Ruling Class Nationalism and Religion: A Counter to Rakesh Sinha
IN his article ‘Not an Imagined Community’ (Indian Express, April 22) the RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha claims that the Sangh’s conception of nationalism is not invented but is a historical fact which is based on culturally inclusive development of the Indian civilisation. This article (and especially its title) is a direct critique of the idea of the ‘nation’ as an ‘imagined’ political community which was potently described in Benedict Anderson’s seminal text ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism’. Anderson powerfully argues that dominant ideas of nationhood are cultural inventions of the ruling classes which act as hegemonic ideological tools to hide the oppressive practices of the rulers. The critiques of the idea of the Hindu Rashtra have also been following this line of argument, thus seeing the use of Hindu Rashtra as a political tool for communal polarisation. Responding to these criticisms, Sinha’s article argues that those who oppose the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in fact confuse religion with culture. The main argument quotes from prominent Sangh founders and explains that the “RSS concept of the Hindu Rashtra defines India’s nationalism in civilisational and cultural contexts. Our nationalism is not political, it is based on the progressive continuation of civilisation, and therefore, is a civilisational nation-state”. Given that the RSS is firmly in control of political power through the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rakesh Sinha’s article can be seen as forming an important part of the ideological hegemony of the contemporary ruling classes. Hence, it is important to both demystify and counter the powerful idea of an inclusive civilisational heritage that forms the foundation of the conception of the Hindu Rashtra.
BIRTH OF HINDUISM AS A RELIGION OF DOMINANT CLASSES
One of the main arguments made by Sinha is that the progress of Indian civilisation has resulted in the birth of a shared tolerant culture which is inclusive in its essence. Hence Hinduism is not a religion but a spiritual philosophy that is to be counter posed to organised religions such as Islam and Christianity. Supporting this contention, Sinha argues that “Our civilisational trajectory shows that India has been privileged with spiritual democracy through the ages. The bone of contention in India has not been the freedom of religion, or new religions, but organised and systematic religious expansionism, responsible for crippling our heritage and traditions of secularism. In our case, philosophies and culture are symbiotically linked with spiritualism”. However this contention is a gross misinterpretation of a well documented history which links the growth of organised Hinduism with the political project of establishing a dominant and oppressive State from the ancient period itself. This need for the formation of a State was also linked to the growth of classes and the birth of private property.
As the iconic historian of ancient India DD Kosambi explains that the extraction of food surplus in the Indus civilisation was done not by force, but through religion where grain would be collected and distributed by the temple. The control of surplus food was itself an indication of how the ideological force of religion was used to main inequalities. Hinduism as a hegemonic ideology was also used to establish and justify the emerging caste system. The caste system formed the foundation of the oppressive division of labour in India, which continues even to this date. The first stark articulation of this tendency is seen with the rise of the Magadha rulers, where the institutionalisation of a strong State was simultaneous with the installation of Brahmanical religion as an instrument of control by the ruling classes. From this period onwards Hinduism began to be used as a political force with the explicit objective of ensuring “rule by consent”.
Hinduva intellectuals particularly Savarkar, in his Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, portray the era of Chandragupta Maurya as the first epoch of the “glorious Indian civilisation”. In contrast to Kosambi’s analysis, this interpretation provides a legitimisation of the Hindutva political agenda. In this analysis, the role of ‘Hindu’ kingdoms is seen as opposing foreign ‘invaders’ the Greeks, Muslims and Christians. Thus there is a definite attempt to construct the divide between “Hindus” and “others” or the foreigners. This serves the political purpose of propping up the idea of a united Hindu society against the others, in order to establish the rationale for a Hindu Rashtra. The idea of tolerance versus fundamentalist expansionism, as propagated by Sinha’s article, fits into this analysis. It recreates the divide in the garb of spiritualism thereby obfuscating the real purpose of promoting the notion of a Hindu Rashtra.
RULING CLASSES AND HINDUISM
As argued above, organised ‘Hinduism’ was an ideology and religion of the great empires who sought to consolidate their power through Brahmanical hegemony. The Kshatriya rulers built strong alliances with the Brahmins by allowing them to develop their symbolic authority; which ultimately helped them to extract surplus and military service from oppressed masses. In this sense the idea of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is itself based on an alliance between the rulers and their ideological supporters. The domination of these forces was maintained by eliminating any form of dissent and opposition. Organised political Hinduism also suppressed popular culture and folk religions. Movements like Bhakti, Sufi and others were suppressed ruthlessly for opposing the dominant caste system. The oppressors were both Brahmin and Muslim fundamentalists who formed the dominant classes of different periods. Even today the rationalists, dalits, socialists and communists who oppose the caste system and offer an alternative to the hegemony of organised Hindutva forces are being eliminated through the use of force.
Sinha’s article provides a rationale for the Hindutva’s continued aggression against the rationalists and secularists when he uses Hegdewar’s idea of uniting all castes under the banner of “Hindu Rashtra”. The agenda of the Sangh is based on the idea of the dominant and the oppressed castes arriving at a compromise without changing the oppressive division of labour. The current Sangh’s work amongst women, dalits and adivasis is very much reflective of this approach. For example, while the Sangh has been flexible enough to incorporate some of the deities of adivasi life, it has used its influence over the adivasis to open up adivasi regions to corporate influence. This is particularly true of the BJP ruled states where dalits and adivasis face extreme deprivation despite the Sangh organisations and Sinha’s boastful praise of their work. The core social base of the Sangh is situated in castes and classes that are the ultimate oppressors of the adivasis. Sinha’s article is only one example of a chimera that is being created by the Sangh to aid the Modi government’s policies favouring corporate capitalism. By creating a myth of ‘cultural oneness’ and ‘unity of culture’ Sinha’s article cannot refute Benedict Andersons Imagined Communities. Rather it provides a good example of how the myth and ideology of Hindu Rashtra continues to be invented by Sangh intellectuals. Sinha’s article is a misrepresentation of history and a complete travesty of truth as we know. Hence it is imperative that the democratic forces unite to build a consciousness that will effectively counter such a hegemonic and invented idea of the Hindu Rashtra.