8. The Sangh's anti-intellectualism

 

         A very serious flaw which Gandhians and the Sangh have in common is their anti-intellectualism.  Though Gandhi reputedly rebuked RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar for not publishing any doctrinal statements, i.e. for not giving any intellectual articulation to his nationalist movement, he essentially shared Hedgewar's aversion for an intellectual job well done.  Both of them made people march many miles, both led their followers to make great sacrifices, and both failed to substantially raise their followers' political understanding.  They did not bother to educate them (and themselves) in analyzing the character of the different forces in the field, all on the plea that "an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of theory".

 

         Instead of developing an analysis and tracing the Hindu-Muslim conflict to its (Quranic) roots, they chose to work on people's emotions.  Gandhi practised emotional intimidation on the Hindus with his ascetic gimmicks, but failed completely before the doctrinal wall of rejection which Islam had erected against his "Hindu-Muslim unity".  Gandhi's pleas for this interreligious unity were like the attempt at air travel by a premodern person: without studying the laws of physics and applying them through the appropriate technology, all he could achieve was to jump from a tower and fall to his death.  Calling for the tearing-down of the wall of hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims without properly understanding its causes was an anti-rational endeavour doomed to bitter failure; Gandhi merely banged his own head against the wall until his skull broke.     

 

         Gandhi's anti-intellectualism was evident in other fields too.  He refused to make a proper study of the history and doctrines of his own religion, replacing its complexity and richness with the monolatry of a single booklet, the Bhagavad-Gita, which he also refused to study properly, subjecting it to a dogmatic sentimental interpretation instead.  Thus, Gandhi's reading of the Gita (heavily influenced by the "Sermon on the Mount" aspect of Christianity) included the untenable claim that the Gita teaches absolute non-violence.  In reality, one of the Gita's main themes is refuting the typically Gandhian anti-confrontationist arguments given by Arjuna in the first chapter.

 

         Admittedly, Gandhi was not the first to twist Hindu scripture to suit his own pet theories, e.g. Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva managed to identify each his own version of Vedanta philosophy as the "true" meaning of the Upanishads.  But these acharyas applied their intellect and erudition to make their point, while Gandhi haughtily rejected the importance of intellectual skills in discerning the true meaning of a text, claiming that moral character was the decisive factor in correctly understanding scripture.  He was wrong: people of bad character may understand scripture quite well (an example from Hindu tradition is Ravana, a well-educated scoundrel), while people of good character may not understand it at all (e.g. all those good people who are outside the civilizational ambit of a given scriptural tradition).[1]

 

         The result of Gandhi's anti-intellectualism was that he conducted his politics like a sleep-walker: wilfully blind to the character of the forces he was dealing with.  And since people, even very ordinary people, cannot be satisfied for long with a diet of exalted emotions and counter-commonsensical activism, his refusal to address the doctrinal aspect of certain political problems (the Muslim challenge, the paradoxical situation created in Indian politics by World War 2, the rising lure of Marxism) made people look for an ideological framework elsewhere.  Gandhi's focus on emotions was good for spectacular scenes of millions marching, but it failed to achieve the political goals which these millions thought they were serving.  The independence of a united India never came, nor was truncated India in any sense a Ram Rajya or a realization of any ideal Gandhi ever stood for.

 

         The Communists, by contrast, worked on people's minds.  They gave them (not just their card-carrying foot soldiers but nearly the whole opinion-making and decision-making classes) a framework with which to analyze political events and cultural trends.  It is quite clear which approach was more fruitful: soon after Marxism appeared on the Calcutta scene, it eclipsed the Hindu Renaissance (when Sri Aurobindo retired from public life, people like Hedgewar failed to take over his torch), and by the time Gandhi died, Gandhism as a genuine political movement had been blown away by Marxism.  For several decades after Independence, non-Communist politicians implemented Communist policies, because they were mentally trapped in Marxist schemes of analysis; by contrast, even nominally Gandhian politicians betrayed everything Gandhi ever stood for (except Muslim appeasement, which Indian Marxists also promoted).  In the long run, emotions are inconsequential, and the Communists prospered and could make others implement their own policies just by promoting their own thought.

 

         Like Gandhi, the RSS and BJP cloak many of their campaigns and political demands in terms of emotions, and this approach proves as futile as in Gandhi's case.  Thus, a complaint about the lack of national consciousness in the school curriculum is titled: "The education system does not promote natio­nal sentiments".[2]  Patriotic feelings develop naturally on the basis of a genuinely felt common destiny, but in the case of many Muslims, this natural process is thwarted by the Islamic ideas in which they are indoctrinated.  So, the only way to "promote national sentiments" is a job of intellectual persuasion: remove this doctrinal hurdle by helping Muslims to discover that the basic doctrine of Islam is mistaken.  If you are too lazy to study Islam and find out what is wrong with it, all your efforts to "promote national sentiments" among youngsters brought up on a diet of anti-Hindu teachings will prove futile. 

