The Editors' Guild has honoured me by asking me to deliver the Rajendra Mathur Memorial lecture this year. But as you know, I am a filmmaker rather than a speaker, and would like to intersperse my talk with a few clips from my films.

Clip from War and Peace: Gandhi Funeral, 1948

Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He was also in the Hindu Mahasabha like his mentor VD Savarkar. Nathuram’s brother, Gopal Godse, was a co-conspirator in the case. After serving his prison term, Gopal conceded in interviews that neither he nor Nathuram had ever left the RSS but told lies in court to protect the RSS as well as Savarkar.

Why Gandhi is hated, yet appropriated: 1885 to 2014

By the late 19th century, the British desire to create an educated Indian elite that would do its bidding had begun to yield unexpected results. Education helped spread emancipatory ideas from the Enlightenment, which fed into already growing aspirations for freedom. By 1885, the Congress party was founded mainly by newly emerging classes of businessmen, industrialists and lawyers from the educated middle class. After the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom movement acquired mass character and began to include workers and peasants.

For the princely rulers and feudal and religious elite, the alarm bells had rung right at the beginning. In August 1888, barely three years after the Congress was founded, Sir Syed of Aligarh and Raja Sheo Prasad of Kashi formed the United India Patriotic Association to convey their loyalty to the British. Later their constituents branched into religious offshoots like the Muslim League in 1906, the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and the RSS in 1925. It is this last body created by upper caste Brahmins in the city of Nagpur that has left the largest footprint.

Neither Muslim nor Hindu communal formations fought British rule. Virtually no RSS or Hindu Mahasabha people went to jail. An early exception was Savarkar, who was arrested in 1910 and sent to the Andamans.

At this point, Savarkar had not yet been communalised as his 1857: The War of Independence published in 1909 eloquently shows. Renaming what the British had dubbed the “Great Mutiny,” Savarkar praised both Hindus and Muslims who made common cause in the war against the British. In the Andamans, Savarkar turned into an ideologue for Hindutva – the term he coined to distinguish his Hindu nationalism from the religion, Hinduism. In 1921 he finally emerged from Andamans jail only after giving numerous undertakings to the British that he would never oppose them again. He kept his promise. The rest of his life went in propagating Hindutva and attacking Gandhi, whom he branded as a Muslim appeasing traitor.

When the Congress launched the Quit India movement in 1942, Savarkar opposed it and asked Hindus to enlist in the British armed forces instead to learn the “arts of war”. As President of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, he had advanced the slogan “Hinduise all Politics and Militarise Hindudom”.

Guru Golwalker, for 33 years the chief of the RSS and its most influential ideologue, was equally opposed to fighting the British. On August 14, 1947 at the dawn of Independence, the Organiser, the English organ of the RSS, openly denigrated the choice of the tricolour as the National Flag in the following words: “The Tricolour will never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”

The RSS and other allies of Hindutva, like Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, have also declared their preference for dictatorship over democracy and openly expressed admiration for Hitler.

Small wonder that Mein Kampf is a runaway best seller in this country.

In his 1938 book, We or Our Nationhood Defined, Golwalkar approves the Nazi extermination of Jews:
“To keep up purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races, the Jews. National 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 a united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”


Amongst the many infamous edicts enshrined in the ancient Hindu Law book, the Manusmriti and its related texts, are these:
Woman is an embodiment of the worst desires, hatred, deceit, jealousy and bad character. Women should never be given freedom. (Manu IX. 17 and V. 47, 147)

Killing of a woman, a Shudra or an atheist is not sinful. (Manu IX. 17 and V. 47, 147)

If the Shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda then his ears should be filled with molten lead and lac (MS III-4)

In 1927 Dr. Ambedkar, a Dalit who had broken the taboo against education, together with multi-caste followers set fire to a copy of the to protest its misogyny. The man who lit the fire was a Brahmin Ambedkarite named Sahastrabuddhe.

But the Manusmriti continued to be held sacred by the architects of Hindutva. Savarkar stated that the Manusmriti was “the scripture that is most worshippable after the Vedas” and “the basis of the spiritual and divine march of the nation.” Golwalkar called Manu “the first, greatest and the wisest lawgiver of mankind.”

Opposing the Indian Constitution in 1950, the RSS demanded that Manu’s law be made the law of the land.

Long before Gandhi came to be hated as an appeaser of Muslims, he was already despised for cleaning his own toilet and breaking Manu’s code against pollution by upper castes.

Clip from Jai Bhim Comrade: A scene from the play I am Nathuram Godse Speaking

After Gandhi’s assassination, Golwalkar and other RSS workers were put in jail. The historian Ramchandra Guha writes: “On December 6, 1947 [two months before the assassination], Golwalkar convened a meeting of RSS workers in the town of Govardhan, not far from Delhi. The police report on this meeting says it discussed how to ‘assassinate the leading persons of the Congress in order to terrorise the public and to get their hold over them’.”

