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Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Sarsanghchalak (Chief Mentor) Mohan Bhagwat’s comments in a recent interview to two Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) backed weeklies- Panchjanya and Organiser– have been termed controversial and anti-minority by the detractors of the RSS. These accusations aren’t new and they are generally based on the assertions that the RSS wants to convert Bharat into a Hindu Rashtra. And this Hindu Rashtra would be a majoritarian state with minorities, especially, Muslims being relegated to a status of second grade citizens. Is it so?
Let us take a look at the concept of Hindu Rashtra and what it means for minorities in India. So far, in most of the debates, it has been discussed in abstract terms creating a lot of misgivings and confusion. Let us try and look at it more objectively with specific definitions and what they would mean for our society.
To decipher the RSS’ vision of Hindu Rashtra especially in context of the 21st century, it is important to understand the real meaning of some key terms which are often misquoted or misinterpreted.
Hindutva and Hinduness
There have been efforts to kick off debates around the so-called ‘soft’ Hindutva vs ‘Hard’ Hindutva.
For the RSS, Hindutva is the manifestation of the ‘Bharatiya’ (Indian) way of life, which has been based on ‘Sanātana Dharma (eternal way of life)’. The most appropriate English translation of the word ‘Hindutva’ is ‘Hinduness’, which means the essence of the Hindu Dharma.
Hindutva is primarily a cultural framework rooted in those civilisational values of India which are eternal. The core of these values is ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam(the whole world is one family)’.
Elaborating on this, Manmohan Vaidya, the sah-sarkaryavah (joint general secretary) and an ideologue of the RSS, wrote in an article published in Indian Express newspaper in 2019 “…Being Hindu or ‘Hindutva’ has become the identity of all Bharatiyas. The founder of RSS, K.B. Hedgewar, made this Hindutva the tool to awaken the sense of unity among all Bharatiyas — connecting them with each other irrespective of their caste, region, religion and language. He started organising the entire society by binding them together with this thread of Hindutva.”
Now let us take a look at one of the most contentious concept of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The negativity around this concept has emanated primarily from the lack of understanding about the difference in the ‘nation-state’ and ‘nation’.
Hindu Rashtra: Nation-state or nation?
‘Rashtra’ is often equated with the term ‘nation-state’ or ‘state’ in English. The evolution of the nation-state and especially a ‘secular’ nation-state in Europe is a phenomenon of the mediaeval era. In addition to other factors, one of the key triggers for this European concept was the reaction of the society to the theocratic state run by the Church.
In Bharat, however, the concept of ‘rashtra (nation)’ had existed since Vedic times. This was based on a view of life shared by all people living in Bharat evolving into a unique way of life (sanskriti).
What happened in Europe was that the nation-state came into existence as a political association of certain sections of society whereas in Bharat ‘Rashtra’ meant an association of people who shared common cultural values. Emanating from an unbroken tradition of thousands of years these cultural values have been popularly known as the Hindu cultural values. One may call it alternatively, the cultural values of ‘Sanatan Dharma’ also. These are synonymous. So ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is an adjective that stands for the way of life based on certain civilisational and cultural values that people practise in India in their day to day life. These practices are manifestations of ‘Hindutva’ or as it is translated in English ‘Hinduness’.
The RSS’ worldview is that the ‘Hinduness’ of our society lies in recognising the divinity within each human being and simultaneously accepting that religion is a personal matter and religion denotes only a way of worship which every individual is free to pursue according to his or her own choice or will.
Equating Religion to Dharma
Much of the confusion has arisen in the debate on ‘Hindu Rashtra’ due to a tendency to equate Religion and Dharma.
Religion is associated with a particular way of worship whereas ‘dharma’ means a particular way of life. There are many religions in India but there is only one ‘dharma’ — Hindu Dharma. So, Hindu Dharma shouldn’t be equated with other religions.
Individuals here can choose any path they like to attain their spiritual goals. Their way of worship might differ. They might be even atheists. But as long as they adhere to ‘bharatiya’ values, they continue to remain Hindu and are part of this Hindu Rashtra as an equal citizen. To reiterate, the confusion over the issue arises because ‘dharma’ is often translated incorrectly as ‘religion’.
What is Hindu Dharma?
Hindu Dharma in practice comprises the unchanging, eternal, universal laws and the ever-changing socio-economic order in the light of these laws. Perceived oneness in the midst of all diversities (Avibhaktam Vibhakteshu) has been the eternal message of Sanatana Dharma or Hindu Dharma.
The concept of ‘Secularism’ has often been brought up as an antidote to the concept of ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Secularism — the belief that religion should not be involved in the organisation of society, education, etc (Oxford definition) — has been the most misused word in Bharat for almost a century and in contemporary context it is invoked mostly to pamper only the communal forces.
The word ‘Secularism’ was introduced in the Preamble of the Constitution of Bharat in 1976 during the Emergency, without any debate, and it created a political environment conducive to promoting appeasement of minorities and creating a schism amongst different sections of the society.
Secularism is an imported concept and it is irrelevant in Bharat. This concept originated in Europe as a response to highhandedness of the Church driven theocratic states. In Bharat, the concept of a theocratic state never existed. All religions here have been treated equally for centuries. The Parsis, the Jews, the Syrian Christians, among others, came from outside and settled in various parts, making Bharat their home and practising their religion freely without any persecution and discrimination.
Is Hindu Rashtra a divisive concept?
The detractors of the concept of Hindu Rashtra have tried to brand it as a divisive concept. But that may not be so.
The RSS’ Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat elaborated the Sangh viewpoint on this in his annual address on Vijaydashami at Nagpur (Maharashtra) in October 2022, “Since ancient times, irrespective of differences in geography, language, religion, lifestyle, diversities in social and political systems, as a society, culture and nation our way of living has continued in an unbroken manner. In this, there is acceptance, respect, security and progress for all diversities. Other than narrow-mindedness, fundamentalism, aggression and ego, no one needs to forego anything. Nothing is compulsory other than Truth, compassion, physical and inner purity and the dedicated practice of these three. Devotion to Bharat, the shining ideals of our ancestors and the great Sanskriti (culture) of our country, these are the three pillars which light up and pave our path on which we have to travel together with love and affection. This is our selfhood and Rashtra Dharma.”
RSS’ view on minorities
The RSS’ stand, which it has consistently followed since its inception in 1925, is that whatever religion one may follow in India, no one should be seen from the prism of ‘majority’ or ‘minority’.
The RSS has always believed that compartmentalising our society on the basis of our way of worship is the root cause of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and ‘vote-bank politics’, which has done great harm to society. Several senior RSS functionaries have consistently spoken on the same lines, including the past five sarsanghchalaks as well as the present and the sixth Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat.
Manmohan Vaidya, at present the Sah Sarkaryavah (joint general secretary) of the RSS, shared the Sangh’s perspective on this issue in an interview in 2017 (RSS Interviews, Vichar Vinimay Prakashan, April 2017, p.25).
“In Bharat, traditionally, we believe that all religions lead to the same destination and hence are equal…Ninety-nine per cent of Muslims and Christians in India are converted, having origin in Bharat. Then how can a mere change of faith make them qualify as minorities?”
It is evident that the RSS has consistently engaged with the minorities. The second RSS Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar’s exchange of letters with several Muslim intellectuals and luminaries (Shri Guruji Samagra, Volume 7, Prabhat Prakashan, P.154-158) clearly indicates that the Sangh’s engagement with minorities isn’t a new process.
He clearly mentioned in several interviews and speeches as well as Q&A sessions with people from various walks of society (Shri Guruji Samagra, Volume 9) that being a Muslim or Christian doesn’t come in the way of having a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. They are as much part of the Hindu Rashtra as any other Hindu is.
Sunil Ambekar, who is at present the Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh (head of the media/publicity wing of the RSS), has elaborated on this issue in detail (The RSS Roadmaps 21st Century, Rupa Publications, 2019).
“The forefathers of Muslim and Christian populations in India, too, lived by following the Hindu way of life. In our country, many forms of worship developed over several millennia, and so there was no discrimination on the basis of faith or the form and manner of worship.”
“To be born an Indian means to be a descendant of Indian culture; it is not just the physical act of being born, it is being mindful of a cultural ethos laid down by our progenitors…. The motherland is not a territorial map; she is a great spiritual being,” says Ambekar.
Dwelling upon the issues, he further writes, “Hindu Rashtra is not anti-Muslim. It never was. India’s socio-political kernel is that of ‘Hindu Rashtra’, hence different sects of Islam, Christianity and other religions still practise their faith and rituals openly and freely in India… Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to present Hindutva as a narrow idea to our future generations.”
J. Nandakumar, an RSS Pracharak (full time worker) who is also the national convenor of Prajna Pravah, an organisation of intellectuals, quoted an interesting comment of Guruji, who was Sarsanghchalak from 1940 to 1973, in a published work two years ago (Hindutva for the changing times, Indus Scrolls Press, 2019).
“In an interview to Dr Saifuddin Jilani, Guruji says: Indianisation does not mean converting all people to Hinduism. Let us all realise that we are the children of this soil and we must have allegiance to this land. We belong to the same society and our ancestors are common. Understanding this is Indianisation in the real sense. Indianisation does not mean that one should be asked to quit his religious system. We neither said this, nor we are going to say so. Rather we believe that a single religious system for the entire human society is not suitable.”
The writer in an author and columnist, has written several books including ‘The Taliban:War and Religion in Afghanistan’. He tweets @ArunAnandLive. Views expressed are personal.
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