Review of Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags

KHAKI SHORTS AND SAFFRON FLAGS: A Critique of the Hindu Right

By Tapan Basu,Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarcar, Sambuddha Sen
Orient Longman. 1993. Rs:35/-

1991 marked a turning point in setting the agenda for political debate in the country. The Left was completely paralysed following the dismantling of the socialist bloc resulting in the unprecedented crisis in socialist theory. The Congress too backtracked its steps from its Left linkages, in the process dumping Nehruism, and despite the switchover to the fashionable “free -market” economy, it failed to project a new vision.

The vacuum that was subsequently generated was sought to be filled up by the backward caste based Mandal movement and the upper caste, Right wing Hindutva movement. For the first time after partition, mainstream Indian politics came to be focussed around previously peripheral ideologies

The book under review is a penetrating analysis of the Hindutva movement, its origins from a local RSS unit to a multi- headed hydra of menacing dimensions and the organisational and ideological structures within which it functions.

The book bears the stamp of two prominent historians Sumit and Tanika Sarkar and is distinguished by a meticulous exploration of the history of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). With the historical insight it offers, it becomes easier to understand a massive movement of our times, which promises to lead us into the Hindu Rashtra, even though the whole movement has been built around a hoary, imagined past fed by myths.

“At the heart of Hindutva lies the myth of a continuous thousand year old struggle of Hindus against Muslims as the structuring principle of Indian society and, point out the authors, “the myth of the Muslim invader and Hindu resistance has also been employed to prove that Hindutva represents the true, native nationalism”. The usurpation of the term “nationalism” is quite understandable as it is but natural for majority communalism to pass off as nationalism; more so since there has been an overlapping of nationalist and communal politics in the country.

The authors, however, have chosen to study not communalism as attempted in other works (like Bipan Chandra’s Communalism in Modern India and Gyan Pandey’s Construction of Communalism in Colonial India) but to study the ideological and organisational aspect of the Hindutva movement, which comes into its own with V.D.Savarkar’s definition of the Hindu in 1923 as a person who regards the land of Bharatvarsha from Indus to the seas as his Fatherland as well as his Holy land -that is, the cradle of land of his religion. By implication religions like Islam and Christianity are always suspect, and Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Thoughts added communism to the list.

The other implication is that only those who ascribe to the Hindutva concept have a right to comment and debate on what “rightfully” belongs only to the self styled Hindutva “nationalists.”

Sketch of RSS History

The RSS originated and continues to have its headquarters in Poona, the bastion of the Chitpavana Brahmins. “The centrally of Maharashtra In the formation of the ideology and organisation of Hindutva in the mid -1920’s might appear rather surprising, as Muslims were a small minority and hardly active, and there had been no major riots in the region during the early 1920’8. But Maharashtra had witnessed a powerful anti -Brahmin movement of backward castes from the 1870:8 onwards when Jyotiba Phule had founded his Satyashodhak Samaj.

By the 1920’8, the Dalits too had star1ed organising themselves under Ambedkar. Hindutva in 1925 and in 1990-91; was an upper caste bid to restore a slipping hegemony: RSS’s self -image of its own history makes this abundantly clear. There was, in addition, the distrust felt for the new Gandhlan C.ongress on the part of a section of the predominantly Chitpavan Brahmin Tilakites. It is symptomatic that B.S.Monje, an old associate of Tilak, was one of the five who founded what became the RSS on Vijaya Dashami day, 1925″ {pg 10-11).

The upper caste character of the Hindutva movement, perhaps explains why the Samajwadi Party- Bahujan Samaj Party (a backward caste- lower caste front), has taken a hard anti -Hindutva stance.

The RSS remained a local affair till 1927 when it shot into prominence following the role it played in the Nagpur riot in 1927. The riot was followed by a rapid spread of RSS organisation in and around Nagpur. 1927 was also the year when the national movement was being revived but the RSS remained completely aloof from it. The Civil Disobedience Movement which followed it and by far remains the greatest single movement within the Indian nationalist struggle, marking a new highpoint in its radicalisation as well as spread, too saw the RSS not only out of step with the mainstream but also completely isolated.