Sardar Vallabhai Patel, of whom Narendra Modi has promised to build the world’s tallest statue, had this to say: “All the [RSS] leaders’ speeches were full of communal poison. As a final result of the poison…an atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible…RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.” (Excerpts from Sardar Patel’s letters to MS Golwalkar and SP Mookerjee.)

Fortuitously for the RSS, it had no written constitution and no official list of members, so it could never be proved that RSS was involved in Gandhi’s murder. The ban on the RSS was lifted in June 1949.

The condition of Dalits

Thanks to Gandhi’s intervention, Dr. Ambedkar had drafted India’s Constitution and become India’s first Law Minister. As a step towards a Uniform Civil Code, Ambedkar drafted a Hindu Code Bill, which for the first time treated Hindu women on par with Hindu men. The bill was fought tooth and nail by Hindutva conservatives within and without the ruling Congress. Despite Nehru’s assurances, the Bill failed to pass and in 1951, Ambedkar resigned in disgust. Later virtually, the same bill passed in stages, but Ambedkar was no longer there to push on towards a Uniform Civil Code.

As casteism continued and Hindus failed to live up to Gandhi’s assurance that the upper castes could be transformed from within, in 1956 Dr. Ambedkar with more than a hundred thousand Dalit followers renounced Hinduism for Buddhism. It was the largest mass conversion in history.

Clip from Jai Bhim Comrade: 'I will not die a Hindu'

Conversion brought Dalits self-esteem and a hard-won reservation policy brought economic benefits for some, but the attacks on Dalits never ceased. In fact, it can be argued that with two Dalits killed and three Dalit women raped every day on average, there is a perpetual caste war in India that cuts across party lines.

Education situation

Despite the wonderful sounding Right to Education Bill passed by the Congress in 2009, the neo- liberal enterprise had already begun the exercise of dismantling the egalitarian principles embedded in our Constitution. The 86th Constitutional Amendment passed by a BJP-ruled government in 2002 left out of its ambit children under the age of six, thereby denying them early education and a mid-day meal that gives crucial nutrition vital for the development of the brain. In 2004, just before its electoral defeat, the BJP-led coalition compromised a constitutional right and offered education as a consumable commodity to the World Trade Organisation General Agreement on Trade and Tariff process, thereby drastically diluting the state’s responsibility in education and opening the door to privatisation.

The fact is that neither Congress nor BJP demands a common school system whereby the children of the rich and the children of the poor would go to the same schools. Instead, in the name of “excellence”, the emphasis is on privatisation of education, which only means that a modern-day caste system is perpetuated in which the poor are offered substandard and incomplete schooling so as to remain coolies, artisans and clerks in a large pool of cheap labour that serves a small global elite, educated to populate the corridors of international bloodsuckers.

To this horror scenario that is common to both large parties, add the communalisation of education that the current regime stands for and the mind boggles. Dinanath Batra’s Vedic flying machines and rockets are a mere tip of the iceberg.

From "In Modi’s Gujarat, Hitler is a textbook hero", from The Times of India, Ahmedabad, Sept 30, 2004.
Gandhi is not so great, but Hitler is. Welcome to high school education in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, where authors of social studies textbooks published by the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks have found faults with the freedom movement and glorified Fascism and Nazism.

While a Class VIII student is taught ‘negative aspects’ of Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, the Class X social studies textbook has chapters on ‘Hitler, the Supremo’ and ‘Internal Achievements of Nazism’ presenting a frighteningly uncritical picture of Fascism and Nazism.

Rehabilitation of the RSS

For two decades after the Gandhi murder, the RSS remained abhorred by the mainstream. But away from scrutiny, it continued to organise local centres called shakhas, recruiting children from the ages of six to 18, getting them up at 4 am, imparting militaristic physical training and instilling in them loyalty, discipline and a brand of “patriotism” which included the inevitable dose of anti-minority hatred.

One such child, recruited from the age of eight from a relatively poor family, is Prime Minister Modi. Another is Party Chief Amit Shah. Five Chief Ministers and 17 of the 23 Cabinet-level senior ministers are current or former RSS members. In March, The Guardian reported that the RSS has at least 50,000 branches across the country with over 40 million members. It also runs a network of 18,000 schools across India.

Anyone who hopes that the current Prime Minister has distanced himself from his roots should read his eulogy to Golwalkar, Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak published in 2010.

And those who believe that the killing of Gandhi was an isolated act need only to scratch the surface.

Clip from Ram Ke Naam: Ayodhya bridge sequence

Back in 1948, the banned RSS began to give birth to new and sometimes “legitimate” organisations that remained controlled by the parent body. The first to emerge was the student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, formed in 1948. In 1951, the Jan Sangh was created to engage in electoral politics. In 1964, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the World Hindu Council that recruited both nationally and internationally, reaching out to a well-heeled but poorly informed Indian diaspora. In 1952, the Vanwasi Kalyan  Ashram to proselytise amongst adivasis. In 1984, the Bajrang Dal to target the 16th-century Babri mosque. Together along with ever emerging newer outfits they form the hydra-headed, multi-armed and multi-tongued, Sangh Parivar.

