It is becoming apparent by the day that the present political dispensation in Delhi, commanding an absolute majority, has its plan to transform the secular fabric of India into a quasi-theocratic-military state. In all this, the RSS is undoubtedly the motivation and force behind the Modi Government’s measured steps towards a Hindu Rashtra
By Along Longkumer
The Government of India and more critically the nation-state, its political system and the principles on which the (Indian) Republic was founded, most notably its Constitution, are now facing a deep crisis of credibility and trustworthiness.
The resilience and character of India defined and expressed through its unity in diversity is under severe test. The country-wide protests (and counter-protests against these protests), since the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in Parliament, have deeply divided the nation.
The challenge to the idea of India however goes far beyond the CAA. It can be traced to the political thought of Hindu revivalism, influenced by the likes of VD Savarkar, who is credited for formulating the Hindutva philosophy, the nucleus of the RSS-BJP’s political vision for India.
Savarkar believed in the great spiritual teachings of ancient India. This is the bedrock of a resurgent Hindu Rashtra and subsequently the brand of religious nationalism that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu Right is trying to inculcate and project.
Many will be surprised to know that the RSS initially did not recognise the Constitution of India or the National Flag. The RSS strongly criticised the Indian Constitution because it made no mention of “Manu’s laws” – from the ancient Hindu text Manusmriti. Similarly the RSS wanted its saffron flag and not the tricolour to be adopted as the National flag of India.
The idea of nationalism propagated by these forces, which is a mixture of religion and politics, is therefore characterized by a belief that the political and economic policies of the country should conform to Hindu philosophy and its value system should adhere to Hindu scriptures. The BJP and the Narendra Modi government is the vehicle for carrying out this vision.
Unraveling the Inside Story of a Hindu Rashtra
So beneath the popularity and mass appeal of Modi and his development mantra being projected by the BJP and its media managers, there is also the inside story that has gone largely unreported. Most mainstream media has not gone into the depth of current events.
One need not look further than the vision and mission of the RSS to unravel the nuance of current politics, including the highly contentious Citizenship Amendment Act. The founder of the RSS, Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar is quoted extensively on how “Hindus should be organized as a powerful nation” in order to guarantee and protect its freedom after the British leave.
During World War II, RSS leaders openly admired Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak (or ‘Chief’) of the RSS took inspiration from Adolf Hitler’s ideology of racial purity. (It is also true that the Hindu Right has expressed their admiration for Israel and Jewish culture).
Savarkar too advocated for the cultural and organic solidarity of the Hindu nation. He expounded that Hindus are a nation bound by a common culture, a common history, a common language, a common country (Bharat Varsha) and a common religion.
The strong resolve of the BJP to carry out the CAA at all cost, which is expected to benefit mostly Hindus, can be attributed to its core Hindutva philosophy of territorial bond (belongingness) or rashtra i.e. a feeling of attachment to the geographical region; racial or blood bond and culture or sanskriti.
The vision and mission of the RSS concludes by stating that “Sanghs alone have been the voice of genuine patriotic concern amidst the cacophonous, politically inspired shibboleths of undefined secularism, etc”.
Now therefore, nationalism is no longer about one’s country i.e India but it is more and more seeking allegiance to a particular political and cultural ideology, the Hindu Rashtra, a very disturbing phenomenon if it holds out. This is an anti-thesis of the constitution and the ideals it stands for.
Modi Government and the Influence of the Hindu Right
The political trajectory of the new India emerging in the last five years (and counting) under the subtle influence of the Hindu Right is not a fiction anymore. A few instances are cited here to substantiate this point.
It cannot be a coincidence that in today’s India, people belonging to the minority groups are made to chant Hindu cultural expressions like ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’. Official programmes and policies of the Govt of India are being promoted through similar Hindi or Hindu expressions.
The naming of the Jal Shakti (previously Water Resource) Ministry or appropriating Hindi lexicon for official programmes like ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan’, ‘Jan Andolan’, ‘Central Prabhari officers’ etc, are a few examples. India’s Defence Ministry is now addressed in official circle as Raksha Mantri while the National Education Commission is dubbed as Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog.
The other facet of the Modi regime that has clearly stood out has been the politicization of the security establishment and militarization of the civilian government, quite alien to India’s parliamentary democracy. The first is most evident in the rise of Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor (NSA) to the Prime Minister, who is now the country’s security boss, a status that has a cabinet rank.
The real problem with the NSA is not the power he enjoys but his open endorsement of the regime. Delivering the Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, October 25, 2018, just on the eve of the general elections, Doval said that the ‘national will has been aroused in the past four years’ (referring to the Modi regime). Commentators were quick to point out that Doval’s doctrine of ‘national will’ aligns with RSS-BJP politics.
