A Short History of the RSS and BJP's Double Standard on Sedition

We have reached a stage where a Hindu's nationalism is never in doubt even if he debunks the Constitution, glorifies Gandhi's assassin and mourns India's independence; but a Muslim or Christian’s person's nationalism is always suspect.

Representative image. Credit: Reuters

Representative image. Credit: Reuters

On the eve of Independence Day, leaders of the All India Hindu Mahasabha in Meerut, located only 70 km from Delhi in western Uttar Pradesh, observed it as their 70th ‘black day’ by waving black flags and shouting slogans. They were also protesting against the secular nature of the constitution of India because they believe that India should be declared a Hindu Rashtra. The same leaders also observed Republic Day as a “black day” and danced to drum beats on January 30 to celebrate the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Vinayak Godse.

In December 2014, the same group was stopped by the police as they tried to install a bust of Godse to build a memorial for him. A newspaper report quoted Ashok Sharma, national vice-president of the Mahasabha, as saying that the All India Hindu Mahasabha has been observing Independence Day and Republic Day as Black Days for the past 69 and 66 years respectively. The report added, “arrests used to be made until 1987 when the courts prevented the police from doing so.” He also blamed Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru for the partition of the country.

So, we clearly have two sets of criteria for dubbing people seditious and putting them behind bars. Those who shout slogans in support of Afzal Guru, who never killed anybody and who was sentenced to death to satisfy the “collective conscience” of the people, are guilty of sedition and declared anti-national. On the other hand, those who glorify Godse, a convicted assassin who never denied that he had killed the greatest leader of India’s freedom struggle, Gandhi, are ‘Hindu nationalists’ who belong to a political party that was once headed by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a man whose Hindutva the present ruling party swears by. The BJP holds Savarkar in such great esteem that in 2003 it got his portrait installed in parliament facing that of Gandhi’s, the man he had conspired to kill. In any case, as far as the goal of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra is concerned, Savarkar and the RSS, the mother organisation of the BJP, are on the same page. They are also on the same page in their visceral hatred for Gandhi, although the RSS pretends to respect him.

When Syed Shahabuddin, who was then a Janata Party MP, called for a boycott in December 1986 to shun all official functions including the Republic Day celebrations of January 26, 1987, all hell broke loose. L.K. Advani, who had taken the reins of the BJP into his hands in 1986, demanded Shahabuddin’s expulsion from the Janata Party unless he apologised for issuing the call. Shahabuddin was projected as a modern-day Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Ironically, this took place the same year that the police stopped the arresting of Hindu Mahasabha leaders and workers for observing Independence Day and Republic Day as black days where they celebrated Gandhi’s assassination and glorified Godse. One did not see any condemnation of these activities emanating from Advani or any other BJP leader at the time.

When Nehru made the succinct observation that majority communalism can easily masquerade as nationalism, he hit the nail on its head. We have really come to such a stage that a Hindu person’s nationalism is never in doubt even if he debunks the constitution, glorifies the terrorist act of a committed assassin and mourns the country becoming a sovereign republic. But a Muslim or Christian’s person’s nationalism is always suspect, even if he swears by the constitution and expresses faith in the secular order. Savarkar and the RSS’s Hindutva recognises only those as genuine citizens of the country whose punyabhoomi (holy land) is India. This obviously excludes Muslims and Christians.

The canard that Gandhi and Nehru were responsible for India’s partition has become an article of faith with the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. Craig Baxter, who in 1969 published the first political biography of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the BJP’s earlier incarnation, informs us that “when independence came on August 15, 1947, the RSS proclaimed a day of mourning for the destruction of the “sacred indivisibility of Bharatmata”.”

In 1956, RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar clearly stated his organisation’s position, “Our motherland has been partitioned… We have to pledge resolutely not to rest content until we have wiped out this blot.” On August 17, 1965, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh passed a resolution at its meeting in Delhi, which stated,“India’s tradition and nationality has not been against any religion. Modern Islam should also not be an obstacle in the way of unity of Indian nation. Real obstacle is separatist politics. Muslims will integrate themselves with the national life and Akhand Bharat [undivided India] will be a reality, unifying India and Pakistan once we are able to remove this obstacle (separatist politics).”

In 2012, when Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister, he too spoke of an Akhand Bharat in an interview to Urdu journalist Shahid Siddiqui. As recently as December 2015, Ram Madhav, BJP’s general secretary and an important functionary of the RSS, told Al-Jazeera in an interview that he thought India, Bangladesh and Pakistan would one day re-unite to form Akhand Bharat. When his statement created a furore, he tried to wriggle out by saying that Akhand Bharat was a ‘cultural concept’.

However, when one looks at the collective history of the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and Savarkar, it becomes clear that the ideal of Akhand Bharat is nothing but a stick to beat Muslims with, all because a section of the community split from India to create Pakistan as their ‘homeland’. However, the reality is that much before Jinnah propounded his two-nation theory at the All-India Muslim League’s Lahore convention in March 1940, Savarkar laid out the theory in his seminal book Hindutva. The book was released in 1923 and he later enunciated it on December 30, 1937 in his presidential address at the Hindu Mahasabha convention. Without mincing words, Savarkar said, “There are two nations in the main: The Hindus and the Moslems in India.” A year later, he said: “the Hindus are the nation in India – in Hindusthan, and the Moslem minority a community.”

R. C. Majumdar, a great historian who never strayed from the fundamentals of his discipline despite his right-wing and pro-Hindu views, duly noted that the Muslim League took notice of Savarkar’s pronouncements, thus implying that Savarkar’s ideas played a role in pushing the Muslim League towards the realisation that Muslims could never get justice in a united India.

When India became independent and the subcontinent witnessed the communal holocaust, the RSS thought its moment had arrived since the atmosphere was conducive to spread its communal propaganda. However, the RSS suffered from a huge disability. As it had deliberately stayed away from the anti-British freedom movement, and had in fact supported the British during the Second World War when the entire Congress leadership was put behind bars, the organisation could exert no influence on the political decisions taken by those who came to power after the colonial rulers departed India. And, much to the RSS’s chagrin, the Congress leadership decided in favour of making India a secular country; unlike Pakistan that had come into existence as a religion-based country. At that time, the RSS and its fellow traveller Hindu Mahasabha could do nothing but mourn.

Now, the situation has undergone a fundamental change. The RSS is enjoying political power and the BJP, its subsidiary, enjoys a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha – it is in power in as many as eight states. This power has rekindled the RSS’s dreams and aspirations, although even now it knows that refashioning India into a Hindu nation is not such an easy task. However, with the RSS focusing on a long-term strategy, its ideologues are seriously finding ways to re-write India’s constitution. This is clear from the interviews given by K.N. Govindacharya and Ram Bahadur Rai, the chairman of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.

In view of all this, is it really surprising that Godse is being glorified, Gandhi maligned, Independence Day and Republic Day are being observed as days of mourning and the constitution is being openly flayed?