Though a number of books have been written on Indian nationalism, particularly Hindu nationalism and how it poses a threat to secularism, this book tries to throw light on 83 years of work and values of the RSS and its affiliates.
After the destruction of the disputed structure in Ayodhya in 1992, many established and mainstream journalists and scholars feared that this was ?communalism run-riot? and serious concern was voiced on the rise of Hindu fundamentalism if the BJP came to power. No attempt was made to verify empirically if indeed the country had seen more violence between religious communities after the Ayodhya disaster.
The RSS is a ?peculiarly Indian organisation? which retains the mode of functioning and the methods of organisation now considered archaic by the educated Indian elite, especially those who consider their politics to be Left of the centre. It seems the RSS has acquired an ill-reputation among Left politicians and academics ill-matching the deeds of the RSS, points out the author.
The Indian society has experienced a myriad of conflicts?local, regional and national. History books describe them as religious, communal, ethnic or racial conflicts. Major inter-group conflicts in modern India are usually based on ?separatist nationalism? as seen in Punjab during the Khalistan movement, in Kashmir and the north-east and which have essentially been mostly Hindu-Muslim or Hindu-Sikh or Hindu-Christian conflicts. Some conflicts have been caste-based as seen in the violence committed in Uttar Pradesh and in Bihar in the north and Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the south.
Here the author takes up the case of Ayodhya to present a social and structural perspective. He quotes from M.P. Singh'sarticle of Asian Survey (1990) in which he describes these major transformations historically. The first is lineage-based, primitive political system to the origin of the post-Vedic period and on the tribal peripheries of Brahmanical, Indo-Islamic and Indo-British civilisations. The second one ranges from regional kingdoms to sub-continental imperial states, beginning with the Mauryan empire in Magadha in the 4th-2nd centuries BCE till the British rule in the 19th-20th centuries. The third begins from the empire to nation-state following British withdrawal in 1947.
Within these transformations are contained two competing world views?society-centred and state-centred conceptions of a political system. The society-based view originated in the Rig Vedic times and was a pre-state lineage system based on unilineal kinship differentiated by age, family and household production and through exchange of gifts and tribute ritually. This system survived till the post-Vedic period until overwhelmed by the Mauryans. After the decline of the Mauryans, the society-centred polity re-emerged and was reinforced by the rise of feudalism during the Gupta regime. Religious nationalists, proponents of free economic enterprise and Gandhian communitarians are essentially society-centred conceptions of the political order.
Quoting S. Gurumurthy extensively, the author says that while the Christian West evolved from a theocratic to a secular state, in India the society and the individuals were the pivots around which the polity revolved, that the state was merely a residuary concept and that Islam spent ?1,500 years of unmitigated stagnation?. The encounter between ?inclusive? Hinduism and ?exclusive? Islam in India left an ?un-assimilated Islamic society? which had to be countered with a Hindu nationalist movement.
Girilal Jain, the veteran journalist, had said that ?the Hindus? fight was not with other religionists but with the state? left behind by the British which resorted to use of caste, religion and regional affiliations to undermine the unity of India. In the end the book says that the RSS agenda can be understood in the context of the influence of Gandhi and Nehru and their approaches in dealing with Indian problems and how the RSS had to influence the Indians in other ways to contain the influence of Gandhi and Nehru.
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