? It has always been an open thought; something that has always welcomed debates.
Yes, of course. Hinduism is an all-encompassing thought. It has welcomed everyone with an open heart, even Charvaka who preached atheism. There is no other philosophy that gives more liberty. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says: ‘You need not accept everything I say, you are free to debate and assimilate.’ Hindutva has never been a closed book and will never be one.
The move to revise Indian history has triggered a controversy. What was the need to revisit history?
The history of a country should be pure and impartial. Nigerian novelist Ben Okri once said, ‘To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself.’ This is true in the case of India. There were conscious efforts by the British to alter our history. Travancore was the first nation in the world to defeat a western colonial power, in the 1741 Battle of Colachel. But where is Travancore kingdom in medieval history? The Chola empire is the only dynasty in the world to rule for over 1,500 years. But where is it in our history books? We should replace manipulated history with real history. Every country has done that. Ours is long due.
There is a common perception that, but for the British, India still would have remained as numerous princely states…
Bharat is a land united by an age-old culture. Dr B R Ambedkar himself had said this in his 1916 research paper ‘Castes in India’ presented at Columbia University that “it is an indubitable cultural unity, end to end.” This cultural unity helped us unite politically. Vedas speak about the land that extends from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Ramayana and Mahabharat give evidence of the cultural unity of this land. Even Socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia once stated: ‘Sri Ram united north with south, Sri Krishna united east with west and Lord Shiva is seen in every grain of sand in India.’ This is not to forget the efforts of Sardar Patel and V P Menon. But this unification was possible because of the “indubitable cultural unity” that Dr Ambedkar had noted.
But, what is the need to change the name of places or rewrite history? Will it not trigger more controversies and divide society further?
That is why I quoted Ben Okri earlier. Srinagar was named by Emperor Ashoka as the seat of prosperity. When did it change? When we hear a name like Aurangabad, many bad things associated with Aurangazeb come to our mind. Do you think retaining such a name will help in unifying the country? As a nation with self esteem, there is a need to reclaim our heritage.
You had once said Jawaharlal Nehru was planted into the political leadership of India. Could you elaborate on that?
I did not mean that he was not qualified to lead the country. Many people in the Congress leadership had spoken about efforts to plant him in the leadership. Nehru’s rise to the leadership was controversial even then. Immediately after his foreign studies, Motilal Nehru ensured that his son got an important place in Congress leadership. Dynasty rule in politics started there.
From Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, the Congress has changed a lot. While Nehru had said he was a ‘Hindu by accident’, we see his great-grandson Rahul Gandhi asserting that he is a ‘Brahmin who wears the sacred thread’ and Priyanka applying a deep red sindoor on her forehead. How do you view this transition?
It is indeed a welcome change (smiles). But it should not be a political gimmick. Earlier, people blindly opposed Hinduism due to political reasons. Now that has changed. Nehru’s great grandchildren may have sensed the transformation happening across the country. I am happy that they have declared themselves as Hindus. It is a good change (smiles).
Does the credit for making Rahul and Priyanka publicly declare their Hindu identity go to the RSS?
We don’t want to make such claims (smiles). If Nehru’s great grandson Rahul Gandhi has now started asserting his Hindu identity, I am proud about the role the RSS played in that transformation. Only the RSS has been constantly arguing that Hinduism is the cultural identity of India.
Even the Left celebrates Hindu festivals these days….
During the construction of the Vivekananda memorial in Kanyakumari, the then Kerala Chief Minister E M S Namboothiripad had refused to make any contributions towards it, alleging that Vivekananda was a representative of obscurantism. Now, the CPM has accepted Vivekananda. Also, the DYFI has started celebrating Raksha Bandhan now (smiles).
There is a debate over equating scientific milestones with traditional knowledge… The statement by Speaker A N Shamseer about Lord Ganapati had triggered a controversy. What’s your take on the issue?
S Somnath, chairman of ISRO, has answered the question beautifully. He said that his belief had never posed any hurdles in learning science. The speaker suddenly developed a scientific temper. If somebody says that only his religion is true and people who do not follow it will suffer in hell, that can be a myth. I haven’t seen any devotee of Lord Ganesha saying those who believe in other gods would go to hell.
But what about the reference to plastic surgery?
It was not Narendra Modi who had said that plastic surgery existed here. A British historian wrote in 1887 about an ayurveda practitioner who replaced the nose of a soldier with flesh and skin from the thighs. Foreigners believed that there was plastic surgery in Bharat. We have Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita in front of us. The research and development of ayurveda was stopped by the Britishers to give prominence to allopathy. The controversy over Ganapati was created just ahead of Ganeshotsav, and was communal. Someone who is in a constitutional position should not have made such a communal statement. It was, in a way, anti-social.
The ISRO chairman recently said visiting temples was a private matter… Isn’t it better to keep such debates private?
Who is creating controversy? The same people are the spokespersons of ‘my space’ and ‘my choice’. They allege that Indian scientists are superstitious. Some even desired the failure of the Chandrayaan-3. Religious belief, according to us, is as good as a toothbrush, as private as a toothbrush. When we impose it on others, it is vulgarity. We should keep our beliefs private. But to say that the ISRO chairman doesn’t have the right to pray in a temple is hypocrisy.
You have said that secularism is a western, Semitic concept. Could you please explain?
The concept of secularism came to the world in the medieval period, against the hegemony of the Pope in western countries. In Bharat, where we have welcomed all religions with an open heart, what is the relevance of the concept secularism? It is unnecessary. That is why the Constituent Assembly did not add secularism to the Constitution. The word ‘secular’ was later added to the preamble in 1976. It is a political term added by Indira Gandhi to play caste politics in Bharat.
Can you define the concept of Hindu Rashtra being propounded by the RSS?
We are a nation that was founded as a cultural entity. The RSS believes that this country has always been a Hindu nation and will continue as a Hindu nation. This fact is not something that has to be proclaimed by passing of a bill in Parliament. Also, the terminology doesn’t mean that the RSS wants to root out all other religious communities. In fact, that is against the very thought process of the RSS. We consider such a thought as a non-Hindu one.
Will people belonging to other communities, like the Muslims and Christians, have the same rights as that of a Hindu in that Hindu Rashtra?
Yes, of course. A person cannot be called a Hindu just because his name is Ram. Also, a person named Muhammad can’t be called a non-Hindu. A citizen of the Hindu nation should place his country above religious affiliation. However, the only condition to be a citizen of the Hindu nation is that if ever there comes a conflict between religion and nation, they have to be clear on which side they stand. The nation should come first!
So will a beef-eating Muslim or a Christian have a place in this Hindu nation?
Anyone can eat anything in this country. However, it is being used as a political weapon. Eating meat has never been a taboo in India. If you consider South India, the coastal belts and the northeast, meat is a staple. Now, if you are specifically indicating cow meat, then it should be understood why the protests happened. The cow has been considered a symbol of prosperity since ancient times. So care should be taken not to hurt the sentiments of those who consider the animal as something holy.
There have been many cases of people getting lynched just for eating, buying or even selling meat. How do you explain this?
We cannot blame anyone. You should understand the circumstances that lead to such incidents. If people butcher a cow with the sole aim of hurting religious sentiments or instigating trouble, others might not be able to be magnanimous and forgive such acts. They might retaliate to alleviate their pain. However, the RSS has always thought that taking things to the extremes will never be beneficial for society.
Kerala is said to have the highest number of RSS shakhas. Yet, it has not translated into an electoral victory for the BJP. What are hurdles?
Kerala doesn’t have the highest number of shakhas in the country; Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of shakhas, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. However, Kerala has the highest density of shakhas. There are three factors contributing to the BJP’s poor performance in Kerala. Firstly, the demography of the state poses serious hurdles in the progression of a political party like the BJP. Secondly, nowhere in the country you will be able to see politically organised minority communities as in Kerala. Thirdly, INDIA, the Opposition front, might have come on the national stage just recently, but such an undeclared understanding has been existing between the political parties in the state for quite several years. Wherever there is a chance of BJP winning, this nexus tries to drag down the party candidate.
