Sangh and intellectualism
Author: Ashok Chowgule, Working President (External), VHP.
“Not one of the people who want to associate themselves with the BJP would be admitted within the vicinity of a detergent advertisement.”
“Its phenomenal growth notwithstanding, the BJP has always lacked acceptability in that segment of society for which BBC and the Time magazine serve as a window to the world.”
Bhaskar Roy, “Five o’clock faces”, The Times of India, September 16, 1999.
Though these two quotes name the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the sentiments they convey is intended to apply to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates. For decades, cut-and-paste articles have appeared, primarily from those belonging to the left spectrum of politics, which proclaim that the RSS has not produced any intellectuals of note.
The intention of these articles is not merely to state a fact – like the RSS headquarters is at Resham Bagh in Nagpur, or that it was founded in 1925 on Vijayadashmi day. If it were so, then it would merit a line in an article, and not a full one. And, even if a full article is written, it would not merit the multiple cut-and-paste articles that one has seen. You do not get to read an article on the architecture of Resham Bagh or the various buildings and offices in the compound, nor what happened on that momentous day in 1925.
The real intention is to imply that there has to be something intrinsically wrong with an organisation that is supposedly not able to produce any intellectuals. The leftists seem to start with the proposition that for an organisation to be successful and effective it has to keep on churning intellectuals. So, when they say that the Sangh has not been able to produce intellectuals, they are effectively saying that the Sangh is not a successful or an effective organisation.
The growth of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
I think there would be a very few takers for the statement that the RSS is not successful or not effective. One could talk about the extent of having achieved this goal. I think a very large majority would give a score in excess of 80%. I do not base this number on any survey, but based on my own personal experience. Given that the RSS is going to complete 90 years of existence on this year’s Vijayadashmi day, and that it has been continuously growing and expanding, reinforces my experience.
The growth of the RSS has happened despite a continuous and vigorous opposition of the governments in power – the British during the pre-independence period, and the secular governments in the period after that. And also strong opposition from those occupying the intellectual space. The articles about the RSS, particularly in the English language, have been written by the ones who had a deep antipathy to the organisation and its ideology. However, given the growth of the RSS, it would seem to me that these articles really did not have much impact in the minds of even the English readers in the Indian society.
Today, the RSS has spread its activities to nearly all sections of the society. And its organisations lead in many sectors – for example the labour wing and the student wing, set up just prior to the independence. Then there is the organisation that I am active with – Vishwa Hindu Parishad – which has been successfully able to bring the sants and swamis of the various sampradayas of the larger Hindu fold. Ekal Vidyalay runs more than 40,000 schools in the tribal areas on the principle of one-teacher school. In the successful struggle against the Emergency of 1975-77, those who had come out in the streets were largely swayamsevaks, and they formed more than 70% of those who spent time in jail. It was the swayamsevaks, settled outside India, who formed the backbone of the Friends of India Society International, which ensured the flow of information to the world.
It runs large number of schools where value education is provided besides what is prescribed to get the qualification. It has put together the history of the development of science throughout our civilisation. It has encouraged Sanskrit and other Indian languages. It has encouraged the temple priests to study the proper way to conduct the rituals, and also explain them to the devotees. Such micro level work in the samaj has also been emulated by other Hindu organisations, leading to a big synergy of effort.
The RSS has also inspired hundreds of thousands of swayamsevak to undertake a large number of social service activities in various fields. My favourite is the Dr Hedgewar Hospital in Aurangabad, which is one of the larger private sector hospital in the country. In contrast to many of the other private sector hospitals, poor people can access quality medical treatment at very low rates, and sometimes without having to pay. It was started by a few medical doctors in Aurangabad, who decided to devote their lives in service to the people of India, forgoing an opportunity to earn large incmes if they had gone into private practice.
The leftist ‘intellectuals’
In contrast, I would like those who are opposed to the ideology of the RSS to let the people know what they have achieved in activities similar to where the RSS is present. They can even list out the achievements in managing state funded institutions. And then we can have a discussion on the issue of successfulness and effectiveness.
