Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, popular among his followers as Guruji, was the second sarsanghchalak, or chief, of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. During his tenure from July 1940 until his death on June 5, 1973, he wrote and spoke extensively. His ideas were distilled into a book titled Bunch of Thoughts, which is considered the RSS’ lodestar.
Bunch of Thoughts contains the seeds of ideas that have today flowered into such theories and practices as “Muslim appeasement” and ghar wapsi, or the conversion of minorities to their supposed ancestral faith of Hinduism. In its attempt to rationalise Hindutva, it ascribes to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru statements they never made.
In the second section of Bunch of Thoughts titled The Nation and Its Problems, Golwalkar examines the “true concept of nationality”. He says there are three prerequisites for a people to be called a nation. They must live in a “contiguous territory delimited as far as possible by natural boundaries”. They should have “developed love and adoration for it as their motherland” and feel “they are the children of that soil”. But this feeling will elude them, Golwalkar believes, unless they have been moulded by the “community of life-ideals, of culture, of feelings, sentiments, faith and traditions”.
It is these attributes that transform residents of a territory into the children of the territory – the motherland. Consequently, the Hindu society alone qualifies to be the child of Bharat. This is because it was the forefathers of Hindus who gave to this land dharma and sanskriti, or culture, whose purity and sublimity survived the “thousand-year-long corroding influence of foreigners”, giving “us a complexion all our own”. This unique complexion makes Golwalkar declare India “the Hindu Nation”.
In the light of this assertion, Golwalkar complains, some people ask, “What about the Muslims and the Christians dwelling in this land? How could they become aliens just because they have changed their faith?”
He wonders whether Muslims and Christians even remember that they are the children of the soil of Bharat. He poses a set of questions: “Are they grateful to this land which has brought them up? Do they feel that they are the children of this land and its tradition, and that to serve it is their great good fortune? Do they feel it a duty to serve her?”
Golwalkar’s answer: “No!” Their spirit of love and devotion to the nation disappeared when they changed their faith, he claims.
In addition, he says, a person’s faith determines their mentality. “The mere fact of birth or nurture in a particular territory, without a corresponding mental pattern, can never give a person the status of a national in that land,” Golwalkar declares. “Mental allegiance has been, in fact, the universally accepted criterion for nationality.”
To prove his point, he narrates the tale of a lioness that brought a baby jackal to her cave and reared him on her milk along with her own cubs. One day, the cubs and the jackal ventured deep into the jungle where they came across an elephant. The cubs attacked the elephant but the jackal ran to the lioness to tell her about the incident. “No doubt, you have grown here on my milk, but you cannot help your nature,” the lioness said.
On the basis of this tenuous bit of animal lore, Golwalkar extrapolates, “So also is the case with nations.”
Genesis of ghar wapsi
But a nation, unlike the jungle, cannot have jackals – a reference to Muslims and Christians – living in it, he maintains. They must be turned into lions. “The newcomers should bring about a total metamorphosis in their life-attitudes and take a rebirth, as it were, in that ancient national lineage,” he declares.
Put simply, religious minorities should convert to Hinduism or, alternatively, eject elements of their “Muslimness” and “Christianness”. In Bunch of Thoughts, Golwalkar contends that most Muslims and Christians in India are Hindus who converted out of fear, or for power and pelf, or because they were fooled. Of those in the last category, he claims, were villagers who had drawn water from a tank in which a piece of beef or a loaf had been thrown. The next day, a maulvi or a missionary would tell them that they had lost their Hindu religion because they had drunk the polluted water. Through such deception, Golwalkar contends without citing any evidence, entire villages in the north and on the west coast had been converted to Islam and Christianity.
“It is our duty to call these our forlorn brothers, suffering under religious slavery for centuries, back to their ancestral home,” he declares. “This is only a call and request to them to understand things properly and come back and identify themselves with their ancestral Hindu way of life in dress, customs, performing marriage ceremonies and funeral rites and such other things.”
Bhagwat is merely echoing the ideas articulated in Bunch of Thoughts, albeit without Golwalkar’s frightening clarity. For instance, Golwalkar says Muslims and Christians can be made to embrace the Hindu way of life through the strategy of “parakarma vad” or “assimilationism”. To justify his project, he invokes Nehru and attributes to him statements he never made.
Golwalkar claims that in Nehru’s introduction to the poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s Sanskriti Ke Char Adhyay, the statesman delineated two stages in the evolution of Hindu culture. In the first stage, foreign invaders such as the Hunas and the Shakas came to India, abandoned their customs and faiths, and started calling themselves Rajputs.
“They all got absorbed in our fold gladly, spontaneously,” Golwalkar writes, seemingly paraphrasing Nehru. “Then, he [Nehru] says, the second stage came when invaders of a virulent character invaded our land and our people shut themselves up behind rules of dos and don’ts, seeking protection in their rigid social structure. They thus became narrow-minded, keeping aloof from all.”
Golwalkar calls this stage “sankuchitata vad”, or contractionism. There was a third stage, he claims, but Nehru unfortunately did not identify it – “sharangati vad”, or “surrenderism”, which saw Hindus following the customs of the invaders.
Even a cursory reading of Nehru’s introduction to Sanskriti shows that Golwalkar is guilty of interpolation. At the very outset, Nehru writes, “Some folks discuss Hindu culture, Muslim culture and Christian culture. I don’t understand these terms; even though it is true religious movements have impacted the culture of nations and communities. Looking at India, I feel, as Dinkar has also emphasised, that the culture of Indians is composite and it has developed gradually.” Such a composite culture is the antithesis of the Hindu culture that Golwalkar idealises in his book.
In his introduction to Sanskriti, Nehru does marvel at India’s ability to “integrate and internalise new things it encounters”. “Until it had this quality, this culture remained alive and dynamic,” he writes. “But later it lost this dynamism due to which this culture atrophied and all its aspects became weak.” He never says, explicitly or implicitly, that the second stage involved “invaders of a virulent character”. All he writes is, “There are two opposing and competing forces that we see operating in India’s history. One force is that which assimilates outside influences, creating integrity and harmony, and the other that encourages division; that which reinforces the tendency to separate one from another.”
But Golwalkar chooses to interpret the force of division to represent “invaders of a virulent character”.
In fact, Nehru ends the introduction thus, “No one community in India can claim monopoly over its heart and philosophy. Whatever is there in India, every Indian has contributed to its creation. If we don’t understand this fundamental fact, we will fail in understanding India. And if we don’t understand India, our thoughts, philosophy and actions will all be half-baked.”
The RSS obviously reveres Golwalkar’s philosophy. But Rahul Gandhi would certainly be on firm ground if he were to petition the judiciary – as the RSS did when the Congress chief accused it of killing Mahatma Gandhi – to have the passages slanderously attributed to Nehru deleted from a Bunch of Thoughts.
This is the first of a three-part series on the RSS.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi.