Communism and Hindutva – A comparative study

Communism is a failed experiment. We all know that. This article doesn’t even try to debate the importance or the relevance of Communism in present times. In fact, what is interesting is, to note why a polemically opposite ideology of Hindutva – supposedly anti-modern and branded fascist by its non-believers, has survived! Well, not exactly survived, but in fact, its influence has actually grown by leaps and bounds.
So! Let us embark on a comparative study of two organisations which believe in these ideologies – The Communist Party of India vis-à-vis The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Well, before you think I’m comparing apples with oranges, I want to clarify that these two started out as forms of movements-more social reform to begin with than political.
Social movements
At the moment, in its present form the communist party holds a socioeconomic-political stance, but on record the Sangh has remained aloof from active politics. For all people who have their eye brows raised, thinking if the RSS is apolitical at all, here is small trivia. The Sangh has done very well in Kerala, where its’ KPIs (read #Shakhas, #Kaaryakartas etc) are pretty high compared to other states –but the BJP never cracked it in the political arena here! Irrespective of the political party in power, Sangh workers continue working with the ideal of serving the Motherland. That keeps them apolitical. The BJP is distinct from the RSS-though similar in ideology, they are not identical, since most Sangh workers don’t necessarily work for the BJP as part of their RSS work. The Communists began trying out a social transformation through the political route. This is a fundamental difference between the Sangh and the Communist ways of working.
The Sangh began in 1925. The Communist Party was formed in 1920, though a lot many differ on the exact date. There are multiple versions to these dates and for the scope of this article, let us assume it is around 1925, that of the Marxist faction (Its website dates the inception as 26th Dec 1925), which looks to be the most vocal in the current political atmosphere. However, this article does encompass at places the Maoist, Stalinist, Marxist interpretations important to the concept of Communism.
The RSS is almost of the same age, but we see that the Sangh is ever bigger. It has kept growing in numbers, with time and context, with the number of organisations and the verticals (different areas of concern – Education, Seva, etc.) that it works in, leading to a great influence that it now exerts on the Bharateeya social fabric. One visionary (Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar), decided to find out the root cause for this civilisation’s enslavement for almost a thousand years, and decided to reboot the ancient value system, on the basis of Dharma, to rejuvenate and re-interpret it in current times, and how! A unique system of people meeting regularly with almost army-like discipline, and suddenly like a miracle, it leading to the consolidation of a community supposedly fragmented in thousands of castes and customs, into believing that it is one culturally. Not imagined by many that it would work, but unimaginable to more even now!
The Communist Party had troubled times too in the beginning. Faced with a lot of hardship during its early years, the communists did face the wrath of the British Raj as well. A lot of communists were snooped upon and the intent to consolidate and grow was nipped in the bud by the rulers at that time. This however, didn’t stop the communist ideology from spreading out into clusters of people in India – times when India was dominated by masses with mighty religious undertones. Later though, the Naxalbari movement gave a fillip to the Communists, but it vastly fizzled out, in the yesteryears into a more “Misguided Idealists” movement instead of acquiring hard core Communist overtones among the general public. Today, even though the armed movement of the Left (Mostly the Maoist faction) has been more or less discarded by the mainstream communist parties, a lot of soft support roams the corridors of JNU and other universities. A lot of professors still try their best to influence students they teach by drawing comparisons to a communal India and make the students believe that they are getting into a mythical (remember the blanket debunking of all ancient Hindu systems?!) world instead of a rational one (I had my own experience in IIM Kolkata, with a professor making fun of everything Hindu – customs, beliefs and practices, proclaiming that this was truly the country of a foolish civilisation). Nevertheless, even the so called Communist governments only dreamt of a Utopian dream of an ideal communist society, which in my opinion never really saw the light of the day. Well, one can only sympathise with an argument sometimes offered, that all this has been a preparatory stage underway to a mighty communist society of the future!