I am getting ahead of the story. After decades of unpopularity, the rehabilitation of the RSS came from an unlikely source, the Gandhian Socialist Jayaprakash Narayan. During the Bihar famine in the1960s, JP encountered RSS cadres doing relief work. Impressed by their dedication, JP began to see them as potential allies in nation building. When in 1974, an anti-corruption student movement in Bihar chose JP as its leader, people from Left to Right joined in. The most disciplined group was the RSS. I was then a volunteer in the Bihar movement and because my uncle Achyut had been a comrade of JP's in the 1942 Quit India Movement and a co-founder of the Socialist Party, I had access to JP. He expressed confidence that the communal mindset of the RSS would be transformed by contact with the broader Bihar movement. When Indira Gandhi called the RSS fascist, JP famously declared, “If the RSS is fascist, then I’m a fascist too.”

From this point on the popularity of the RSS rose, despite minor setbacks. During the Emergency of 1975 to 1977, many RSS members went to jail along with thousands of others. Although from jail RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras wrote an infamous letter to Indira Gandhi begging to be freed, praising the Emergency and specially its forced sterilisation campaign that had targeted Muslims, public perception of the RSS did not suffer. In 1977, a Janata Party coalition that included the Jan Sangh defeated the Congress and RSS leaders like LK Advani and Atal Vajpayee became cabinet ministers for the first time. In 1980, the government collapsed when some socialists objected to the dual loyalty of those who took their orders from the RSS. The Jan Sangh then morphed into a new party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Attacks on Christians

Hindutva violence against Christians in India began slowly. In the drive to proselytise amongst adivasis and win them over to Hinduism, or rather in Hindutva terminology, to “bring them back to the Hindu fold from where they had strayed,” they targeted Christians who had opened schools and brought economic and medical benefits to Adivasi and Dalit areas neglected by the State.

To cite just one case, for want of time, Dara Singh, a Bajrang Dal activist, was sentenced to death for leading a mob that murdered Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons, Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged six). Staines had been working with leprosy patients in the Keonjhar district of Orissa. In January 1999 while the Staines were sleeping in their station wagon, the mob set their vehicle on fire, preventing even the children from escaping.

Clip shot by Anand Patwardhan in 1999: Protest against the Staines murder

The Wadhwa Commission appointed by a BJP-led central government stated that the Bajrang Dal was not involved in the murder of Staines, justifying their non-examination of the role of the Bajrang Dal on the grounds that the Dal was a peaceful and legal organisation.

Dara Singh, who was also implicated in the killing of Muslim trader Shaikh Rehman and the murder of a Christian cleric, Arul Das, killed by an arrow as he was escaping after his church was set on fire, was sentenced to death. Dara Singh is still lauded on Hindutva websites as a Hindu Dharma Rakshak (Defender of the Hindu faith).

On appeal his death sentence was commuted. The Supreme Court upheld a life sentence commenting that in killing Staines and his two young children, “the intention was to teach Graham Staines a lesson for his religious activities, and not to kill him.”

From the 1990s on, the murder of Christians, rapes and the destruction of church property increased. In 2008, in Orissa’s Kandhamal, about a 100 Christians were killed, with mobs torching 300 churches and 6,000 houses forcing over 60,000 to flee into the forests to save their lives. Police and administrative impunity is compounded by the lack of justice in the courts. The violence escalates in states where the BJP is in power by itself or in a coalition government and is often justified as a retaliation to Christian conversions. The simple truth is that since Independence, the percentage of Christians in India has reduced from 2.6 % to 2.3 %, so all accusations of large-scale conversions are blatantly false.

Attacks on Muslims

The population of Muslims has marginally increased since Independence to the present 13.4 % but the cause is not conversion or “love jihad” or because Muslim men are allowed four wives, as Hindutva forces would like us to believe. The fact is that the Muslim by every conceivable yardstick is impoverished. The Sachar Committee report makes it clear that Muslims in India are less educated, poorer and fewer of them can be found in the national and state legislatures and in the bureaucracy, leave alone in the military and paramilitary. With the BJP occupying the centre and many states, Muslims in government have become even more scarce.

The routine demonisation of the Muslim remains the very raison d’etre of Hindutva. Historic myths of their cruelty, of temple destruction and rape are part of a steady diet fed since childhood. The Muslim’s allegiance to a foreign god and foreign holy shrine and the barbaric practice of eating beef is a source of unmitigated rage in the hearts of those indoctrinated by Hindutva. Onto this tinderbox, if you throw a match by starting a rumour that a Muslim male has abducted or raped a Hindu female, no one will wait to ascertain if the rumour is true. Deadly pogroms are that easy to ignite.

And then there is the international corroboration, both the fact and the myth of Islamic jihad. So the popular saying ,“Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” If you add the paranoia of the US and Israel to the mindset of Hindutva you have the makings and justifications of the counter terrorist.

This is the first part of award-winning filmmaker Anand Patwardhan's Rajendra Mathur Memorial Lecture. You can read the second part here.