The early 1930s witnessed the Nazis promulgating the idea of the superiority of the Aryan ‘master race’. This fascist regimentation of European society was rationalised using pseudo-scientific concepts like ‘social Darwinism’, the direct consequence pursuing ‘racial purity’. The Aryans, being the superior race, were accorded preferential treatment at the expense of all other races which were regarded as mere parasitic vermin.
V.D. Savarkar was the man who contrived the notion of Hindutva as we understand it. In 1939, he wrote the foreword to a book by Savitri Devi, born Maximine Portaz (1905-1982), who believed Adolf Hitler was sent to Earth on god’s will to end the suffering of humanity in the Kali Yuga. Devi, a proponent of Nazism, also believed Hitler to be nothing short of a Lord Vishnu incarnate. In the foreword of her book A Warning to the Hindus, Savarkar wrote:
“In all walks of life, for a long time, the Hindus have been fed on inertia-producing thoughts which disabled them to act energetically for any purpose in life, other than “moksha,” that is to say escape from this world—where to? God knows. And this is one of the causes of the continuous enslavement of our Hindu Rashtra for centuries altogether’.”
Savarkar, an atheist, was not interested in the Hindu religion. His only aim was to consolidate political power under the veil of religion.
Hinduism to him was only a vague abstraction, which at best could be a ‘fraction’ of his larger political ideology — Hindutva, veiled as some misconstrued concept of race.
As per Savarkar’s theory of Hindutva, a Hindu was someone who considered India to be his motherland (matrbhumi), the land of his ancestors (pitrbhumi) and his holy land (punya bhumi). India was a land of the Hindus since the Hindu faith originated in India. Islam and Christianity, born outside of India, couldn’t ease into Savarkar’s definition of a Hindu and in turn, into his schema of a ‘Hindu nation’.
It did not appeal to Sarvarkar, who was inflicted with the vile idea of racial entitlement, to invest any effort into tracing the etymology of the term. The term ‘Hindu’ as we know it was derived from ‘Sindh(u)’, referring to the river Indus. The term came to be ascribed to people who lived alongside the river and, ultimately, to religions practiced by them. For these practices there was no single name, no single sacred book, no single sect and no single ecclesiastical authority.
M.S. Golwalkar, who was the sarsangchalak or head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)
from 1940–1973, took Savarkar’s idea of racial purity even further. In We, or Our Nationhood Defined, Golwalkar wrote: “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
Golwalkar wrote this when Hitler was at his peak. Hitler is history now, but not much has changed with the Hindutva-vadis when it comes to their habit of fabricating history. They succumb to the colonial division of Indian history, the chicanery of which has made them believe that the ancient past was ‘our’ time, but in the medieval ‘we were attacked’. They continue with their iniquitous trials to etch in the memory of one community the past aggression of another community. Historian Romila Thapar has long argued that history, in religious nationalisms, is not shared. It remains divisive, a continued arena of battle.
While they do harp on the violence of the past by one community on the other, they never mention that most of this violence was political in nature. It’s incorrect to interpret these as entirely religious acts with their politics left out. But since their aim is to build a narrative through which political muscle can be gained, a complete representation of facts doesn’t quite fit with their agenda.
For several millennia, India not only had deep religious and philosophical diversity but a vigorous, righteous and assertive political ethos as well. Just look at Emperor Asoka, who tried to provide a common foundation for the coexistence of different – and conflicting – religious and philosophical groups. The edicts of Emperor Asoka not only impart lessons on tolerance but more importantly, respect towards other religious sects.
As Thapar points out in her seminal essay ‘Reflections on Nationalism and History’, Sayyad Ibrahim’s dohas and bhajans dedicated to Krishna were widely recited in the 16th century and are still sung to this day. The Mughal emperors became patrons for the translation of many Sanskrit religious texts including the Mahabharata and the Ramyana into Persian. Akbar’s belief that religion must not be denied in a secular state and tradition must be based on reason depicts an age-old tradition of celebrating plurality.
Classical Hindustani and Carnatic music were patronised by both Hindu rajas as well as Mughal emperors. Gurus, pirs and fakirs wandered from place to place, preaching religious harmony. The Bhakti and Sufi movements – led by Muinuddin Chishti, Baba Farid, Kabir, Guru Nanak and Mira Bai – sought to cross religious and caste lines.
Savarkar obviously failed to appreciate the sophistication of the Indian civilisation fully. Golwalkar continued that tradition. To this day, Hindutva ideologues fail — or purposely refuse — to acknowledge the fact that in 1947, India wasn’t partitioned into an Islamic Pakistan and a Hindu India, but between a theocratic state and a secular one.
The resemblance between writings of Golwalkar, head of RSS for three decades, and Muhammad Iqbal, credited with the creation of Pakistan, on the idea of what constitutes a nation is uncanny. Iqbal in his poem titled Mazhab wrote: “Don’t compare your nation with the nations of the West, distinctive is the nation of the Prophet of Islam; their solidarity depends on territorial nationality, your solidarity rests on the strength of your religion.”
Golwalkar also rejected the concept of ‘territorial nationalism’. Golwalkar’s Bunch Of Thoughts argues that territorial nationalism is barbarism since a nation is “not a mere bundle of political and economic rights” but an embodiment of national culture, which, in India, amounts to ‘ancient and sublime’ Hinduism.
Parallelism can be seen in their thoughts, perhaps because communalists, irrespective of their hue, base their arguments on a similar premise of exclusion. The separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 has proved disproven that people of one ‘race’ can constitute a nation and hold it together.
The Indian nation can never be held hostage to such misconstrued beliefs. We are not a nation held together by race or religion but by a cultivated feeling of belonging. Ours could be ‘an imagined community’ as articulated by Benedict Anderson in his book Imagined Communities.
Hindutva makes hatred an essential element of nationalism. It militates against those very ideals that India prided itself on.
Hindutva, we must understand, has nothing to do with Hinduism. In this regard, Savarkar was (perhaps unwittingly) accurate in observing that, “Failure to distinguish between Hindutva and Hinduism, has given rise to much misunderstanding and mutual suspicion”.
Hindutva and other forms of bigotry need to be defeated. This cannot happen overnight, but we have to to start making small beginnings. Every step towards peace and tolerance brings us closer to the idea of India that we started out with, and every step towards hatred discounts from it.
We the people of India, irrespective of who we are individually, constitute one nation. Those who refute this are the true ‘anti-nationals’. The time to counter them has arrived.
Chandan Karmhe is a chartered accountant and an alumnus of IIM-Ahmedabad.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons