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Home > 2023 > India 75 Years of Republic - Rise of Sectarian Nationalism | Ram (...)

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 7, February 11, 2023

India 75 Years of Republic - Rise of Sectarian Nationalism | Ram Puniyani

Friday 10 February 2023, by Ram Puniyani


by Ram Puniyani


India’s struggle for Independence was an inclusive movement. The underlying values of this mass movement were democracy and secularism. “India: Nation in the making” summed up the transition taking place, the transition which not only included the modern industries, administrations, education, Judicial system along with dalits and women taking to education, modern education. The values inherent in this, one of the greatest mass movements in the World were those of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity with Social justice. These became the underlying principles of Indian Constitution.

The communal forces which were opposed to these social and political changes did not cease to exist. While Muslim communalism was deflated in India, it became the dominant ideology of Pakistan. In India the Hindu communal politics became more assertive by and by. Its first major act was killing of the ‘Father of the nation’, Mahatma Gandhi. The propagation of misconceptions leading to ‘Hate’ against religious minorities started picking up and led to the beginning of communal violence, which continued and assumed more dangerous proportion in due course. Jabalpur (1961), Gujarat (1969). Meerut, Malyana, Bhagalpur in the decade of 1980s was to be followed by Mumbai-Surat- Bhopal (1992-93), Gujarat (2002), Mujjafarnagar (2013) and Delhi. These were primarily directed against Muslim community.

The ‘one go’ anti Sikh violence of 1984 was harrowing in its degree. Anti Christian violence began with 1999 brutal killing of Pastor Graham Stains and was followed by Kandhamal (2008). Sub Radar anti Christian violence continues unabated.

While the republic began with focus on education (IITs, chain of Universities and schools), Industries (Bhilai, Durgapur, Raurkela steel plants) irrigation (Bhakhra Nangal, Nagarjun Sagar etc.) research institutes (BARC, CSIR), chain of health care (AIIMS, Primary Health centers),focus on freedom of expression, free press (Barring eighteen harrowing months of Emergency) putting the judicial and legal system among others. The growth indices started coming up in a slightly less than satisfactory manner.

The direction of politics, and focus on priorities was to change. The retrograde step of Shah Bano Judgment gave the pretext and boost to the communal agenda. While the issues related to development and rights took a back seat, the emotive issues related to religious identity started being thrown up. These intensified the violence, the communal divides in society. The hard earned fraternity during medieval times (Bhakti-Sufi) and during anti-colonial struggle started being pushed back and “Say with Pride we are Hindus”, “Muslims have only two places to be graveyard or Pakistan”, “Christian missionaries are converting through force, fraud or allurement” came to the fore and became part of social common sense.

The increasing communal divides provided the fertile ground for Hindutva Nationalism; Hindu rashtra became the part of popular vocabulary, with those having the ideology of this nationalism, gradually occupying more and more seats of political power. There was a talk of doing away with Indian Constitution and bringing back the values based on Indian Holy books.

Social agenda of dominant communal party by and by took up issues which will polarize the society, Ram Temple, Cow-Beef, Love Jihad, Forcible conversions, Ghar Wapasi, Article 370; Pakistan as main ‘enemy’, large Muslim families etc. In election campaign of Gujarat (2003), Modi was contrasted with Pervez Musharff (Pakistani dictator) on the posters. Babri Mosque demolition and the consequent judgment made it clear that the political landscape of the country is totally going in reverse gear. The lynching in the name of Cow and beef were the frightening chapter of our republic with close to hundred cases of lynching, mainly of Muslims and partly of dalits. The merciless beating of dalits in Una revealed the dark underbelly of our society. Love Jihad aims not only to demonize Muslims but also aims to bring patriarchal norms to control the lives of girls/women.

Lately many types of Jihad have been propagated. The ‘Corona Jihad’ was probably the limit to which sanity can be kept in margins to promote divisive agenda. The Muslim communalists are also responding in a way which gives pretext to majoritarian communalism.

Meanwhile at ideological level so far Hindu Rashtra has been the main stay of this sectarian nationalism. Now a more mystical notion of ‘civilizational nation’ is being propped up. The argument is that a civilizational nation like India cannot be bound by the Constitution. Many other retrograde fundamentalists in other countries are also arguing on these lines. The basic part of civilizational values is the elite norms, the one which uphold the hierarchy of caste and gender, glorification of past Hindu rulers and attributing all developments of science and technology to the past in India.


