The arrest of an activist having links with the Sanatan Samstha has somewhat deflected attention from the cause of the arrest — the possible involvement in the murder of Comrade Govind Pansare — and instead focused attention on the Samstha and its activists. For those who are close observers of Maharashtra’s Hindutva politics, the Samstha, though shrouded in mystery, was not entirely unknown. Earlier, after Narendra Dabholkar was gunned down by unidentified assailants and then following the assassination of Pansare, progressive circles in Maharashtra had raised doubts about the involvement of some organization or activists from the larger body of Hindutva organizations. Sections of the Congress now claim that they did indeed want a ban on the Sanatan Samstha but the Centre (then under the same party’s leadership) did not heed. What we do not know is what the Congress as a party did on the ground to counter the propaganda of the Samstha.
In our contemporary world of ‘progressive’ and ‘Hindutva’ forces, the many nuances of both these positions are easily lost. The Sanatan Samstha would thus easily be clubbed together with many other pro-Hindutva organizations. A better way to situate this rather less known organization would be to trace the evolution of Hindutva politics in the state during last few decades.
Both for the general public and for many of the critics of Hindutva, Hindutva is only the ideology of a monolith led by the RSS. This generalization is understandable in view of the overall coordination and control of the RSS over most ‘Hindutva’ organizations. Many are allegedly floated by the members of the RSS themselves. However, in some key respects small outfits like the Sanatan Samstha have a niche existence that may not sit well with the larger and more common politics of Hindutva.
Attraction for pseudo-science
The RSS, under Guruji Golwalkar in particular, was inclined to an orthodox understanding of society and religion and held the pursuit of spiritual prowess in high esteem. There has always been an attraction towards pseudo-science among orthodox circles who claim that Vedic knowledge was not devoid of science and thus seek to explain many traditional practices and rituals in terms of their scientific utility. This orthodox variant of Hindutva was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of Hindutva propounded by Savarkar. Savarkar did not have much patience with orthodoxy and traditional practices. This was in part due to his rationalist approach but in greater part because of his understanding of nationalism as requiring complete unity and uniformity—one nation, one language, one costume, etc. Savarkar argued that a lack of strength is the main impediment of the Hindu nation and to overcome that, it was necessary to bury meaningless practices and divisions within the Hindu society. The more orthodox minded RSS variety of Hindutva could not so easily do away with tradition and traditional ways of organizing society or regulating culture. Also, Savarkar did not have much use for caste. The RSS at that time held caste to be a central principle of social organization of Hindu society.
Only in the 1970s did the RSS begin to transform under Balasaheb Deoras. Two things happened during that period. One, the RSS began to shed off its more orthodox identity and adopt a somewhat catholic approach to caste. Two, its engagement with politics increased and became visible. The fig-leaf of ‘cultural’ activity was set aside. This transformation also meant expansion of Hindutva politics among sections beyond the Brahmins.
The emergence of Hindutva groups
It was in late 1970s and the ‘80s that new militant outfits claiming Hindutva ideology mushroomed in many parts of Maharashtra; they propagated militant nationalism and an anti-Muslim stance, the usual Hindutva ideas, however, they targeted youth from semi-urban centers and mainly belonging to non-Brahmin communities. Hindu Ekata (Hindu Unity) and Patit Pawan Sanghatana were more prominent among them. In the course of time, activists from these were quietly amalgamated into the larger universe of Hindutva organizations in the state. This helped politics of Hindutva in the state to expand its social base and acceptability. During the 1990s, a sizable section among the Maratha community turned to the Shiv Sena and the BJP. This shift could be seen only as a tactical political move but still underscores the acceptability of Hindutva ideas among the newer leadership of the Maratha community.
While these momentous developments were taking place, the more orthodox elements had to lie low. We do not know what exactly happened to the core orthodox element. Some of them may have adapted to the new version but many must have remained somewhat flummoxed and frustrated over this ‘dilution’ of Hindutva into a contingent political project. Their idea of Hindutva certainly shared the anxieties over secular democratic politics with the other Hindutva organizations; but they were also worried over the distractions of power and wanted to operate strictly within the more traditional Hindu cosmology of social order, good and evil.
