“National”, “Anti-national” and the Sangh Parivar: A critical note



strands of nationalism emerged in the colonial period; some of the important
ones being bourgeois nationalism, anti-imperialism, working class movement,
etc. While I acknowledge these strands, in this Note I limit myself to discuss
the idea of nation espoused by the Sangh Parivar.[1]
Based on some of the works of the founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar, this
Note attempts to critique and reject the idea of nation espoused by the Parivar
since the colonial period. The Parivar’s idea of nation has always stood as
“Hindu majoritarian”. Any attempt to point out the contradictions in Indian
society, like the oppression based on caste, gender, extreme poverty and
inequality, religious identity, etc and questioning this idea has been seen as
deviation and considered a hindrance in the path of achieving a Hindu Rashtra. The
nation was seen in terms of a Hindu majoritarian identity and there was an
attempt to build a unified and common Hindu identity. It was here that
categories of “national” and “anti-national” were constructed by the Sangh. Any
talk of caste and its problem was seen as a ploy of the British and later on
other forces to divide Hindu society. This idea of nation was also linked to
militarization of Hindu society and admiration for European fascists. My note
argues that this idea of the nation goes back to the founders of the Sangh
Parivar and remains largely intact even today. 
Recent developments in Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Tata
Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)
should be seen in this light. The note argues that in the wake of recent
developments across the country it becomes important to reject the Parivar’s
idea of ‘nation’, which has always defined “nation”, “national” and
“anti-national” in its own terms.  

The Nation
defined: A unified Hindu identity

and speeches of some of the founding-fathers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
 throw light on the idea of nation
visualized by the Sangh Parivar. The first important point in this regard is an
attempt to build a unified and common Hindu identity without an attempt to
address the caste question and see its linkage with Hindu religion like an
umbilical cord. As early as 1930, the founder and the first sarsanghchalak of RSS wrote: “It is to
fulfil the duty of protecting the Hindu society that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh has come into existence”.[3]
In one of his final addresses to the swayamsevaks
in Nagpur in June 1940, Hedgewar said, “Remember, we have to organize the
entire Hindu society from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas. In fact our main area
of operation is the vast Hindu world outside the Sangh. The Sangh should not be
the preserve of only the Swayamsevaks,
but must cover the entire Hindu people outside the Sangh fold”.[4]
was the second sarsanghchalak– M. S.
Golwalkar- who not only elaborated on the Sangh’s idea of nation, but also
described who were outside it.  Here
again, in his two works- We or Our
Nationhood Defined
and Bunch of
[collected volume], the emphasis was to build a common Hindu
identity. In his We or Our Nationhood
first published in 1939, he noted:

the modern understanding of ‘Nation’ to our present conditions, the conclusion
is unquestionably forced upon us that in this country, Hindustan, the Hindu
Race with its Hindu Religion, Hindu Culture and Hindu Language (the natural
family of Sanskrit and her off-springs) complete the Nation concept: that, in
fine, in Hindustan exists and must needs exist the ancient Hindu nation and
nought else but the Hindu Nation. All those not belonging to the nation i.e.
Hindu Race, Religion, Culture and Language, naturally fall out of the pale of
real ‘National’ life. All others are traitors and enemies to the National
On the fate of
others, he wrote: “Those who fall outside this idea, can have no place in the
national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion,
culture and language of the Nation and completely merge themselves in the
National Race” (ibid. 101). In the later pages he further elaborates this
point. He writes:
foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language,
must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no
idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the
Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race,
or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming
nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment –not even
citizen’s rights” (p. 104-5).
This idea of
Nation was once again echoed in Golwalkar’s Bunch
of Thoughts
where he wrote: “Our one supreme goal is to bring to life the
all-round glory and greatness of our Hindu Rashtra”. Further, he noted, “Hindu
society, whole and integrated, should forever be the single point of devotion
for all of us. No other consideration whether of caste, sect, language,
province or party should be allowed to come in the way of that single-minded
In this regard,
Hindu Mahasabha leader V. D. Savarkar came up with the notion of ‘Hindutva’.
For him, “It is not enough that a person should profess any religion of Indian
origin, i.e., Hindustan as his Holyland, but he must also recognise it as his
Fatherland as well” (p. 4-5).[7]  Hindutva, thus, referred not only to the
religious aspect of the Hindu people but comprehended even their cultural,
linguistic, social and political aspects as well (ibid. p. 43). For Savarkar,
Hindus were a ‘Nation’ by themselves, while others (e.g. Muslims) were
Secondly, any
reference to contradictions within the so-called Hindu society in terms of
caste, untouchability or to challenge the Hindu social order, etc was deemed to
be “communal”, “anti-national” and divisive. Golwalkar writes: “The national
life in Bharat is therefore the Hindu National Life. All such works which help
nourishing and strengthening this national ethos are ‘national’. All such
groups who consider themselves distinct from this national ethos and cherish
hopes and aspirations in opposition to the national ones and demand separate rights
and privilege for themselves are to be called “communal” and “anti-national”.[8]
He then lists out seven types of ‘communalism’, of which I discuss the second
and fourth. The second one is within “Hindu Society itself”. Here he puts
groups who “began to consider themselves as being different from Hindu samaj and dharma, and who on that premise demand separate and exclusive
political and economic privileges, and to achieve those demands proclaim
themselves to be different form Hindu Society and take to various agitations”
(p. 139). The fourth type consists of those who rouse controversies in the name
of “touchability” and “untouchability”, “Brahmin” and “non-Brahmin” and fan hatred,
enmity, selfishness, and demands for special privileges (p. 140). Also, in
Golwalkar’s idea of nation, Muslims, Christians and Communists were seen as
“internal threats”.[9]
Though Golwalkar
discusses untouchability in a separate chapter, it is interesting to note how
he sees this problems and its solution. The name of Ambedkar is missing in his
list of those who strove to eradicate untouchability.[10]
Golwalkar sees its roots in misconceived notion of dharma and not linked with caste and Hindu religion itself. Even
when he calls for eradication of untouchability, the objective is consolidation
of Hindu society. He calls the following directive of Vishwa Hindu Sammelan
held at Udupi in 1969 as of “revolutionary significance in the history of Hindu
society”: “In pursuance of the objective that the entire Hindu society should
be consolidated with the spirit of indivisible oneness and that there should be
no disintegration in it because of tendencies and sentiments like
‘touchability’ and ‘untouchability’. The Hindus all over the world should
maintain the spirit of unity and equality in their mutual intercourse” (p.
269-270). He also cautions against violent approach (like temple entry,
publicity and propaganda) to enforce this resolution. However, according to
him, such task could not just be undertaken through resolution of a Conference
and “a change of heart, a moral and emotional change in attitudes and
behaviour, has to he brought about” to achieve this. And for this he advocates
that, “Programmes like bhajans, keertans, festivals, recital of stories
from Ramayana and Mahabharata could be arranged, where all Hindus would
assemble in a spirit of common brotherhood submerging all such differences as
‘touchable’ and ‘untouchable’ in a current of pure dharmic devotion” (p. 272). Thus, we see that here again there is a
call to unify and ignore the differences.
Thirdly, a
recurring theme in Golwalkar’s works was that any attempt at the so-called
division of Hindu society and nation was deemed to be the handiwork of the
British in the past and “some forces” within and outside the country in present
times. It was the British who “in order to perpetuate his stranglehold on our
country, planted in our minds perverted notions of nationhood in a bid to break
the proud and defiant spirit of the Hindus”. Presently, “forces inside and
outside our country” were doing this. The divide between “Harijans” and “Caste
Hindus” was a “propaganda by forces outside and inside our country which are
bent upon dividing and weakening the Hindu people” (p. 271). Persons interested
in defaming Hindus talked about caste system.[11]
And thus, there was a need for a “unitary Nation-State”. 
Fourthly, Golwalkar’s
works also throw light on issues like inequality and status of women. In these
too the attempt was an emphasis on the larger Hindu socio-economic order and
these notions were to shape the lens of Sangh for a long time. For example, regarding
women, he noted that rearing of children and inculcating in them the correct sanskars was the special duty of “our
mothers”. On the question of economic inequality, Golwalkar wrote: “If by socialism
is meant removal of economic inequality, then here again it is the Hindu
thought and practice that stand as the unfailing guarantee for social and
economic justice” (p. 258). For him, disparity between city-dwellers and
villagers was an “artificial barrier”.
Fifthly, the
above idea of nation was linked with militarization of Hindu society and
tie-ups with fascists of abroad. Not only did the leadership of RSS and Hindu
Mahasabha hold Mussolini and Hitler in great admiration, but there were also
concrete links between them (Noorani 2002, 2015). The archival work of Italian
historian Marzia Casolari (2000) throws important light in this regard and she argues
that these contacts were important at the ideological and organizational
levels. The aspects of fascism which appealed most to these Hindu leaders were
the militarisation of Hindu society and creating a militant mentality among the
Hindus. Casolari shows that B. S. Moonje (who was also mentor and friend of
Hedgewar) was one of the earliest Sangh ideologues who came in contact with the
fascist regime of Italy. After his visit to Rome in March 1931 and meeting with
Mussolini, he was in awe of fascist organizations of Italy and Mussolini.  And he played a crucial role in shaping the
RSS along Italian (fascist) lines. Moonje and Hedgewar as well as Savarkar
advocated for militarization of Hindu community on fascist lines.[12]
Savarkar was also in awe of Nazi Germany’s policies, including that towards
Jews (ibid.).
the works of the founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar show that an idea of the
nation in terms of a majoritarian Hindu identity was put forward. For this, a
unified and common Hindu identity was emphasized. Any attempt to point out
contradictions within the so-called Hindu society in terms of caste,
untouchability, etc was seen as divisive and “anti-national”. It was the
British in the past and “some forces” within and outside the country who
indulged in this. Also, militarization of Hindu society was advocated and there
was admiration for the Italian and German fascists.