Likewise, the RSS is also known to be a paramilitary organisation and in the past had its own military department. Prime Minister Modi recently appointed the country’s first Chief of Defence (CDS) who will head the new Department of Military Affairs, something uncommon to India. The real worry is that the military meddling in civilian affairs is a trait familiar to theocratic states like Pakistan and not India.
Northeast India and the political counter-narrative of the RSS
As far as the Northeast goes it is evident that the RSS has a political counter-narrative to what is happening in the sensitive region, especially its grand design for Assam and the Naga Hills. The usual hardline position taken by the intelligence and security agencies in India, especially when it comes to dealing with Northeast India, is in consonance with the equally hawkish stand of the RSS.
Assam and Nagaland have been specifically identified by the Hindu Right. The concern of the RSS is that Assam will be turned into a Muslim majority province while it alleges that efforts to proselytize by Christian missions continue unabated. The RSS goes to the extent of pinpointing that “armed revolt has been engineered (e.g., in Nagaland) to carve out independent Christian provinces”.
Not surprisingly, the NSCN (IM), which has signed a Framework Agreement with the Government of India under Prime Minister Modi, came out with the disclosure last year about how the RSS was trying to “imagine a Hindu nation state” and that the outcome of a possible “Naga homeland” was seen as “threatening the RSS Hindu dream”.
The suspicions towards “Christian provinces” by the RSS and the thought of further expansion beyond present Nagaland is perhaps a reason for the hardline stand of the Modi government on Naga integration, including a separate flag and constitution.
Further the RSS has a keen interest to assimilate the tribes of the region to its fold with the argument that the latter’s culture and indigeneity must be protected from western (mostly Christian) influence.
Mention may be made that on January 21, 2018 about 35,000 swayamsevaks (volunteers) from across the North East converged in Guwahati, Assam for a rally called by the RSS. Heads of village bodies, 20 titular tribal kings — from the Karbi, Naga, Khasi, Hajong, Tiwa, Garo, Jayantiya, Mising and Hajong communities — and more than 10 chiefs of different Satras of Assam were among the dignitaries attending the rally.
Democracy and Dictatorship: Revisiting the Emergency Years
To its credit, the BJP-RSS have well understood the adage that politics is the art of the possible. And those who support the BJP government on the CAA or other contentious issues like abrogation of Article 370 may well argue that the saffron party, running a duly elected government, was only fulfilling its election promise as spelled out in its manifesto.
Prime Minister Modi will know well that it is politics again that can teach a lesson to those in power.
A reminder of the infamous period in the 1970s when Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, equally arrogant and authoritarian, declared emergency that led to civil liberties being curbed and country wide protests that followed. The current situation, post the abrogation of Article 370 and the CAA by the Modi government is turning out to be equally controversial and dangerous for our constitution, democracy and federalism.
American author Zig Ziglar put it well when he said the following: “Humility will open more doors than arrogance ever will”. Indira Gandhi paid the price with an election defeat soon after the emergency.
To refresh public memory the opposition at that time included among others the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the then political arm of the RSS and the forerunner to the present BJP. They were able to defeat Indira Gandhi with the powerful campaign message: to choose between ‘democracy and dictatorship’. It is ironic that now it is under Prime Minister Modi and the BJP-RSS that the country is going through a similar trial.
Will India emerge stronger or weaker after recent political events and impositions? Whatever may be the outcome, the consequences, both political and otherwise, will be crucial to the future of the Indian state.
Perhaps as a reminder to the powers that be, as defined under Article 1 (1) of its constitution, India is a ‘Union of States’. It is the numerous states with their sub-national identity that makes the Union. The Union does not exist for its own sake. It exists through the integration and participation of the States in what has been recognized as the world’s largest functioning democracy.
It is true that ‘national interest’ is paramount. Yet as eminent political scientist Rajni Kothari put it: an aggressive approach to the establishment of one central authority and the suppression of all plural identities provides a ready recipe for disintegration rather than integration. The challenge lies in keeping the country intact and of creating, out of its disparate parts and varied elements, a nation with a broad vision and consensus.
The only way out is perhaps a reaffirmation of the time honoured principle of ‘unity in diversity’, which in many ways reflect India’s approach to democracy and federalism. The constitution itself has allowed space for sub-national identities. It has provided safeguards that enable harmony with a larger national identity.
Correspondingly, persuasion and not coercion should be the way forward. Quoting Rajni Kothari, a country as vast and pluralistic as India can be effectively united only through a participant and accommodative model of politics. As someone said, it is impossible to rule India from New Delhi.
And finally, the constitution of India is a unifying document—one that holds the key to keeping the country together. The founding fathers created a piece of miracle when they drafted the constitution and no force should be allowed to subvert the ideals on which India was founded.
Along Longkumer is a founding Editor of The Morung Express, a Nagaland based English newspaper. A senior journalist, now involved with the group The Naga Rising, he is a keen observer of Indian politics, the Constitution and current affairs around the globe