It is reasonable therefore to surmise that the orthodox core that was deeply uncomfortable with the political turn and also with the non-religious formulation of Hindutva may have chosen to follow its own path of formulating, propagating and acting on the basis of ‘true’ and original –Sanatan—idea of Hindu faith. This organization began work in the 1990s mainly in the regions bordering Maharashtra and Goa and hence it has good network of followers in Konkan and Goa besides parts of South Maharashtra, in Sangli district in particular. Not much is known about their activities through the mainstream media and their website is not very forthcoming, but they run a daily, Sanatan Prabhat and ever since the arrest in the Pansare murder case has happened, the Daily has been full of venom for the ‘anti-Hindu’ progressives, media and police etc. It makes instructive reading in order to understand the ideology and politics of the Samstha.
Sanatan Samstha is a curious mixture. Believing in the ultimate truth in Hindu religious faith, the Samstha also believes in the Hindu nation—thus mixing traditional beliefs with modern ideas. As per its calendar, the current phase is part of the Kaliyug (the dark ages) when true religion would be constantly under attack, sin would be prominent and a new incarnation of the almighty would be awaited for emancipation of mankind. The Samstha specializes in training the devotees in spirituality but the sadhana – study — it undertakes includes teachings about the contemporary moment in the light of a certain understanding of the universe. In fact, only recently, a Marathi daily has published extracts from the booklet of teachings that the Samstha propagates among its followers. Titled ‘Kshatradharm’ (Religion of the Kshatirya) the booklet gives pretty fearsome — though occasionally comic insights — into the thinking of the Sanatan Samstha (http://epaper.loksatta.com/598945/loksatta-pune/27-09-2015#page/6/2).
A strong belief in violence
That it divides the people among followers and enemies (the evil ones) is only one part of it. More important are the solutions it offers to ensure the victory of the followers over the evil ones. The Samstha clearly believes in violence as required for religious purposes. We do not know how widespread the teachings of the Samstha are among the general public or what exactly is the extent of its core following. This is something the state police may know. But for unknown reasons, the police – during the Congress-NCP rule — chose to sit on the information. Now, the state government is run by the BJP and the Shiv Sena and the latter has already come out in defense of the Sanatan Samstha, arguing argued that it would be wrong to ban or restrict the Samstha on presumption of guilt. Statements in support of the Samstha by many BJP workers have also been publicized in the Sanatan Prabhat. So, in the current political context, it would be even more difficult for the police to effectively unearth the networks and ideological moorings of the Sanatan Samstha.
But is the Samstha a fringe organization among the Hindutva network of organizations? The daily newspaper and the many other publications brought out by the Samstha are by no means confined only to Maharashtra. Publications in Hindi, Gujarati and Kannada are in circulation. So, the Sanatan Samstha and the thinking it expounds surely cannot be confined to only Maharashtra. This issue of its geographic spread takes opens up larger questions.
Hindutva is contemporarily taking multiple expressions. RSS and BJP represent the more political expression of Hindutva. VHP, Bajrang Dal or Sri Ram Sene represent the more militant platforms that might or might not work within the diktats of the RSS-BJP. However, the case of the Sanatan Samstha presents us with a more complicated reality. That reality consists of a more deep rooted but diffuse public sentiment favorable to traditional understanding of good and evil in religious terms, a traditional understanding of the Kshatriya ethic and therefore a more militant, more intolerant element within Hindu society, an element prone to violence as a religious necessity for preserving the traditional social forms and mores of behaviour. These public sentiments mean that Hindutva is more of a ground reality than its opponents care to accept; that however Brahmanical the understanding may be, its following extends much beyond the Brahmanical upper castes; and that RSS-BJP variant of Hindutva will have to accommodate this ‘sanatan’ Hindutva.
To put it in a somewhat clichéd manner, contemporary Hindutva operates in the Sawarkar-Golwalkar paradigm and whatever the apparent inconsistencies this paradigm may throw up, critics would be making a msitake if they take satisfaction from those inconsistencies instead of realizing that a clumsy compromise on questions of rituals and traditional understanding of society are only secondary to the idea of Hindu nation and its imagined enemies; what comes uppermost are ideas of a Kshatriya ethic (to be followed by all Hindus) and recourse to violence as a religious duty in times of Kaliyug. The opponents of this variety of Hindutva do not seem to have the ideological wherewithal to counter this paradigm from becoming a center of public sentiment because these opponents revel in antagonizing Hindus more than countering Hindutva.
The writer teaches political science at the Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune.