The RSS was a natural child of the twenties. Like any organization, it reflected the ambitions and aspirations of a section of Hindu society of that time and was set up to meet a specific historical need. Since then it has grown and the growth has brought many alterations in its original character. Gramsci has remarked that ‘the history of a party … cannot fail to be the history of a given social class … from a particular, monographic point of view.’ But this is not how Malkani conceived his task when he set about to write The RSS Story. He has no historical sense, no understanding of the objective causes—the complex interrelation of objective social conditions and their subjective perception by a community or class that make a party or institution appear on the historical stage and grow. His conception of the RSS story is static and uncritically naive.
He tells his story in the familiar style of recounting a fairy tale. Once upon a time there was a man who was sad at the fallen state of his motherland. One day he set up an organization to retrieve the ancient glory of his country. Many ogres, averse to see the nation healthy and strong, denounced him vilely and heaped imprecations on his organization. But the organization blessed by gods, defended by angels and worked by saints has grown, from strength to strength and will triumph. It is because he tells his story according to such a framework that his book appears more like a work of fiction than authentic history.
Malkani writes as though engaged in a polemic against his imaginary critics and is more concerned with the parry and thrust of a heated debate than cool, rational analysis. Not that there is anything naturally objectionable about a polemic. If occasion demands it, it is a method with not a few virtues. But usually it is employed when the exigencies of winning a debate by any means have put into discount the intellectualist propensity to doubt, to ask, to probe, to ponder and to prove which goes into producing a well-researched book. However, as I am not aware of any such compulsion under which the author worked and as he never mentions it in the book, his very methodology defeats his purpose of writing ‘a handy introduction to RSS’. Thus we have a strange case of a book purporting to be informative and informed about its subject in which real problems are never posed, inconvenient questions adroitly evaded and burning issues so dealt with as to make them appear innocuous.
The RSS has often been accused of working under a shroud of secrecy. In the book Malkani disposes of the matter by referring to Guru Golwarkar’s rebuttal: ‘RSS is the only organization that works in the open. It is the only organization that functions daily on open public grounds’. Now surely no-one ever claimed that the RSS is a secret organization because it carries out mysterious activities on the ocean floor. Such a glib and facile way of meeting serious charges may be helpful when the object is to score debating points in an argument but not when, as the author claims, his intention is to enlighten the readers on the various aspects of his subject.
The allegations of secret nature of the organization stem from the fact that the RSS has never taken the trouble to clearly spell out its aims and objectives and how it is going to achieve them. And the charge which Guru Golwarkar’s explanation does not even appear to answer is precisely that thousands of young men who attend the RSS shakhas in the open have not the slightest inkling of what the RSS big wigs are up to. There is a strong urge to indulge in double-talk when it comes to define those essentials which constitute a party’s identity. Tomes of RSS literature (and it is also a characteristic of this book) instead of formulating their party’s programme and orientation in unambiguous rational terms dole out a few heady but empty slogans. An emphasis on a few catchy mantras which when critically explored reveal no meaningful content takes the place of a candid presentation of its philosophy.
All the RSS men have at one time or another talked of achieving their ‘historical objective’. And the programmatic content of this ‘historical aim’ has been encapsulated in the magical and meaningless slogan of ‘uniting the Hindu society.’ The idea is to build a modern nation on the basis of a religion. Even apart from the fact that the objective state of socioeconomic development of India in the 20th century renders it a quixotic notion, there is another shadow which falls between RSS dream and reality. Hindu religion throughout history has never been the vehicle of national cohesion in the sense of an influence working on top of and apart from castiest, regional and other such groups. It is this consideration that lends a different dimension to their programme and gives a political orientation to their task. For an organization to have the sense of having united the people under its banner, it is imperative to exercise political control with the help of repressive instruments of State. Only such a control can convince it of its success in having united the Hindus on the basis of religion.
However, an open avowal of such a reactionary political aim has its own hazards and ,thus its ideologues are compelled to resort to one vacuous term after another – from ‘cultural’ to ‘politico-cultural’ to ‘culturo-political’—when asked to define their party’s orientation. And amid this welter of vain excuses and coy denials, truth comes out when they are forced to speak truly as in an affidavit filed in a court, ‘The work of the RSS is neither religious nor charitable … It is akin to political purpose though RSS is not at present a political party.’ Or when you ponder over the meaning of some such confession as this by Dr. Hedgewar: ‘the RSS (has been) working to bring about a system of government in India resembling that of Chatrapati Shivaji.’ And above all, despite the screen of wordy barrage put up by them, the RSS ground practicelaunching of Jana Sangh as its political front, organizing women, labour, student and other bodies much as a party engaged in competitive electoral politics would do—tells a different story altogether and confirms its political ambitions.
The RSS is a communal organization. And Malkani’s apologia on this issue moves between two main points—(i) Hindu religion is the best teacher of secularism and a Hindu is a born secularist and (ii) the author complains that the pseudo-secularists tend to overlook the communalism of the Muslim bodies in their quest for votes. However, both these explanations are superfluous and do not touch the essential problem at all. It is true that Hindu religion in its original composition, history and practice differs in all major respects from Christianity and Islam. But this state of affairs is not to be attributed, as Malkani would have us believe, to any favour or reward that gods in their wisdom have bestowed on this deserving country. Religion, any religion, is not an absolute monolithic whole, without beginning or end, whose essential immutable substance the course of ages can neither wither nor stale. Rather, on the contrary, from its earliest beginnings as animistic aspirations of the collective consciousness of an isolated community to its growth as a state religion reflecting in a most ideal form the material conditions of life of its time and providing a sanction for them, is a specific socio-historical product developing and changing its substance with the march of history while maintaining intact with some minor modifications in its form.
The fact which is true only in a limited context that Hinduism has shown itself to be more tolerant to other faiths and creeds than, say, Christianity or Islam, is to be explained by the particular conjunction of socio-historical circumstances in which it came to maturity, how more primitive religious forms of early vedic and pre-vedic communities intermingled with it and influenced it and the special form which it assumed to play its historic role in the development of Hindu society and polity. Instead of explaining the special feature of Hinduism by the historico-specific development of ancient Hindu society, Malkani does the opposite and is perforce made to become a pedlar in myths, like those of a born-secular Hindu and of an innately secular Hindu society immunized against communal virus by some divine mechanism. These are myths that the very fact of RSS existence and expansion in Hindu society belie and contradict.
The tolerance and integrative temper of Hinduism that Malkani much admires is due to the fact that it never became institutionalized in the manner of Christianity and Islam. And though the RSS may not consciously admit it, what it seeks to achieve is just such a historic consummation of Hinduism which would deal it a mortal blow in its present form. This is how the passage of history transforms worshipful sons of today into death-dealers of tomorrow and in the very process of opposition, antagonists are flattered by unconscious imitation. However, the only thing amiss in their scheme of things is that they have arrived in history at least a millennium late.
On the second point of Malkani’s defence, I have to submit that the RSS communalism, though critically dependent on the Muslim communalism to grow, is largely independent of it. This is particularly the case after independence. The RSS is communal not only historically, but more importantly, organically. What is meant by this is that the communalism of the RSS is to be accounted for not by historical reasons alone, that is, the role of the Muslim League in pre-Independence years which shaped and conditioned its responses but an equal stress has to be laid on the independent, organic causes which make communalism the very life-breath of RSS, which emphasize that even after the disappearance of those specific, historical reasons, its communalism can and will remain a fact.
1f the Muslim League repudiated Hindu India the RSS has repudiated Muslim India. About 800 years of Indian history is a history of alien conquerors in the RSS book, a veritable dark period with scant achievements and Himalayan failing deserving not a legitimate mention but a furtive shameful glance by all authentic Hindus.
I have dealt with these two cases in such detail in order to show the cavalier treatment the author has accorded burning problems. He claims on behalf of RSS that one of its objectives at its inception was to win freedom from the British rule. The truth, as is natural with all such RSS claims, is exactly the opposite. It disowned any ‘political’ objective from the very beginning, a stance which in the particular context of its times meant shocking indifference to, if not timid acquiescence in the existence of foreign rule. In those years of confrontation it chose to turn its back on the only ‘religion of a slave people. Indeed, its ostensible aim of uniting the Hindus when translated into action in the political conditions of pre-independence days took the concrete form of opposing the Muslim League intransigence which brought it into conflict with the aims and aspirations of independence movement launched by the Congress under Gandhi:
At a time when Gandhi had challenged the British to face a strong, united India, organizations like the Muslim League among the Muslims and the RSS/Hindu Mahasabha among the Hindus served the British admirably by doing everything in their power to lend legitimacy to their concept of two nations. Communalism of the RSS fed on the communalism of the Muslim League and British Imperialism fed on both.
And this brings me to the chief mistake that the author has committed and which he even as a partisan should have avoided in order to carry conviction. He has made it appear as if the very destiny of India had come to depend on the RSS after it was formed. He spills a great amount of ink on proving how the RSS helped the Government of India in the immediate post-Independence days and how it almost saved India from being taken over by Pakistani mercenaries. It is sad that history only records that RSS men were put behind the bars for their patriotic services. The novel way in which he interprets the events of 1857 and after is so un-mitigatedly absurd that I would spare the reader the exasperation of going through them.
To conclude, the RSS story is a poor work distinguished neither by clarity of analysis nor honesty of expression. And from readers, the book deserves the treatment which one day history would accord the organization whose vainglorious pretensions it records—a firm push into oblivion.
Mukesh Vatsyayana is a freelance journalist.