 

         The BJP's statements on Ayodhya are full of calls to "respect people's sen­timents" (the title of the BJP brochure containing L.K. Advani's historic Lok Sabha speech on Ayodhya dd. 7 August 1989).[3]  In general, sentiments should be respected, but not absolutely.  Sometimes, hurting sentiments is the inevitable and relatively unimportant consequence of a rightful and necessary act, e.g. there is no doubt that imperialist Muslims felt hurt in their sentiments when the BJP supported Hindu society's claim to Ayodhya, ignoring the Muslim community's cherished God-given right to occupy other religions' sacred places.  At any rate, sentiments cannot be the basis of a judicially enforceable claim: thieves also develop a sentimental attachment to some of their stolen goods, yet that doesn't give them a right to these goods.  The Ayatollahs may have been genuinely hurt in their sentiments by The Satanic Verses, but that gave them no right to kill its author or even to ban the book.  Even people who feel no sentimental attachment to the Rama Janmabhoomi site, such as myself, can find that the site rightfully belongs to Hindu society alone, on impeccably objective and unsentimental grounds.  The appeal to sentiment is normally but the last resort of people who have failed in defending their case on more serious juridical and historical grounds.

 

         Gandhi's experiences should have taught the Sangh that emotionalism is powerless.  So should its own failures with this approach.  For seventy years the RSS has been busy inculcating "patriotic feelings", and this has not made an iota of difference in preventing the rise of separatism in Panjab, Kashmir and the northeast.  The result of this approach in the Ayodhya dispute should serve as an eye-opener: the appeal to sentiment failed to win a single skeptic or secularist or Muslim over to the Hindu position.  Spreading knowledge is a far more powerful way of influencing public opinion than these impotent attempts to promote certain emotions.  Yet the Sangh Parivar has not adapted its strategy, it simply repeats a strategy which is a proven failure.  That brings us to another typically Gandhian flaw in the Sangh: its stubborn refusal to learn from feedback. 

 

         A defining characteristic of all life forms is that, to a greater or lesser extent, they act upon feedback: they adapt their behaviour in reaction to its observed effect.  If you put your hand in boiling water, you feel pain and immediately pull your hand back; by contrast, a stone falling into this boiling water does not show the least inclination to pull back.  Higher life forms even develop feed-forward mechanisms: rather than first undergoing the effects of a certain behaviour before adapting it, they are capable of foreseeing its effect and of either aborting or pursuing the intended behaviour depending on the expected effect.  Once you know enough about boiling water, you can foresee the effect of putting your hand into it, and adapt your behaviour accordingly so as to handle boiling water without letting it touch your skin.  But dead entities do not have these capacities of adapting to feed-back or feed-forward information.  A glass falling from the table does not foresee the effect and does not try to avoid it; even after having fallen to pieces and being glued together again, it will still not do anything to avoid falling next time.  Dead entities don't learn.

 

         Going by this criterion, both Gandhi and the Sangh have always been quite dead.  In the Khilafat movement, Gandhi bent over backwards to please the Muslim leadership, he gave them a blank cheque, yet they didn't show any gratitude or sympathy, but rather intensified their anti-national commitments and their political separatism.  His attempt to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity by means of all-out appeasement was a dismal failure.  Yet, he kept on repeating the same approach for twenty-five years, and even after this had yielded Partition, he still kept on repeating it.  There is no indication that he ever did any introspection to correct this disastrous policy on the basis of the feedback which he was receiving from reality.  Once he had embarked on this course, he simply continued in the same orbit like any dead object in space subject to the law of inertia.

 

         Similarly, the Sangh is not learning from its experiences.  For example, to reassure its bonafide critics (e.g. foreign journalists who are not part of the secularist coterie but have interiorized its misinformation for lack of anything better) about the bogey of "Hindu fundamentalism", RSS and BJP spokesmen always plead that "a Hindu state cannot be anti-secular, it is a contradiction in terms" or that "Hinduism and theocracy cannot co-exist".[4]  They have been saying this for decades and keep on repeating it quite placidly, but to my knowledge, they have never ever checked whether the message actually came across. 

 

         As labels go, it would not be unfair to describe the Arya Samaj as "Veda fundamentalists", or Swami Karpatri and the Puri Shankaracharya as "Manuwadi fundamentalists", so India-watchers may have a point when they do conceive of the notion of "Hindu fundamentalism".  The RSS is certainly not a fundamentalist movement, is definitely not working for a Scripture-based law system, but the simplistic argumentation usually given, viz. that its being Hindu by itself excludes the possibility of fundamentalism, is just not the right one.  At any rate, nobody seems ever to have changed his mind under the influence of this plea.  The worst part of it is not that it fails to convince anyone, but that the Hindutva spokesmen have never even bothered to register this fact, much less to draw any practical conclusions from it.

 


 

             [1]  Gandhi's definition that "every good man is a Hindu" is a related example of Gandhi's propensity to replace the intellectual subtleties inevitable in a proper definition of something as complex as Hinduism with vulgar sentimentalism and simplistic moralism.  It also happens to be incorrect, e.g. Confucius was a good man but not a Hindu by any definition, while Ravana and Duryodhana were Hindus by any definition even though they are remembered as incarnations of evil.

             [2]  Organiser, 6/10/1996; emphasis added.

             [3]  Remark that the expression avoids the term "Hindu" (in contrast with Respect Hindu sentiments, the subtitle of the VHP's "Hindu agenda" issued before the 1996 Lok Sabha election campaign).  In his The Concept of Hindu Nation (p.2), Abhas Chatterjee relates how a "prominent political personage regarded by most people as a champion of Hindu Rashtra" (meaning L.K. Advani) prohibited an enthusiastic audience from raising the slogan: "He alone will rule this country who stands by the Hindu cause", and wanted the latter expression replaced with "the nation's cause". 

             [4]  Rama Jois: Supreme Court Judgment on 'Hindutva' (Suruchi Prakashan 1996), p.63.

 

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