Present Political-Social Scenario

The decades of 1980s saw a shift in the language of political discourse. Starting with Ram temple movement, which came in the form of rath yatras and culminated in the demolition of Babri mosque, it also saw an intensification of communal violence and broadening and deepening of myths-misconceptions against religious minorities. Accompanying this onslaught was a whole set of ‘understandings’, myths and stereotypes about minorities, challenge to the prevalent notions of secularism, personal laws and the very concept of nationalism itself.

The rising communal phenomenon challenged the concept of Indian nationhood and propagated that ‘ours is a Hindu nation’. The weaknesses in the practice of secularism were attributed to the defects in the concept of secularism. Secularism is being branded as a Western concept, unsuitable for the Hindu India. It was asserted that this notion has been the cause of weaknesses of Indian society. (1) It has led to appeasement of minorities at the cost of interests of Hindus. The major project of the communal forces was to occupy the social space, in which the myths about minorities, their loyalty to India were questioned along with an increased intimidation and violence against them.

Over a period of time the demonization of minorities went on increasing. On one hand the Muslim minority was labeled as anti National, violent, conservative, sticking to separate laws for themselves, and also that they are terrorists, as demonstrated by the acts of Al Qaeda, Bin Laden and what have you. There is a whole list of such malicious accusations against the Muslim minority and this list has been made the part of ‘social common sense’, the manufactured myths have been made the base of societal thinking at large.
(2) These deeply set notions provide the fertile ground on which the communal violence can be orchestrated and has been stalking the streets.
Linked with the issues related to medieval history, places of worship, Ayodhya temple and whole lot of things came up in a menacing way, rupturing the communitarian bonds between the majority community, and the two big minorities, Muslims and Christians. The communal historiography introduced by British did look at Indian history from the view point of religion of the ruling Kings. (3) It did help them to sow the seeds of ‘divide and rule’ and plant the stereotypes which strengthened the communal political streams, Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha- RSS, during freedom struggle. It left many a sore points which are currently playing havoc with the social amity, providing the much needed ammunition to these forces. The whole Ram Temple movement is a sad reminder to this fact.

The issue of conversions in the history, conversion to Islam was supplanted by the threat currently being projected, the one of conversion to Christianity. Many a state governments rushed to pass legislations to ban the conversions, leading to intimidation of Christians in general and Christian missionaries in particular. (4) The very concept of secularism, religion being a private matter, came under the chopping block of communal politics. The language and intent of this politics was not easy to make out at the surface. The most visible part of this started getting its manifestation in the regular occurrence of violence.

Communal Violence

Amongst the saddest incidents of these, the society helplessly witnessed the ghastly post Babri violence of Mumbai and Surat. It saw the brutal burning of Pastor Graham Stains on the charge that he is converting the gullible Adivasis into Christianity and that he is a threat to Hindu religion. Nation also painfully witnessed the state sponsored anti Muslim pogrom of Gujarat of 2002 and later the Muzzafarnagar violence (2013) on the pretext of ‘love jihad’. We already had seen the ghastly anti-Sikh violence in 1984. All this hit the social psyche in no uncertain terms, at the same time polarizing the society along the religious lines and ghettoizing the minorities at places. (5)
The deeper agenda of this politics, that of suppressing the human rights of weaker sections of society, Dalits, women, workers, adivasi and minorities also started getting visible by and by. The manifestations of this were quite different in different cases but the result was there for all to see and feel in the form of gross abuse of Human rights of these sections of society. To add salt to the communal wounds, the real culprits, the organizers of pogroms, the ethno-preneueres, unleashing the violence through their ‘foot soldiers’, have rarely been given the punishment. The reports of most of the inquiry commission reports indicate towards forces behind the carnage, but as the matters stand these individuals are too powerful to be convicted and the role of police and judiciary is also not above board as for the convicting the guilty of the riots are concerned. (6)

The NDA governments coming to power in different stretches of time gave official facilities and space to process of communalization. The peak of this was visible in the form of withdrawing the NCERT text books written by rational and progressive authors in the decades of 70s and 80s, to replace them by the ones’ written from the angle of communal interpretation of events, which surely would have the divisive effect on the Nation as a whole. After 1998, now the BJP came to power with a simple majority and this time (2014 onwards) it is unfolding its agenda in a blatant way. (7) All the progeny of RSS are talking in a language; which is very intimidating to religious minorities, all those opposing the RSS agenda are dubbed as anti National and an atmosphere against them is being created.

The murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi showed that the intolerance in society is growing. Many eminent citizens returned their national honors. They were dubbed derogatorily as ‘award wapasi’ gang. (8) This has been followed by attack on the autonomy of our Universities. New emotive issues are being created around nationalism, Vande Mataram and Bharat mata ki jai. The tall promises made before elections are nowhere in sight and the economic conditions are worsening. An atmosphere of divisiveness is being created through various issues which have no relation with our social and economic issues. The condition of dalits is reflected in the fate of Rohith Vemula and University autonomy is being trampled all around. (9)
There are serious and profound analyses of these phenomena, of its Indian vehicle, the Hindutva and the associated aspects related to law, sociology and most of the disciplines, which help us understand this divisive politics. While the outstanding academic worth of these contributions is laudable, the conduit of reaching these understanding to the average person of the society has been lacking so far. Human rights groups have been grappling to develop these techniques, content and form of the ideas, which need to be taken at popular level.

The social common sense has by now totally come under the grip of these ideas and to combat them head-on is not an easy process. To compound the problem we do not have adequate simple literature which can be useful in this direction. Lately some groups have been focusing on this need of simplifying the concepts, without diluting the content. These have come in the forms of exhibitions, documented lectures, small booklets, Illustrated Primers to name the few.

Rise of Nationalism and Communalism: India from Kingdoms to Colonial State 

Nation States are a modern phenomenon. Earlier Kingdoms were the norm. Nation States succeeded the kingdoms first in Europe, nearly five centuries ago. Kings were authoritarian rulers with network of feudal lords; agriculture was the main production. In India the different Kings ruled in various parts of the country. There was no single King ruling all over the area which we call India today. The empires of some Kings was very large, Ashok in early India and Mughal Empire in Medieval India had large parts ruled by them. Agriculture was the main source of production and crafts were supplementary production. Over time nascent crafts got organized as guilds and later into industry. Nation States are modern phenomenon with varying patterns of political organization. Generally Nation states tend to aspire towards democratic formations based on ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ is the foundation of these political formations.

Those countries which industrialized early went out to colonize other countries, especially in Asia, Africa and South America. India was colonized mainly by British, small portions by Portuguese and French. The British ‘plunder project’ aimed at taking away the raw materials from here and creating markets for their goods. (10) For this, they set up new ventures here in agrarian, commercial and industrial areas. In this, Indians first acted as subordinates but soon took to modern technologies and a new class of merchants, bankers, landlords, industrialists, plantation owners and brokers came into being. Introduction of English education in 1835 was meant to produce a class of clerks and administrators.

This changing social dynamics laid the foundation of two types of ‘nationalisms’. Prior to this concept of nationalism was absent. By that time nationalism was dominant phenomenon in Europe. Let’s note that “In India the horizontal division of caste and the vertical division of religion were more important than those of race.”(11) With newer classes emerging due to changes brought in by British the old classes of Landlords and Kings also continued but as ‘declining classes’. This was in contrast to the European states where the rise of new system also ensured the wiping out of landlordism. In India these two types of social groups continued. From the newer, ‘rising classes’ emerged Indian nationalism and from the ‘older declining’ classes nationalism in the name of religion came up. This Nationalism in the name of religion took the form of Muslim Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism. Education among dalits and women was most important accompaniment of ideology of rising groups, this fed into ‘India as the nation in the making’.

Social and Political Changes:

At social level this changed scenario formed the backdrop for rise of different reform movements and new associations and unions of economic, social and political nature on the western pattern. In due course, the intelligentsia started demanding widening of franchise, simultaneous examinations for administrative services with centers in India, Indianization of services and so on. The emerging industrialists supported them adding their own demands for increased facilities for industrialization in India. A spirit of Indian consciousness, Indian Nationalism, started emerging for the first time and this was due to a combination of various factors like material demands of newly emerging classes like professionals, businessmen and industrialists.

Modern education, communication, railways, telegraphs, free press, hatred for British racial arrogance, economic exploitation, weaknesses of judiciary were some of the features of the changes occurring at that time. British rule and the process unleashed by them were pregnant with contradictory processes. Free press created a strong impetus for the rise of national consciousness. (12) This led to the formation of many local and regional associations aimed at voicing the grievances of emerging elite and projecting the vision of ‘nation’. Some of these associations were the Bombay Association, Madras Natives Association, Pune Sarvajanik Sabha and Madras Mahajan Sabha. These associations held several major meetings and one such meeting took place in Calcutta in 1883 which was the precursor of the formation of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885.

Indian National Congress:

“The formation of Indian National Congress (INC) was not a sudden event, or a historical accident. It was culmination of a process of political awakening that had its beginnings in 1860s and the 1870s and took a major leap forward in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The year 1885 marked a turning point in this process, for that was a year the political Indians, the modern intellectuals interested in politics who no longer saw themselves as spokesmen of narrow group but who saw themselves as representatives of national interest against foreign rule, as a ‘national party’.” (13) Indian National Congress expressed the ambitions of these associations and rising classes and sought holding of Indian Civil Service exam in India, more facilities for industry and commerce and land reforms. The basic principles of INC were eradication of race, creed and provincial prejudices, and encouragement of natives in the political process. This represented inclusive secular nationalism. Right from beginning Congress had the plural base as reflected in its Presidents, Badruddin Tyybaji, Surendranath Bannerjee, Dadabhai Nawroji, to name the few.

About INC, Prof. K.N.Panikar makes a very interesting observation. He writes, “Indian National Congress at the time of its formation described itself as a platform for coming together of the people of India. The conditions for ‘coming together’ were indeed occasioned by the colonial rule; but Indian Nationalism was not dispensation of colonialism. Its emergence was not because of but in spite of colonialism. It was not a movement which was purely oppositional, but one which addressed the tasks of Nation-building” (14)

Communal Streams

In response to this, Sir Syed and Raja Sheo Prasad of Kashi formed United India Patriotic Association in August 1888. (15) Some of the aims of the Association were: to convey to the British that all communities and aristocracies were not with the Congress; to convey the views of Hindu and Muslim communal organizations to the British Parliament; to strengthen the rule of British in India and to wean away people from Congress. Many people connected with this Association later became part of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha.

The changes, where people from different walks of life started coming together, taking place on the political firmament were described by Surendranath Banerjee as ‘India is a nation in the making’meaning thereby that it is a representation of common interests of Indian people against the colonial power. (16) This also meant the coming of modern state in contrast to the era of kingdoms. At this time reformers like Ram Mohan Roy were asking for abolition of abominable practices like Sati. Phule was calling for taking to modern education and Savitribai Phule and Pandita Ramabai took up the cause of women’s education. Phule also laid the foundation of a Non-Brahmin movement against the social power of Landlord-Brahmin nexus. Later Babasaheb Ambedkar was to pick up the threads of this movement and struggle for the rights of the untouchables. These are major components of Indian Nation. (17)

British historians used the categories Hindu, Muslim, Brahmin etc. Indian historians picked up only two of these categories, Hindu and Muslim. Sometimes Indian leadership used religious consciousness to inculcate modern nationalism among the people, e.g. Ram Rajya, Khilafat.

Freedom Movement

This organization was at the forefront of National movement, which was anti-colonial on one hand and which united the people of the country on the other. It was leader of the mass movement. It was a large and prolonged movement. It acquired the mass character, ‘A movement acquires mass character only when it expresses the creative genius and energies of the people. The Indian nation through its successive phases, from 1885 to 1947, was able to absorb the historical energies of almost all sections of the Indian people in almost all the regions of the country.” (18)

This movement began with the intellectuals and businessmen in late 19th Century and gradually reached out the broad sections of the Indian people. Gandhi gave the real mass character to the movement through his inspiring leadership more so with non-cooperation movement of 1920s where average people became part of the struggle. Its various phases gradually involved different sections of people. Through the Swadeshi movement, large number of students and middle class people became part of this. This was initially in Bengal and later others from different states joined in. In anti-Rowlatt Act Satyagrah and non-cooperation movement the sections so far untouched in different parts of the country became part of this. And the fire of nationalism engulfed peasants, lower-middle classes, youth, women, workers and artisans as well.

Next to this, Civil Disobedience movement of 1930 resulted in deeper penetration of movement for freedom all through the country. The leadership of Gandhi was instrumental in uniting the people irrespective of their narrow differences. (19) From also dalits started emerged as the mass movement, led by Ambedkar. The joining in of NWFP, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was a big marker for all inclusive nature of our movement. With Quit India movement coming in 1942 even the state officials started helping in the cause of freedom.

Communal Streams:

In contrast to the inclusive character of freedom movement the exclusive nature of communalists, Muslim and Hindu both, was very obvious. Rise of communalism was a very complex process. As seen above it had its roots in the feudal lords-kings of princely states. (20) The colonial policy whereby landlordism persisted led to the rise of communal organizations in due course. In contrast Indian nationalism came up from ‘rising classes’ and was represented in INC along with other organizations and tendencies representing the interests of workers, dalits and women. In summary communalism arose due to the politics of Muslim and Hindu feudal lords and Kings. This politics was reflected in Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh (RSS). British policy of ‘divide and rule’ assisted the rise of these organizations.

Roots and Growth of Communalism

In India a stagnant secularization process (abolition of power of landlords and associated clergy), that is separation of religion and politics, has been due to (1) Slow development of economy (2) Competition between Hindu and Muslim elite, landlords (3) Weak business class vis-a-vis feudal lords and (4) British policy of divide and rule.

Communalism is a belief or ideology according to which all people belonging to one religion have common economic, social and political interests and these interests are contrary to the ones of those belonging to another religion.  It is essentially a use of religious identity for political mobilization. It is a politics wearing the cloak of religious identity.

Prof. Bipan Chandra (21) identifies three stages (degrees), discernible in the development of Communalism:

a. Mild: People following same religion have similar interests
b. Moderate: Dissimilarity of interests followed by people of different religions
c. Extreme: Interests of people following different religions are antagonistic to each other, based on fear and hatred of other religions.
Asghar Ali Engineer points out that ‘Religion is not the fundamental cause of communalism; it is only an instrumental cause. Fundamental cause of communalism is political. Religion is used as an instrument as it has great emotional appeal and hence has mobilizatory potential” (22)

Basis of communalism 

The basis of communalism is competition in feudal society is favor/reward and succession. Communalism is a modern phenomenon. It is an attempt of feudal classes to protect their interests and ideology in the society which is becoming industrial. In colonial/modern society communalism, religion’s identity is used for mobilization of communities in the name of religion.
In India, the slow pace of transition to full-fledged industrial society was due to colonial set up. The colonial set up resulted in consolidation of religion/caste based identities. Due to limited job market, the competition was based on religion/caste politics which is (a) handy to hide the economic frustrations, (b) projected to be the source of ‘real miseries’, and (c) masks the relationship between exploiter-exploited. Sometimes religious/caste distinctions coincide with economic distinctions. For example, exploiting sections like landlords, moneylenders and merchants were upper caste Hindus and the exploited people were poor peasants and landless laborers belonging to low castes or Muslims.

The relationship between personal religious belief and political ideology can be very diverse. Savarkar and Jinnah were non-religious and communal while Gandhi and Abul Kalam Azad were deeply religious and non-communal. Bhagat Singh was atheist and secular, Nehru was agnostic and secular.
Muslim communalism was expressed mainly through Muslim League while Hindu communalism got expression through Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. Some communal elements entered Indian National Congress also.

Hindu Nationalism: Roots

The declining sections were feeling threatened due to the social changes. To hide their social decline, they projected as if their religion is in danger. They also did not like the standing up to the colonial masters by Congress, which had started putting forward the demands for different rising social groups and thereby for different emerging sections of Indian population, broadly for most Indians.

As per declining sections of landlords and kings; standing up to, not bowing in front of the ruler, is against the teachings of ‘our’ religion so what is needed according to them is to promote the loyalty to the British. As pointed out above the lead was taken by Nawab of Dhaka and Raja of Kashi. Later due to British machinations, the Muslim elite from this association separated and formed Muslim league in 1906, while in parallel to this the Hindu elite first formed Punjab Hindu Sabha in 1909 and then Hindu Mahasabha in 1915.

These communal formations argued for Muslim Nationalism and Hindu nationalism respectively. Hindu nationalists also developed the political ideology of Hindutva, articulated particularly by Savarkar in 1923 in his book ‘Hindutva or Who is a Hindu?’ (23) While Hinduism is a religion, Hindutva is a politics based on Aryan race, this land and elite Brahmanical culture. This was an enviable situation for British as such groups would weaken the rising national movement. On one side they quietly supported the Muslim League and parallel to this they handled Hindu Mahasabha-RSS with velvet gloves (24).