The multitude of articles about RSS and lack of intellectualism, also implies that those opposed to the ideology have been continuously churning out what are called intellectuals. It is necessary to understand how this was achieved. While not so openly stated in the past, there is now an admission that those opposed to the RSS were the ones who were dominating the state-funded institutions. That their appointment was on the basis of conforming to an ideology, and not on the basis of scholarship is clear in the next section.
The leftists have produced the intellectuals not by setting up their own institutes, but by capturing the state institutions, which were set up by using the money from the society. And they did this through subterfuge, and not honestly. Once in the position of power they had little concern about being loyal to the society, and they tried to thrust their ideology on an unwilling people.
To explain my point, I would like my reader to read the following articles by Ramchandra Guha:
Some thoughts on the closing of the Indian mind
CAPTIVE IDEOLOGUES - History beyond Marxism and Hindutva
I am deliberately using one person to make my case, because I have had correspondence with him in the past, and I attempted to put across to him the Sangh world-view on certain matters. And I met him once in Mumbai in a meeting lasting about two hours. Some time ago, he requested me not to send him any messages, and my messages to him has stopped. However, reading the comments on the articles that he has written, there seem to be sufficient number of people who are giving him perspectives that came to my mind. (Provided, of course, he does read the comments.)
Guha’s twitter introduction says that he is a lapsed Marxist. I have not been able to find out when he lapsed, and I really do not see his writing to be any different from what a Marxist would write – though, perhaps due to the pressure from the social media, he does deviate from the party line here and there. But, he always seems to revert back. Given the way Guha admires the Marxists that are mentioned in the article, he does not seem to have taken the necessary step to critically assess the Marxist ideology.
In one of the articles, Guha starts about how in 2004 a senior minister took a senior journalist for lunch, where the minister asked for names for the ‘directorship of a prestigious centre of historical research’. No names were given, so we just have to take Guha’s word that it was a prestigious centre. Nor will be dwell much on why the views of a journalist (name unknown) were sought for the position, instead of doing a professional search. It reminds me of the phone conversations that the ex-lobbyist, Nira Radia, had with journalists like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, etc.
What Guha says next is quite interesting – maybe amusing is the right word. His name was rejected because he wrote critically about Indira Gandhi, and that of Partha Chatterjee (a ‘distinguished political theorist’) met a similar fate because the latter wrote critically about Jawaharlal Nehru. Since we do not know the name of the institute, the nation has lost an opportunity to identify the Nehru-Gandhi sycophant who eventually made the grade. And an opportunity to evaluate his professional contribution to the ‘prestigious’ centre. Maybe Guha can let the nation know. If nothing else, it would be an interesting gossip.
In another article, Guha talks about his first job as a supposed academic at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata, a state funded institution. He lets out that early into the job, in an interaction with a senior colleague, the latter assumed that Guha was a Marxist. (Perhaps it was true at the time, and that Guha lapsed only some years later.) Furthermore, he clearly says that this colleague was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and he did not seem to see anything wrong that a state institution is manned with card-carrying members of the communist party.
There are many other tit-bits that we can glean from the above three articles about how the Marxists used the state funded institutions to try and thrust their ideology. He admits that the leftists were allowed to capture the state institutions where one would normally find intellectuals, and that this was done with a political objective in mind. And he also says that only fellow-travellers had any hope of being admitted in the supposedly hallow portals.
However, there is a common thread that even though it was a fact that the autonomy of the various institutes was undermined, the sycophants were actually quite competent in their field of work. Not the best perhaps, but competent nevertheless. But the reader just has to take Guha’s word that one can be competent and sycophant at the same time. For example, if post-independent history of India is not critical of the Nehru-Gandhi family, even where there is a legitimate reason, how can the history be unbiased? Of course, hindsight is perfect vision – but a society can learn from its mistakes only when it is admitted that the mistakes are made in the first place.
