Why there was no freedom movement based on Hindu nationalism?

Koenraad Elst in his article makes the point that many young Indian revolutionaires joined the Indian communist movement because they did not agree with the non-violent nonsense of Gandhi but had nowhere else to go. Joining the communists was the only alternative they had to Gandhian muddle-headedness.

The freedom movement had two main strains: one of Gandhi and the other of revolutionaries. Strangely, there was no strain that was rooted in Hindu nationalism. (This strain was last seen only in 1857 when Indian sepoys fought to “protect their dharma.”) What did the British do since then to ensure a mass movement of Hindus based on Hindu religion and nationalism never appeared in India again?

In any other society, a freedom movement based on the assertiveness of native ethos and culture against a hostile invader would have been the most natural outcome of being ruled forcefully by a predatory and brutal colonial power.

But in India, such a movement was missing among the Hindus though it was thriving among Muslims through the Muslim League. Why was there no Muslim League version among the Hindus that was grounded in Hindu religion and that strove to recapture political power from the British. This is an interesting question. Who was responsible for thwarting a movement that should have come naturally to the Hindus in India?

Was Gandhi introduced into India by the British precisely to thwart such a Hindu movement from emerging? (Gandhi came to India from South Africa on a Christian missionary’s advice.) Did Hedgewar make a blunder by rejecting offers to integrate RSS with the Hindu Mahasabha in political work for national independence and for the safeguarding of Hindu interests?

Hindu Mahasabha was the only political body of Hindus grounded in Hindu religion. But it could never become a mass movement. Why? Did Hindus make a mistake by rejecting a body formed to unabashedly safeguard their interests and supporting Gandhi who was there only to safeguard Muslim interests? Seeing this, Aurobindo derisively remarked that “Hindus have lost the capability to think.”

The all-India volunteer network of the RSS allied with the political vision of Hindu Mahasabha would have resulted in a powerful movement of Hindu nationalists who wanted to rule the land. It could have counter-balanced Jinnah’s Muslim separatism and offered Indian revolutionaries an alternative to Marxism.

Jyoti Basu and The Unnecessary Success of Indian Communism

By Dr. Koenraad Elst

Jyoti Basu’s demise is not the end of an era. The heyday of Communism in India is over, that turn has already been taken some years ago, with the electoral defeat of the Communist Parties of 2009 a major step downwards. Neither is the end near, for in India Communism is far more alive and combative than in almost any other country, with a formidable presence on the ground (Northeast, Jharkhand-Telengana corridor), in the trade-unions, in academe and in the parliaments of several states.

Communism’s persistent grip on West Bengal in particular is very largely Jyoti Basu’s own work. While the CPI supported the Emergency and took a leadershiop role in its enforcement, Jyoti Basu’s CPM opposed it, and he rode the wave of anti-Emergency resistance to power in 1977. After he led the state for 23 years, his successor Buddhadev Bhattacharya is still capitalizing on the party’s power position that Mr. Basu built.

His personal character shines rather brightly compared with the venality of hollowness of so many Congress, casteist and even BJP politicians. Like his Kerala counterpart, the late E.M.S. Namboodiripad, he showed that Marxism-Leninism requires from its votaries a lifestyle of discipline and dedication. The Communists, both inside and outside his own party, have reason to deplore the passing of a hero of their movement.

But what should the rest of us remember him for? He was born in a “bourgeois” family in Kolkata and had the privilege of studying in England. There he joined the freedom struggle and, through this involvement, came closer to the Communist Party of Great Britain. Only because the party instructed him to, he postponed full membership until after his return to India. In 1946 he was elected for the first time to the Bengal parliament, where the Communists supported the plans for the imminent Partition.

Many leading Communists (and other leftists, like Amartya Sen) were from East Bengal and found to their dismay that like all other Hindus, they had to flee the new state of Pakistan to India, the country whose unity they had betrayed. Unperturbed, they continued the anti-Hindu line they had shared with the Muslim league during the struggle for Partition. Once in power, the Communists patronized the immigration and integatrion of millions of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

At the end of his term, Mr. Basu even toyed with the idea of rebaptizing “West Bengal” as just “Bengal”, to do away with the implication that next to “West” Bengal, “there was another part tucked away somewhere”. That was a pretty crass instance of the Communists’ tendency to rewrite history at their own convenience, for of course there does exist another part, the East Bengal that the Communists themselves helped to give away to the Jihadi forces.

We should take this opportunity to highlight one phenomenon, which was concentrated mostly in pre-Independence Bengal, viz. the move of a large majority of revolutionaries — particularly from the Anushilan Samiti circuit — to join the Communist movement. An auxiliary reason for this development was British aid: revolutionary prisoners were given Marxist literature, because the British knew that the Communists opposed terrorist violence and aimed for a mass uprising in the long term, thus leaving British (and other oppressors’) lives out of harm’s way until the time of the Revolution.

