RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to release book on Mahatma on January 1
A new book on Mahatma Gandhi’s discovery of his Hindu identity during his stay in South Africa will be released by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat at Rajghat in New Delhi on New Year’s Day.
The office of Union culture minister Prahlad Patel has confirmed that he will be present at the release along with the minister of state for external affairs, V Muraleedharan.
The book, Making of A Hindu Patriot, published by ‘Har Anand’, is over 1,000-pages long and described by its authors JK Bajaj and MD Srinivas as an academic study. Written over the last decade, it was meant to be released in October to coincide with the 151st anniversary of the Mahatma’s birth but was delayed due to the pandemic. The authors also worked on the Gujarati, Hindi and English editions of Mahatma’s Hind Swaraj, which was released in 2011 by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Bhagwat.
Bajaj attributed the term “Hindu Patriot” to Leo Tolstoy, with whom Gandhi exchanged letters in 1909 and 1910. “Tolstoy told his diarist that ‘this Gandhi is quite a good fellow except for his Hindu Patriotism’”, said Bajaj, who is also a member of the government-appointed commission examining the sub-categorisation of OBCs , the first step of ensuring that the benefits of reservation aren’t being monopolised by a few groups. According to him, Gandhi responded to Tolstoy’s words later by saying, “My patriotism is patent enough, my love for India is evergrowing but it is derived from my religion and is therefore in no sense exclusive.”
While an RSS spokesperson didn’t respond to HT’s queries seeking comment, Bhagwat referred to Hind Swaraj in a piece in HT last year. “In his Hind Swaraj, he envisioned a dream picture of Bharat’s progress and performance based on the pure swadeshi (made in India) vision, which was free from this slave mindset,’’ Bhagwat wrote.
In the introduction to Making of a Hindu Patriot, the authors write: “We have tried to tell the story of the evolution of Hind Swaraj as a text of religious patriotism and of the parallel evolution of Gandhiji as a Hindu Patriot, perhaps the greatest Hindu Patriot, Deshbhakta Mahatma, of our times. We tell this story largely in his own words.’’ They add that they chose the term because Gandhi always perceived himself as a Hindu, and that is how his contemporaries saw him. They quote Gandhi as saying the “fight is on behalf of religion, that is, for religion which underlies all religions”
The book covers the period before 1914 when Gandhi was fighting for the rights of Indians in South Africa. “To us, the treatment meted out to him in South African prisons was also new. They made him break stones on the road, paraded him in handcuffs through the streets and put him in an isolation cell for months. He could suffer all this and come out stronger because his religious faith and anchorage,’’ said Bajaj.
The book says that In South Africa, Gandhi was under pressure to convert from some of his Christian and Muslim well-wishers, during which he discovered the “meaning and responsibility of being a Hindu.”
Bhagwat’s presence at Rajghat is interesting as the RSS has had a complicated link with the Mahatma. The RSS was temporarily banned in the wake of the assassination of the Mahatma by Nathuram Godse, although the organisation disowned the latter and said he left it in the 1930s. The ban was lifted a year after the assassination in 1949.
Gandhi’s grandson and former governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi declined comment.
Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, said: “It’s an irony of our times that the chief of RSS is releasing a book on Bapu that to one dealing with his life in South Africa and Bapu’s discovery of his faith. The journey of Bapu’s discovery of the objective and ideal of his life started from his reading of John Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’ a book which espouses sustainable ethical and moral commerce and an almost Socialist way of life but illustrates it with Biblical references. The head of an organisation like RSS which rejects all else but ‘Hindutva’ accepting the influence of the Church in the transformation of Bapu. I hope while talking on the book he desists from Hindutvaising Bapu and accepts the fact that the transformation in Bapu came about because he realised that the Kingdom of God was within himself and his adherence to the ideal of Unity of humankind above the narrow confines of region, race and religion.”
He added: “To me what is ironical is that the ideology that birthed Bapu’s murderer, has realised that eventually it is Gandhi who is inevitable, unavoidable and inescapable.”