But the RSS as yet did not want to make “a demonstrative break with the nationalist mainstream”. Therefore, Hedgewar invited Gandhi to his camp at Wardha in 1934 as a symbolic gesture, but the latter remained ever suspicious of the organisation. “In the wake of the 1946 riots a member of Gandhiji’s entourage praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by the RSS workers at Wagah, a major refugee transit camp in Punjab.

“…But don’t forget”, answered Gandhiji, “even so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini”. He went on to characterise the RSS as a ‘communal body with a totalitarian outlook’ and categorically declared that ‘the way to national independence does not lie through akhadas… if they are meant as a preparation for self -defence in Hindu -Muslim conflicts, they are foredoomed to failure. Muslims can play the same game, and such preparations, overt or covert, do cause suspicion and irritation. They can provide no remedy:’

By the end of the thirties communalisation had already reached its peak and while the Muslim League began clamouring for Pakistan and the Hindu Right within the Congress was asserting itself, the RSS aligned with the North Indian based Hindu Mahasabha and started penetrating the Hindi heartland and the Punjab. The relations between the two however remained fickle especially after Golwalkar took over from Hedgewar. The RSS continued to remain primarily a “cultural” organisation, which frustrated more politically inclined elements like Godse who finally joined the Mahasabha. Between 1937 -40, the RSS grew rapidly from a cadre strength of 40,oob to 1lakh. The recruiting ground remained the same upper caste, middle class trading and services strata.

In Punjab the once militantly reformist Arya Samaj had prepared a fertile ground for the dissemination of the RSS version of Hinduisation. Still the spreading out of Maharashtra necessitated changes in the rituals of the RSS, for instance Hedgewar abandoned the worship of Hanuman, changed the language of prayer to Sanskrit, and generally toned down the insistence on rituals.

“In the 1940’s, the RSS had gone through a particularly aggressive phase in theoretical formulations and activities alike; demonstratively aloof from the 1942 quit India upsurge, violently active during the 1946-47 communal riots, suspected by many of complicity in the murder of Gandhi. “Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar as the supreme leader of the RSS in 1940, enunciated his thoughts in We, or Our Nationhood Defined and A Bunch of Thoughts, brought out the fascist inspiration behind the RSS. Besides expressing his fascination for the Nazis, he makes no bones about his sinister conception of nationalism. He elaborates, “…Being anti -British was equated with nationalism. This reactionary view has had disastrous effects upon the entire course of independence struggle, its leaders and the common people”.

No wonder, therefore, that the RSS neither participated in the genuine strugg le for independence nor did it ever have to face the British onslaught, to which the Congress, and specially the Communists, had to face repeatedly.

After the assassination of Gandhi in 1948, there was a widespread revulsion against the RSS and the organisation was banned 5 days after the assassination. Its immediate response was to plead for revoking the ban. This was to be repeated in 1975 when it was banned again. In contrast to this, the CPI opened up jail fronts to continue its struggle, even though misdirected, against the State, when it was banned after the Telengana movement.

The organisational structure of the RSS has always remained totalitarian with the leader nominating his successor, both at the local as well as the national level. A strongly patriarchal set-up regulates the militant complex, with suppression of debate and the imposition of a simplistic, typically RSS, world- view imposed on the cadres who are normally recruited at the tender age of 12-14 years. By its own admission and in the words of its important ideologue K.R. Malkani, the RSS does not encourage “doubting Thomases”. It remains one of the few exclusively male organisations.

It was only later that the RSS grew its other faces (much like the Ravana!) -the BJS, BJP, V HP, BMS and the ABVP with first the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and then the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) being its political mouthpieces, even though it did not fight shy of playing hide and seek with the Congress specially during the 1984 elections. In 1981 , however, it entered the extra -parliamentary phase of numerous yatras with the emergence of the VHP as the spearhead.

Emergence of the VHP

The V HP stage marks a qualitatively higher stage in the development of the Hindutva movement, cashing in on the new high- tech means of mass mobillsation. “Unlike earlier periods of acute communal tension (in the 1890’s, the 1920’s, the 40’s, or the 60’s) it (the Hindutva) is inseparably identified with a concrete organisational complex. Earlier, communalisation did depend on organisational inspiration as well, but the VHP has made itself co -extensive with the phenomenon of mass communalism.

