Friday, March 18, 2016

“National”, “Anti-national” and the Sangh Parivar: A critical note

Saqib Khan


Various strands of nationalism emerged in the colonial period; some of the important ones being bourgeois nationalism, anti-imperialism, working class movement, etc. While I acknowledge these strands, in this Note I limit myself to discuss the idea of nation espoused by the Sangh Parivar.[1] Based on some of the works of the founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar, this Note attempts to critique and reject the idea of nation espoused by the Parivar since the colonial period. The Parivar’s idea of nation has always stood as “Hindu majoritarian”. Any attempt to point out the contradictions in Indian society, like the oppression based on caste, gender, extreme poverty and inequality, religious identity, etc and questioning this idea has been seen as deviation and considered a hindrance in the path of achieving a Hindu Rashtra. The nation was seen in terms of a Hindu majoritarian identity and there was an attempt to build a unified and common Hindu identity. It was here that categories of “national” and “anti-national” were constructed by the Sangh. Any talk of caste and its problem was seen as a ploy of the British and later on other forces to divide Hindu society. This idea of nation was also linked to militarization of Hindu society and admiration for European fascists. My note argues that this idea of the nation goes back to the founders of the Sangh Parivar and remains largely intact even today.  Recent developments in Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) should be seen in this light. The note argues that in the wake of recent developments across the country it becomes important to reject the Parivar’s idea of ‘nation’, which has always defined “nation”, “national” and “anti-national” in its own terms.  

The Nation defined: A unified Hindu identity

Works and speeches of some of the founding-fathers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)[2]  throw light on the idea of nation visualized by the Sangh Parivar. The first important point in this regard is an attempt to build a unified and common Hindu identity without an attempt to address the caste question and see its linkage with Hindu religion like an umbilical cord. As early as 1930, the founder and the first sarsanghchalak of RSS wrote: “It is to fulfil the duty of protecting the Hindu society that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has come into existence”.[3] In one of his final addresses to the swayamsevaks in Nagpur in June 1940, Hedgewar said, “Remember, we have to organize the entire Hindu society from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas. In fact our main area of operation is the vast Hindu world outside the Sangh. The Sangh should not be the preserve of only the Swayamsevaks, but must cover the entire Hindu people outside the Sangh fold”.[4]

It was the second sarsanghchalak- M. S. Golwalkar- who not only elaborated on the Sangh’s idea of nation, but also described who were outside it.  Here again, in his two works- We or Our Nationhood Defined and Bunch of Thoughts [collected volume], the emphasis was to build a common Hindu identity. In his We or Our Nationhood Defined first published in 1939, he noted:

“Applying the modern understanding of ‘Nation’ to our present conditions, the conclusion is unquestionably forced upon us that in this country, Hindustan, the Hindu Race with its Hindu Religion, Hindu Culture and Hindu Language (the natural family of Sanskrit and her off-springs) complete the Nation concept: that, in fine, in Hindustan exists and must needs exist the ancient Hindu nation and nought else but the Hindu Nation. All those not belonging to the nation i.e. Hindu Race, Religion, Culture and Language, naturally fall out of the pale of real ‘National’ life. All others are traitors and enemies to the National cause”.[5]

On the fate of others, he wrote: “Those who fall outside this idea, can have no place in the national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion, culture and language of the Nation and completely merge themselves in the National Race” (ibid. 101). In the later pages he further elaborates this point. He writes:

“The foreign races in Hindustan 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” (p. 104-5).

This idea of Nation was once again echoed in Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts where he wrote: “Our one supreme goal is to bring to life the all-round glory and greatness of our Hindu Rashtra”. Further, he noted, “Hindu society, whole and integrated, should forever be the single point of devotion for all of us. No other consideration whether of caste, sect, language, province or party should be allowed to come in the way of that single-minded devotion”.[6]

In this regard, Hindu Mahasabha leader V. D. Savarkar came up with the notion of ‘Hindutva’. For him, “It is not enough that a person should profess any religion of Indian origin, i.e., Hindustan as his Holyland, but he must also recognise it as his Fatherland as well” (p. 4-5).[7]  Hindutva, thus, referred not only to the religious aspect of the Hindu people but comprehended even their cultural, linguistic, social and political aspects as well (ibid. p. 43). For Savarkar, Hindus were a ‘Nation’ by themselves, while others (e.g. Muslims) were ‘communities’.

Secondly, any reference to contradictions within the so-called Hindu society in terms of caste, untouchability or to challenge the Hindu social order, etc was deemed to be “communal”, “anti-national” and divisive. Golwalkar writes: “The national life in Bharat is therefore the Hindu National Life. All such works which help nourishing and strengthening this national ethos are ‘national’. All such groups who consider themselves distinct from this national ethos and cherish hopes and aspirations in opposition to the national ones and demand separate rights and privilege for themselves are to be called “communal” and “anti-national”.[8] He then lists out seven types of ‘communalism’, of which I discuss the second and fourth. The second one is within “Hindu Society itself”. Here he puts groups who “began to consider themselves as being different from Hindu samaj and dharma, and who on that premise demand separate and exclusive political and economic privileges, and to achieve those demands proclaim themselves to be different form Hindu Society and take to various agitations” (p. 139). The fourth type consists of those who rouse controversies in the name of “touchability” and “untouchability”, “Brahmin” and “non-Brahmin” and fan hatred, enmity, selfishness, and demands for special privileges (p. 140). Also, in Golwalkar’s idea of nation, Muslims, Christians and Communists were seen as “internal threats”.[9]

Though Golwalkar discusses untouchability in a separate chapter, it is interesting to note how he sees this problems and its solution. The name of Ambedkar is missing in his list of those who strove to eradicate untouchability.[10] Golwalkar sees its roots in misconceived notion of dharma and not linked with caste and Hindu religion itself. Even when he calls for eradication of untouchability, the objective is consolidation of Hindu society. He calls the following directive of Vishwa Hindu Sammelan held at Udupi in 1969 as of “revolutionary significance in the history of Hindu society”: “In pursuance of the objective that the entire Hindu society should be consolidated with the spirit of indivisible oneness and that there should be no disintegration in it because of tendencies and sentiments like ‘touchability’ and ‘untouchability’. The Hindus all over the world should maintain the spirit of unity and equality in their mutual intercourse” (p. 269-270). He also cautions against violent approach (like temple entry, publicity and propaganda) to enforce this resolution. However, according to him, such task could not just be undertaken through resolution of a Conference and “a change of heart, a moral and emotional change in attitudes and behaviour, has to he brought about” to achieve this. And for this he advocates that, “Programmes like bhajans, keertans, festivals, recital of stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata could be arranged, where all Hindus would assemble in a spirit of common brotherhood submerging all such differences as ‘touchable’ and ‘untouchable’ in a current of pure dharmic devotion” (p. 272). Thus, we see that here again there is a call to unify and ignore the differences.

Thirdly, a recurring theme in Golwalkar’s works was that any attempt at the so-called division of Hindu society and nation was deemed to be the handiwork of the British in the past and “some forces” within and outside the country in present times. It was the British who “in order to perpetuate his stranglehold on our country, planted in our minds perverted notions of nationhood in a bid to break the proud and defiant spirit of the Hindus”. Presently, “forces inside and outside our country” were doing this. The divide between “Harijans” and “Caste Hindus” was a “propaganda by forces outside and inside our country which are bent upon dividing and weakening the Hindu people” (p. 271). Persons interested in defaming Hindus talked about caste system.[11] And thus, there was a need for a “unitary Nation-State”. 

