The fight between Golwalkar and Gandhi was a clash of ideas on how India as a nation should be conceived. On one side was Golwalkar, who believed, “There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.” On the other hand was Gandhi, who believed that Hindus and Muslims were his two eyes.

After the Partition, when riots broke out, Gandhi had a feeling that a few Congressmen wanted Muslims to leave India, so while addressing the All India Congress Committee (AICC), he said, “We would be betraying the Hindu religion if we did evil because others had done it...violent rowdyism will not save either Hinduism or Sikhism...Hinduism can’t be saved by orgies of murder.” It was at this time that he was informed of the role of the RSS in the Delhi riots.

He confronted Golwalkar, who said that the “RSS did not stand for the killings of Muslims.” Gandhi told Nehru that he did not find Golwalkar convincing.

The carnage continued. Hindus and Muslims were both butchered. Nehru, too, persisted with Gandhi’s line. He professed that it was the responsibility of the majority community to make the minority feel safe. Gandhi and Nehru were colossi and the RSS was too weak at the time to confront the Congress Party.

However, times have changed. Since the late 1990s, the Hindutva ideology has gained immense support and there has been a severe attack on the Gandhi–Nehru vision of the nation. The Hindutva brand of new nationalism that has currency today, supports Golwalkar’s idea of Muslims as the internal enemy and believe that those who support them are anti-nationals.

A debate about nationalism can always encompass many positions and nationalism can be defined in many ways, depending upon the ideas one cherishes. Bhagat Singh’s idea of nationalism, for instance, was different from Gandhi’s. Subhash Chandra Bose had a different understanding from that of Nehru’s of Indian nationalism and the way nationhood should be achieved. In turn, Nehru’s idea of Indian nationalism differed from Sardar Patel’s, though both of them were dear to Gandhi and were partners in the government.

If Bhagat Singh and Subhash Bose were in favour of violence as a tool to attain freedom, then Gandhi, Nehru and Patel always persisted in the path of non-violence. If Bal Gangadhar Tilak used religion and the Ganesh festival to mobilise Indian masses, then Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo believed that the country needed a religious renaissance for the regeneration of India in general and the Hindus in particular.

Vivekananda continues to be a great source of inspiration for the Hindutva brigade, but his idea of nationalism was vastly different to theirs. It was inclusive, all-encompassing and accommodative. It was not confrontational.

He used to say, “In India, religious life forms the centre, the keynote of the whole music of national life.” He did say that Hinduism was the mother of all religions. However, in his idea of Hinduism and nationalism, there was no place for hate.

Though he did say that temple after temple had been destroyed, he also added that they had all been resurrected again and again and that was the strength of Hinduism. Unlike Golwalkar and Savarkar, he embraced Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. He went to the extent of saying, “Hinduism can’t live without Buddhism nor Buddhism without Hinduism...this separation between the Buddhists and the Brahmins is the cause of the downfall of India.”

Another great inspiration for the Hindutva brigade was Sri Aurobindo, but even his nationalism was not exclusive, though he did advocate the “re-Aryanisation” of Indians. He was a romantic but believed that Indians needed to revive the concept of manhood, the “Chhatriyavad”; yet he did not preach hate for Islam and other religions.

Aurobindo, unlike Golwalkar, said, “Our idea therefore is an Indian nationalism, largely Hindu in its spirit and traditions, because the Hindu made the land and the people and persists, by the greatness of his past, his civilisation and his culture and his invincible virility, in holding it, but wide enough to include the Moslem and his culture and traditions and absorb them into itself.”

It is true that another great thinker of Hinduism, the social reformer Dayanand Saraswati, was harsh on Islam and Christianity; but he was harsher on Hinduism. He went to the extent of calling the writer of the Bhagwat a “shameless creature” and went on to say, “Oh why did not the writers of Bhagwat and other Puranas die in their mother’s womb or as soon as they were born? Had the people been saved from the hands of these popes, they would have been scared of the pain and suffering that they are afflicted with.”

So, it was not only Gandhi and Nehru who differed with Golwalkar and Savarkar in their idea of nationalism; the majority of the members of the Indian leadership did not buy their convoluted arguments and demands for exclusion either.

In fact, Savarkar was so diabolical in his fanaticism for the construction of nationalism that he went to the extent of justifying rape to defeat the enemy – the Christians and the Muslims. Purushottam Agrawal says, “Even a rapist dare not attribute morality to rape, but through his concept of perverted virtue, Savarkar destroys that dilemma of the rapist.”

Savarkar spoke of Ravana to convey his point: “After Ravana abducted Seeta and Shree Ramachandra marched on him, some of his well-wishers advised the demon king... that he should send Seeta back because it was highly irreligious to kidnap her. ‘What?’ cried the wrathful Ravana. ‘To abduct and rape the women folk of the enemy, do you call it irreligious? To carry away the women of others and to ravish them is itself the supreme religious duty of the Rakshasas.’”

Savarkar’s biographer Dhananjay Keer writes, “He said that abduction and rape of Indian women by the inhuman acts of Pakistan can only be stopped if the similar act was done with them too.” So would it be correct to assume that Savarkar believed in rakshasdharma (law of the demons)? I am not saying that the RSS openly propagates this but Savarkar, who is the greatest icon of Hindutva, and is to the followers of Hindutva what Karl Marx is to communists the world over, did provide an ideological justification for such hateful acts.

What happened in Kathua is dreadful, a blot on the face of humanity. The entire country is ashamed, but a few Hindutva warriors see virtue in this act and find reasons to support the rapists. The only reason is that all the accused are Hindus and the girl is a Muslim. Their ideological training teaches them to read a conspiracy even where there is none.

Excerpted with permission from Hindu Rashtra, Ashutosh, Context.