This is done through staking out a new and a very large claim. The movement it leads is supposed not only to represent the vanguard, the politically aware elite within the Hindu society (this would have been, roughly, the earlier RSS claim); it asserts that it already includes the whole of Hindu society as it stands here and now, and that an exact correspondence exists between its own field and the boundaries of an admittedly varied, pluralistic, differentiated Hindu world.”

While earlier Hindu communal revivalist movements like those in the late 19th century set out for transformation both within the religion as well as society, the VHP movement rules out the need for any such reform within either itself or the Hindu society at large.

As an RSS pamphlet proclaims “Sangh samaj me sanghatan nahin, samaj ka sanghatan hai” (the Sangh is not an organisation in society, it is the organisation of society). Thus, no internal transformation is required. This “already acquired” unity in the Hindu society is sought to be suggested by invoking prominent Hindu personalities and hiding their differences and diversities. For instance Tagore, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar- all distant and even antagonistic individuals are presented as belonging to one great lineage, standing in opposition to the absence of any comparable “nationalist” Muslims.

The VHP movement being a mass movement has its own paradoxes and contradictions for instance in the perception of the movement by a sophisticated central leadership and the local activists, which the authors have brought out very well. Similarly, the unprecedented mobilisation of young women in the movement has its own fallout -leading to the emergence of a new phenomenon.

‘Within an as yet limited social and geographical scope, then, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement seems to have effected major breakthroughs in women’s self activisation… So far, the fetishised sacred or love object to be recuperated had been a feminine figure- the cow, the abducted Hindu woman, the motherland. Here, however, the occupied Janmabhoomi belongs specifically to a male deity, and women are being pressed into action to liberate and restore it to him, to bring back honour to Ram’s army… The reversal of roles equips the communal woman with a new self powering image. She has stepped out of a purely iconic status to take up an active position as a militant.”

Caste remains by far the biggest obstacle for the Hindutva movement. The sophisticated jugglery of the leadership notwithstanding, a slogan that came up at a VHP rally is illustrative of the anti- lower caste bias; “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nanin bhangi hai”.

However, “The BJP has several ways of tackling this social dilemma. Once the militant moment of its movement was over, and the anti-Mandal storm subsided, it reverts to its ritual gestures towards Harijan welfare -notably in U.P It also preserves its ascendancy over lower castes without undertaking any meaningful reforms in their status through a monopoly over ground -level intellectual leadership.

Even where it has no direct bases among lower castes, it exerts an ideological influence through teachers and priests. Mitra Sen Yadav, the CPI ex -MP from Faizabad, made to us the important observation that harijans and OBC’s have not so far thrown up their own intellectual leaders”. Perhaps, the measures Laloo Yadav has taken in Bihar by installing Harijan priests is a reflection of the need for such a leadership desired by the emergent backward caste- lower caste movement in the UP- Bihar belt.

Having dwelt on the upper caste/ class composition of Hindutva, the authors do not overlook the fact observe that there has been a considerable change in its character over the years. “In the 50’s there was a tremendous boom in both the numbers and prosperity of this upper caste/class formation which was bred in great part by the upsurge in consumerism, fuelled by imported screwdriver technology and facilitated by soft bank loans and government aided small scale industrial projects. Predictably, this has led to a widespread and rapid social mobility.

Simultaneously, the base for a huge civil and military bureaucracy has grown, spanning urban as well as semi -rural areas in north India. It was (and remains) a class that was committed to an unfettered growth of consumer capitalism and to a strong state that could manage the political crisis of the country and the economic discontents arising from the boom in private enterprise.

For a time, this class found its representative, indeed its self-image, in the person and politics of Rajiv Gandhi. His political ineptitude, in addition to the internal crisis within the Congress paved the way for Hindutva- with its aggressive right wing world -view embodied in a seemingly coherent ideology, its emphasis on a strong organisation together with the projection of itself as an untried party to acquire the allegiance of this class”.

Emphatic words these, but the authors make no bones about the danger that the movement portends for the nation. It indeed is time for hard secularism to speak out.

01-Feb- 1994
NTC

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bhupinder singh

reader, mainly and an occasional blogger

2 thoughts on “Review of Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags”

  1. yes, that’s right. This was written way back in 1994. I may add that I do not have the book with me right now.

    In case you have any specific query, please let me know and I will try and give the appropriate reference if I can.

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