JNU: A common thread

recent developments in HCU, TISS and JNU should be seen in the light of Sangh
Parivar’s idea of nation as pointed out in the above paragraphs.
Vemula, a young Dalit research scholar from HCU, had in many ways challenged a
Hindu majoritarian and brahmanical
idea of the nation of the Sangh Parivar. He also attempted to unite Dalits and
Muslims on the campus. And thus, his activism fell into the categories of
“divisive” and “anti-national” and a systematic targeting finally cut short a
young life. Rohith’s death saw an unprecedented solidarity- cutting across
ideological lines, castes, religion, region and other social distinctions.[13]
This solidarity shook the Sangh and its political affiliate: the BJP. Their
initial response was to deride the Rohith issue by questioning his caste,
raising the “anti-national” bogey, etc.
the height of agitations demanding justice for Rohith Vemula, there was a more
subtle intervention by the Sangh Parivar in the form of parachuting Rajiv
Malhotra to several higher education institutions across the country, including
Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. An NRI, Rajiv Malhotra is the
philosopher-in-chief of contemporary Hindutva. He delivered a lecture at TISS
on 29th January, 2016. Two points in this regard would substantiate
the point as to why he was parachuted to various campuses. Firstly, in his
lecture at TISS, he referred to his book Breaking
India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines
, but did not
go into the details. Now, one of the main arguments in this book is that
contemporary Dalit identity and assertion is the creation of foreign NGOs and
this is undermining the unity and integrity of India. So, the emphasis is on
the ‘external’ force. Malhotra also fails to see the linkage of caste with
Hindu religion itself. Hence, we see that both the points of Malhotra-
‘external’ forces responsible for breaking India and non-linkage of caste with
Hindu religion- are quite similar to those put forward by the founding-fathers
of the Sangh. Secondly, Malhotra’s comments on Indian scholars aping Western
scholars look carbon-copy of the chapter titled ‘Be Men With Capital ‘M’
(chapter 35) of Golwalkar’s Bunch of
. Thus, Malhotra’s lecture at TISS was Sangh’s attempt to counter the
increasing solidarity for Rohith by saying that the Dalit assertion was
“divisive”. It was in some ways a repackaged version of what the
founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar had written years ago.
on the other hand, with its tradition of debate, unity of student community and
keeping divisive politics and neo-liberal policies at bay, had always been a
sore in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh was always looking for an
opportunity, especially after the victory of the BJP in May 2014. It used the
“anti-national” bogey this time to send forth the message that there was no
room for even a discussion on the idea of nation other than that espoused by the
Sangh. It tried to send the message that any departure from this would be
sternly dealt with- legally as well as through mob violence. The JNU episode also
gave it an opportunity to conveniently shift the discourse in terms of
“national versus anti-national”- a discourse that had seemed to be pushed aside
in the wake of increasing solidarity on the Rohith issue. 

