How much the RSS’ change of uniform is due to its ‘nationalistic impulse’ is difficult to say but the RSS, as always, is bent on making inroads into the minds of the people by harping on the dichotomy of ‘national vs anti-national’. But the organisation should know that here its claim is rather feeble.
In all this rigmarole about national and anti-national activities, ‘what is nationalism’ is a question that has been seldom asked.
As in many other cases, the idea of nationalism came to India from the West. Nationalism occurs when a people seek political self-determination. And this happened chiefly in the 19th century, though in England and France, and in the United States nationalism had germinated earlier. During the French Revolution between 1789 and 1793, the year the king was executed, Louis XVI became a constitutional monarch representing the will of the people, meaning the ‘French nation’. While the French Revolution had been progressive to the extent that the participants were able to draw up the Declaration of the Rights of Man, it gave rise to a system of capitalist production that led to the search for colonies in Africa and South-East Asia. Ditto with other colonial powers like Britain, Belgium and Holland. This was the dark side of nationalism. Benjamin Disraeli as British prime minister said in parliament that ‘nation’ was the only truth.
It is this dark side of nationalism that had cast its shadow on India. Here the birth of nationalism took place through the conduit of the anti-colonial struggle. And it took place in the regions covered by the Indian Empire. In this country there have been peasant and tribal revolts but though they were struggles against exploitation, they cannot be termed ‘anti-colonial’. To be part of the anti-colonial struggle is to understand the mechanism of colonial exploitation.
Why was there an anti-colonial struggle in the first place? It is because in a colonial system, there is a core, which in the Indian case was Britain, and a periphery, which was the Indian empire. There is compelling evidence to show that the core enriched itself at the expense of the periphery.
Indian nationalism was anti-colonial, all-inclusive and had freedom from colonial rule as its aim only to create a beginning. As a free country India was to be a sovereign, secular and a democratic republic in which there was individual freedom and equality. All were meant to be equal before the law.
Where did the RSS figure in this? Simply put, nowhere. The RSS had no role in the freedom movement. If it had any quarrel with the Congress-led movement, it could have carried on an alternative mode of struggle in the manner of the Bengal revolutionaries. All its reference points were Hindu, which is a negation of the inclusive character of Indian nationalism.
Any organisation that wears a religious cloak — the RSS, the Muslim League or the Akali Dal — can have no claim to being nationalistic. To give space in this field to any of those amounts to a redefinition of nationalism, which does not bode well for our polity.
CP Bhambhri taught politics at JNU
The views expressed are personal