9. The Sangh as dinosaur


         The anti-intellectualism of the Sangh Parivar is a sufficiently serious problem to warrant a closer discussion.  The situation on the ground is that RSS men seldom sit down to do any thinking, but are always on the move.  As a US-based Hindutva activist told me: "When I make a phone call to an RSS office-bearer in India, he will most often not be in the Delhi office, not in Nagpur or another town, but somewhere on the way."  And the wife of a BJP stalwart told me: "Being on the way from one place to another is a status symbol among RSS men."  With all this physical locomotion, little time and occasion is left for concentrated mental work.


         The Sangh has a basic commit­ment to India and to Hindu culture, but beyond that, its ideological position is hazy and undeveloped, and therefore mal­leable in the hands of ideologically more articulate forces.  It has been more influenced by dominant polit­ical currents and intel­lectual fashions, often emanating from its declared enemies, than one would expect from an "extremist" movement.  Like in the Congress and Janata parties, quarrels within the BJP are never about ideology.  As ex-insider Balraj Madhok writes in a comment on the Gujarat quarrels: "Personal differences rather than ideolog­ical factors lie at the root of the rifts within the Sangh Parivar."[1]


         To an extent, the BJP has its lack of ideological sophis­tication in common with all non-Communist parties, most of all with Congress.  A few recycled old slogans, a picture of its long-dead leaders, some material presents for the voter (ad hoc food subsidies, writing off farmers' loans), and there you have a complete Congress election campaign.  Mutatis mutandis, the same is true for most parties.  The simple slogans on the outside are not the summary of a profound and complica­ted programme too esoteric to trouble the voters with (as in the case of the Communists).  The surface is all there is to it, at least as far as ideology is concerned. 


         This ideological hollowness is merely the ap­plication to politics of a more general superficiality afflicting India's public discourse.  An example is the politics of Sikh identity: given the Vaishnava contents of Sikh scripture and the unmis­takable Hindu self-identification by Sikh leaders from Guru Nanak through Guru Tegh Bahadur and Maharaja Ranjit Singh down to Master Tara Singh (a co-founder of the VHP), the "separate iden­tity" in which radical neo-Sikhs have invested so much, includ­ing political separatism and a long decade of bloodshed, amounts to nothing more than beards, turbans and steel bangles,-- pure externality, an insult to the human intellect.[2]


         Sri Aurobin­do, the Freedom Fighter and philoso­pher, already said it: "I believe that the main cause of India's weakness is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or Dharma, but a diminution of thought-power, the spread of ignorance in the motherland of Knowledge.  Everywhere I see an inability or unwilingness to think -- incapacity of thought or 'thought phobia'."[3]  The great ailment of India today is the decline in think­ing power.  The crudeness of contemporary political thought in India, once the cradle of great pioneers in abstract and social sciences, is a sad sight, especially considering that in other fields, such as business and the exact sciences, Indians are already recovering their ancient great­ness and showing their acumen again.  


         To this general atmosphere of intellectual sloppiness, the RSS has contributed its own wilful anti-intellectual prejudice.  The perception from which Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (RSS supremo 1925-40) started his RSS project was that Hindu society essentially had everything, even the best of everything, certainly also in intellectual culture, and that the only thing it lacked was or­ganization.  It is debatable whether lack of organization was a factor in the historical defeat of Hindu princes by Muslim invaders and British colonizers, but for the interbellum period, this analysis possibly had its merits.  And so, the RSS put all its eggs in the single basket labelled Hindu sangathan/"o­rganization" (hence its weekly's name Or­ganise­r). 


         Hedgewar's successor Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1940-73) despised intellectual pursuits, and when he saw RSS people reading books or newspapers, he would ask them if they had "nothing useful to do for the Sangh?"  When I mention this to RSS activists, they protest that there are many doctors, engineers and scien­tists in the RSS, and some of them recount as their personal experience that Golwalkar had encouraged them in their studies.  Alright then, let me rephrase my position as follows.


         Golwalkar, who had been trained as a biologist, shared with many people from the exact sciences a dismis­sive incomprehension for the humanities, the disciplines in which critical thinking is practised.  Secondly, he shared with many spiritual-minded people a skep­ticism of the power of the intellect as compared to that of supposedly deeper layers of consciousness.  Thirdly, he shared with many activists a distrust of sterile cerebration with its tendency to paralyze people's power to act.  And fourthly, he shared with many Hindus a disgust with the traitorous role of the Communists, intellec­tuals all of them, in the British suppression of the 1942 Quit India movement and the Partition of India.  Hence the rhetorical question of many RSS people: "What good was ever done by intellec­tuals?"


