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Journey of Hindutva in RSS: How the Sangh's Definition of the Concept Has Evolved

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

In 1923, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar coined the term in his book Essentials of Hindutva.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that those who ask Muslims not to live in India and lynch them in the name of protecting cows are not Hindus. Speaking at an event organised by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an RSS affiliate, Bhagwat said on Sunday that Hindus and Muslims were not different and so a concept like Hindu-Muslim unity was misleading.

“We are descendants from the same ancestors and please don’t fear that Islam is in danger in India,” Bhagwat added, saying we can’t be differentiated based on how we worship.

The RSS has seen the concept of Hindutva evolve over the years based on the country’s socio-political scene: from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s views who first defined the term, and how former Sangh chiefs, KB Hedgewar, Syama Prasad Mukherjee and MS Golwalkar later interpreted it, to its current explanation, a fact that reflects best in the words of Bhagwat.

The RSS chief said Hindutva was a common denominator for all Indians and not related just to a single caste, sect, or identity.

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“To us, it is the word expressing our identity along with the continuity of its spirituality-based traditions and its entire wealth of value system in the land of Bharat. Sangh believes that it is the word applicable to all the 1.3 billion people who call themselves the sons and daughters of Bharatvarsh. ‘Hindu’ is not the name of some sect or denomination, it is not a provincial conceptualisation, it is neither a single caste’s lineage nor the privilege of the speakers of a specific language. It is that psychological common denominator whose vast courtyard cradled human civilisation, that which honours and encompasses innumerable distinct identities,” he said.

‘Not a political concept’

While speaking at the RSS’s annual Dussehra event last year, Bhagwat maintained that when the Sangh said Hindustan as Hindu Rashtra and Hindutva as its essence, it only symbolised selfhood of the nation, of being an Indian, and it should not be seen as a political concept.

“When Sangh says Hindustan is Hindu Rashtra, it does not have any political or power-centred concept in its mind. Hindutva is the essence of this Rashtra’s ‘swa’ (selfhood). We are plainly acknowledging the selfhood of the country as Hindu because all our socio-cultural practices are directed by its principles, with their spirit percolating in the personal, familial, professional and social life of each one of us,” he said.

Bhagwat, in fact, extended on his earlier statements, a line of thought that first reflected in the RSS in the views of former Sangh chief Balasaheb Deoras. During the 2019 Dussehra event, he said Bharat was Hindustan, Hindu Rashtra, and the word Hindu was not confined to just those who call themselves Hindus. “Whatever may be their mode of worship, language, food habits, lifestyle, and native place, those will not make any difference,” he said.

In 2018, Bhagwat said there could be no Hindutva without Muslims while speaking during a three-day lecture series in Delhi organised by the RSS to explain its stand on various issues. “Hindu Rashtra does not mean there’s no place for Muslims. It is not at all so. The day it is said that we don’t want Muslims, it won’t be Hindutva," said the Sangh chief.

It began with Savarkar

In 1923, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar coined the term ‘Hindutva’ in his book Essentials of Hindutva. For him, the essentials of Hindutva were “a common nation (Rashtra), a common race (Jati) and a common civilisation (Sanskriti)".

KB Hedgewar, who founded the RSS in 1925 on Vijaya Dashmi day, advocated for a Hindu Rashtra. He was considerably influenced by Savarkar. He said Hindutva was Rashtriyata and Hindus formed the nation Bharat, according to Keshav Sangh Nirmata, a Hedgewar biography by CP Bhishikar. He said Indian Muslims considered themselves Muslims first and Indians only secondarily. They withdrew from the allied efforts needed for independence after the Khilafat movement saw a sudden death.

Khilafat was an Islamic movement from 1919 to 1924 by Indian Muslims to support the Caliphate and Ottoman Empire in Europe. The Congress supported the movement with nationwide civil disobedience and non-cooperation protests. But when the moment suddenly died with the abolition of Ottoman Empire and establishment of Turkey, Muslims decided to largely withdraw from the independence movement.

Syama Prasad Mukherjee, union minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet and founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, said in 1951 that the BJS was created to inculcate “Bharatiya culture" and nationalise all non-Hindus.

Golwalkar’s strident stance

MS Golwalkar, who was the RSS chief from 1940 to 1973, wrote in the book We or Our Nationhood Defined: “The foreign races in Hindusthan 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 loose (sic) 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."

He was particularly scathing with the 1947 Partition riots. “Has their old hostility and murderous mood, which resulted in widespread riots, looting, arson, raping and all sorts of orgies on an unprecedented scale in 1946-47, come to a halt at least now? It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan. On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundredfold by the creation of Pakistan which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country," he wrote.

From Deoras to Bhagwat

Madhukar Dattatraya Deoras or Balasaheb Deoras, the next RSS chief from 1973 to 1993, took a more evolved line in the post-Emergency situation in the country. He said the RSS did believe in a ‘one nation and one culture’ Hindu Rashtra concept, but the Sangh’s definition of ‘Hindu’ was not limited to any particular kind of faith.

He opened up the RSS to Muslim participation and tried to widen the organisation’s idea of Hindutva as is evident by this observation made in a book, Survey of Hinduism, by Klaus K Klostermaier: “We do believe in the one-culture and one-nation Hindu Rashtra. But our definition of Hindu is not limited to any particular kind of faith. Our definition of Hindu includes those who believe in the one-culture and one-nation theory of this country. They can all form part of the Hindu Rashtra. So by Hindu we do not mean any particular type of faith. We use the word Hindu in a broader sense.”

Though the RSS chief before Bhagwat, KS Sudarshan, from 2000 to 2009, was a hardliner and he said after taking over the post that the non-Hindus of India are not foreigners but ex-Hindus and “we need to Indianise their faiths", Bhagwat has followed and extended the line taken by Balasaheb Deoras.

This is a change of view that reflects in the views of another RSS chief, Rajendra Singh, alias Rajju Bhiaya, as well. Rajju Bhaiya held the post from 1994 to 2000. He backed former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s views on Hindutva in 2003 as broad, all-encompassing and forward-looking. He released a statement, saying, “Today once again a question has arisen that Hindutva is not a sect or religion. It is a way of life. The Supreme Court has also said the same in its verdict. Therefore, Hindutva and Bharatiyata are one and the same. Hindu Dharma is Manav Dharma (humanitarianism)."

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