Hindu nationalists who easily resort to cheap blame-the-British scenarios (“Jinnah was brainwashed by the British into trading in nationalism for separatism”), tend to overplay the importance of this; the British could only reinforce a tendency already in operation. After the success of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917-20, it was but natural that activists of a revolutionary temperament worldwide would feel attracted to Marxism. At least, they did so wherever an alternative was lacking. In Italy, many joined the Fascist movement and grabbed power in 1923 on a very similar wave of revolutionary enthusiasm.

Did India have an alternative? The freedom movement was captured by M.K. Gandhi in 1920 and left no room for revolutionaries, whom Gandhi emphatically disowned and condemned. The fledgling RSS, founded by an Anushilan Samiti disappointee, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar, renounced politics and preferred work in the sphere of culture, social self-organization and “character building”. Hedgewar rejected offers to integrate his volunteer corps with the Hindu Mahasabha in political work for national independence and for the safeguarding of Hindu interests.

So, it is likely that many revolutionaries, initially motivated only love of India and freedom, turned to Marxism not because of this ideology’s intrinsic strengths, but for lack of a native ideological alternative. Revolution-minded people obviously could not reconcile with Gandhian nonsense, anymore than the moderate constitutionalists (including the young Jinnah) could. They wanted to act decisively against the British colonialists, and also against backward social forces hampering the devolution of the fruits of freedom to the masses. Naturally they had no patience with Gandhism and associated anachronisms.

One alternative that might be cited is represented by the lone figure of Swami Shraddhananda. He stood for national freedom as well for an uncompromising stand against inequality and social injustice. But the party he co-founded, the Hindu Mahasabha, was soon embroiled in compromise with Hindus who supported the freedom struggle but practised the politics of the dead weight against social reform. Also, it did not involve itself in revolutionary struggle, not in terrorism of course, but not even in theoretical exercises planning for a revolutionary overthrow of colonialism in the long term.

Lenin, while renouncing “childhood diseases of Communism” such as stray terror, did teach a long-term strategy for taking power and imposing an unalloyed new order. Nobody in India seems to understand the challenge and the need for a convincing native alternative.

Sri Aurobindo lamented that the mind of the Hindus had become dysfunctional, but he too failed to formulate an alternative, let alone to work for it. After his personal experience with the failure of the armed struggle, he soon retired from politics and, while giving lucid comments on political evolutions, never came out again to provide practical leadership. All this while, Gandhi worked on people’s emotions, but the Marxists worked on their minds, and their penetration was more enduring.

Thus we see a long list of freedom fighters taking up Marxism and Socialism of various varieties. Not all these men and women were Marxists in the true sense, they only wanted to serve the national cause but not the Gandhian way. Thus, the problem was a lack of native Indian/Hindu vision and an ensuing line of action. We should not paint each and every Communist as a villain, but highlight the fact that a true native ideological narrative needs to be developed from scratch (if needed) and articulated. This would address a historical lacuna in India. Indian Marxism will die a natural death only when such a vision emerges.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Why there was no freedom movement based on Hindu nationalism?

  1. Felipe Stuart C.

    Dr. Koenraad Elst’s article addresses a significant question, one that touches on the people of one of the most populous countries on the globe, and one of the fastest developing of the former colonies of western imperialist powers. The introduction to his paper wrote that “[t]he all-India volunteer network of the RSS allied with the political vision of Hindu Mahasabha would have resulted in a powerful movement of Hindu nationalists who wanted to rule the land. It could have counter-balanced Jinnah’s Muslim separatism and offered Indian revolutionaries an alternative to Marxism.”

    Two signpost paragraphs more or less define the reach and the limits of Dr. Elst’s argument. I quote them in the order they appeared:

    “So, it is likely that many revolutionaries, initially motivated only love of India and freedom, turned to Marxism not because of this ideology’s intrinsic strengths, but for lack of a native ideological alternative. Revolution-minded people obviously could not reconcile with Gandhian nonsense, anymore than the moderate constitutionalists (including the young Jinnah) could. They wanted to act decisively against the British colonialists, and also against backward social forces hampering the devolution of the fruits of freedom to the masses. Naturally they had no patience with Gandhism and associated anachronisms.”

    and,

    “Thus we see a long list of freedom fighters taking up Marxism and Socialism of various varieties. Not all these men and women were Marxists in the true sense, they only wanted to serve the national cause but not the Gandhian way. Thus, the problem was a lack of native Indian/Hindu vision and an ensuing line of action. We should not paint each and every Communist as a villain, but highlight the fact that a true native ideological narrative needs to be developed from scratch (if needed) and articulated. This would address a historical lacuna in India. Indian Marxism will die a natural death only when such a vision emerges.”

    But the argument, at least in so far as it is fairly presented here, does not explain what the author finds faulty with Marxism; nor does it outline, even in skeletal form, what Hindu nationalism would have had to offer (or could someday advocate in the future) the oppressed millions of colonial subjects on the sub-continent.

    It leans on the highly suspect “what if” method of posing and supposedly answering historical questions.

    The phenomenal impact of the Russian Revolution on tens of thousands of students and literate toilers in colonial India is explained not as a concrete response to concrete and positive examples, but by the default of a Hindu nationalism that had not yet been born or even intellectually conceived in communicable form.

    Perhaps a better question to investigate is why Hindu anti colonialists did not respond positively in far larger numbers to the appeal of the October revolution and its communist message. Why were they not drawn to the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the Far East with the same pull as Muslim anti-imperialists?

    The doctor’s prediction that “Indian Marxism will die a natural death only when such a [Hindu nationalist] vision emerges” could well turn out to be off base. It seems much more likely that new generations of Indian, Bengali, and Pakistani nationalists and anti-imperialists will overcome the pitfalls of the official Stalinist and Maoist caricatures of Marxism, and go on to discover a whole global resurgence of interest in the contributions of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, the Communist international in Lenin’s time, Mariategui and Gramsci, and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. The current modern organized expression of that Marxist continuity is found today in Latin America and the Caribbean in the Cuban, Bolivarian and Bolivian revolutions, and the ALBA Alliance of nations. The launching of the 5th socialist international this year is its most advanced projection on the level of organizing ant capitalist and anti-imperialist fighters on a global stage. The 5th International founding congress will be held in April 2010 in Caracas, Venezuela.

    Felipe Stuart, Managua, Nicaragua
    Siempre Sandinista!

    fcstuart1959@gmail.com

  2. Bharat

    Gandhian thoughts may not have been perfect; but its far far better than Marxian nonsense. Elst may have his personal reasons for his dislike for Gandhiji. But if it was not for Gandhiji, a great number of Indians would have been “converted” to Xty even in the 1930’s.

  3. Bharat

    “Strangely, there was no strain that was rooted in Hindu nationalism. (This strain was last seen only in 1857 when Indian sepoys fought to “protect their dharma.”) What did the British do since then to ensure a mass movement of Hindus based on Hindu religion and nationalism never appeared in India again?”

    Pls see http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/h_rv/h_rv_dhara_cow_frameset.htm

    This latest book by Dharampal is about one of the most significant movements in India, against kine-killing by the British, during the nineteenth century. The enormity of this movement and the threat it posed to the British may be gauged by the statement of Viceroy Lansdowne when he said that: “I doubt whether, since the Mutiny, any movement containing in it a greater amount of potential mischief has engaged the attention of the Government of India.”

    While it may be generally known that a very large number of the cow and its progeny were daily slaughtered by the British for their army and civilian personnel in India from about 1750 onwards, very little is known, even to most scholars and historical researchers on India, about this India-wide anti-kine-killing movement against the British during 1880-1894. Even those among the few scholars who have taken some note of this movement have treated it as a Hindu-Muslim conflict. But such was not the case, as the documents presented in this book show that many prominent Muslims as well as the Parsis and Sikhs actively participated in the movement. The fact that the movement was directed against the British and not against the Muslims, as commonly believed, was very clear to Queen Victoria and her high-ranking officers. Queen Victoria says in a letter to Viceroy Lord Lansdowne, “Though the Muhammadan’s cow killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is, in fact, directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, etc., than the Muhammadans.”

    “This book counters the general impression that Muslims in India eat the flesh of cow, which is perhaps a myth perpetuated by the British. Though the Muslim community was encouraged to take up the slaughter of cattle, as the large number slaughterhouses set up by the British required professional butchers, but a majority of the immigrant Muslims, as well as the converted, seldom did take to eating of cow flesh. This is borne out by many clippings from the Urdu press as well as from the correspondence between British officials of that period, as documented in this book. The British tried their best, and largely succeeded in projecting this movement, which was in the words of Lansdowne himself ‘political’ in nature, to one which now appears to the educated Indian as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims. “

  4. S

    A Marxist said above –

    “But the argument, at least in so far as it is fairly presented here, does not explain what the author finds faulty with Marxism;”

    Only a Marxist could make such a statement. Marxists are perfectly comfortable with the number of people Stalin killed, and I am not even starting upon what other Marxists did and what these Marxist terrorists are doing in India.

    “nor does it outline, even in skeletal form, what Hindu nationalism would have had to offer (or could someday advocate in the future) the oppressed millions of colonial subjects on the sub-continent.”

