What Vinay Sitapati Has Missed Out –The BJP-RSS’ View of India As seen in Fictional Writings by Deendayal Upadhyaya

 

There has been a lot of discussion about Vinay Sitapati’s book on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the pre-Modi era, especially the Jugalbandi of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani. From the excerpts available online, one is wont to feel intrigued by the manner in which there has been a fresh take on the party and its activities, unlike the lazy trope of communalism, Hindu nationalism, cultural fascism that gets thrown around rather casually. The problems with these narratives, and where Sitapati differs distinctly from the face of it is the fact that there is an attempt to look at the moorings of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) from their paradigm, giving space for a change for an emic viewpoint. Moreover, he has been prescient in pointing out, in not so many words, that the BJP and RSS can’t be called right-wing in the traditional European sense; rather, they would qualify better with a term ‘non-left’ for a variety of reasons.

However, the excerpts of Sitapati’s book and his explanation of the logic behind the BJP’s winning streak show a limitation surrounding the attempt of understanding the RSS and BJP’s view about what the nation’s foundations are, and what are the epochs of Indian history as seen by them that define the nationhood of India. In this regard, while the duopolistic leadership approach is an interesting take, the over emphasis on lessons from the Maratha history and especially the defeat at Panipat seems to be a rather narrow take. To understand the RSS and the BJP’s ideological outlook, it would be prescient to take a look at two fictional novels written by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, the philosophical guide and co-founder of the previous avatar of the BJP, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), and himself a member of the RSS. A man of many talents, Panditji as he was called was instrumental in underpinning through two fictional novels the moorings of the movement of this non-left in India.

As a member of the RSS and BJS, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya had responded to the urgency of Bhaurau Deoras, the erstwhile sarsanghchalak of RSS, in creating literature for the young members of the Sangh, particularly school going children that would instil in them national pride, bring historical context to the civilizational state that is India and a sense of duty towards the needy.,  It was a response to this that led Panditji to write two Hindi novels – Samrat Chandragupta and Jagatguru Sri Shankaracharya. This incident was recalled by Dr. Mahesh Chand Sharma, former BJP leader from Rajasthan and head of the Deendayal Research Institute in his foreword in a recent edition of the latter novel.

Understanding Nation Building from Chandragupta Maurya

The choice of the two characters to write fictional novels on is very interesting, for it demonstrates a deep understanding of Indian history, philosophy and culture is interesting and reflect the way the RSS ecosystem interprets it. In the novel Samrat Chandragupta, Chandragupta Maurya is shown as a man of a kshatriya lineage unlike the popular narrative of him being of lower stature, something that historical references strongly seem to suggest. However, the interaction between him and Chanakya is not so much about him being tutored as it is about the two collaborating with each other to find ways to fight the infiltrator Macedonian military campaigner Alexander.

Thus, a duopolistic arrangement can be clearly seen in this book, and that has had as much influence on the RSS thought as the lessons from the Maratha empire’s decline that Sitapati alludes to. Also, even as the narrative is kept simple in language and attempts at inspirational quotes and dialogues have been made, distinct feature of the book is in the stress it creates on ensuring unity against foes that seek to break. Alexander’s India campaign is considered to be a blot because it was enabled by Indian collaborators. History does show us that the rise of the Maurya dynasty in the form of a feudatory empire somewhat similar to today’s federal structure is considered by the Hindu right as the first glorious epoch of history, a sentiment shared by none less than historian and revolutionary Veer Savarkar. 

Further, the crafty manner in which the monarch of Magadha changes overnight is considered just because the nation comes first above anyone else. This is an ideal character trait desired from the Swayamsevak – to put the larger interest ahead of personal motivations and interests. Even if something that could potentially be deemed unethical is being attempted, the situation demands complete cooperation of the individual rather than dissent. This is reiterated in the novel towards the end, when Seleucus Nicetor’s attempts to reinstating Greek power is thwarted. At that time, the people who opposed Chandragupta’s ascension join forces with him to fight off the Greeks.

 

Understanding Character Building from Adi Shankaracharya

The choice of character for his other novel is just as interesting. Adi Shankaracharya was the proponent of Vedanta philosophy, and is credited to have led the revival of Hindu dharma in Bharatavarsha. The book interestingly castigates the Buddhist community, albeit briefly, for legitimizing the claims of foreign powers like the Huns, Kushanas and Scythians. However, what is interesting is the sense of intellect and the emphasis on the seva bhavana demonstrated in the personality of Adi Shankaracharya that sets the path for the ideal Swayamsevak of the RSS. The incident of Adi Shankara compelling his mother through divine intervention to permit him sannyasa after a crocodile attacks him is quite instrumental in itself. Adi Shankara, as per the novel and the tradition, had been earnestly trying to convince his mother to permit him to take sannyasa as required in the monastic traditions of India.

At the time, only Buddhists and Jains were taking to monism, and they have been noted as less than ideal benchmarks for monastic life. Pali-Sanskrit scholar and renowned Hindi author Acharya Chatursena interestingly in his novel of a similar time frame titled Devangana had highlighted in his foreword the decline in moral authority of the Buddhists. Historical texts of the time show them engaging in debauchery of the highest order, having departed significantly from the ideals set by the Buddha Tathagata. Moreover, the prevalence of nastika orders or of those not upholding the sanctity of the Vedas was deemed a problem. By choosing to be a monk to restore the belief in Vedas, Adi Shankara becomes the selfless worker’s example who puts the nation before self, and his digvijaya yatra across India serves as the limits of working as per a certain code of conduct.

What is equally important about Adi Shankaracharya for the Hindu ecosystem is another feat attributed to him – the definition of the civilizational boundaries of Bharatavarsha as is identified within the Hindu canon. Consecration of the four Dhams, the fifty-two Shaktipithas, the twelve Jyotirlingas and the establishment of the four Pithas literally define in many ways the cultural outline of Hindu India for the ecosystem. The travel from Kanyakumari in the South to Kashmir in the north is a starting point for the ecosystem to explain why India is a civilizational nation, and hence different from the European conception of what constitutes a nation state. This essentially is a justification put out for calling India a Hindu nation, something reiterated by the likes of Vaidya Guru Gutt and Balraj Madhok, who was one of the initial founders of the BJS.

 To conclude the essay, Vinay Sitapati’s observations about the nature of relationship and the manner of consensus-based operation with full support of even disgruntled elements ‘to win at all costs’ does have a rationale. However, linking it simply to episodes of the Maratha history is at best a partial understanding of the reason why BJP wins is not because it wants to prevent defeat at any cost. Rather, these two novels of Panditji perhaps aptly symbolize the RSS ecosystem’s attempts at establishing a victor’s mindset both intellectually and militarily and show the immense possibilities enabled by pride in the cultural and historical roots of India. It remains to be seen if Sitapati will attempt to capture this at a later stage; for now though, his otherwise fascinating narrative seems to be partial in its outlook at best.

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