At one place, Guha says: “Marxist historiography is a legitimate model of intellectual enquiry, albeit one which — with its insistence on materialist explanations — is of limited use when examining the role of culture and ideas, the influence of nature and natural processes, and the exercise of power and authority.” How is it possible that a legitimate model is of limited use when it comes to applying it to so many different strands of inquiry? Such statements, and many others, makes me to conclude that Guha comes out as a confused person, drifting all over the place, and unwilling to admit that a major mistake has happened. The articles come out as written by one who has a reasonably good command over the English language, but not so much on logic or reasoning. Of course, I read it from my lens of being a right-wing.
The intellectual space
I would, therefore, like to make a distinction between an intellectual and one who occupies the intellectual space. This space consists of academic institutions, analysts who write from popular and/or specialised publications on issues relating to a nation, journalists, etc. This intellectual space need not necessarily be the one created by the state. However, when the person occupies the space created by the state, he has an aura of independence and unbiasedness.
When a reader explicitly knows that a person’s writing is influenced by his ideology, the reader is able to sift the wheat from the chaff. He also understands that to form an informed view on a matter, he will have to read articles written by others. But, when the state institutions have been captured by the leftists, and the ideological inclinations of the people occupying the position of knowledge is not generally known, the reader has a problem. Either he will accept what he reads as unadulterated truth, or he will be in a state of confusion.
To understand the problem, let us look at the contribution of the leftists towards resolving the various problems that are faced by our nation. They have projected that within the Marxist school of thought, solutions to the issues confronted by the socially underprivileged will be found. Yet, even today one frequently hears of atrocities against the Dalits primarily by those who are classified as Other Backward Castes. They have authenticated the political programme of the appeasement of the religious leaders of the minority communities, as a legitimate tool to win elections. But the Sachar Committee has highlighted the failure of the political leadership to do anything for the economic and social progress of the poor in the Muslim community.
Their definition of secularism was exclusively in terms of opposition to the RSS ideology. When sociologists like T N Madan and Asish Nandy wrote one article each questioning the practice, and inquiring whether there is true secularism, they were projected by their colleagues as having suddenly being supporters of the RSS. The former wrote, in apparent exasperation, “A couple of my critics have, however, jumped to the conclusion that, since I have reservations about secularism as presented in the prevailing discourse, I must therefore by a supporter of communalism. This is patently absurd.” [T N Madan, “Secularism and the Intellectuals”, Economic and Political Weekly, April 30, 1994.]
The two, and many others, were intellectually terrorised in stopping their inquiry on the lines they had proposed. And so the project of a perverted secularism still prevails.
In the economic field, the Marxist ideology determined the policy directions that the state followed. By 1980 it was clear that these policies were a failure. However, instead of introspecting on the causes of the failure, the Hindus were blamed by the Marxists for being cussed at not using the supposedly wonderful opportunities that were provided to them. Today, the same Marxists proclaim that the growth that has been achieved by the changes instituted since 1980 has done nothing for income equality between sections of the society. They do not even think of considering to examine whether there was income equality when their policies dominated the thinking at the time.
In case of history, the Marxist starting point is that there is nothing the history of our nation that we need to be proud of. Hence, any inquiry in our past will only lead to disappointment and so there is no profit in it. In fact, the history is presented in a form that does not conform to the national consciousness. During the 1940s, they said that India consists of many countries, following the line of the Soviets in USSR. They completely ignored the cultural unity that enabled Adi Shankaracharya to give discourse on Hindu philosophy all over the country. Or that of Swami Vivekanand speaking, again all over the country, on the same subject after he came back from the World Parliament of Religions, held in 1893.
It is also pertinent to point out how the leftists used their positions in the various state organisations to enrich themselves. Guha accepts that the Marxists who were given positions of influence in the state run institutions went about their task in a partisan and nepotistic manner. And, as Arun Shourie pointed out in his book “The Eminent Historians”, they also had funds coming their way without showing any results of their efforts. In fact, Shourie has clearly shown the blatant disregard that these eminent historians had to any normal rules of public funded institutions, and an attitude that would seem to indicate that it is the duty of the society to ensure that they had a luxurious lifestyle, even though the people on whose behalf they claim to be speaking live lives of misery.
