The progenitor of "everyday Hindu nationalism" is Mohandas Gandhi as much as Hedgewar or Savarkar. In fact Gandhi is much more dangerous than the latter as the core of his ideology, which is sanatana dharma and varnashrama, is well couched in liberal language, well packaged and propagated internationally and successfully by his rich upper caste/class capitalist sponsors, western propagandists and fans as non-violence, while the latter's fascist tendencies have always been naked. Let me demonstrate this anecdotally.
For those who do not know, Gandhi was a great fan of Benito Mussolini. He wrote about Mussolini in a letter to his friend that: "Mussolini is a riddle to me. Many of his reforms attract me. He seems to have done much for the peasant class. I admit an iron hand is there. But as violence is the basis of Western society, Mussolini's reforms deserve an impartial study... Nonetheless, [Mussolini's] care of the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about coordination between capital and labor, seem to me to demand special attention ... My own fundamental objection is that these reforms are compulsory. But it is the same in all democratic institutions. What strikes me is that behind Mussolini's implacability is a desire to serve his people. Even behind his emphatic speeches there is a nucleus of sincerity and of passionate love for his people. It seems to me that the majority of the Italian people love the iron government of Mussolini." And Gandhi called him "one of the greatest statesmen of our times".
When his son Manilal fell in love with a Muslim girl Fatima Gool, the daughter of one of his rich South African sponsors, he went out of his way to manipulate them out of the relationship. When everything else failed, he summoned Manilal and told him, "Your marriage will have a powerful impact on the Hindu-Muslim question. Inter-communal marriages are not solution to this problem. You cannot forget nor will society forget that you are my son.... If you enter into this relationship, you may not be able to render any service. I fear you may no more be the right person to run the "Indian Opinion" .... It will be impossible for you, I think, after this to come and settle in India" Manilal was reduced to muttering; "in my revered father's sublime service" and backed out of the relationship.
The tumultuous relationship between Gandhi and his eldest son Harilal is well known. Harilal knew that despite his professed love for Muslims what would hurt Gandhi most was if one of his children converted to Islam and he did precisely that and changed his name to Abdullah. A stunned Gandhi lapsed into silence and used Kasturba to fight his battle against Harilal - and that too in public. While the public spat was going on, Harilal's aunt and Gandhi's sister-in-law slapped him repeatedly. Gandhi took vicarious pleasure in this act of violence and wrote "She gave slaps, she did a good thing. There was no violence in it but there was pure love". More serious is Harilal's accusation: "The question whether I am haunting Ba or you are doing it remains unanswered. Ba reacts to me based on the biased reports fed to her. I refuse to believe of Ba being not understanding of me. She must have been denied accurate information. Hence my hesitation to write to her. She will write to me only when she is allowed to do so."
Then there is this story of Gandhi adopting a Dalit girl Dudhabhai Lakshmi as his daughter. This adoption and the story is not innocent. When Gandhi started the Kochrab Ashram - he needed an untouchable family - and Lakshmi's family was located. However, when they moved into the Ashram, there was a virtual revolt including funds drying out - forcing Gandhi to send them away from the Ashram. Gandhi himself referred to this family as "pariah". Gandhi wasted little time on Lakshmi and as soon as she turned 19, he married her off in a hurry to a Brahmin boy (as he was particular that the groom should be a non-Antyaja), an event to which her biological father was not even invited. Lakshmi fondly remembered her return to her parents, while Gandhi confided in Premabehn Kantak that, "She was full of shortcomings and indolent... I now feel that I should never have accepted Lakshmi." Lakshmi died in obscurity in a two room tenement in Ahmedabad, a couple of flights up a dark alleyway smelling of urine, in 1984.
There are many more anecdotes that can be narrated - but I think this should suffice as demonstrative examples of Gandhi's subterfuge and subversion cloaked as non-violence. In my opinion, it is easier to attack the naked fascism of RSS than the credible prejudices that people like Gandhi have been unleashing. Unfortunately, many not only believe in these prejudices, but they form the foundation of the imagination of the Indian nation.
The core behind the imagination and projection of Indian nationhood has been Gandhi and his Mahatmahood and the celebration of the same – even for the organization accused of having conspired in his killing. For RSS, the imagination of India was an aspirational one – one that needed to be strived towards, while the Indian nation ruled by the Congress – with Gandhi as its father was a Gandhian reality in many ways. Though these two ideologies met at an imperial junction that celebrates caste and feudalism. And in more than one way, it was Gandhi's lieutenants who facilitated the growth of the RSS post the stigma that they attracted for killing him. In fact, the controversy surrounding Gandhi's last words is a pointer to that – "Hey Ram" or "Rama Rama" or just a guttural noise. The relief of the government that the killer was not a Muslim speaks volumes.
Let me explain. Look at the current feudal phenomena in Indian society and polity – be it the war that the state has unleashed against its own citizens in the name of Maoism or terrorism – the "uncivilsed" Adivasis and the "fanatic" Muslims. The agenda of development might not be Gandhian – but it is showcased to be in the best interests of the people – in emulation of the rule of one of Gandhi's favorites Benito Mussolini. Now let us look at caste – Indian society has moved towards celebrating and mimicking its treatment of Dalits, the way Gandhi treated Dudhabhai Lakshmi. Of course this does not mean that actual violence against Dalits has abated. On the other hand, with inter-community marriages – the Khap Panchayats adopt the same stand that Gandhi took with Manilal – and many political formations including the professedly liberal Aam Aadmi Party support them.
This is precisely why the RSS is comfortable with Gandhi as the father of the nation and does not see the need to force its own founding ideologues too much on the polity at this juncture. Because Gandhism is doing the job for them, be it in the form of the Congress or Gandhians in the mould of Anna Hazare. And it is not difficult to jump from here to RSS' aspirational imperialism and fascism.
The question then is how does one unravel the multiple layers in which these ideologies are couched!
Bobby Kunhu is a human rights activist and lawyer.
Drawing by Unnamati Syama Sundar.