“Are we going to forget people while defining the nation?”

Translation is not just about words, it is about carrying a culture, a history, a whole world into another language. Translations do not just bring languages closer to one another, they also introduce us to diverse modes of imagining and perceiving different cultures.

To mark the International Translation Day, celebrated on 30 September, the Indian Cultural Forum will be doing a series of posts to emphasise the power and importance of translations.

When Raosaheb Kasbe’s Zot was published in Marathi in 1978, RSS cadres made a public bonfire of it at the Janata Party convention in Pune that year. The book presented an incisive critique of M.S. Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts, the main ideological treatise of the RSS. Kasbe traced the historical roots of cultural nationalism as outlined by Golwalkar, and exposed its authoritarianism. His study of the functioning of the RSS revealed its communal blueprint, its anti-modern views and anti-democratic objectives. 

Kasbe challenged the RSS on its own turf—its interpretation of Hinduism. Through a rigorous critique of Golwalkar’s text and careful analysis of ancient texts, the scholar showed how the RSS version of Hinduism was unapologetically casteist and deeply patriarchal.

Published by LeftWord Books as Decoding the RSS: Its Tradition and Politics, the book has been translated by Deepak Borgave and edited by Vinutha Mallya. The introduction to the book has been written by Shamsul Islam.

The following in an excerpt from the chapter "Hinduism as Nationalism" of the book.

Golwalkar equates Hinduism with Indian nationalism. Therefore, he defines nationalism as Hinduism. The RSS is a very different kind of an organization than the many social and political groups that have worked in the nation during the last century. It has been noticed since the time the Sangh was established, people connected with it have a different attitude. Their nationalistic fervour is peculiar and extreme when compared to other nationalist organizations. This unique difference is noticed in the day-to-day actions and behaviour of the Sangh’s people—especially when they fervently criticize the Left organizations and label materialist philosophy as anti-nationalist. They assert that only their nationalistic fervour is genuine and it is the only nationalism that can exist. This egotistical approach, which assumes the highest sense of superiority, manifests in the actions of the Sangh. For the Sangh, Hinduism is itself the index of nationalism.

According to Golwalkar, every particle of the geographical region of India, even dust, contains godliness, and so the land is holy to us. He says,

Nothing can be holier to us than this holy land. Every particle of dust, everything living or non-living, every stock and stone, tree and rivulet of this land is holy to us. To keep this intense devotion ever alive in the heart of every child of this soil, so many procedures and conventions were established here in the past. . . .

It is interesting how Golwalkar perceives an Indian. While reading his book, one finds that natural phenomena such as mountains, peaks, trees and oceans are reference points for defining the concept of nationalism. But what about the human beings?

A nation is meant for people—it is a space for people to enrich their lives. Nationalism can be understood as the expression of people’s psychological integration. In other words, peoples’ thinking, their suffering, their attitudes, etc., can be traced in the composition of a nation. Are we going to forget people while defining the nation? What about those people whose psychological integration is necessary for the composition of the nation? What place does Hinduism have for them? What is it going to do for them? Golwalkar does not wish to think of these people while defining his idea of Hindu nationalism. In fact, Hinduists would never be able to think about this because they believe that Shankaracharya’s philosophy, ‘Nitya-anitya-vastu-viveka’ (the intellect that discriminates between the reality and illusion of things), is the ideological basis of Hinduism. Golwalkar uses it to emphasize the notion that the country is permanent and hence greater than people. He explains that the goal of philosophy is to attain param vaibhavam, i.e. national glory, and he extends that concept to define nationalism. Although an individual needs institutions such as society, nation and religion, where his pleasures, miseries, wrath, greed, love, hatred, valour, cowardice, passion and lust may find expression, Golwalkar regards these emotions as worthless and trivial. He considers them as low and of baser grade. In his opinion, the only admirable emotion is devotion because only bhakti has a higher place; the remaining emotions must be discarded by individuals. He says,

There is one more way of looking at this blending of the development of the individual with the integrity and welfare of society. We have been told by our great thought-givers to discriminate between what is permanent and what is impermanent. Shankaracharya has called it nityanitya-vastu-viveka. Let’s us, for the time being, keep apart its high philosophical interpretations and apply it to our national life. Individuals come and go. Countless generations have come and gone. But the nation has remained […] The ‘permanent’, therefore, is the national life. The ‘impermanent’ is the individual. The ideal arrangement would therefore be to transform the impermanent—the individual—into a means to attain the permanent—the social good—which would at the same time enable the individual to enrich and bring to blossom his latent divinity.

The Hinduists have accepted Shankaracharya’s theoretical insights in the relationship between means and ends. The relationship that democratic socialists consider between means and ends is extraordinarily contrary to Golwalkar’s understanding. What are the ends? What are the tools? Does the nation exist for individuals or do individuals exist for the nation? Is the nation a means and individuals its end? Does society stand for enrichment and excellence of individuals, or an individual for society’s? The distinction between the two polarities is fundamental and it will remain pertinent for all time.

For over a hundred years, democratic socialist movements in India have given importance to the individual and advocated the fourfold principle of democracy, which says that individuals are ends in themselves; the rights enjoyed by an individual cannot be transferred or given away; an individual should not rule over others; and the rights acquired in our practical life must not be relinquished. Whereas Hinduism considers an individual only as a means, democratic socialism vehemently opposes that principle. Therefore, Golwalkar is against the ideology of democracy. He does not reject the principles of democracy simply because they are based on the philosophy of materialism, but because democratic thought centres round the individual and individualism.

The Sangh has been propagating the idea that the democratic socialist movements are anti-national. For several years, the Sangh has said that it is the only nationalist group. This sentimental view is used to influence thousands of youths simply to dismantle Left movements. Therefore, it is necessary to critically examine the concept of nationalism. How are the democratic socialists, who believe that the individual is a concrete form that is not illusory, is an end and not the means, anti-national? And, how are Sanghists and the entire Hinduist camp, who consider the nation (which is an abstraction) as the end and individuals as its means, nationalists? A thorough discussion must be held in this context. It will enable us to understand the false, distorted and quaint ideas of the Sangh. Equally, it will throw light on the propensity of the Sangh to appropriate the role of nationalists.

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The priest of our old religious system
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