But, as is said, you cannot fool all the people all the time. The RSS, through its various organisations, and through mass level contacts amongst all the classes of people, have been able to bypass those who occupied the intellectual space. And through these contacts, the RSS has been able to disabuse the minds of the people of what can only be called the brainwashing that they have been subjected to by the leftists. The tragedy for the nation is that this brainwashing was conducted by using the financial resources provided by the victims, that is the people of India.
Marxism and intellectualism
To really understand the failure of the Marxist ideology, we need to look into the history of Marxism and intellectualism. A defining feature of Marxism was that there was never been a robust discussion, amongst those who continued to identify themselves as Marxists, about the premise on which it was based. Organisational rigidity and a top-down leadership ensured that free thinking was actively discouraged. With changing social environment, the discussions would have fine-tuned the ideology to make it relevant and dynamic. I believe it was John Maynard Keynes who said that when the data changed, he had no problem to change his views.
Marxism, right from the time it captured state power at the political level, has had a deep disdain and suspicion of those occupying the intellectual space, particularly those outside the state institutions. Lenin said: "In general, as you probably know, I am not particularly fond of intelligentsia, and our new slogan 'eliminate illiteracy' should by no means be taken as expressing a wish to give birth to a new intelligentsia. To 'eliminate illiteracy' is necessary only so that every peasant, every worker can read our decrees, orders and appeals by himself without anyone's help. The goal is purely practical. That's all there is to it". (Quoted in D N Ghosh, “A God that is failing”, The Times of India, December 6, 2007.)
In effect, Lenin set about creating an army of useful idiots, who, being literate, could be given space in state institutions to take the Marxist propaganda forward. And the persons occupying the intellectual space found it monetarily profitable to lend their services. This happened in countries where the opportunity to earn decent salaries were limited, and the useful idiots allowed himself to be exploited. In the developed countries, the useful idiots were also created – here the funds used were from the society. But due to reasons of accountability, the Marxist had competition, and the same institutes also encouraged a critical study of Marxism, and alternate paradigms were also provided to the students and the society.
But, merely occupying the intellectual space really does not necessarily make one an intellectual. There is an important characteristic that is required, the one that Ghosh, in the above referred to article, quotes Albert Camus as saying, "...the intellectual’s role will be to say that the king is naked when he is, and not to go into raptures over his imaginary trappings". The writings of Guha would show that the Marxists who have commandeered the position of patronage in all the state funded institutions know that if they said that the king was naked, they would have to suffer the same fate as that of the intellectuals (in the true sense) who opposed Marxist leaders like Lenin and Stalin.
In every country with a Marxist government, even in West Bengal, the ones occupying the intellectual space were always under threat of the state funding drying up. If anyone wanted to say that the king is naked had examples before him about what would happen if he mustered the courage to be honest to his profession. The sad experience of dissidents like Maxim Gorky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the Soviet Union were examples of what would happen to them if they even thought of mustering courage to defy the party line. Every Marxist government has shown the same disdain for genuine intellectuals as expressed by Lenin. They thought such people would be a threat to their position of power, and so had to be controlled, if possible, or neutralised (by exile or by death) otherwise.
In China, during the time of Mao Tse Tung, anyone occupying the intellectual space showed even a hint of questioning the party line was sent to labour camps for supposed re-education. In Cambodia, thousands of intelligent people were killed merely for being intelligent.
A useful idiot can never be an intellectual, who should have the interests of the people at large so that they are free in all sense. And when the situation is going in a direction that is not desirable, they should speak out in favour of the people. They should have no fear of their own safety, nor of their own material well-being. Genuine intellectuals should be a threat to the government in power.
Do read the full Ghosh article at:
Lessons in logic
The first lesson in logic dwells on the following: “All the ducks that I have seen are white, therefore all ducks are white.” The second lesson dwells on what is to be done if the above person meets another who says: “All the ducks that I have seen are grey, therefore all ducks are grey.” There can be one of two reactions – to contend to the other that what he has seen are not really ducks, or to consider the possibility that ducks could have a colour other than white. It is only when one is ideologically driven, and not logic driven, that one will straightaway insist the former, rather than reassess one’s opinion and then come to the conclusion.
