Guruji: A drishta-VIII
The first of the five Fundamentalism Project volumes was titled Fundamentalism Observed; the second, Fundamentalism and Society; the third, Fundamentalism and the State; the fourth, Accounting for Fundamentalisms and the fifth, Fundamentalisms Comprehended. While there have been many references to Hinduism and the RSS in the five volumes, there is a substantial essay ‘Organised Hinduisms: From Vedic Truth to Hindu Nation’ by Daniel Gold in the first volume (p531-593) and another “The Functioning of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: To define the Hindu Nation” by Ainslie T Embree in fourth Volume (p617-672). While Ainslie Embree had the benefit of Daniel Gold’s essay in Vol 1, which he had studied and even referred to in his essay in Vol 4 (Note 65 at p652), Daniel Gold did not have the benefit of the specific study on the RSS by Ainslie Embree, whose essay is the most specific work on the RSS in the Fundamentalism Project volumes.
A comparison of their profiles will bring out the relative credentials of the two scholars to write on both Hinduism and RSS. Daniel Gold is Professor, South Asian Religions with Phd from Divinity School (University of Chicago), which is a Christian seminary. It teaches Christian theology and trains Christian ministers. Its ‘alumni has a long and distinguished list of ministers’. It ‘continues this tradition today….. prepares ministers for a life of service to the public church’. More. Its 100 courses in the academic study of religion, across eleven areas of study includes Bible, History of Christianity, History of Judaism, Religions in America, Islamic studies, but shockingly excludes Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism as specialised subjects. They figure only as part of study of religious history and anthropology of religion.
Besides Daniel Gold’s familiarity with and understanding of Hinduism, Hindus and India understandably falling short, given his academic background, his views on RSS also appear less than neutral. In contrast, Ainslie Embree has lived and taught in India and has written on Hinduism and Indian nationalism. He was Chairman of Department of History, Director of Southern Asian Institute and Associate Dean of School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, where he is now professor Emeritus of history. He taught in India at Indore Christian College from 1948 to 1958. He was cultural counsellor in the American Embassy from 1978 to 1982. His books include India’s Search for National Identity, Imagining India, and Utopian in Conflict: Religion and Nationalism in India. He also edited The Hindu Tradition, Encyclopaedia of Asian History and Sources of Indian Tradition (revised edition). Even ignoring that Daniel Gold is a product of a Christian seminary and his views would be definitely conditioned by the seminary training, purely on the basis of Ainslie’s academic work in and on India, Indians and Hinduism and his personal familiarity with all of them, his views on RSS and Hinduism seem more neutral and legitimate as compared to Daniel Gold’s. Therefore, the content of Ainslie Embree’s essay is more appropriate for comparison with Guruji’s exposition of RSS ideology.
Guruji’s views on ‘Cultural Nationalism’ ‘Rashtra’ and ‘Rajya’ accepted
The most seminal contribution of Shri Guruji to the discourse on Hindu or Indian nationalism was his presentation of Hindu nationalism as cultural rather than political and his immaculate distinction between rashtra (nation) and rajya (state). Guruji said: “Our concept of Hindu Nation was not a mere bundle of economic or political rights. It is essentially cultural” (Bunch of Thoughts, p45). Tracing the origin of secularism in the conflict within Christendom between the Pope and the King – both sworn to the Bible – Shri Guruji said, ‘now theocratic state has come to mean a religious state intolerant of all other faiths’ and pointed out that never did ‘such conflict or intolerance’ exist in our history. While ‘nation’ is ‘a whole and living entity’ with ‘the statecraft’ as one of its ever so many functions, ‘secularism’, said Guruji, ‘was one of the qualities of statecraft’. By ‘equating secularism with nationalism’ which, Guruji said, was like equating one of the functions of a limb with the whole body itself, the basic distinction between ‘nation’ and ‘state’ has not been understood (Ibid p214-15). On the concept of cultural nationalism, Ainslie agrees with Guruji. He said that the argument that RSS is a cultural organisation “must be taken seriously and not as a subterfuge, for it involves a whole usage of such terms as religion, culture and politics”. Also, citing the distinction between nation and state in RSS (Guruji’s) exposition, Ainslie affirms that the RSS could claim to be cultural. He says that RSS makes a distinction between raj(ya) and rashtra, with raj(ya) being just “law and order functions of the state”, while rashtra includes the “society in all its aspects.” Ainslie concludes: “Nation”, “religion” and “culture” are used interchangeably in RSS literature and since it is a function of the state to serve the society, it is plausible for the RSS to claim that it is a cultural and not a religious or political organisation”. In fact, Ainslie goes as far to say: “The general thesis” of his essay, “is that goals of the RSS indeed place it in the mainstream of Indian nationalist aspirations, in accordance with the stated positions of the RSS itself. (Vol 4 p619)
