“A Hindu is an automatic patriot and can never be an anti-national.” Remember the line? It is of Mohan Bhagwat, the Sangh supremo, who was at his best last week, at the launch of the book, Making of a Hindu Patriot: Background of Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj. The book on Gandhi’s journey from Porbandar in Gujarat to England and South Africa and back to India, by JK Bajaj and MD Srinivas, was released by the Centre for Policy Studies.
In this book is the controversial claim that during 1893-94, Gandhi was pressurised to change his religion by both his Muslim employer and Christian colleagues in South Africa, which he refused. And by 1905, the book says, he became a devout Hindu.
Sure, everybody has a right to express their views, the authors and Mohan Bhagwat included, but the veracity of their claim still needs to be tested. As for the alleged pressure on Gandhi, the claim seems to come from out of the blue, and I would take it with a pinch of salt.
There is a need to be extra vigilant today with such charges and claims, for when the Bharatiya Janata Party formed a government at the Centre for the first time, the 100-volume series of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi were revised (in 2001). Then it was discovered that “some important entries on Gandhi’s stay in South Africa from 1892-1915 were missing in it”. When the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government came to power, it helped restore the original Collected Works. As for the claim that Hindus are “automatic patriots”, it needs to be unpacked.
To verify the claim that religion is the basis of nationhood, throw a glance at the major cases of alleged espionage that have come to light in the last few decades. The Sangh supremo would discover, to his dismay, that the masterminds of many such cases professed the Hindu faith.
Right from the infamous Coomar Narain case in 1985, which is supposed to have uncloaked the “biggest espionage ring in India’s history”, as part of which vital national secrets were sold for over 25 years to France and another Western nation (garnering $1 million to the spies in the process), to the most recent instance, of a BJP IT Cell member Dhruv Saxena arrested along with Mohit Agrawal and ten others on charges of selling secrets to Pakistan's ISI, there have been some troubling disclosures.
A diplomat, Madhuri Gupta, was arrested in 2010 on the charge of spying for Pakistan; and Ashok Sathe, a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official, was said to be behind the burning of the RAW office in Khorramshahr in Iran. He had defected to the United States after his mysterious disappearance. One of the most infamous cases in the history of the RAW was that of Rabinder Singh, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States and flew to that country in 2004 despite RAW surveillance over him. Another most-talked-about case is of KV Unnikrishnan, the RAW officer who was dealing with the LTTE and was arrested just ahead of a peace accord signed between India and Sri Lanka.
In 2002, Maneklal, a key associate Coomar Narain was awarded 14 years rigorous imprisonment, while twelve others got ten years rigorous imprisonment in the sensational case. The people convicted in this case includes P Gopalan, TN Kher, SL Chandana, Swami Nath Ram, KK Malhotra, S Sankaran, Jagdish Chander Arora, VK Palaniswamy, Amrik Lal, JM Tiwari, Kishan Chand Sharma and HN Chaturvedi, who were all convicted under section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and various provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
In light of these facts, Mohan Bhagwat’s claim looks less and less factual. He could have at least looked at role of his own organisation and Hindutva outfits in general during the freedom struggle, in which those who participated paid the price for their patriotism. At the time, the RSS’s founders ridiculed those martyrs and their struggle. Here is what RSS founder KB Hedgewar had said, according to his biographer CP Bishikar: “Patriotism is not only going to prison. It is not correct to be carried away by such superficial patriotism.” And here is what another RSS chief, MS Golwalkar, had said, “There is no doubt that such men who embrace martyrdom are great heroes and their philosophy too is pre-eminently manly. They are far above the average men who meekly submit to fate and remain in fear and inaction. All the same, such persons are not held up as ideals in our society. We have not looked upon their martyrdom as the highest point of greatness to which men should aspire. For, after all, they failed in achieving their ideal, and failure implies some fatal flaw in them.”
Much has been written about how the RSS did not just fail to participate in the freedom struggle, but instead focused on “organising Hindus” and deterred its activists from joining the movement. For example, Hedgewar’s biography published by the RSS itself tells us that when Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, he “sent information everywhere that the Sangh will not participate in the Satyagraha”.
Contrary to these claims, there are strong commonalities between Hindu and Muslim communalists. Neither the Hindu communalists led by “Veer” Savarkar and Golwalkar, nor the group led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah participated in the Quit India movement. Their support for British rule was evident from the fact that the Hindu Mahasabha was running coalition governments in Bengal and parts of what is Pakistan today, with the Muslim League. While Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha at the time, was a senior minister in the Shahid Suhrawardy-led government, his party supremo Savarkar was on a whirlwind tour of the country holding public meetings and appealing to the youth to join the British Imperial Army, with the slogan “militarise Hinduism and Hinduise [the] nation”.
The idea that faith defines any citizen’s relationship with his or her country is fictitious. It is only propounded by those who believe that religion—a concept no older than a few thousand years—is a basis of nationhood. Such ideologues fail to acknowledge that there are nearly 200 nations in the world, whose people adhere to six major religions and roughly 4,200 other smaller religions, traditions and sects. A general rule about beliefs, ideas and priorities cannot be formulated on the basis of religion, certainly not ideas of nationhood.
Put differently, Bhagwat wants to connect religion with nationhood and that is why he claims that being a Hindu is a guarantee of nationalism. If religion and nationalism were indeed connected, the atheists would rightly ask where they fall under Bhagwat’s scheme of things. There are said to be roughly 500 to 750 million atheists worldwide, and in Bhagwat’s formulation, their patriotism would always be on the line.
The idea that Hindus are “automatic” patriots also has shades of the idea of a “supreme Hindu race”. It is an indirect admission that the loyalty to the nation of all non-Hindu communities is perennially suspect. This is definitely a very dangerous idea not only because it denigrates communities, but it is also a direct affront to the historic anti-colonial struggle in which all communities participated. It is a negation of the legacy of “Sajhi Shahadat, Sajhi Virasat”, exemplified by martyrs Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh and many others. It is a mischievous denigration of constitutional principles and values which declared 70 years back that every human being is equal and there would be no discrimination on lines of caste, religion, gender, race or colour.
The author is a freelance journalist. The views are personal.