    Actually it does. But you are not a Hindu and you don’t know the history of Hindus and therefore please refrain from comments.

    “It leans on the highly suspect “what if” method of posing and supposedly answering historical questions. ”

    Like I said above – you do not know Hindu history.

    “Perhaps a better question to investigate is why Hindu anti colonialists did not respond positively in far larger numbers to the appeal of the October revolution and its communist message. Why were they not drawn to the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the Far East with the same pull as Muslim anti-imperialists?”

    You think that this is a better question to investigate ? Putin does not think that the October revolution is a hot idea. Why not ask him to bring it about again ? Or at least talk about it in the main stream media.

    I can give a reply to the rest of Marxist nonsense that you wrote, but I do not have the time. Please attend your Marxist conference in Venezuela and refrain commenting on things that do not concern you. Concentrate on the number of children that the Christian missionaries kidnap and convert from Latin American countries.

  5. answertoyourquestion

    koenraad elst is no friend of india. stop quoting foreigners as authorities on indian history. especially when they are not involved in it.
    elst is just part of the good cop-bad cop routine of the west. dont eat up everything that he says.

  6. answertoyourquestion

    one more thing. india’ s first socialist was vivekananda, the biggest hindu of them all. bigger even than dayanand saraswati(who condemned idol worship), bigger than savarakar and co. could ever dream of becoming.
    it was vivekananda who first proposed that dalits were supposed to be given special treatment not gandhi.
    and if gandhi didnt exist communism would have swept india in most parts if not all.
    you have no idea about how vinobha bhave stopped communism in strong communist holds like telangana.

  7. answertoyourquestion

    india has never been a colony of britain. the number of british residents in india was never more than 1,75,000. it was ruled by the britsh along with its indian partners who found it profitable to ally with the imperial dacoit against its own people.

  8. answertoyourquestion

    you also forget that ina of subash had both muslims,sikhs and hindus. if it were to be a hindu nationalist army. sikhs would not have joined. and also you forget in the mutiny of the navy and air force both hindus , muslims and sikhs were united. this mutiny(1946) was one of the main reasons british left india. you rely on the same devices and arguments that are made by marxists(which is gandhi-nehru -congress bashing)to promote the cause of rss
    and bjp.
    i am having to suspect if you are a rss/bjp member rather than an unaffiliated blogger with only bharat on his mind.
    bjp isnt going to save india. it is only slightly better than congress.

  9. ravi

    We should study the private army of church ,evangelical movement,
    a nexus of Maoist comunist centre and People war group,Christian crusade
    of present era backed by Jesua project,campus crusade ,different NGO all 70+ organisation , (popularly known as naxal movement)Many Christian action group cadres have also been inducted into prominent naxalite groups under the garb of liberation theology activists. For instance Vernon Gonsalves @ Vikram, a state committee member of Maharashtra unit of CPI (Maoist) who was arrested by the ATS, Maharashtra, in August,2007 and another top Maoist leader Arun Ferreira, r/o Bandra, who was arrested by Nagpur police have both confessed to the police that they are activists of liberation theology movement. A number of human rights activists including Dr.Binayak Sen,Vice President of PUCL, have also been arrested in the recent past for their close links with the Maoist movement in the country confirming the close links between the Maoist movement and NGO and human rights net-work. Since the Christian action groups in the country are all controlled by various church agencies, many church leaders in India are also now directly linked with the naxalite movement.

    So, when Sabyasachi Panda, a top Maoist leader of Orissa claims responsibility for the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others at his ashram in Kandhamal district on August 23,2008, it does not help to absolve the church activists from the charge of involvement in the crime. The naxalite movement in the country had enjoyed maximum mass support during the period from 1969 to 1974. However despite the dynamic leadership provided by leaders like Charu Majumdar and Sitaramaiyyah the support base of the naxalite movement was mostly confined to the three states of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

    By 1975, the naxal movement had started disintegrating and it is only because of its association with the action group movement since mid seventies that it was able to sustain itself.

    Today, with the full support and all possible assistance from the networking NGOs and also with the systematic induction of a large number of NGO activists into major naxalite groups, the naxal movement in the country has now become very powerful and it continues to make inroads into more and more new areas, especially in the remote and tribal regions.

    About 170 districts in 15 states in the country are now reportedly considered as naxal-infested. This unprecedented growth of naxalite movement in the country can be attributed to the support and encouragement it receives from the action group movement of networking NGOs which has got a strong and wide network all over the country. The irony of the situation is that the naxalite movement which proclaims to be the greatest crusader against the imperialist lobby is presently controlled by the action group movement which in turn is promoted, financed and controlled by the same imperialist lobby.

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