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OUR FORGETTABLE FOREFATHERS
- It is up to us to unlearn Golwalkar’s lessons

We can’t help having the ancestors we have. But there is one good thing about growing up. We can use our judgment. We can make up our own minds about those stern black-and-white photographs lining our walls like a hallowed pantheon. We can use our adult sense of good and bad, right and wrong, to decide which of these worthies are significant for us in one way or the other. Several can be safely forgotten as inconsequential or irrelevant. More important is the shortlist of forefathers (and foremothers) we need to remember. Of these, some are memorable because their lives, though lived in the past, light our way in the present. Others we must never forget precisely because they were, and continue to be, a malignant influence. Dangerous, even in the form of their legacies.

As with our individual families, so with the nation’s extended family. Our India, like any of our little families, has its share of shining and not-so-shining ancestors. Both sets have descendants who keep them alive, suitably framed, garlanded and quoted. Learning from icons — the little family’s or the big family’s — is not such a bad thing. But not all of them taught the right lessons. Some ancestors, and their legacies, can help us only if we unlearn their beliefs and ideas.

Consider just one of these gurujis from our nation’s past, a man whose ideas inspire so many today: Madhav Sadhashiv Golwalkar. I recently came across a tattered, heavily underlined copy of Golwalkar’s book, We or Our Nationhood Defined, which was first published in 1939. The cover of the book was torn, and the photograph on the frontispiece looked up at me intently.

It’s a remarkable photograph. Like all those solemn old black-and-white studio photographs, this one too has a relentless head-on, frontal view. The posture is stiff, the eyes unsmiling. They seem to invite the beholder into the mysterious soul of the photographed man. The long, curly hair has been tamed and neatly combed. The dark moustache and beard are trimmed. The “costume” has been chosen with care for the image that will be handed down to posterity. The dark jacket with the emerging ruffled white collar, and the short pointed beard gives the young Golwalkar the look of a pirate who takes himself seriously.

I assume that this photograph was taken well after Golwalkar had finished his science course in the Hindu University in Varanasi and got his degree in law. He must have already been a professor of zoology, the professor who chose to work for the “Hindu cause” under Madan Mohan Malviya’s influence, and which choice had crystallized under the influence of the “magnetic” Keshav Baliram Hedgewar.

Golwalkar subsequently became the second sar-sanghachalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and steered the organization for the 33 years between 1940 and 1973. Under his leadership, the RSS grew. With Golwalkar’s ideas on Hindu rashtra, his years as the helmsman of the RSS widened and strengthened the ideological basis of the Sangh, and saw the resurgence of the “Hindu movement”. A number of RSS affiliates, such as the Vidyarthi Parishad, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, came into existence.

Golwalkar has been described in numerous ways by some of his admiring descendants, our contemporaries. He is the “saviour of Hinduism”, a “crusader for a strong and united India”, a “staunch nationalist”, and a guru who instilled patriotism in millions of youth, making them “effective instruments for the worship of Bharat Mata as her worthy children.” (Also, his face was “luminous with innate intellect and learning”. He played only “Indian games such as kusti”. He hated cricket.)

Golwalkar is revered as a crusader for a strong India. I don’t think any of us could have any objections to a strong India. But that word “strong” is the problem. Does Golwalkar’s idea of a strong nation leave anything behind of India at all' To live the life of a nation, says Golwalkar, five factors — geographical, racial, religious, cultural and linguistic — must become one “indissoluble” whole. For him, every action, whether individual, social or political, is the result of a religious command; it is not possible to “complete” the idea of a nation without one national religion or one national culture.

Perhaps the picture of Golwalkar is best brought to life through his own uncompromising words. Take, for example, these words from the science-teaching nationalist in We or Our Nationhood Defined: “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 impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”

This means that our Habib Tanveers and Husains and Shabana Azmis and the millions of less-known others with “foreign” names belong to another culture, even another race. They will never be “assimilated” by “Hindusthan” although they know no world but India as we live it. “So long as they maintain their racial, religious and cultural differences, they cannot but be only foreigners, who may be either friendly or inimical to the Nation.” In other words, these “foreigners” are enemies till proven innocent by a jury made up of Golwalkar’s descendants.

Like so many of us, Golwalkar too was anxious to address the heterogeneous nature of Indian life. Except that his view of this enthralling, bewildering heterogeneity is a simple, straightforward “Muslim problem”. “From this standpoint,” he writes, “sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights.”

Just over two years back, India — and Indians — were set ablaze. Those stories, so many that they make up a long and indelible roll-call of horror, have not found their place in election advertisements. These stories — murder, rape and looting in times of war, and fear, discrimination and ghetto-building in times of peace — are, alas, true stories, unlike some manufactured in an imaginative ad agency. Stories we need to remember and respond to, however painful they are, for one important reason. They happened in the same India that has now suddenly been blessed with roads, farmers’ credit cards, and the gloss of PR packaging.

Guruji’s lessons have been learnt well by those who are now at the gates. Perhaps these barbarians at the gate are “proud of being born in the great lineage of rishis and yogis”, just as Guruji would have liked. It’s up to the rest of us to dismantle Guruji’s legacy of nation-breaking lessons.

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