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May 17, 2009

Page: 32/35

Home > 2009 Issues > May 17, 2009


Appreciating Sangh from an outsider's perspective

By Dr Vijay Rajiva

Swadeshi or self reliance is similar to Gandhiji?s concept of swadeshi in all matters, but especially in political economy, and is characteristic of the political economy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Sangh Parivar. This entity links up with the political programme of the BJP today: Good governance, security and development.

(This is a prefatory statement from a larger paper which the writer is presently working on.Many readers will already be familiar with some of the information provided here.It is hoped that it will eventually reach a wider audience, especially those Indians and Western readers who are not familiar with the Sangh Parivar, its activities and philosophy and who have been misled by hostile liberal/left academics and journalists).

The family of organisations (the literal meaning of Sangh Parivar) or more precisely the community of organisations-led by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), established by Dr Hedgewar in 1925) and its sister organisations and affiliates considers itself to be a movement both for Indian national unity and the larger cause of the well being of the global community of nations and peoples world wide. Hence its motto: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the whole world is one single family.

The Sanskrit word ?Vasudha? stands for ?Earth? and this word as well as its cognates Prithvi, Bhu, Bhumi etc. are all found in the Veda, the collective name for the sacred book of the Hindus , which are classified as Shruti (revealed truth) and Smriti (commentary). The four Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda) along with the Upanishads are considered Shruti or revealed truth, because they were revealed to the rishis, saints and sages several millennia ago.

Traditional Western scholarship whether in Indology or Sanskrit studies, views the Veda in a variety of ways from the literary to the spiritual interpretation but they uniformly emphasise the importance of celestial deities of the cosmos and the elements as primary, with earth deities of water, hills, rock, trees, flora and fauna as of secondary importance, and thus the extraordinary environmental and ecological dimensions of the Veda are lost. And while the lofty speculation of the Veda has not been missed, the social theme of the unity of all peoples, whether on the Indian subcontinent or the global village, is also not sufficiently emphasised.

Both these aspects are significantly the central tenets of the Sangh Parivar. Unearthing this ?earthly? ?earthy? origins of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is an urgent task for anyone seeking to understand the Sangh Parivar. Hence, to call the Sangh Parivar a right wing ?nationalist? organisation is to blatantly miss the point and the further hostile/facile criticism of the Sangh as racist, fascist, parochial and so on is based either on willful misunderstanding or the misapplication of Western models of nationalism and fascism. Both Indian and Western scholars have challenged this misrepresentation of the Sangh.

Dr. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, was clear about the aim of the organisation as one which protected Indian interests. While not ruling out the need for militant defence of the Indian subcontinent (which even Mahatma Gandhi advocated) this is a philosophy that is inclusive, non-violent and is yet open to self-expression as can be seen in the writings of MS Golwalkar (the second chief of the RSS and popularly called Guruji) notably in A Bunch of Thoughts. Shri Guruji has been systematically misrepresented by liberal/left writers and here again both Indian and Western scholars have rejected this misinterpretation.

The message has been further updated and renewed in the life and work of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya (1916-1968) of the Jana Sangh. His work Integral Humanism (1965) is the contemporary expression of the unity of the earthly family of nations and peoples.

With the support of universal knowledge and our heritage, we shall create a Bharat which will excel all its past glories, and will enable every citizen in its fold to steadily progress in the development of his manifold latent possibilities and to achieve through a sense of unity with the entire creation, a state even higher than that of a complete human being. This is the external divine form of our culture. This is our message to humanity at the cross roads... (Fourth Lecture, Integral Humanism).

This Integral Humanism (not to be confused with Jacques maritain?s philosophy whose emphasis and scope are somewhat different) was adopted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP since 1980) and has been reiterated in the statements from the BJP.

This connection with the earth- family is not accidental as seen above, because it is derived from the entire corpus of the Veda.

It received a partial and incomplete statement as Hindutva in V.D. Savarkar?s Essentials of Hindutva (1922). Although much maligned, much misunderstood, much misread and much misrepresented, Savarkar?s work has stood the test of time. In his book he has clearly stated that Hindutva is the culture of all communities that live in Hindustan. Furthermore, he goes on to say that despite the fact that not all communities may look on Hindustan as their Punyabhumi (sacred land) they will be equal citizens in an Independent Hindustan after the departure of the British.

That crucial step which he took towards universalism (as opposed to the particularism of limiting Hindutva only to Hindus) and advocating it for all communities, obviously derived from his Vedic legacy. His social work in removing caste distinctions, especially that of untouchability, pre-dates even the efforts of Gandhiji. That work, also started by Dr. Hedgewar is being continued in the work of the RSS and affiliated organisations.The metaphor of the banyan tree has been used to describe Hinduism?s rootedness in earth and its outreach to other cultures and other peoples and sums up well the unity-in-difference of the Sangh Parivar?s philosophy and ideology. The turn to the metaphor of the tree is crucial since this is very much an earth centered movement, presently localised in the subcontinent of India but which has global implications for today?s world.

Swadeshi or self reliance is similar to Gandhiji?s concept of swadeshi in all matters, but especially in political economy, and is characteristic of the political economy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Sangh Parivar. This entity links up with the political programme of the BJP today: Good governance, security and development. The last mentioned, development, is also the core of the SJM?s efforts. The BJP?s manifesto emphasises the importance of rural reconstruction, the village economy and its links to the dominant urban economy and the improvement of the lives of the farmers.

The Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is the cultural wing of the Sangh Parivar and is entrusted with the job of both preserving and renewing/updating (for our times) the Vedic heritage.

The RSS itself with its many dedicated leaders and swayamsevaks and more than 70,000 social welfare projects, and attendant organisations continue to lead as they deservedly should, the Indian branch of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The moving prayer of dedication to the Motherland (in Sanskrit) is also simultaneously a prayer for the protection of Mother Earth, the entire globe. There is here no politics of hate (as has been alleged) only an all encompassing love, compassion and a determination to defend Mother Earth, the Punya Bhoomi of the entire Earth and the global family. This might on occasions, require the determined struggle against those who seek to destroy both India and Mother Earth.

Why then is there an ongoing hostile/facile criticism of this noble ideal ? Has it not been projected properly to the world ? Has it not been seriously practised ? Or is it simple and willful misunderstanding by many individuals. A tentative classification of such individuals can be helpful:

  1. There are the professional purveyors of the politics of hate who have no special agenda other than spewing hatred towards the Sangh Parivar. They should be listened to if only because one can understand the irrational basis of their criticisms.

  2. Indian intellectuals who have fully or partially internalised the ideas of the West, the process of modernisation, industrialisation and globalisation and have lost all contact with their Hindu tradition. These can be described as the New Macaulays because their new allegiance is uncritical acceptance of the West.

  3. Indian intellectuals who are contemptuous of their native tradition and want to prove that they are more Roman than the Romans.

  4. Indian intellectuals, especially academics who are fearful of the consequences of questioning the status quo (the establishment negation of anything sympathetic to the Hindu tradition) because of the impact of this on their careers.

  5. Ideologues, hacks, opportunists and careerists who are gainfully employed in attacking the Sangh Parivar. The rewards are not just monetary, but include professional advancement and honours.

  6. Indian intellectuals who are genuinely concerned that the rise of the Sangh Parivar might signal the return to casteism and the negative features of Hindu society. They, of course, are not aware that the Sangh does not condone casteism and in fact works for its eradication.

  7. Upholders of monotheistic faiths who genuinely have no understanding of Hindu polycentrism and are fearful that their faith may be left behind.

  8. Outright proselytisers of the monotheistic faiths.

  9. Western scholars and commentators who sometimes have political agendas, but more often, do not understand Hindu tradition.

From all of the above one can learn much, if only because their faulty approaches only further highlight the merits of the philosophy of the Sangh Parivar. Secondly, if there are genuine problems the Sangh Parivar can sort them out and see what needs to be done. Thirdly, entering into dialogue and discussion can only benefit the overall national agenda of the RSS and further deepen the philosophy of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

The Sangh Parivar, its supporters and sympathisers must take the program of renewed statement of ideals and reaffirmation seriously. India is poised to become a leading economic power. Its millennia old civilization has survived conquests, invasions and occupations and has emerged a relatively sane and balanced entity. The wisdom of its saints and sages must be reaffirmed in meaningful and constructive ways so that a troubled world, which is at the crossroads can benefit from what has been always an Indian contribution : World peace and world prosperity. The Sangh Parivar is poised to continue in that enterprise.

Why is the concept of Nation (Rashtra) important for the Sangh Parivar?

Distinguishing between the state and the nation is significant for the Sangh Parivar because the former is an institutional organisation for the exercise of political power, while the Rashtra is a civilizational notion and for the Hindus it traces the trajectory of the land and culture they have lived in continuously for several millennia. This lived in quality or characteristics gives a special meaning to sacred land or Punyabhumi. Many Hindus feel that it is also because in this land sacred scriptures were created and sacred figures, saints, sages, avatars lived there.

That gives an important dimension to the word Punyabhumi but is not the only link to Rashtra or Nation.

(To be concluded)

(The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university.)

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