Hindu Nationalism: Goals

Taking a cue from the ideology of Hindutva, RSS came up in 1925, with the path of Hindu Nationalism and goal of Hindu Nation. The values of rising classes embodied in the persona of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar, Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and many others mainly revolved around Indian Nationalism, built around the principles of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice. The ideology of Muslim League selectively drew from some Muslim traditions to assert the class, caste and gender hierarchy of feudal society. While Hindu Mahasabha and RSS had tomes like Manusmriti to talk about similar graded hierarchies of caste and gender. Muslim and Hindu communalists were not part of freedom movement, as freedom movement was all- inclusive and aimed at secular democratic values. Muslim and Hindu communalists drew from glories of Kings of the past and kept aloof from anti-British struggle. (25)
Gandhi’s attempt to draw the masses in to an anti-British struggle was the major point, due to which the Constitutionalists like Jinnah; traditionalists of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha further drifted away, and consolidated themselves after 1920s. The trajectory of Hindu Nationalism from the decade of 1920 becomes very clear, to be on the side of British to oppose the Muslim Nationalists and also freedom struggle. Same applies to Muslim League, as it regarded Congress as a Hindu party. The Freedom of the country and tragic partition led to Muslim Leaguers going to Pakistan while leaving sufficient backlog to sustain Muslim communalism here. Hindu Nationalists in the form of Hindu Mahasabha and RSS gradually started asserting themselves, beginning with murder of Mahatma Gandhi, who surely was amongst the greatest Hindus of that century. (26)

RSS: A Brief History

RSS was formed in 1925 in Nagpur. The immediate cause of its formation was the discomfort among the upper castes/landlord elements due to the non-cooperation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi as a part of freedom movement (1920). This movement brought the average people to the freedom movement; this caused discomfort to the elite sections of society. At the same time, the ‘non-Brahmin movement’ in Maharashtra was shaking the social relations of Brahmin-landlord on one side and Dalit-workers on the other. The founders of RSS were inspired by the ideas of nationalism of Hitler. (27) The RSS had contempt towards the concept of Indian nationalism, which was the ideology of freedom movement of India, led by Gandhi.

The RSS took off from Hindu Mahasabha, an organisation formed by the Hindu kings and landlords. Later this organization was led by a middle class intellectual, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He propounded the ideology of Hindutva, Hindu-ness, which is the concept of Nationalism based on Brahminical values of hierarchy of caste and gender. The RSS founders were to make the concepts of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra as their base ideology and politics. (28)

The RSS began with training its volunteers in a new version of history which was communal and had nothing to do with truth. It said that India has always been a Hindu nation and Muslims are aggressors, Muslims and Christians are foreigners. The concept promoted by Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru that India is a land belonging to people of all religions is wrong and what is needed is to build a Hindu nation and undermine the Muslim nation. It decided to keep aloof from direct electoral politics and went on to create a set of volunteers, swayamsevaks, trained in the ideology of Hindutva. It kept aloof from freedom movement as it was based on the values of secularism and democracy. It stood for Hindu nation and perpetuation of Brahminical values in a new garb.

It was, and is, exclusively a male organization. When Laxmibai Kelkar wanted women to be taken into RSS, they were advised to form a subordinate organization, Rashtra Sevika Samiti (1936). In the very name of this organization the word swayam (self) is missing as this organization, like all other communal organizations, stands for superiority of males, and believes in patriarchy. It discouraged people from participating in movements related to freedom. (29) Barring few exceptions (K.B. Hedgewar), none from RSS went to jail during freedom movement. And those who happened to go to jail went either looking for more recruits for RSS or accidentally went to jail and later on apologized to the British and got themselves released from prison (like Atal Bihari Vajpayee). (30)

The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha held Gandhi responsible for appeasement of Muslims, for partition of the country etc. On this charge, Nathuram Godse, an ex-Pracharak of RSS, who joined Hindu Mahasabha later, killed the father of the nation. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel had said that it was due to the hate spread by the RSS that the country lost its father Mahatma Gandhi and Patel banned RSS for some time. (31) Savarkar was also one of the accused in the murder of Gandhiji, but he was let off for lack of corroborative evidence. (32)

The RSS formed other subordinate organizations. One of them was Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for working among students. In 1951, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha in collaboration with RSS formed Bharatiya Jan Sangh. It raised identity related issues and resorted to war mongering by calling for Nuclear weapons to be made by India. It also demanded that Muslims should be Indianized. It remained a marginal force till it joined the Jaya Prakash Narayan movement and became part of the Janata Party. Meanwhile, RSS was silently infiltrating in all the wings of state and society, bureaucracy, police, education, media, judiciary and army. It was working to oppose the progressive liberal values by promoting religiosity and conservatism in cultural arena. (33)

Jan Sangh joined Janata Party and came to power in 1977; its leaders became a part of the Government. Using this opportunity, they planted their workers in media and other areas of the state apparatus. After splitting Janata Party, the Jan Sangh component emerged as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the ground of Gandhian Socialism. For electoral purposes it projected those values it never believed in Gandhian Socialism as such. It lent support to Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 elections. (34) Meanwhile, it gave birth to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. VHP started taking up emotive issues and Ram temple was made the center of its political credo. They went on to form Bajrang Dal on the lines of storm troopers of Nazi party in Germany. (35)

During 1960s and 1980s, it kept propagating hate against minorities, first against Muslims and then Christians. The result was anti-minority violence in many parts of the country. In anti-Muslim violence, 80 per cent of the victims are Muslims. Many of the inquiry committee reports have concluded that riots are generally begun by RSS affiliates. (36) They create one or other pretext leading to violence. Due to communalization of state apparatus, most of the guilty are not punished. Many a time, other political leaders have also used communal violence for their narrow political goals. The agitation around Ram temple created a great deal of social hysteria, leading to Babri demolition and major violence in Mumbai, Bhopal, Surat and other places. Mumbai violence of 1992-93 shook the whole country and instilled a great amount of fear among minorities.

Due to violence, the RSS base became stronger and its political wing BJP too grew up to the extent that it could grab power at the center in 1996. It came to power again and ruled the country, under RSS supervision, for six years. From 1997, in order to scare away Christian missionaries from Adivasi areas, the areas where their work is leading to empowerment of poor Adivasis, it started violence and during its course Pastor Graham Stewart Stains (1999), along with his two sons, was burnt alive on the charge that he was indulging in conversion. The Wadhva Commission, which enquired into this murder, opined that the Pastor had not done any conversion. Most horrific form of anti-Christian violence was witnessed in the BJP-ruled Gujarat and later in Kamdhamal in Orissa (2008). With every act of communal violence, BJP became stronger. (37)

After the 9/11 incident in the US, when globally terrorist activities started going up, the RSS intensified its campaign of demonization of Muslims saying that all terrorists are Muslims. With the Malegaon blast of 2006, concrete evidences against RSS affiliate ABVP’s member Pragya Singh Thakur came to light. It was her motor cycle which was used in the blast, which brought the matters to surface. It led to other RSS workers associated with the Sadhvi. (38) She is currently on bail for this. The role of serving military officer Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, Swami Dyanand Pande, and Major Upadhyay in the blasts was being pursued doggedly by Hemant Karkare, the chief of Maharashtra ATS, before the 26/11 terror attack took place in Mumbai in which Karkare was killed.

With the polarization of society on the upswing, the electoral strength went on the rise. With clever support to Anna Hazare movement, RSS combine succeeded in defaming Congress on the eve of 2014 elections. With corporate support and immaculate electoral management, the BJP came to power. From 2014 onwards apart from other phenomenon, the number of RSS shakhas rose phenomenally and emotive issues have created an atmosphere of intolerance in the society and has succeeded in relegating minorities to second class citizenship. (39)

Hindu Nationalists formed first Jan Sangh (1951) and later present BJP. The major issue taken up by these nationalists was opposition to cooperative farming, public sector and undertook a program called ‘Indianisation of Muslims’, ‘protection of Cow’, ‘Love Jihad’ and Ghar Wapasi (Reconversion to Hinduism) along with hyper nationalism, directed against Pakistan. Hate for Pakistan hints at Indian Muslims association with Pakistan and demonizes them in society.

The identity related issues have been the staple diet for religious nationalist tendencies. ‘Cow as our mother’, Ram Temple, Ram Setu, Abolition of article 370 and Uniform civil code has been the foundation around which emotive hysterical movements have been built. While they keep bringing to our notice as to under whose rule more riots have taken place, one forgets that the root of communal violence lies in ‘Hate other’ ideology spread by communal streams. And most of the communal violence led to coming to power of communal party. Its major outcome is polarization of communities along religious lines.

Challenges to Indian Democracy

The eight year of BJP led Government has shown the tendencies where out democratic values are on decline. The decline of Indian democracy is well presented by three major international bodies, “The three institutions, which came to similar conclusions on India’s freedom and democracy record in 2020, are the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute, the United States-based non-profit organization Freedom House and the Intelligence Unit of The Economist magazine. Specifically categorizing the Indian situation, the V-Dem Institute study said India had become an “electoral autocracy”, while Freedom House downgraded India from a “free democracy” to a “partially free democracy”. The Democracy Index published by The Economist Intelligence Unit termed India as a “flawed democracy” (Quoted from Teesta Setalvad) (40)

The autonomous institutions have been under tremendous pressure and toeing the line of executive. The Judiciary, which is the guardian of Indian Constitution and rights of citizen’s has come under severe stress, to the extent that four sitting Supreme Court judges had to hold a press conference to articulate their concerns in this direction. (41) The Election Commission is no more above board; Enforcement Directorate has become a handy tool in the hands of Government.