note tried to highlight the idea of nation as propounded by the
founding-fathers of the Sangh Parivar (these were mostly brahmins from Maharashtra) and critique it. In this idea of “Hindu
majoritarian” nation, attempt was to build a common and unified Hindu identity.
Untouchability and caste were not seen as intrinsic to Hindu religion itself. There
was also a call for militarization of Hindu society and there was admiration
for the-then Italian and German fascists. Any attempt to question this identity
of nation always made the Sangh uncomfortable. And it is here that the notions
of “national” and “anti-national” were constructed and largely continue till
date. Recent developments in HCU, TISS and JNU indicate this. The solidarity
generated in the wake of the tragic death of Rohith Vemula shook the grounds of
the Sangh and its affiliates. One of its contemporary ideologues- Rajiv
Malhotra- was subtly employed to counter this upsurge of solidarity. In JNU, the
whole university was painted as “anti-national” and a police crackdown was let
loose on the campus and students. In the wake of such attacks on universities, students
and people at large, it is pertinent to question and reject the Sangh Parivar’s
idea of “nation”, “national” and “anti-national” with even more vigour.
Marzia. 2002. ‘Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s’, Economic and Political Weekly, 35 (4): 218-228
Golwalkar, M. S.
1939. We Or Our Nationhood Defined
(available at http://sanjeev.sabhlokcity.com/Misc/We-or-Our-Nationhood-Defined-Shri-M-S-Golwalkar.pdf)
Golwalkar, M. S.
1968. Bunch of Thoughts (available at
Noorani, A. G.
2002. Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse
. New Delhi: Leftword
Noorani, A. G.
2015. ‘Soldiers of the Swastika’, Frontline,
32 (1), January 23 (available at http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/soldiers-of-the-swastika/article6756605.ece)
Swayamsevak Sangh. No Date. Dr. Hedgewar:
The Epoch-maker
(available at http://www.rss.org/Encyc/2015/8/8/334_12_29_25_Dr.Hedgewar_The_Epoch_Maker.pdf)
Vinayak Damodar. 1949. Hindu Rashtra
. Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona (available at http://www.savarkar.org/content/pdfs/en/hindu-rashtra-darshan-en-v002.pdf)

[1] By Sangh Parivar, I
mainly refer to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, though I also discuss some of
the ideas of Hindu Mahasabha leader V. D. Savarkar in this note
[2] Founding-fathers
of the RSS like K. B. Hedgewar and M. S. Golwalkar were also heavily influenced
by Hindu Mahasabha leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Hedgewar was in fact close
contact with Savarkar before forming the RSS. Most of these leaders were also brahmins, especially from Maharashtra
[3] ‘Notes of K. B.
Hedgewar, 26 Jan, 1930’, in Dr. Hedgewar:
The Epoch-maker
, p. 50
[4] See Dr. Hedgewar: The Epoch-maker, p. 81
[5] M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, p. 99-100
[6] M. S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, p. 105
[7] See
Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra Darshan.
This book consolidates important speeches given by Savarkar as the President of
Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha
[8] See the section
titled ‘The Nation and its Problems’ (chapter XV), in M. S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, p. 138
[9] See ‘Part Two- The
Nation and Its Problems’ (chapter XI), ibid. pp. 148-164
[10] In recent times,
there have been vigorous attempts by the Sangh to integrate Dalits into its
fold. However, this integration is within the larger Hindu-fold only. The
attempt is to integrate Dalits into Hindu society without disturbing the
hierarchy of the caste system. The attempt is to appropriate Ambedkar minus his
radical content
[11] M.
S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood
[12] For a detailed
description of Hindutva’s foreign links, see Casolari’s article ‘Hindutva’s
Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s’, EPW
[13] The only groups
missing from this solidarity were those affiliated to the Sangh Parivar

Author is a PhD student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.