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Excerpt from We or our Nationhood Re-defined [2014 Rajendra Mathur Memorial lecture]

by Anand Patwardhan, 21 November 2014

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We or our Nationhood Re-defined

Memorial lecture at the Editors Guild, New Delhi

The Editor’s Guild has honoured me with the task of delivering the Rajendra Mathur Memorial lecture this year. But as you know I am a filmmaker rather than a speaker and would like to intersperse my talk with a few film clips.

Clip from War and Peace: Gandhi Funeral – 1948

Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He was also in the Hindu Mahasabha like his mentor VD Savarkar. Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse, was a co-conspirator. After serving his prison term, Gopal conceded in interviews that neither he nor Nathuram had ever left the RSS but told lies in court to protect the RSS as well as Savarkar.

Why Gandhi is hated, yet appropriated. 1885 to 2014

By the late 19th century the British desire to create an educated Indian elite that would do its bidding had begun to yield unexpected results. Education helped spread emancipatory ideas from the Enlightenment, which fed into already growing aspirations for freedom. By 1885 Congress was founded mainly by newly emerging classes of businessmen, industrialists and lawyers from the educated middle class. After the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom movement acquired mass character and began to include workers and peasants. For the princely rulers and feudal and religious elite the alarm bells had rung right at the beginning. In August 1888 barely 3 years after the Congress was founded, Sir Syed of Aligarh and Raja Sheo Prasad of Kashi formed the United India Patriotic Association to convey their loyalty to the British. Later their constituents branched into religious offshoots like the Muslim League in 1906, the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925. It is this last body created by upper caste Brahmins in the city of Nagpur that has left the largest footprint.

Neither Muslim nor Hindu communal formations fought British rule. Virtually no RSS or Hindu Mahasabha people went to jail. An early exception was Savarkar who was arrested in 1910 and sent to the Andamans.

At this point Savarkar was not yet communalized as his 1857: The War of Independence published in 1909 eloquently shows. Renaming what the British had dubbed the “Great Mutiny” Savarkar praised both Hindus and Muslims who made common cause in the war against the British. In the Andamans Savarkar turned into an ideologue for Hindutva – the term he coined to distinguish his Hindu nationalism from the religion, Hinduism. In 1921 he finally emerged from Andamans jail only after giving numerous undertakings to the British that he would never oppose them again. He kept his promise. The rest of his life went in propagating Hindutva and attacking Gandhi whom he branded as a Muslim appeasing traitor.

When the Congress launched the Quit India movement in 1942, Savarkar opposed it and asked Hindus to enlist in the British armed forces instead to learn the “arts of war”. As President of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, he had advanced the slogan “Hinduize all Politics and Militarize Hindudom”.

Guru Golwalker, for 33 years the chief of the RSS and its most influential ideologue, was equally opposed to fighting the British. On August 14, 1947 at the dawn of Independence, the Organiser, the English organ of the RSS openly denigrated the choice of the tricolour as the National Flag in the following words: “The Tricolour will never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”

The RSS and other allies of Hindutva like Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray have often declared their preference for dictatorship over democracy and openly expressed admiration for Hitler.

Small wonder that Mein Kampf is a runaway best seller in this country.
In his1938 book We or Our Nationhood defined , Golwalker approves the Nazi extermination of Jews:

“To keep up purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races, the Jews. National 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 a united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
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