How former RSS head M.S. Golwalkar saw India and wanted to treat minorities

In this excerpt from his new book, ‘Why I Am a Hindu’, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor explains nationalism as RSS leader M.S. Golwalkar saw it. 

Golwalkar made it clear in his writings that India was the holy land of the Hindus. He writes: ‘Hindusthan is the land of the Hindus and is the terra firma for the Hindu nation alone to flourish upon…’ According to him, India was a pristine Hindu country in ancient times, a place of unparalleled glory destroyed in successive assaults by foreign invaders. He felt that a ‘national regeneration’ was necessary. Throughout his writings, he expresses the view that the national regeneration of this ‘Hindu nation’ (the ‘motherland’ for which the ‘Hindu people’ shed their blood) could only come about through the revival of its Hinduness. Golwalkar rejected the concept of what he called ‘territorial nationalism’ the modern variant of nationalism which identified a state with its territory and bestowed equal rights of citizenship on all those who lived within it. That, to Golwalkar, made no sense: a territory was not a nation, a people constituted a nation. Who were this people? In the Indian case, Hindus. Golwalkar and the RSS became passionate advocates of ‘cultural nationalism’. This, of course, is directly opposed to the civic nationalism enshrined in the Constitution of India.

India’s independence from colonial rule in 1947, Golwalkar argued, did not constitute real freedom because the new leaders held on to the ‘perverted concept of nationalism’ that located all who lived on India’s territory as equal constituents of the nation. ‘The concept of territorial nationalism,’ he wrote, ‘has verily emasculated our nation and what more can we expect of a body deprived of its vital energy? …[and] so it is that we see today the germs of corruption, disintegration and dissipation eating into the vitals of our nation for having given up the natural living nationalism in the pursuit of an unnatural, unscientific and lifeless hybrid concept of territorial nationalism.’

Golwalkar’s Bunch Of Thoughts argues that territorial nationalism is a barbarism, since a nation is ‘not a mere bundle of political and economic rights’ but an embodiment of national culture—in India, ‘ancient and sublime’ Hinduism. In the book, Golwalkar sneers at democracy—which he sees as alien to Hindu culture. He also writes approvingly of Manu as a ‘great soul’; he talks of the high regard in which Manu is held around the world by giving the example of a marble statue in the Philippines with the inscription: ‘The first, the greatest and wisest lawgiver of mankind’. (That Manu’s legal prescription is condemned by many for its elitism and casteism, its gender prejudice, its implicitly authoritarian ethos and its disparagement of the lower castes never crosses Golwalkar’s mind.) But in all fairness, Golwalkar was only echoing Nietzsche, who wrote of the Manu Smriti: ‘This absolutely Aryan testimony, a priestly codex of morality based on the Vedas, of a presentation of caste and of ancient provenance not pessimistic even though priestly—completes my conceptions of religion in the most remarkable manner.’ For Golwalkar, therefore, salvation lies not in Indian democracy, but in the historian Manu S. Pillai’s words, ‘in embracing Hindu dharmocracy’.

Pillai’s phrase is not entirely tongue-in-cheek: Golwakar intends traditional Hindu practices to prevail in his Hindu Rashtra, including caste discrimination. ‘We know as a matter of history,’ he writes, ‘that our north-western and north-eastern areas, where the influence of Buddhism had disrupted the caste system, fell an easy prey to the onslaught of Muslims…. But the areas of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, which were considered to be very orthodox and rigid in caste restrictions, remained predominantly Hindu even after remaining the very citadels of Muslim power and fanaticism.’ So the more caste-ridden society was, the more robustly it was able to resist the encroachments of the foreign faiths that sought to erode it: to Golwalkar, ‘the so-called “caste-ridden” Hindu Society has remained undying and inconquerable…(while) casteless societies crumbled to dust’.

The alternative to territorial nationalism, to Golwalkar, was a nationalism based on race. In We, or Our Nationhood Defined, at the height of Hitler’s rise, Golwalkar wrote: ‘To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh i