In this exclusive interview, K.N. Govindacharya speaks about Narendra Modi, Hindutva and his plans for a new framework for India’s Constitution.
K.N. Govindacharya refers to himself as a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member, and modestly says that today he is only a foot soldier, one among the 40 lakh swayamsevaks who work on the ground to spread the Sangh’s Hindutva message. In the 1990s, though, he was the parivar’s celebrated ideologue who, in collaboration with mentor Lal Krishna Advani, shaped the BJP’s twin strategies of Ram mandir and social engineering. Indeed, journalists knew Govindacharya as the deceptively soft-spoken and friendly BJP strategist who would soon quit the party – which he argued had become an election-winning machine – to steer his own hardline path.
Today, away from the glare, Govindacharya is quietly working towards fulfilling his vision of ‘Bharat’ through the coalition group Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan. On the agenda are of course issues dear to the Sangh, such as cow protection and women’s role in society. But, importantly, the bigger project, with far-reaching implications for India’s future, is to rewrite the Constitution with a ‘Bharatiya’ emphasis. And this emphasis will necessarily take into account what he says is the “violent” nature of Islam and how it is irreconcilable with the “peaceful” orientation of Hindutva.
Govindacharya, who until recently was a bitter critic of Narendra Modi, seems to have become more accommodating towards the prime minister – also a one-time pracharak and a co-traveller during the ideologically transformative Ram janmabhoomi movement. This softening, as was clear during the interview, is because of the perception that the Modi government’s policies are increasingly in sync with the Sangh’s ideology.
In a free-wheeling conversation with The Wire, the former RSS pracharak spoke of the gradual but sure process currently afoot towards incorporating Bharatiyata into the country’s cultural consciousness. This process, he said, would prioritise people’s duties towards the nation over their rights.
What do you make of the BJP’s spin on the so-called ‘exodus’ from Kairana? Party chief Amit Shah indicated that it would be a key poll issue, when facts on the ground clearly contradict the claim of exodus.
The political responses in favour (of) or against the exodus cannot be seen in isolation, nor is it fair to blame one community or the other. What cannot be disputed though is the global nature of the turbulence in today’s world. Be it Islam or the markets, it is a global phenomenon with a global impact. So, whatever is happening in Orlando cannot be seen in isolation, it is happening in Kairana, even in Jammu and Kashmir .
What factors do you think are causing the distrust that you say exists in places like Kairana? Does the origin lie in the demolition of the Babri Masjid which shook the Muslims and made them feel insecure in their own country?
The appeasement (of Muslims) that happened during the Shah Bano case boosted the morale of the Islamic clergy here and that over-assertion led to reactions from the Hindus.
In other words, the so-called ‘appeasement’ has to be countered by deepening the distrust between Hindus and Muslims? Is this the BJP’s gameplan?
Blaming XYZ does not take us anywhere, this distrust is happening globally. How do you explain the recruitment of Indians in ISIS?
What about Hindutva terror groups? The Bajrang Dal is training with arms.
You cannot expect one community to be peaceful in the face of the other community’s belligerence.
What have you done to stop this action and reaction?
There were solutions in the 1990s which I was privy to. I initiated many dialogues. For instance, I sat with the government, in V.P. Singh’s time and we explored many alternatives during the Ram mandir dialogue. I gave several proposals to the so-called Muslim community leaders. We said the land is dear to Hindus, the structure to Muslims; so, with the technology available to us, I said we can shift the mosque brick by brick to another suitable location acceptable to them. They said it was not possible; then I proposed that, okay, let the structure be as it is, let it be covered till such time a decision can be taken and I proposed a structure above the mosque. They said it was not acceptable as the Babri mosque was a place of worship and it cannot have another structure above it.
Why is the Ram mandir so important, especially when it causes such divisiveness in society?
The question itself hurts. It is Rama’s birthplace and he is an embodiment of Bharatiya values. For any nation, its values and embodiment of values have to be venerated and if that doesn’t happen, then civilisation doesn’t march forward.
