Mohan Bhagwat, whom I even have never had the pleasure of meeting, continues to supply me much material to debate with — from his concept of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ to the differences between my celebratory ‘unity in diversity’ and his more grudging ‘diversity in unity’ — all of which I even have challenged at length in my writings.

His latest provocation is during a similar vein. “If someone is Hindu, he has got to be patriotic, which will be his or her basic character and nature,” Shri Bhagwat sagely declared at the beginning of the New Year . “At times you’ll need to awaken his or her patriotism but he [a Hindu] can never be anti-India.”

The RSS chief was speaking at an occasion to release a book titled ‘Making of a Hindu Patriot: Background of Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj’, therefore the religious colour of patriotism was on his mind. Releasing the book, he seems to possess been conscious that he would be accused of doing so as a part of the RSS’s ongoing attempts to appropriate a person that they had demonised all his life — and for 6 decades after his death — Gandhi . Shri Bhagwat said there’s no need for speculation that he “is trying to appropriate Gandhiji, that’s not the case, nobody can appropriate great personalities like him.”

Can An RSS-Backed Govt Afford To Disparage The Mahatma Who Is Universally Revered?

Let us get that piece of disingenuousness out of the way: the Hindutva movement is indeed trying to appropriate the Mahatma. Many RSS shakhas distributed sweets upon hearing the news of Gandhiji’s assassination, and Shri Bhagwat’s long-serving predecessor MS Golwalkar was particularly scathing in his contempt for the Mahatma’s teachings of ahimsa and inter-religious harmony (“every Hindu god,” he famously claimed, “carries a weapon”!)

But Narendra Modi’s rise to prime ministership has forced a rethink. Can even an RSS-backed government afford to disparage a saintly figure who enjoys such universal admiration? Would the Hindutva movement not lose lustre globally as a result? Hence the will to appropriate the name and image of the Mahatma, but not his teachings or values. Thus, there’s no place for ahimsa or “Ishwara Allah tero naam” in Shri Bhagwat’s lexicon, but the Mahatma’s glasses are often wont to adorn the Swachh Bharat campaign.

Finding ‘Hindu patriotism’ in Gandhi is a component of this effort.

Gandhiji’s All-Embracing Hinduism

The Mahatma was a proud Hindu, but the weather of Hinduism he took pride in weren’t an equivalent because the Sangh Parivar’s. Like Swami Vivekananda, he celebrated Hinduism’s all-embracing attitude to spiritual truth, its acceptance of various sorts of worship, its absorption of a number of the teachings of other faiths (in particular Buddhism and Jainism, but not excluding Christianity or Islam). Gandhi was a Hindu and a patriot, but he wouldn’t have called himself a ‘Hindu patriot’. that’s a label only Shri Bhagwat and his ilk could apply to him.

The RSS boss argued that Gandhiji’s struggle for ‘swaraj’ was for the reconstruction of society supported civilisational values, by which he meant Hinduism. the very fact that Gandhi saw Indian civilisation as a hybrid that had evolved since the times of the Vedas and therefore the Puranas to embrace various non-Hindu influences also, escapes the Sangh Parivar’s ken.

Are Hinduism & Patriotism Synonymous?

But the key bone I even have to select with the RSS chief relates to his argument that Hinduism and patriotism are synonymous. this is often the central argument I engage with in my new book The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism and What It Means To Be Indian.

The nationalism that inspired the long struggle for independence from colonial rule was rooted in India’s time-honoured civilisational traditions of inclusivity, social justice, and non secular tolerance.

The nationhood enshrined within the Constitution reflects a society that permits individuals to flourish, regardless of their religion, caste, language or place of birth.

It is today challenged by the new dominant narrative reflected in Shri Bhagwat’s speech, that contests this basic idea of India and thrives on an exclusionary, aggressive, sectarian nationalism supported cultural identity — the thought that India may be a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

In the process, the thought of ‘patriotism’ has been redefined by Shri Bhagwat and his cohort. i think that ‘patriotism’ is about loving your country because it’s yours, because you belong thereto and it belongs to you. Under our Constitution, that has nothing to try to to with what religion you practise, or not. Whereas Shri Bhagwat’s patriotism may be a totalising vision that comes naturally only to Hindus — that excludes those that don’t subscribe it, that demands allegiance and brooks no dissent.

Hinduism & Hindutva: Inclusiveness Vs Communalism

Hinduism may be a religion which is that the personal concern of each individual believer. Hindutva, on the opposite hand, may be a political doctrine that departs fundamentally from the principal tenets of Gandhiji’s understanding of Hinduism. While Hinduism is inclusive of all ways of worship, Hindutva is indifferent to devotion and cares principally about identity. That obsession with communal identity divides India, then is fundamentally unpatriotic.

We must still fight against this concept of ethno-religious nationalism, and prove that love and inclusivity remain at the guts of what it means to be a patriot. However hard Shri Mohan Bhagwat might attempt to redefine it, the straightforward fact is that it’s entirely possible to be a Hindu and a ‘traitor’, and a Muslim and a ‘patriot’ — our national security archives are filled with samples of each.

It was the Gandhian, Nehruvian, and Ambedkarite principles of secularism and acceptance of difference that are reflected within the Constitution that governs us today. Hindutva, unlike the spiritual and inclusive strain of Hinduism that Gandhi promoted, may be a purely political ideology that appropriates Hinduism to bigoted ends.

These ideas’ current political dominance doesn’t mean that Gandhian Hinduism is extinct; faraway from it. There are many Indians still fighting to uphold these values, despite the Hindutva view of an exclusionary, aggressive, sectarian ‘patriotism’.

And within the process, we don’t got to appropriate Gandhi — just to follow him.

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