If Jyotirmaya Sharma were to hire a gun, his weapon of choice would be an AK-47, rather than something more accurate. This can be said after his hatchet job on M.S. Golwalkar, the second and most important sarsanghachalak (supreme guide) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in his book, Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India. How else would somebody aiming at Golwalkar and the RSS manage to take potshots at Mahatma Gandhi and the Left parties?
Consider the charges that the author hurls at Golwalkar, who guided and tried to shape the RSS for 33 years till his death in 1973. Sharma alleges that Golwalkar’s ideas of Hinduism, self, society and politics, and even his vision of a Hindu rashtra (nation) were borrowed from European thought.
“There is nothing Hindu or ‘Bharatiya’—essentially Indian—in Golwalkar’s entire ideological universe,” writes Sharma. “His attempts at Hindu consolidation and his dream of establishing—or, as he saw it, reinstating—a Hindu Rashtra were, in the end, someone else’s project.” The author’s reasoning willy-nilly questions the legitimacy of the entire Left movement in India. And even questions Gandhi, by this logic, simply because he freely acknowledged influences from various foreign thinkers.
Would parliamentary democracy, or a Munshi Premchand novel be any less appealing because these political and literary constructs originated beyond the geographical confines of our country?
The author’s essential failure, however, is not that he merely reinforces the popular perception about Golwalkar as an exclusivist Hindu leader. It is in his inability to delve beyond the popular perception. He fails to situate the RSS in its historical context, and study its rise in relationship with the far more effective Muslim separatist movement at the time.
The author fails to explain why an anti-Muslim Hindu organization, according to his own laboured findings, failed to connect with the vast Hindu majority even at the time of Partition. That, surely, was a time when polarization of the Hindus and Muslims was at its most dangerous extreme and a figure such as Golwalkar would have somehow been created.
Just as Gandhi’s ultimate political failure was his inability to prevent Partition, it must be counted as Golwalkar’s failure as well. Even later, despite its hype and rhetoric, the RSS failed to influence the course of events in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, where Hindus happened to be a minority.
It is precisely this challenge of limited appeal even among the Hindus and, therefore, influence on the nation’s polity, that the Bharatiya Janata Party, the long-term political offshoot of Golwalkar’s RSS, continues to grapple with.
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