Saturday, April 13, 2024

Book review: RSS The Long and Short of It (2022)

Devanura Mahadeva, a leading political activist, and a famed literary figure, in his latest book RSS The Long and Short of It has taken the RSS to the task. The book was first published in Kannada in June 2022 and was translated into English recently by S.R. Ramakrishna. The book has been translated into other regional languages as well. Mahadeva is a doyen of contemporary Dalit literature and has bagged several laurels. Mahadeva’s book brings the RSS to public trial for its inculpation. 

The acuity in Mahadeva’s writing has defeated RSS, and its nefarious agenda on its turf, which is religious philosophy often mended according to the whims of right-wing propaganda. His intervention becomes crucial because he was an insider who once carried the RSS’s parasol. 

In the first chapter, Mahadeva used the progenitors of the RSS to expose its nefarious agenda. He shows that the organization was sympathetic to twentieth-century fascism. The excerpt from Golwalkar’s We or our Nationhood Defined wherein he upheld the ethnic cleansing in Germany and offered it as a learning opportunity for Hindusthan. He further adds that for the minorities: ‘‘there are only two courses open to foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them.’’ Similarly, Savarkar had glorified Nazism and Fascism as ‘the most congenial tonic’ for Germany and Italy. Since RSS’s inception, it has drawn its inspiration from fascist forces and made apocryphal claims from fables.

Furthermore, the author explores how the RSS is moving forward to wage a war of hate. He discusses how and why the right wing is polarising and why RSS desires a homogenous society. Exploring the politics of dividing and smearing historical figures with hate and contempt, Mahadeva argues that the rationale of RSS is deranged from the truth. To strike a discord on communal lines, the contribution of historical figures like Tipu Sultan is being erased from public education. Tipu had fought tooth and nail against the British and introduced land reform, initiatives in sericulture, established mint, made easy loans to the farmers, and so on. All such references to Tipu Sultan have been erased.   

On the deeply sectarian nature of the RSS, Mahadeva writes, ‘‘even in our puranas, Gods fight battles, win and lose, marry mix and live together. However, these self-proclaimed devotees of God live in a gutter of intolerance and hatred and with feelings of high and low that come from wearing caste, sectarian and religious blinkers.’’ 

The right-wing philosophy sees diversity as a poisonous seed that will lead to national disintegration. This stance has been put on display numerous times. For instance, through the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill (2021). The BJP and its allies are poised to bring similar malicious laws to deepen the communal chasm in India. 

The betrayal of the RSS of our freedom struggle is a bitter truth that the right-wing wants to sweep under the carpet. Mahadeva exposes that during the biggest political upheaval in independent India, the RSS rose to become an acceptable political outfit by joining Jai Prakash Narayan’s bandwagon. Mahadeva recounts that at the time of joining the Janta Party, the chief of the RSS had promised JP that members of the Jana Sangh (BJP’s predecessor) would give up their membership of the RSS and cease to hold dual memberships. Among those who made this promise were Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K Advani, and Balasaheb Deoras, the then chief of the RSS. Jai Prakash Narayan was hoodwinked. They did not give up their membership in the RSS. Mahadeva writes, “the promise was broken. The RSS had won JP’s trust only to let him down. In his twilight years, JP recalled what had transpired, and despaired, they betrayed my trust.” (Pg. 25)

In the book, Mahadeva points out that the RSS is like the ‘backward walking ghost’ which seeks to restore a regressive social order. And for the furtherance of its objective is creating an illusion that they represent the majority while they only stand loyal to the corporates. The latest report published by Oxfam India concretizes the obscene policies of the incumbent and where it is escorting us.  The report highlights a humongous economic inequality in India, where 21 billionaires have accumulated more wealth than 700 million Indians.  

Mahadeva calls out the regressive infatuation of RSS with racial patriarchy in 1998 when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power. The incumbent introduced Karmakand (rituals) and Paurohitya (Priest Craft) in the educational curriculum. In the Universities, astrology was taught and a lesson was about “how to beget a male child by performing the Putrakameshti Yajna ritual.” (Pg. 37)

The book disputes RSS’s flawed theorization of social justice based on the precedence of Jati Vyavastha. As the Brahmins hold the whip and the other Varnas follow in tandem, it is the natural order of social justice based on a false premise of divinity. As the notion of democracy is a foreign construct according to the organization and its affiliates, it has been vehemently negated as the RSS seeks the imposition of Manudharmashastra as the law of the land. Mahadeva writes, “The Constitution robs it (RSS) of its sleep. To destroy the Constitution, the RSS and its affiliates commit unspeakable acts…They are waging a war to overturn the federalism that binds the states and the Union Government and constitutes the bedrock of the Constitution.” 

On the political economy of the Chaturvarna order, Mahadeva writes: “for RSS and BJP, the former Shudras must be the foot soldiers, they must remain helpless, they must remain servants, as laid down in the Chaturvarna order: this is what is quietly coming to pass here. Isn’t this plight of workers? When the farmers’ ties with their land are weakened, won’t it bring back the servant order made up of landless Shudras? When new position remains vacant, backlogs in government departments are left unfilled, and jobs are handed over to the private sector where no job reservation exists, aren’t the RSS and BJP pushing back communities that benefit from reservation to being Shudra servants?”  (Pg.40)

It is an unassailable fact that the Karyakartas (volunteers) of the right-wing remains true to their deity in human form, the Sarsanghchalak, and are indifferent towards the Constitution. It is also true that the foot soldiers are acting without discretion in boiling up the communal cauldron. The BJP does not dance to the tune of RSS anymore, as has been pointed out by Mahadeva. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, the RSS no longer holds the reins. The BJP is much more solidly ensconced in the saddle. Senior journalist Dhirendra Jha in his latest piece Bhagwat Eclipsed’  The BJP is pushing the agenda of one country, one state, one legislature and ‘one leader’. And dissent of any sort is marked as an act of a renegade or, in their jargon, ‘anti-national’.

To conclude, the book calls for action by the progressive forces to struggle for constitutional authority, the essence of federalism, and its diversity which is the ‘life breath of India.’ In one of the many caustic passages, Mahadeva has best depicted the RSS. He writes, “The gait of the RSS is like that of a backward walking ghost. The need of the hour is to strip the regressive groups of their various disguises, one by one, and to expose their real nature to the society.” (Pg. 52)

Rishav Sharma is a legal practitioner currently stationed in Delhi.

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