Fourthly, Golwalkar’s works also throw light on issues like inequality and status of women. In these too the attempt was an emphasis on the larger Hindu socio-economic order and these notions were to shape the lens of Sangh for a long time. For example, regarding women, he noted that rearing of children and inculcating in them the correct sanskars was the special duty of “our mothers”. On the question of economic inequality, Golwalkar wrote: “If by socialism is meant removal of economic inequality, then here again it is the Hindu thought and practice that stand as the unfailing guarantee for social and economic justice” (p. 258). For him, disparity between city-dwellers and villagers was an “artificial barrier”.

Fifthly, the above idea of nation was linked with militarization of Hindu society and tie-ups with fascists of abroad. Not only did the leadership of RSS and Hindu Mahasabha hold Mussolini and Hitler in great admiration, but there were also concrete links between them (Noorani 2002, 2015). The archival work of Italian historian Marzia Casolari (2000) throws important light in this regard and she argues that these contacts were important at the ideological and organizational levels. The aspects of fascism which appealed most to these Hindu leaders were the militarisation of Hindu society and creating a militant mentality among the Hindus. Casolari shows that B. S. Moonje (who was also mentor and friend of Hedgewar) was one of the earliest Sangh ideologues who came in contact with the fascist regime of Italy. After his visit to Rome in March 1931 and meeting with Mussolini, he was in awe of fascist organizations of Italy and Mussolini.  And he played a crucial role in shaping the RSS along Italian (fascist) lines. Moonje and Hedgewar as well as Savarkar advocated for militarization of Hindu community on fascist lines.[12] Savarkar was also in awe of Nazi Germany’s policies, including that towards Jews (ibid.).

Thus, the works of the founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar show that an idea of the nation in terms of a majoritarian Hindu identity was put forward. For this, a unified and common Hindu identity was emphasized. Any attempt to point out contradictions within the so-called Hindu society in terms of caste, untouchability, etc was seen as divisive and “anti-national”. It was the British in the past and “some forces” within and outside the country who indulged in this. Also, militarization of Hindu society was advocated and there was admiration for the Italian and German fascists.

HCU, TISS and JNU: A common thread

The recent developments in HCU, TISS and JNU should be seen in the light of Sangh Parivar’s idea of nation as pointed out in the above paragraphs.

Rohith Vemula, a young Dalit research scholar from HCU, had in many ways challenged a Hindu majoritarian and brahmanical idea of the nation of the Sangh Parivar. He also attempted to unite Dalits and Muslims on the campus. And thus, his activism fell into the categories of “divisive” and “anti-national” and a systematic targeting finally cut short a young life. Rohith’s death saw an unprecedented solidarity- cutting across ideological lines, castes, religion, region and other social distinctions.[13] This solidarity shook the Sangh and its political affiliate: the BJP. Their initial response was to deride the Rohith issue by questioning his caste, raising the “anti-national” bogey, etc.

At the height of agitations demanding justice for Rohith Vemula, there was a more subtle intervention by the Sangh Parivar in the form of parachuting Rajiv Malhotra to several higher education institutions across the country, including Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. An NRI, Rajiv Malhotra is the philosopher-in-chief of contemporary Hindutva. He delivered a lecture at TISS on 29th January, 2016. Two points in this regard would substantiate the point as to why he was parachuted to various campuses. Firstly, in his lecture at TISS, he referred to his book Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, but did not go into the details. Now, one of the main arguments in this book is that contemporary Dalit identity and assertion is the creation of foreign NGOs and this is undermining the unity and integrity of India. So, the emphasis is on the ‘external’ force. Malhotra also fails to see the linkage of caste with Hindu religion itself. Hence, we see that both the points of Malhotra- ‘external’ forces responsible for breaking India and non-linkage of caste with Hindu religion- are quite similar to those put forward by the founding-fathers of the Sangh. Secondly, Malhotra’s comments on Indian scholars aping Western scholars look carbon-copy of the chapter titled ‘Be Men With Capital ‘M’ (chapter 35) of Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts. Thus, Malhotra’s lecture at TISS was Sangh’s attempt to counter the increasing solidarity for Rohith by saying that the Dalit assertion was “divisive”. It was in some ways a repackaged version of what the founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar had written years ago.

