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Senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Ram Madhav is credited with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast by helping stitch regional alliances. A man with a deep interest in history, politics and geopolitics, Madhav also heads the much influential think tank, India Foundation, which is believed to guide the government on issues of importance.
As he comes out with his latest book, The Hindutva Paradigm, Firstpost talks to him about various issues, including Deendayal Upadhyaya's integral humanism, the recent killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, the farmers' agitation going astray, and how national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel should not be confined to any particular party. "If anyone thinks that these leaders are the personal property of one party, then he or she is doing injustice to them and their legacy," says Madhav, adding with a smile on his face: "We are open to the idea of the Congress appropriating all our leaders." Here are edited excerpts:
Q. Please tell us about your new book, The Hindutva Paradigm, and how did the idea of writing it come to you?
The book is an attempt to address misconceptions, distortions and misrepresentations regarding Hindutva and the organisations associated with the idea. We have seen events like the 'Dismantling Global Hindutva' conference, which are nothing but a front to attack Hindu religion and culture. In a way, this book will address many of these problems.
The purpose of writing this book originally was that in the 20th century if there was any one original idea that India had contributed to world politics it was Mahatma Gandhi's idea of truth and non-violence. But Deendayal Upadhyaya's Integral Humanism philosophy " propounded in the mid-1960s " was an equally potent political philosophy. Upadhyaya, however, didn't get enough time to elaborate on it and died under mysterious circumstances in 1967, and his philosophy remained less explored or even unexplored. This book is an effort to delve into his philosophy and bring it to the public domain.
Q. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked Upadhyaya's philosophy at the UNGA address recently. What's the core principle of Integral Humanism?
What people broadly call Hindutva philosophy is integrally rooted in Deendayal Upadhyaya's philosophy of Integral Humanism. The RSS and the Parivaar organisations essentially started as activist movements for the good of the people and the country. There never was any ideology framed by an ideologue to begin with. But after some time, a philosophical foundation for that movement was developed by Deendayal Upadhyaya.
Upadhyaya looked at the entire spectrum of politics from India's ancient wisdom and through the prism of human-centrism. His approach was to keep man at the centre of our entire political framework and institution building. PM Modi's idea of governance is deeply influenced by the philosophy of Integral Humanism.
Q. Deendayal Upadhyaya's Integral Humanism was inclusive in nature. But your opponents have succeeded in projecting it as an exclusive philosophy. How do you see it?
It is largely a propaganda that we are exclusivist, communal or supremacist. The core idea of our Parivaar organisations has always been Deendayal Upadhyaya's Integral Humanism. Our philosophy has been both integral and humanist. Our opponents unleashed a series of propaganda to counter us, as our philosophy was seen as a potent alternative Indian vision. I, however, concede that we have probably not been able to address this campaign of calumny as effectively as we should have done it. Our biggest failure is our failure of articulation. While 95 per cent is the result of propaganda by our opponents, 5 per cent was the result of our incorrect articulation.
Q. In the very beginning of the book, you make a fascinating distinction between idea and ideology, saying India has been the land of ideas, and not ideologies. What do you mean by that?
Ideology means a set of ideas presented as a panacea for mankind. For Hindus or Sanatanis, there has never been a set framework; it has been an open-ended and ever-evolving thing. It has always had the readiness to accept things from outside but also evolve from within. It is for this reason that I don't use the term Hinduism, because 'ism' is a closed philosophy. I instead use the term Hindutva, Hindu-ness or even Hindu-dom. It is for this reason that in India, we have not produced ideologues like Karl Marx. We have produced philosophers like Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Adi Sankara.
Q. You write in the book that nationalism in India, unlike in the West, is not a bad idea. How is Indian nationalism different from Western?
Even in Europe, until World War I, nationalism was seen as a constructive force. It was only after the rise of Hitler and Mussolini that a large section of Europeans started believing that nationalism was a bad idea. But let me tell you, of late, nationalism is making a comeback even in the West. In fact, Foreign Affairs journal has run a special issue on nationalism.
In India, unlike in Europe, nationalism was neither territorial nor linguistic. And its basis never was political. Here the basis was a historical, cultural and civilisational experience, based on which India formed one rashtra (nation). It was wrong to equate Indian nationalism with Europe's Nazi experiences; it's now wrong to even equate European nationalism with that.
Q. You have been quite critical of the kind of secularism being followed in India, calling it a Western construct and that too heavily distorted. Please explain.
In fact, there's no one single definition of secularism in the West. In the secularism of the French version, there's no place for religion in public places. But in America, it's equal respect to all religions and the President takes his oath on the Bible. In India, we borrowed this concept from the West without even understanding it, and called it dharma nirpekshata. Essentially in India, in thousands of years of its history, all religions were held with equal respect, and the states were supposed to remain equidistant from all religions. It was only during Emperor Asoka's time that Buddhism became the state religion. Ironically, while people in India are being told to remain dharma-nirpeksha, the state, which is supposed to stay away from religions, is fully engaged with religion and religious organisations.
Q. Of late, we are seeing the RSS reaching out to Dalits and minorities. Is it a conscious decision?
The RSS believes that all people of this country are Hindu by culture, history and civilisation. When it talks about Hindus, it is talking about all 130 crore Indians. The RSS has evolved in an organic and gradual manner. Initially, it only reached out to those who believed they were Hindus. After working for over 70 years, the RSS has today reached the centre-stage of India's national life. It is no longer a fringe organisation. Having reached there, the RSS is now making efforts to reach out to even those who think that associating with the word and idea Hindu is wrong. I call it "glasnost"; some people have misunderstood it. By "glasnost" I mean greater openness. As a young RSS pracharak, I remember saying, "Sangh ko janana hai to sangh mein aana hoga" (If you want to know Sangh, you have to come to Sangh). Today, the RSS is reaching out to people of all walks of life.
Q. Is this the change that has made you open to appropriating leaders belonging to other organisations, as several Congressmen accuse you of doing today?
The Congressmen should not worry as we are definitely not going to appropriate any current leadership of that party. There's enough liability there. As far as the argument of appropriation is concerned, those whom they are calling Congress leaders were actually national leaders. They may be with the Congress at that time, but their stature was that of a national leader. The RSS or for that matter any other organisation should have respect for them. If anyone thinks that these leaders are the personal property of one party, then he or she is doing injustice to them and their legacy. In fact, we are open to the idea of the Congress appropriating all our leaders. We would welcome that.
Q. Modi has completed 20 years in government. How do you see his two decades in governance?
What stands out for PM Modi is that he has brought out several paradigmatic changes during his regime. Let's take Kashmir's example. As Lt Governor Manoj Sinha often says, the endeavour of the previous regimes has been to manage the situation and buy peace. But PM Modi's approach is not to buy peace but to firmly establish peace. As for the LAC standoff with China, earlier we would manage it through diplomacy; today, we are managing it with diplomacy, while simultaneously the military has been given the freedom to operate. PM Modi takes challenges head on, while at the same time being open to new ways of tackling problems.
Q. You were seen as the mastermind behind the first BJP government in Jammu & Kashmir. Of late, we have seen several killings, especially of Pandits, bringing back for many the memories of the 1990s. How do you see that? Will the situation further deteriorate, given the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan?
It will be incorrect to compare the current situation with the 1990s. In the 1990s, the entire campaign to throw out Kashmiri Pandits was well organised by the existing Valley groups. In the last few years, because of the decisive approach of the government, things have become very difficult for terrorists and their Pakistani handlers to operate in the Valley. No major terrorist incidents have taken place in the last two years, after Pulwama. More than 250 terrorists have been killed in the Valley in the last one year. Most importantly, people in the Valley have stopped supporting separatist rhetoric. And it's because of a series of concerted efforts"military and developmental. No wonder, terrorists are forced to look for newer ways to create chaos, like using drones to target Indian installations, or using pistols and other smaller weapons to kill any one and every one they find on the street. In the past, they would use AK-47s and go for targeted killings. Today, it's a random killing.
No doubt, the Taliban takeover has helped the terror handlers create some kind of euphoria in certain sections of youth. But this is a temporary phenomenon.
Q. Do you see Pandits ever going back to their homes in Kashmir?
As far as the government is concerned, it has already made some efforts. Like 3,000 posts for teachers and others have been created exclusively for the Pandits, and people have started coming back and taking those jobs. The attacks were to discourage them from taking up these jobs, and also to instill fear among the general population. The bigger question, however, is how many Pandits are today willing to go back to the Valley. We may give them jobs and houses, but unless there's a sense of security and dignity in the mind of the people it's not going to be an easy task. But I definitely see things improving.
Q. This week a dead man with a chopped hand was found at the farmers' protest site in Singhu. Last week, we saw killings in Lakhimpur Kheri in UP. How do you see all this? Is the government going soft while dealing with these so-called farmers?
It is a very gory incident that has happened at Singhu. I am sure the agencies will take strong action against the perpetrators of the heinous crime. No doubt, the farmers' agitation is politically motivated. I come from an agrarian region of Andhra Pradesh; farmers there are in support of the new farm laws. But since Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections are around the corner, these protests will go on.
As for going soft on these people, some of our well-wishers too share this sentiment. But we must understand that tackling one person is a simple law and order situation; with 1,000 people it's a riot-like situation. But if there are one lakh people protesting, then the whole security dynamics changes. Today, a similar situation exists, but I am sure the government will find ways to tackle this.