What about violence by Hindutva groups? Even assuming the Kairana ‘exodus’ is a fact – which it is not – is it not connected with the lynching of Akhlaq in a neighbouring district?
Our way of protest is different, we deal with it democratically and by peaceful methods, which is alien to Islam. Muzaffarngar (the region in UP rocked by communal violence leading to displacement of Muslims) also had so many (Hindu) grievances.
Are you justifying what happened?
For me, it is painful that Hindus have to resort to exodus in their own land.
Hindutva has forced Muslims into exodus or ghettos too and this is also their own land.
The important point is the rupture is there and it has to be noted and remedied. So many complaints have come from many parts of western Uttar Pradesh. The process of integration in the region has been disrupted over a period dating back to a 100 years. Let me explain: from 1707 to 1892, integration was proceeding apace because of the assimilating capacity of Hindu society. The year 1707 was the 10th year of Aurangzeb’s rule, 1892 was when the first riot broke out between Hindus and Muslims in Bijnor district in western Uttar Pradesh, provoked by British colonial masters who ruled by using one community against the other. Until then, the Hindu identity was acknowledged even by the British. For instance, in 1858, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, said he was a Hindu because the term Hindu was related to the land, not religion. But in the first census of 1861, people were recorded as Hindu, Muslim, Christian. Hinduism was brought on par with Islam and Christianity.
What are you suggesting?
We must make a difference between Semitic and other religions, for if there is an amicable atmosphere, the mode of worship doesn’t count for Hindu society. If one or two gods are added it does not bother Hindu society, but the Semitic religions which are proselytising religions definitely threaten the overarching national identity.
You are part of discussions to make the directive principles of the Constitution into fundamental duties.
We believe that Indian society and its cultural reality should be included in the Constitution. There may be many gaps which need deliberations, and a cool, calm, dispassionate discussion needs the right atmosphere and a mechanism. However, this is just not possible in the media glare.
Can’t constitutional changes come through parliament?
Maybe, maybe not.
How can that happen?
For instance, the 1946 constituent assembly was not instituted by the people who were in the interim government, it was initiated by the British at the start of the process in 1935. So the constitutional exercise also has its own background and naturally a dispassionate discussion on all that happened at the time is necessary.
How do you propose to do it?
(laughs) We will do it, we are doing it.
How are you starting the discussion?
First those who have studied the Constitution will come together. Then we will look at the social realities, and see how to incorporate them. For example, in ‘Bharatiya’ society, family is the basic brick of society, and as in the Cuban Constitution, it is not the individual but family values that are crucial. Likewise, the exercise will begin to see what all can be included; it should not just be confined to issues like reservation.
You don’t believe reservations help social mobility?
Yes, they help to a certain extent, and reservation may be important emotionally, but we must discuss what more can be done to help people. Just ‘right to education’ is not enough. What is the point of reservation, if people can’t access schools in those deprived regions? Even normal schools may not work there because of their occupational difficulties, so we’ve got to change the education system and bring schools that suit them.
Similarly, in the bureaucracy, we must focus attention on why, in the last 70 years, it has become insensitive, (focussed on the) status-quo, corrupt and so centralised. To understand all these aspects, some sub-committee should be formed, people should come together and discuss continuously, it is not a one-day exercise.
So, you are asking for a second constituent assembly, to take another look at reservations?
In which there is power to the people and veto for the poor. And as many Constitution framers have pointed out, merely a good document is not enough – fundamental duties, not just rights, must also be incorporated.
For instance, cow protection is in the directive principles, would you like it to be a fundamental duty/right?
Not merely a fundamental right, the plank has to be eco-centric not anthropocentric development. I mean not just rights of the cow, but a holistic view of zamin, jal, janwar, jungle; for only in this protection lies the well-being of man. All the five must have sacred rights, and this should not just be rights-based but duty-based, and not just be components of state power. The cow is part of our civilisational past and it reflects those values, it should be a civilisational continuity in the preamble. The cow, environment protection, all this requires constitutional protection. It is part of Hindu ethos, culture – like Bishnois who embrace death by hugging those trees, this all ‘Bharatiya’ culture. Instead of assuming man is conqueror of nature, it is the duty of humans to protect nature, and all this must be incorporated in the Constitution.
