Hitler of the Hindutva Brigade
An Imagined, Demonised and Intellectually Dishonest Portrait of ‘Guruji’ Golwalkar
TERRIFYING VISION: M.S. Golwalkar, The RSS and India. Author: Jyotirmaya Sharma. Publisher: Penguin Viking (2007). Pages: 175. Price: Rs. 295.
First, a relevant anecdote. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s former Prime Minister, almost never used to sit on a chair when he was in the presence of ‘Guruji’ Golwalkar in a room. He would make it a point to sit on the floor as a mark of respect for someone he considered “saintly”. In fact, in his homage to the second and longest-serving Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), when the latter passed away in Nagpur on 6 June 1973, Vajpayee wrote that he had an ‘ichha mrityu’ – that is, ‘Guruji’, who was suffering from cancer, knew when he was going to die and had prepared himself to welcome death. It is a rare ability acquired only by those with lifelong ascetic practices.
Jyotirmaya Sharma, who has written a highly, but unconvincingly, critical ideological biography of the most important figure in the history of the RSS (Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, The RSS and India), does refer to Golwalkar’s spiritual orientation early in life. In 1936, he suddenly abandoned his organizational responsibilities in Nagpur and went to his guru Swami Akhandananda, who founded the Ramakrishna Mission Ashram in West Bengal. “He went without telling anyone”, not even Dr. Keshav B. Hedgewar, founder of the RSS and one who, after four years, would anoint Golwalkar as his successor at age 34. Had Swamiji not passed away within a month of giving deeksha (spiritual initiation) to his disciple in early 1937, Golwalkar would perhaps have chosen the life of a sanyasi.
A “Fuhrer” who was not interested in politics or power
Because of his strong spiritual leanings, politics and political power did not find a central place in Golwalkar’s scheme of things for the RSS. Sharma acknowledges this in his book. “In Golwalkar’s mental universe,” he writes, “there are two permanent enemies, the Muslims and politics.” I shall, later in this article, show how the author grossly misrepresents Golwalkar’s thoughts about Islam and Muslims in his attempt to present the RSS leader’s vision as “terrifying”. The belief that Golwalkar was uncompromisingly anti-Muslim is so deep-rooted in a certain vocal section of India’s intellectual and political class that it is taken as an axiomatic truth requiring no objective scrutiny. This belief is the basis for demonizing him as well as the RSS as “communal” and “fascist”, terms that figure copiously in Sharma’s book and feed his central thesis captured in its title. However, readers should ask themselves a basic question: “What kind of ‘Fuhrer’ was Golwalkar if he had aversion for politics? Could Hitler have been Hitler if he was similarly indifferent to acquiring political power?”
Golwalkar wanted the Sangh and its swayamsevaks to be aloof from politics. He was not initially in favor of establishing the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, with the participation of select RSS pracharaks. In the 22 years that he lived after its formation in 1951, there is little evidence to suggest that he pushed the Jana Sangh to try to somehow capture governmental power so that India could be declared a “Hindu Rashtra”. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya (1916-1968), who became the Jana Sangh’s foremost leader after the untimely death of its founder Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1953, was an intense thinker in his own right. He formulated the party’s ideological basis in the form of a short treatise titled ‘Integral Humanism’. It remains one of the least discussed works of political philosophy produced in the post-Independence era. Any unprejudiced student of politics who reads it is sure to find it unthreatening, undogmatic and non-communal. BJP, the post-1980 avatar of the Jana Sangh, has also enshrined ‘Integral Humanism’ as its ideological guide in its party constitution.
In the introduction to his book, Sharma describes the BJP as one of the “Sangh-inspired organizations” which has “had a malefic influence on Indian politics”. He is entitled to his critical view of the BJP. But the least he could have done as an author was to have examined Upadhyaya’s thought leadership and shown how he, or his two successors in the Jana Sangh and BJP -- Vajpayee and L.K. Advani --, pursued Golwalkar’s “menacing” vision in the political field. He does nothing of the kind.
Surprisingly, there is only one brief, and quite trivial, reference to Upadhyaya in the entire book. Sharma does not even mention ‘Integral Humanism’, or Upadhyaya’s noteworthy presidential address at the Jana Sangh’s national council meeting at Calicut in 1967, in which he affirmed: “We are pledged to the service not of any particular community or section but of the entire nation. Every countryman is blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh.” By conveniently avoiding to train his analytical gaze over a political leader with whom Golwalkar shared a strong bond of mutual respect, Sharma has introduced a major lacuna in his book.
Golwalkar on Nehru, Gandhiji and untouchability
Golwalkar never identified himself exclusively with the Jana Sangh. He maintained close personal relationships with several leaders in the Congress and Socialist parties, and they in turn respected him even if they did not fully agree with his ideology. (A rare example of a Marxist intellectual’s appreciation of Golwalkar has come in Dr. Ashok Mitra’s recently released memoirs.) Golwalkar often sharply criticized Nehru’s policies. But when India’s first Prime Minister passed away in May 1964, he penned a heartfelt homage praising Nehru’s patriotism and lofty idealism and hailing him as a “great son of Mother India”. Sharma does not mention this in his book. But he deserves credit for mentioning the RSS chief’s respectful attitude towards Mahatma Gandhi. Despite Golwalkar’s disagreement with Gandhiji on certain issues, in 1946 “he called the Mahatma vishwavandaneeya, or one who is worthy of being praised across the world” and, on another occasion, “praatahsmaraneeya” – one worthy of being reverentially remembered in the morning.
Critics of the RSS never tire of alleging that it is anti-dalit and supports discrimination and inequality on the basis of caste. However, as Sharma grudgingly informs his readers, the RSS ideologue rejected untouchability and held that “the sentiment of ‘high’ and ‘low’ within the caste system is not right.” Does this make his vision ‘terrifying’?
Was Golwalkar anti-Islam and anti-Muslim?
I now turn to Golwalkar’s other alleged aversion: Muslims. Much of the intellectual debate on this subject has so far centred on certain passages in his most controversial book We or Our Nationhood Defined (1938). However, the RSS has now disowned and withdrawn it. (Sharma mentions this and even states that Golwalkar did not author We..) Therefore, Golwalkar’s views on Muslims should be evaluated on the basis of the totality of what he wrote and spoke on the subject.
The RSS chief was indeed highly critical of what he perceived as the “separatist mindset” of a section of Indian Muslims and their tendency to valorize invaders and bigoted Muslim rulers. This criticism was rooted in the specific context of the Muslim League’s demand for India’s division and the support it received from a vocal class of Indian Muslims. Golwalkar believed that this mindset persisted even after the Partition. This belief is debatable. However, two points are in order here. Firstly, there is a category of “secular” intellectuals in India who consider any criticism of political Islam and of the separatist conduct of a section of Muslims, as “anti-Muslim” and unacceptable. Sharma belongs to this category. He refers to the Gujarat riots of 2002 (which were a blot on India and on Vajpayee’s six-year premiership) as an “example of the impact of Golwalkar’s legacy”. But he finds nothing terrifying in the murderous campaign launched by jehadi terrorists in India, for he makes no mention of it at all.
Secondly, was Golwalkar alone in criticizing Muslim separatism, supremacism and aggression as a threat to India’s unity and integrity? One only has to read Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s book Pakistan or The Partition of India (1940) to know that his views were harsher than anything that Golwalkar has written on this subject. But then, it is not politically correct for anti-RSS intellectuals to critique Ambedkar’s views on this matter.
Three important articulations suppressed
But is Sharma factual and fair in his critique of Golwalkar’s own views on Islam and Muslims? “For him,” he writes, “Muslims were enemies who had to be fought and defeated. He did not even consider Muslims civilized. They were barbarians and raakshasas or demons.” He adds, “Golwalkar was categorical that all those Muslims and Christians, whose ancestors were Hindu, must abandon their newly acquired faiths and return to the Hindu fold.” He gives no references to show where Golwalkar said so.
In fact, many of Golwalkar’s significant articulations on Islam and Muslims completely contradict what Sharma has ascribed to him. Sharma’s omission – shall we say, suppression? – of these articulations amounts to intellectual dishonesty. Let me cite here three important interviews that Golwalkar gave on the subject. (They are contained in his Collected Works, which were published in Hindi in 12 bulky volumes to mark his birth centenary in 2006) – to Khushwant Singh, who was then the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India; Dr. Saifuddin Jeelani, a journalist and Arabic scholar in 1971; and K.R. Malkani, who was then the editor of Organiser, the weekly journal of the RSS.
Khushwant Singh begins the interview (Illustrated Weekly of India, 17 November 1972; reproduced in ‘Guruji’ Collected Works, volume 9, page 200) with these words: “There are some individuals whom we start to hate without even bothering to know them. Guru Golwalkar comes first in my list of such persons.”
Question: What are your thoughts on Muslims’ issues?
Golwalkar: I have not the slightest doubt that historical factors alone are responsible for the divided loyalty that Muslims have towards India and Pakistan. Moreover, both Muslims and Hindus are equally to blame for this. Nevertheless, it is not right to hold the entire community responsible for the guilt of some people. (All emphases are mine.) Elsewhere in the interview, Golwalkar says, “We have to win over the loyalty of Muslims with love. I am optimistic and I believe that Hindutva and Islam will learn to co-exist with one another.”
In the interview given to Dr. Jeelani (Bunch of Thoughts by M.S. Golwalkar, page 639), he says: “According to our religious belief and philosophy, a Muslim is as good as a Hindu. It is not the Hindu alone who will reach the ultimate Godhead. Everyone has the right to follow his path according to his own persuasion.” Citing what he once told a Muslim gentleman from Kashmir, Golwalkar says, “Follow your own religion. The God of Islam, Christianity and Hinduism is the same and we are all His devotees…Give people true knowledge of Islam. Give people true knowledge of Hinduism. Educate them to know that all religious teach men to be selfless, holy and pious…Indianisation does not mean making all people Hindus.”
Contrast all these articulations with Sharma’s fanciful assertion that Golwalkar believed in “the intrinsic superiority of Hindus over all other people” and that “fanaticism and religious frenzy mark all his formulations”.
Golwalkar opposed Uniform Civil Code
Sharma’s most inexcusable omission pertains to his failure to let his readers know that Golwakar was opposed to the idea of Uniform Civil Code, an issue which agitates a majority of Indian Muslims. Consider these excerpts from the interview he gave to Malkani (Organiser, 23 August 1972; reproduced in ‘Guruji’ Collected Works, Volume 9, page 165).
Question: Don’t you think that Uniform Civil Code is needed to nurture the sense of nationalism?
Golwalkar: I do not think so. What I say on this issue might surprise you and many others, but this is my view. And I must speak out the truth as I see it.
Question: Don’t you agree that uniformity is needed to promote national unity?
Golwalkar: Harmony and uniformity are two different things. For harmony, uniformity is not necessary. There have always been limitless diversities in India. In spite of this, our nation has remained strong and well-organised since ancient times. For unity we need harmony, not uniformity….Nature does not like excessive uniformity. I think that diversity and unity can co-exist, and they do co-exist.
Question: Don’t you believe that Muslims are opposing Uniform Civil Code only because they want to maintain their separate existence?
Golwalkar: I have no quarrel with any caste, community or section wanting to maintain its own individual identity or existence, until and unless this desire for a separate existence causes them to distance themselves from a feeling of nationalism. Many people insist on Uniform Civil Code because they think that the Muslim population is growing in a disproportionate manner since their men are allowed to have four wives. I am afraid that this is a negative way of looking at the problem…There is no basic difference between those who favour appeasement and those who favour uniformity. So long as Muslims love this nation and its culture, they have a right to live according to their way of life.
Question: Is it proper to let our Muslim sisters become victims of purdah and polygamy?
Golwalkar: If your objection to Muslim customs is based on broad considerations of humanism, then it is proper. Reformist outlook in these matters is welcome. But it is not proper to try to bring about equality in a mechanical manner through the external instrumentality of laws. It is better that Muslims themselves reform their outdated laws and customs. I’ll be pleased if they come to the conclusion that polygamy is not good for them. But I would not like to impose my views on them.
Indeed, Golwalkar concludes the interview with a warning. “I firmly believe that uniformity is a pointer to the downfall of nations. I am in favour of preservation of diverse ways of life. At the same time, we should pay attention to ensure that these diversities nurture unity of the nation.”
Terrifying vision? Hardly.
The Organiser is significant for another reason. For it demolishes the whole notion that there was no place in his worldview for diversities, either within the Hindu fold or, much less, in India’s multi-faith society. Sharma’s book devotes pages after pages to construct this false notion.
A good part of the book is devoted to debunking Golwalkar’s concept of India as a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu Nation). According to me, the term suffers from both conceptual and semantic weaknesses. The RSS chief repeatedly emphasized that he used the word “Hindu” to connote a national community and not a particular religious entity. This distinction, however, is not satisfactory. Firstly, neither Golwalkar nor any other proponent of “Hindu Rashtra” has been consistent in the manner in which they have used the word “Hindu”. Secondly, in a multi-faith nation such as India, this terminological conflation creates both confusion and legitimate concerns among non-religious Hindus. BJP, the party to which I belong, does not use the term “Hindu Rashtra” either in its constitution or in its political propaganda.
A book in which prejudice has triumphed over truth
Sharma’s book, which has come out immediately after the conclusion of the Golwalkar birth centenary celebrations, disappoints for all these and yet another reason – it is too brief to capture and comment upon the life of a remarkable personality and a huge organization that he built with his inspiring leadership. The occasion demanded a more comprehensive and better-researched critique, one capable of provoking a serious debate not only outside the RSS but also, hopefully, within. Sharma’s book will make little contribution to this debate because the portrait of Golwalkar sketched by him has, in most parts, no basis in reality. It is imagined by the author, with the pre-determined objective of demonizing him. He has distorted and suppressed vital facts about Golwalkar’s life and thoughts, thereby doing injustice both to his readers and to his subject.
The anti-RSS and Hindu-baiting fraternity will of course hail it because anything that describes the Sangh’s vision as “terrifying” gives it the illusion of having won the ideological battle. For it has never let facts-based and truth-respecting intellectual quest come in the way of declaring Golwalkar as the “Hitler of the Hindutva Brigade”.
(The reviewer, a columnist with The Indian Express, was formerly an aide to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.)
Published in the monthly journal ‘SEMINAR’ ; May 2007
Long Live Sanatan Dharam