Speaking of professors and intellectuals, the Sangh had its share of intellectual prowess, even before it began per se, in a way. The interesting thing to note is that being called an “Intellectual” is not a thing coveted by the Swayamsevaks in the Sangh. It is just not in the nature of people, who are best inspired to serve than to only opine and write (I am not hinting that the learned/writers are bad!). This in no way meant that there lacked any level of intellectualism in the Sangh even during its nascent stages, as is widely made out to be even today. Even today, some of the very best learned men and women – learned very well in the Hindu darshanas, philosophies and practices, with a very open outlook are part of the Sangh. Do you encounter them often on television? Not much. Basically, the difference in outlook is that of earning a realization by a social transformation on the ground, on already established ground rules – the best of all the ancient scriptures (Sruti and Smriti), leaving out the unnecessary and imbibing the best from everywhere else. As Guru Golwalkar (Second Sar-sanghachalak of the RSS) famously once quipped, “We are history makers, not history writers”! So the call of duty towards the Motherland had always been more emphasised, for a life filled with dedication to an ideal, than to lead a more drudging life of getting eminence in peer-reviewed journals that most “Intellectuals” seek today as the basis for recognition and scholarship. The communists boast of this as an asset to their movement. The various scholars and intellectuals who boast of an international recognition have hardly anything to claim eminence with Bharateeya value systems and have at best tried to concur with a western interpretation.
Core values
The Sangh believes through its articulation of ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduness’ (a collective identity of us all as a people) the upholding of “Dharma”. This articulation involves the elucidation of the value/virtue systems that are part of this civilization, than to identify or create a whole new set of ideals to the people of the country-defined by one word – ‘Hindus’ (Everyone born in Hindusthan, irrespective of their personal faith). It is a very common statement found among ideologues in the Sangh that, “the RSS hasn’t ventured to create a different sect or start something new. It only wants to re-interpret for the present times, the ancient values that “Dharma” as law, duty, righteousness, virtue, values, beliefs, tradition, custom et. al. stood for in each context or as a whole”. This is true, for if you see, there is not any ideology that was put forth anew by the RSS since it began. Even to this day, it believes that the Hindu community with all the seemingly different customs must carry out the cleansing necessary, on its own rather than an outside influence or a “Revolution” trying to change things aggressively or rapidly.
On that note, Communists believes in total Revolution. At least most of them did. They believed in the liberation of the working masses, trying to embrace a notion of socialism it believed would serve as its foundation, to distribute ownership of property and other means of creating and distributing goods and services to the people than a few slacking, rich bourgeoisie class. This political clout was to be achieved through the power of the barrel, right? Here was a class-struggle that was defined along with a caste-struggle specific to India. All the foreign educated defenders of rationalist thinking took upon themselves to provide a revolutionary solution to this Indian problem, by instigating one community against another without a trial for any reconciliation (of course slower, but permanent) – a concept they could never understand that with love, even a thing as complex as caste could be on the path to extinction (I agree it is a long shot) or irrelevance.  They basically blamed the underlying belief systems of the Hindus, thereby of the entire civilization. This did work to an extent. It didn’t take a lot of convincing of the Hindu community to get on their side of the argument, because there was hardly a conviction in place to unite and have a pan-caste, pan-region, pan-language, pan-custom identity for the whole Hindu community per se. This fragmentation was exploited to the fullest extent and to this day, we still find a lot of “scholars” parroting these very points today. They cited constant class wars to prove that the construction of the Hindu community inherently was flawed in the very first place. They advocated its eradication altogether to get to a level playing field with a “All people within the Communist State are equal” argument. These scholars have dominated verticals such as education and media in India and have dominated this discourse for the past century.
The fact that Russia and China traditionally were communist in ideology was a benefactor to the Communists in India and we all know to what extent the India-China war of 1962 was rationalised! In fact, both as part of intellectual and material moorings, the communists had an upper hand comparatively, even though there needs to be an acknowledgement that, being a mass based movement, it did have its share of sacrifice and successes/defeats. But yet again there was always an ideal of the communist countries to look upon the existing comrades in the form of China, Russia, etc., and draw courage towards renewing vigour, and hold on to one’s conviction.