RSS ideology is not “militant Hinduism”, “Hindu fundamentalism”, “religious revivalism” or “reactionary Hinduism”
Decades ahead of the Fundamentalism Project, Shri Guruji had asserted that to accuse the RSS work of ‘rejuvenation’ of culture as ‘revivalism’ or ‘reactionary’ betrays intellectual bankruptcy, arguing that ‘only revival of old prejudices’ or ‘anti-social customs’ can be regarded as ‘reactionary’. (Bunch of Thoughts p45) Affirming Guruji’s views, Ainslie says that “Indian and Western commentators tend to use such terms as “militant Hinduism”, “Hindu fundamentalism”, “religious revivalism” or, “reactionary Hinduism” to describe the ideology of the (RSS) movement, although these terms may seem inappropriate category for the study of Hindu religious phenomena.” The important point here is that the term “fundamentalism” was not prevalent in the Indian discourse during Guruji’s time. Ainslie has included it as a cognate term along with others like reactionary, revival and militant and said that none of these is appropriate to Hinduism. As to why they are inappropriate, Ainslie says: “Hinduism is without foundation texts, defined dogmas, and institutional structures that are characteristic of most varieties of fundamentalism in other belief systems…….Hinduism is free, according to S Radhakrishnan, …of the intellectually debilitating exclusiveness of the Semitic religions, with their tendencies to form alliances with political powers in order to enforce their dogmas.” (Vol 4 p618-619) Ainslie’s logic completely destroys the entire edifice of the allegations that the RSS is a fundamentalist, revivalist, reactionary or militant organisation.
“Majoritarian rule” or “majority communalism” tag inapplicable to Hinduism, RSS
Again Ainslie’s essay, authored couple of decades after Guruji had passed away, mentions, quoting Dr Radhakrishnan, that Hinduism is unlike the Semitic faiths which ally with political power to enforce their dogmas (Ibid p619). Being without a dogma, the question of allying with political power to enforce any dogma does not arise in Hindu phenomena. Citing how Pandit Nehru’s view of majority rule read with Dr Radhakrishnan’s belief in the inclusion of all religions under the overarching umbrella Truth as understood within the Hindu tradition, Ainslie says that their view “is not contrary to RSS ideology”, particularly because RSS has “accepted democracy” (ibid), meaning that RSS ideology in this respect is consistent with Nehru’s and Radhakrishnan’s. This makes it self-evident that majority Hindu rule would not mean rule of any dogma, meaning it would not be theocratic rule. This is precisely what Guruji had said well before 1960 when he declared that in a democracy majority rule is legitimate and pointed how, with Hinduism being a non-dogmatic faith, the talk of “majority communalism” in India is absurd and opposed to the spirit of democracy (Bunch of Thoughts, p218-19).
Guruji’s views on Semitic (Abrahamic) faiths accepted by the fundamentalism project editors
Judaism, Christianity and Islam, said Guruji, have but one prophet, one scripture and one God and a single way of worship prescribed for all, which he said, bred intolerance and divided people in the name of religion. (Bunch of Thoughts, p137) It is this intolerance based on dogmas, one book, one prophet and one way of worship, which Guruji spoke of, is now known as fundamentalism. The Fundamentalism Project editors concur with Guruji on the nature of the Semitic faiths or Abrahamic faiths. The editors say: “Some of the traits of fundamentalism examined here are more accurately attributed to the people of the book, Jews, Christians and Muslims” than to their first and distant cousins in the fundamentalist family: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Confucians. Sacred texts do not play the same constitutive role in South Asian and Far Eastern traditions as they do in the Abrahamic faiths”. (Vol p820) Again the Fundamentalism Project editors say that “majority of the fundamentalists considered in this volume are “people of the book”. Not surprisingly, they add, “Christians, Muslims and Jews garner most of the attention in a study of fundamentalist prescriptions”. (Vol 2 p5) While Guruji depicted the Semitic faiths as intolerant, the Fundamentalism Project presents them as fundamentalist – which, in substance, means intolerance.
The Fundamentalism Project, which was basically a geo-Christian intellectual and secular construct, has expanded the definition of fundamentalism to bring within its fold non-Abrahamic traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Confucianism, even though they have no narrow feature of the Abrahamic faiths like dogma, or single text, single God or single prophet. This is because unless the Project made fundamentalism a hold-all idea to include all traditions, the study of fundamentalism would just incriminate the Abrahamic faiths. This hidden agenda has made the Fundamentalism Project literature self-contradictory. Wait for the next part.