JNU, on the other hand, with its tradition of debate, unity of student community and keeping divisive politics and neo-liberal policies at bay, had always been a sore in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh was always looking for an opportunity, especially after the victory of the BJP in May 2014. It used the “anti-national” bogey this time to send forth the message that there was no room for even a discussion on the idea of nation other than that espoused by the Sangh. It tried to send the message that any departure from this would be sternly dealt with- legally as well as through mob violence. The JNU episode also gave it an opportunity to conveniently shift the discourse in terms of “national versus anti-national”- a discourse that had seemed to be pushed aside in the wake of increasing solidarity on the Rohith issue. 


This note tried to highlight the idea of nation as propounded by the founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar (these were mostly brahmins from Maharashtra) and critique it. In this idea of “Hindu majoritarian” nation, attempt was to build a common and unified Hindu identity. Untouchability and caste were not seen as intrinsic to Hindu religion itself. There was also a call for militarization of Hindu society and there was admiration for the-then Italian and German fascists. Any attempt to question this identity of nation always made the Sangh uncomfortable. And it is here that the notions of “national” and “anti-national” were constructed and largely continue till date. Recent developments in HCU, TISS and JNU indicate this. The solidarity generated in the wake of the tragic death of Rohith Vemula shook the grounds of the Sangh and its affiliates. One of its contemporary ideologues- Rajiv Malhotra- was subtly employed to counter this upsurge of solidarity. In JNU, the whole university was painted as “anti-national” and a police crackdown was let loose on the campus and students. In the wake of such attacks on universities, students and people at large, it is pertinent to question and reject the Sangh Parivar’s idea of “nation”, “national” and “anti-national” with even more vigour.


Casolari, Marzia. 2002. ‘Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s’, Economic and Political Weekly, 35 (4): 218-228

Golwalkar, M. S. 1939. We Or Our Nationhood Defined (available at

Golwalkar, M. S. 1968. Bunch of Thoughts (available at

Noorani, A. G. 2002. Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection. New Delhi: Leftword

Noorani, A. G. 2015. ‘Soldiers of the Swastika’, Frontline, 32 (1), January 23 (available at

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. No Date. Dr. Hedgewar: The Epoch-maker (available at

Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar. 1949. Hindu Rashtra Darshan. Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona (available at


[1] By Sangh Parivar, I mainly refer to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, though I also discuss some of the ideas of Hindu Mahasabha leader V. D. Savarkar in this note
[2] Founding-fathers of the RSS like K. B. Hedgewar and M. S. Golwalkar were also heavily influenced by Hindu Mahasabha leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Hedgewar was in fact close contact with Savarkar before forming the RSS. Most of these leaders were also brahmins, especially from Maharashtra
[3] ‘Notes of K. B. Hedgewar, 26 Jan, 1930’, in Dr. Hedgewar: The Epoch-maker, p. 50
[4] See Dr. Hedgewar: The Epoch-maker, p. 81
[5] M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, p. 99-100
[6] M. S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, p. 105
[7] See Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra Darshan. This book consolidates important speeches given by Savarkar as the President of Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha
[8] See the section titled ‘The Nation and its Problems’ (chapter XV), in M. S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, p. 138
[9] See ‘Part Two- The Nation and Its Problems’ (chapter XI), ibid. pp. 148-164
[10] In recent times, there have been vigorous attempts by the Sangh to integrate Dalits into its fold. However, this integration is within the larger Hindu-fold only. The attempt is to integrate Dalits into Hindu society without disturbing the hierarchy of the caste system. The attempt is to appropriate Ambedkar minus his radical content
[11] M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined
[12] For a detailed description of Hindutva’s foreign links, see Casolari’s article ‘Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s’, EPW
[13] The only groups missing from this solidarity were those affiliated to the Sangh Parivar

Author is a PhD student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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