What is missing or lacking today?
Our constitution is so vague, non-specific and basically a continuation of western philosophies of Hobbes, Locke and Kant. It is individual-centric and focused on his physical wellbeing. Our civilisation goes back 4,000-5,000 years.
How long will it be before you come up with a framework?
In a couple of years.
See, I would not like to confine it to the electoral arena, I abhor that.
On the Modi government’s first anniversary last year, you said there was no difference between the National Democratic Alliance and United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Do you still hold the same views on Modi’s second anniversary?
I do not doubt the Modi government’s intentions and its grappling with the inert and insensitive bureaucracy and the problems arising from Centre-state relations. I’m no one to judge but I’d like to give it more time before judging its performance. Last year, I meant that there was a dialogue and trust deficit between the bureaucracy, legislatures and Centre. I also believed that their priorities are like the UPA’s, like smart cities and bullet trains, which is a view I still hold. I would rather the government focused more on decentralising food processing for instance, as agriculture, with its allied activities is the largest employer and best possible for many employment generation projects and it needs massive public investment.
You also pointed to the Modi government’s close proximity to industrialists? You had pointed at Adani.
At present, I think, more importance should be given to rein in corporates. As for Adani, there’s no need to emphasise on it, I’ve already said it… and I believe there is some distance now. I believe corporates should be reined in for several reasons. Take the call drop issue, the government should file a review petition in the court. The Supreme Court gave an adverse judgment on compensation and if the government feels the judgment was unfair, then it must come to the aid of consumers and go in appeal, which it has not done so far. Or, if the government feels the court was right, then it should come with an ordinance in the interests of the people. The government has done neither of the two, naturally questions arise in people’s minds.
But you are against ordinances. You disapproved the Modi government resorting to it in the Land Acquisition Bill for instance.
Ordinances are crucial sometimes, and here it is of urgency. The Telecom Commission continues to loot.
You shared a lot of time with Modi in the 90s, when both of you were pracharaks.
The prime minister is a very hardworking man and he’s trying his best to tackle the bureaucracy. We worked hard. I don’t remember much, it is so long ago, 16 years have passed since that time.
Do you believe that being a pracharak and a prime minister pulls him in different directions?
There is no contradiction in that. I don’t know what’s going on in his mind, but there is no tension or contradiction in this. I don’t think he has a problem here.
What is the relationship between Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat?
Frankly, I don’t know. It must be cordial.
What are the BJP’s prospects in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bengal?
It will have a ripple effect slowly, as it happened in 1977. It always takes five to ten years for a situation to mature.
The BJP was doing quite well in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where it seems to have faltered.
Yes, especially in Telangana, but again just counting the number of MLAs and MPs does not speak of the strength of the (Hindutva) movement.
How has your movement influenced the government?
If Rs 80 lakhs have been sanctioned for each gram panchayat for five years in this year’s Budget, it is very much in sync with our Swabhiman Andolan’s agitation. That 7% of the Budget should go as untied funds to panchayats is part of our vision. Likewise, if we talk of promotion and the role of cow and its progeny in agriculture, then the ministries of agriculture and animal husbandry are looking at improving quality breeds, plans are going ahead in research centres. For example, in Varanasi, there are seven-eight projects for cow breeding as well as low cost, low capital agriculture and research. Then (there is) the unique project in Kaneri, Kholapur, which presents the idyllic village life before the Mughals came, our advice is being heeded to. We are also organising farmers, women’s movements in states. Lots of things are going on.
You were once famously quoted as saying Prime Minister Vajpayee was a mask? It is ironical that Modi’s election campaign was so much about masks!
I deny I ever said that about Atal ji. However, both have qualities of their own.