         RSS people often tell the story of the Pandit who crosses the river and asks the boatman if he ever studied philosophy: "No?  Then half your life is wasted!"  But when the boat starts to sink, it is the boatman's turn: "Pandi­tji, have you studied swimming?  No?  Then all your life is wasted!"  And then they have a good laugh, satisfied at having proven how useless intellectual effort is.  But fact is: in the modern world, the equivalent of "swimming" in the story, the skill necessary to disentangle yourself from the impasse and reach the goal, is not the physical locomotion at which RSS officials are so good.  Among the skills needed for successful social and political action today, we should include the art of collecting and analyzing information, and the art of formulating and advertising viewpoints.  Not the intellectuals, but the RSS itself acts like the pandit in the story who had spurned mastering the art of swimming.


         In fairness, it must be conceded that for all its anti-intellectual bias, through its dedicated investment in grass-roots work involving enormous personal effort of several millions of people, the Sangh Parivar has unmistakably succeeded in establishing an impressive presence among the common people.  Also, it must be said that some RSS leaders, par­ticularly its new sar-sangh-chalak, Prof. Rajendra Singh (1994--, successor of Balasaheb Deoras 1973-94), have understood the folly of this anti-intellec­tual prejudice, and now exhort their workers to do some reading.  The newer publications are also less shabby-looking and better written than the handful of pamphlets which constitutes the whole of RSS literature produced in the first seventy years.  In particular, the Organiser has definitely gained in informative reliability and intellectual depth under Seshadri Chari's editorship.  In the margin of Sangh, some local groups have started to process information and disseminate ideas, such as the Vigil group in Chennai and the Hindu Vivek Kendra in Mumbai.  But the conse­quen­ces of this long-standing policy of mindless activism are bound to run their course for some more years.


         The Sangh's wilful mindlessness reminds me of a Chinese story about a man who equipped himself for a journey to the south.  He bought the best chariot and horses, hired the best charioteer, and went to the imperial highway which crossed the empire in north-south direction.  There, he gave directions to his charioteer, and off they went.  At a stop along the way, someone asked him where he was going.  "To the south", he said.  "But this way you will never get there", said the stranger.  The man replied: "Come on, how can you say I will not get there?  This is the best road in the empire, why should it not take me there?"  But the stranger said: "You will not get there, because you are taking the direction to the north."  The man insisted: "But these are the finest horses, and this is a brandnew chariot, most certainly they will get me there."  The stranger said: "But they will not get you to the south if you take this direction."  The traveller got tired of all this nitpicking: "My charioteer is the best in the empire, so how can you say that he will not get me to my destination?  Look, this is a sterile discussion, I must be on my way."  And off he drove, on the best road, with the best equipment, at full speed, yet he never reached his destination.


         Indeed, when you ask RSS office-bearers to evaluate their own performance, they will boast that they have such a neat scheme of character-building, such a fine organization, so many well-trained and dedicated cadres, such a wide range of activities and front groups.  Alright, but where is this impressive organizational machinery going?  Do they know enough about Hinduism to understand why it should be defended in the first place?  The standard shakha teachings about "patriotism" may fail to teach them much about the specific qualities og Hinduism.  Do they know enough about Hinduism's enemies to defeat or even simply to recognize them?  Without a proper analysis, this vast network of shakhas and front organizations is but an army of sleepwalkers.


         I propose to conclude with another metaphor, which came up during a discussion I had with Dina Nath Mishra, a journalist close to the RSS: "The RSS is a big dinosaur with a small brain."  I don't think I misrepresent Mishra's opinion when I say he agreed with this remark.  His practical conclusion was: the thing to do is not to build up an alternative organization, but to "infuse some brain into the dinosaur".



             [1]  B. Madhok: "A Question of Power", Indian Express, 29 October 1995.

             [2]  The desire to fill up the doctrinal emptiness of non-Hindu neo-Sikhism has led to the superficial adoption of British secular or Christian viewpoints (from anti-Brahminism to the Protestant doctrinal slogan of "the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of men", quoted by Khushwant Singh as the essence of Sikhism) and the redefining of Sikh concepts after an Islamic model, e.g. the ten Gurus as prophets, the Granth as "revealed scripture", the hukumnama as fatwa, the dharm yuddh as jihad.  

             [3]  Spoken in April 1920; quoted in Abhas Chatterjee: Concept of Hindu Nation, p.67.









Book Reviews


Dutch Articles








VOD Authors

VOD Home