After the Bharat Jodo Yatra, there is a narrative that Rahul Gandhi’s image has improved drastically. What is the Sangh’s view about it?
That’s only a narrative (smiles). Without following these narratives, we should closely evaluate him. Then one will realise that his words, expressions, and movements are all programmed. What was his contribution in serious discussions on matters affecting the country in Parliament? How many private bills did he introduce in Parliament? Let him showcase his talent, and it is good to have a strong Opposition (chuckles). If he has any idea about history, will he discuss Ladakh and Siachen? When did the Indo-China war take place? Who coined the slogan Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai? How did Rahul’s great grandfather respond to the need for modernising the Indian Army?
Hinduism is a culture that has existed for thousands of years. Does it require the backing of the 100-year-old RSS for its existence?
There should be someone to do it. For the independence of this historical land, the freedom movement was started in 1885. Did anyone tell Gandhiji that a country with such a vast history required such a freedom movement? It is a feeling for the country. The RSS works to protect the culture of this nation. Such organisations are always important and relevant. Each time period requires such a movement.
Isn’t the Sangh a Brahminical force? If you look at Sarsanghchalaks, most of them have been Chitpavan Brahmins. The representation of non-Brahmins is almost nil…
This is a completely wrong narrative. It is a shameful narrative. Sudarshan Ji and Rajendra ji were not Chitpavan Brahmins. I was not even aware of who is a Chitpavan Brahmin in the Sangh…, caste has never been given any prominence. Almost 50% of the Sangh strength is not from so-called higher castes. Several Sangh members given charge of the states are from Scheduled Castes.
Golwalkar’s Vicharadhara has always been controversial, with the Sangh’s opponents alleging hatred towards minorities. How do you view these allegations?
Guruji Golwalkar, in his Vicharadhara, talks about three internal enemies of the country. He clearly mentions about Islamic fundamentalism. He’s not talking about Islam the religion, but about the fanatic activities under Islamic fundamentalism. Second is the evangelical movement and religious conversion, which is a non-Bharatiya concept. We have no problem with individuals moving from one religion to another through their conviction. But if conversion is through force or luring, that is wrong. He was not against Christ or Christianity. The third is the anti-national concept of communism.
Currently, a section of Christians is seen getting closer to the RSS. They raised the issue of ‘Love Jihad’, which was refuted by the courts. What are your observations?
Everyone knows that ‘Love Jihad’ is happening. What was refuted in the court was ‘Love Jihad’ as an institution or an establishment. In fact, the word was first used by a court. It surfaced in the case involving a Christian girl and a Hindu girl in Pathanamthitta. We Indians would never reject the divine concept of love. Only we have a God for love, Kamadeva. So, we would never say that love is wrong or that it’s a crime. But when love becomes a political or religious strategy, we have to call it by this name (Love Jihad), just to recognise this.
Under Narendra Modi’s leadership, the BJP will complete 10 years in power at the Centre next year. Is the RSS happy with the progress?
I am happy with the direction and the intent of the government. I firmly believe that the country is now going in the right direction. Positive changes are seen everywhere, and I am happy about that.
What are the chances of the BJP coming back in 2024 given the Manipur incident and the Karnataka election results?
I don’t see any chance for a change in the present dispensation.
The RSS is celebrating its 100th year. What are the plans?
We don’t believe in celebrations. Still, 100 is a significant milestone. We function in 50,000-60,000 areas across the country. Of 6 lakh villages in the country, we function in about 1/10th area only as of now. In the 100th year, our target is to expand the RSS’ reach to 50% or 2-2.5 lakh places directly. We also want to expand to areas that have not been covered so far, like the border areas. Another goal is the Panchamukhi social transformation through five areas: (1) Value-based families (2) Samarasatha Yuktha Samooham, meaning a society that’s beyond caste and creed (3) Environment-friendly lifestyle (4) Swadeshi lifestyle and (5) Inculcating civic sense in our society.