A true intellectual, when given the additional data, will accept his conclusion that all ducks are white does not conform to the reality. Furthermore, he will investigate if ducks have more colours other than white and grey. He will define the duck not on the basis of the colour, but on other characteristics, like the shape of the beak, the size of the body, the way the bird walks, whether it floats on water, etc.
The late Yadavrao Joshi, a very senior RSS pracharak of yesteryears said that whether there are intellectuals in the Sangh is for others to say. But one can definitely say that there are intelligent persons in the Sangh. One such intelligent person, Dr Keshav Hegdewar, started the RSS ninety years ago. He inspired other intelligent persons to join the RSS, and all these intelligent people have built up the RSS to what it is today. The RSS would like the people to judge them by the work that is done, and not by flaunting the education qualifications, or the name of the state funded institute that they are employed at.
The intellectual Kshatriya
Even though the intellectual space was denied to them by the machinations of the Marxists, and their political masters, the Hindus worked in their own way to keep the memory of our civilisation and spirituality alive. The Hindu samaj provided theses Intellectual Kshatriyas the financial support to maintain their body and soul together. And because these Kshatriyas were working for a civilizational cause, they did not much care for material benefits. The viewed the value of their work by the body of knowledge they imparted.
The task of those who looked at history from their own civilisational perspective was not all that difficult because this work has been going on for centuries. India is unique in the sense that those who came here from outside to conquer the land and subjugate the civilisation were not fully successful. The people may have been politically ruled by those who were ill-disposed to the philosophy and culture of the Hindus, but their control stopped at the level of the mundane issues relating to administration. The Hindus continued to control, and nurture, the civil institutions through which their history and culture was propagated through generations. And this formed the base on which the Hindus could easily build upon when they had the political freedom to do so.
The Hindu samaj provided the Kshatriyas various platforms to convey their thoughts to the people at large. In the true Hindu tradition, these platforms were not a one-way flow of information. There would be debates and there would be discussions, so that the Intellectual Kshatriya could refine their thoughts, as well keep them relevant to the needs of the time. Through such debates, Adi Shankarachrya was as much a student as he was a teacher.
The Hindus who ventured into natural sciences always found the philosophy books as important to their work as the ones in sciences. Many of them wrote treatises on Hindu philosophy with as much fluency as the ones they wrote on sciences. And they had no hesitation in accepting that the understanding of Hindu philosophy made them better scientists.
Out of the tens of thousands of the Intellectual Kashatriyas, I would like to name two – Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel – to whom I am grateful for forming my own thought process and keep them rooted in the Hindu culture and history. Apart from being a historian, Goel also set up a publication house, which gave so many others to see their work in print, and so reach a larger number of people. Other Hindus have posted these works on the internet, and it has become available to tens of millions of people all over the world. The influence spread not just to those who were born Hindus. Others who came in contact with the people of India, and who soon started to look at Hinduism with a certain amount of empathy, found these works as a basis to research in a manner that made sense.
Due to their training in pamphleteering, and thinking that language can make a good substitute for logic, the Marxists are not able to comprehend that without intellectualism a mass based organisation cannot reach the levels that the Sangh has. While emotions are very important for a mass based organisation, without a sound grounding in sensibleness, the organisation cannot sustain itself in any meaningful way. Through various programmes, the Sangh explains its world view on various issues to its swayamsevaks, who then convey it to others through their contacts. Also, through the programme of mass contacts, these views are conveyed to the people at large.
The swayamsevaks in general, and the Intellectual Kshatriyas in particular, will not allow the histrionics of the Marxist to distract them from going about their self-appointed tasks of keeping Hinduism not just alive but also dynamic. We know that it was the sacrifice of our ancestors that ensured the survival of our civilisation. We will not allow this sacrifice go in vain.
(Ashok Chowgule is the Working President (External) of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. This article is a tribute to the intelligent people in the Sangh parivar, the Intellectual Kshatriyas, and the hundreds of million Hindus who are doing their own bit for a resurgent Hinduism.)
A shorter version of this article under the title “Intellectualism And The Sangh” is available at: