Reawakening to a Secular Hindu Nation by Dr Shrinivas Tilak, Pp 385, (PB), Price not mentioned.
This scholarly work is an original contribution to the Hindu Nation debate of the last few years. The author is well versed both in Hindu and Western thoughts and therefore brings to bear on the subject both authenticity and comparative insights. The book aims to investigate the question of the uniqueness of the concept of Hindu Nation (Rashtra) in the life and work of Shri Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar, the second RSS Sarsanghachalak who is popularly known as Shri Guruji.
The author provides the Vedic origins of Shri Golwalkar’s reflections on the subject of a secular Hindu Nation, by showing that the latter is a cultural concept rather than a religious one, and needs to be extricated from its confusion with the concept of ‘state’ (rajya). In this way, as the author explains, the aim of the book is to examine the claim that “(1) since the ancient past the state in India has always been secular, functioning within the parameters of a Hindu nation (Hindurashtra) and (2) Indians inherit a civilisation imbued with common life-ideals stemming out of a comprehensive life-philosophy based on values that today may be described as inclusive and pluralistic,” (Preface, p. xvii).
The Hindu Nation thus has been a continuously unifying idea and practice (pragatan) in the life of the peoples of the subcontinent. This process got submerged, though not destroyed, during the various conquests, invasions and occupations (vighatan). The way out is reawakening to this idea (sangathan). This will also be a universalising project (not merely a particularising one limited to India) that will impact and benefit the world, not just India. The principle here is an indigenous operating principle of dharma. It is a priniciple of symbiotic interdependence, secularism, reciprocal and reasonable accommodation and fraternal interaction.
Hence, the book is divided into an Introduction and five erudite lengthy sections each on pragatan (flowering of the Hindu Nation), vighatan (decline of the Hindu Nation), sangathan (awakening) prayatn (Vishwa Hindu Nation) and chapter 5 (the Hindu Nation, poised and shining).
The reader would do well to come to grips with the lengthy Introduction that lays out the parameters of discussion and debate around the topic of the Golwalkar-Vedic connection of Hindu Nation. In his approach Dr Srinivas Tilak is obviously not only sympathetic to the Golwalkar world view but differs significantly from some of the more recent work on Golwalkar by authors such as Jyotirmaya Sharma whose short book Terrifying Vision (2007, pages 139) presents an unflattering account of the Golwalkar world view.
India had been a secular Hindu nation. Why secular? Because the Hinduism is by its very nature, not dogmatic, unlike the religions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. There, religion and the state had to be separated, whereas in India Hindutva was a cultural concept which permeated the entire subcontinent. Hence, pluralism, inclusivity, tolerance, etc. were already built into society and did not need additional emphasis.
This golden period of prosperity and goodwill was possible because the nation consciously and otherwise adhered to dharma. Once the Muslim conquest took place, this society and its norms were not allowed to flourish and especially after the British conquest of India, there was a serious attempt to destroy the philosophical foundations of this society. This was accomplished by the Orientalist project, a two pronged effort to downgrade Hindu religion and philosophy and to project ancient India as a despotic power without any economic clout.
Dr Tilak shows that both these assumptions are entirely wrong. He goes on to show how modern Indians still under the influence of this Orientalism continue to ignore the real evidence on the ground, the historical facts that India was not only a flourishing, prosperous country, a nation with civic ideals, culture, sophistication and tremendous achievements in sciences, mathematics and the various arts. Contemporary critics of this history are unable to explain this achievement (they do not deny that it existed) or link it with their theory of an
inferior people with no civil order or a national government (Orientalism).
The book goes on to describe how the Hindu Nation can revive its ancient glories and power and still take its place in the comity of nations as a unique entity which has much to offer the world community. In this latter section of the book Dr Tilak shifts from the Hindu Nation within the geographical limits of India to the Hindu diaspora where it is kept alive, but within the context of the particular societies that they live in.
The book is enormously erudite and deeply argued and is the first of its kind in the Hindutva literature. The author is well versed in both Indian and Western thought and brings to bear many comparative insights. It is a densely packed book and both the general reader and the specialist will need to read it with attention. The accompanying bibliography which brings the book to approximately 400 pages, is updated and lists many of the relevant works on the subject.
It is hoped that the book will go into a second edition and it is hoped that some of the loose ends will be tied up before that happens. One example and perhaps the only one is the question of varna and caste which has not been dealt with satisfactorily by the author. Varna originated with the Vedas and is a general division of society into four classes: the scholars/priests, the military, commercial and service activity. This fourfold division later expanded into the caste system as the economy expanded. The latter, i.e. service activity still remained an economic classification.
Therefore, both varna and caste can be explained and defended. However, it is the outcaste component that needs to be explained and how it arose. Scholars are divided on its exact origins, with some putting it as far back as the time of the Buddha and some bringing it forward to the seventh and eight centuries of the Christian era. This question of origins and dating, in itself, is of interest. It can be explained, but cannot be justified. The scavenging of night soil is clearly not an occupation.
Hence, today’s enlightened Hindutva organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and sister organisations completely reject the outcaste system and rightly so. Their many social service projects aim to do that. Whereas, the caste system per se, as occupational activity and varna as a general division of society were not rejected even by Mahatma Gandhi, who, as is well known, rejected untouchabiltiy (outcaste system). Gandhiji’s logic is linked to his view of small industries and village industries being hereditary if the individual wishes to perfect his/her crafts and serve society. He did not emphasise that hereditary occupation alone is good. An individual can choose his or her occupation. Gandhiji put forward his ideas in his idea of the village republic.
Despite this lack of clarification in the text, reawakening to a secular Hindu Nation, remains a work of formidable scope. It will gain an importance in the months and years to come as the debate over the Hindu Nation continues to gain momentum.
(Book Surge, 7290-B, Investment Drive Charleston, SC 29418, E-mail: [email protected])
(The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian University).