The rise of Corporate, few favorite among them has totally violated the values of Indian Constitution that the gap between rich and poor should be brought down. While few Corporate houses are ruling the roost, the down trodden (the last person in the) is getting more deprived. The rising prices of commodities are breaking the back of average people of society.

To intimidate the minority community the fear of CAA, NRC and building of camps has been given a go ahead. Interestingly when the CAA exercise was implemented in Assam, nearly 20 Lakh people could not prove their citizenship and majority of them were Hindus. (42) To offset this NRC was brought in which proposed to give citizenship to the persecuted Hindus, Jains, Christians and Buddhists from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. This giving of citizenship to persecuted people from neighboring countries on the basis of religion totally violates the values of Constitution. (43)

Similarly the Article 370, which gives autonomy to J&K has been abrogated without the approval of the Kashmir Assembly. The matter is in the court. The demonetization, which aimed at wiping out black money turned out to be total disaster with nearly hundred people losing their lives standing in the bank queues while the total unaccounted currency in circulation has gone up. It was claimed that demonetization will wipe out militancy in J&K that has totally failed, with Kashmiri Pundits still facing the wrath of terror attacks. (44)

The management of Covid 19 was equally disastrous. The lockdown declared at few hours notice led to mass exodus of workers from cities towards their villages, how many lost their lives is not recorded properly. The photograph of mass cremation of dead bodies near river Ganga was too horrifying for words. The same occasion was used to demonize the Muslim community, by attributing the spread by Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), which was having a conference in Delhi. The Courts very well pointed out that TJ is being used as a scape goat.

The atrocities against women, dalits and minorities are on the rise. Many Dalit communities are also in an economic decline because, for ideological reasons, the BJP has devalued, banned or opposed some trades they engage in without creating alternative sources of income. “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India”, a report sponsored by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). It says, “...religious minority communities and Dalits, both have faced discrimination and persecution... In particular, since 2014, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion have escalated dramatically.” (45)

The ghettoes of religious minorities are on the rise, in Mumbai the areas like Mumbra and in Ahmadabad (Juhapura) are a living testimony of this social divide. The housing colonies are not permitting Muslims in the mixed localities. The fraternity which was carefully nurtured during freedom movement is under severe attack. What Mahatma Gandhi did through his anti colonial movement is being undone at a rapid pace.

Bharat Jodo: Fraternity under Attack

The rule of sectarian nationalists has brought us to a pass where the community divides in the name of religion have deepened, the Adivasi and dalits are being further marginalized and the struggle for equality of women is taking a back seat.

It is in this backdrop that Hate, which has been the major hallmark of sectarian nationalists needs to be countered, Bharat Jodo yatra, seems to be a small baby step in this direction. The rational academic community has larger responsibility to restore the values which emerged during freedom movement, making of India as a nation. It needs to promote the social cohesion through its academic contributions the responsibility for this was never so challenging as it is in the current times. How the baby steps of this Yatra can be boosted to revive the spirit of freedom movement is a challenge which we need to be taken up in right away.


11. Percival Spear, Hisotory of India, Vol II page 110, Penguin Delhi, 1992
12. Emergence of Nationalism, Congress Separatism: Madhavi Yasin; Raj Publications, Delhi, 1996 
13. Bipan Chandra, India’s Struggle for Indpendence, Page 71, Penguin Delhi, 1989
14. K.N.Panikkar, Nationalism: Then and Now, Frontline, April 15, 2016, Page 97
18. Bipan Chandra, The Epic Struggle, Page 3, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1992
21. Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, K.N.Panikkar and Sucheta Mahajan, “india’s struggle for Independence’, Penguin, Delhi, 1989, p. 398ff
22. Asghar Ali Engineer, Communaism in India, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi 1995
23. Bipan Chandra, India’s Struggle for Indpendence, Page 71, Penguin Delhi, 1989
25. Bipan Chandra, The Epic Struggle, Page 3, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1992
26. Asghar Ali Engineer, Communalism in India, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi 1995
27. Puniyani Ram, Communal Politics, Facts versus Myths, Sage, 2015
36. Teesta Setalvad, Who casts the First Stone, Sabrang March 1998

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