If this be compared with the Sangh, in its infancy, it had only the conviction of a few “Pracharaks” (Full time workers), to depend on and begin from scratch, the task of Hindu unification – of a community in a completely disoriented state. They put themselves to work, giving up jobs and other material pleasures, based on the words of one man – their idol of sorts – Dr. Hedgewar, who promised nothing in return but gave all that, was necessary for them to dedicate their lives for the Nation. Pracharaks were denied entry to villages many times, led almost ascetic lives filled with hardship , subsisting on meagre facilities, with no material, ideological or political backing. The toughest part was to get people to believe that there was light at the end of the tunnel – one which was filled with an abhorring darkness – a total absence of self-respect during those times. Remember this was after Swami Vivekananda – with all their efforts already put forth! No wonder communism appealed to so many youth of the day, when anything foreign, was fad.
With regard to the building of this mass movement around Communism, there were naturally different opinions. However, due to the absence of a common united ideal, the communists split very soon – in less than 50 years from inception. To this day, the different blocs of the Communists, haven’t been able to come together to form a potent force. The subsequent failures and horrors of the Stalinist machinations brought about a great deal of disillusionment to a lot of cadre, which also prompted a lot of splinters, derailing the building up of momentum. Added to this was the different set of organizations launched from the Sangh, especially the BMS (Bharateeya Mazdoor Sangh), which provided an alternative to the communist hate agenda and ate into a lot of support base for the communists.
That brings up an interesting fact about the Sangh. In its 90 years of existence, there was never a case where differing views in the organization brought about a vertical split. To this day, it stands as a unit with a defined democratic structure, which everyone recognises is essential for the organization to stay in shape to bring about transformation in society. The Sangh started very many organizations itself, beginning with the Akhila Bharateeya Vidyarthi Parishad, Vishwa Hindu Parishad etc. to bring about a change in the attitude of all people towards a society based on duties rather than rights. This changed the very perception of a trade union or a students’ body, which was always shown to protest and clash with anyone disagreeing to it.
Different organizations were also floated by the communists in the labour, students’ wing, etc. But not much of a positive transformation can be felt by these over the last 5 decades. Protests, Bandhs, clashes etc., are of course the only things that people remember. However, there may be an exception to this in highlighting certain issues about women’s rights (brought about by the ‘progressive’ feminist movement induced by a Western elucidation of what constituted a ‘Modern’ woman) – also from communist agenda of all citizens equal, and based on a corresponding struggle for equal rights everywhere in the world. This was tried everywhere, except the Islamic world to this day, for obvious reasons. This movement in fact was brownie points scored for the communists until recently, on an assumption that the Sangh opposed everything they said about women, owing to the Hindu interpretation. This in fact was never true, because there was never an anti-women stand as part of Hinduism’s discourse from eternity, even though the workings of a society that followed the Smritis, did impose a certain set of restrictions on women, irrelevant in today’s context, currently fading away.
An interesting point here is that in today’s context, where an assertion of a woman is seen as a threat to men who are unable to accept the rapid progress made by them, is very similar to the position held by everyone opposed to the Sangh. Just picture the Sangh in place of the women in society. Over the last 50-75 years, the RSS has grown by leaps and bounds in volume and acceptability among the people of this country. The Hindu society today asserts any injustice meted out to it with a fervour never experienced before. This rattles out the Communists and others, very similar to men who feel insecure and cry hoarse over women empowerment – portray a fascist, communal India on the rise. Ironical, isn’t it?!
On a philosophical note, the Sangh envisioned a society based on the eternal values of Sanatana Dharma, and positioned a family as the most granular entity in a society. It emphasised that the Man-making, character building factory that Swami Vivekananda envisioned would be its very foundation to change the way Hindu society functions.
The communists on the other hand, tried to bring about change by highlighting a class, caste struggle and pitted one against the other. This indeed was a violent form of revolution, because of the fact that warring factions quickly lost sight of a solution and resorted to violence to satisfy their egos about victories achieved over each other. This kind of a purely materialistic approach of a conflict ridden society gave no scope to redefine a religious past or have a higher than materialistic pursuit in the life of anyone. This essentially meant that spiritual beliefs for a value-rich life got relegated to the background in the struggle for perceived equality. Imagine the state of Buddhist monks or Hindu Sannyasins, who gave up their material possessions for a higher spiritual pursuit, had no relevance in a Communist setup. It just didn’t make any economic sense for anyone to support these mendicants, which meant that there basically was no freedom to pursue a particular style of living incompatible with the ethos of Communism.
In fact, the Communists, in their approach, as an ideology wanted to reach a similar scenario of eliminating the “State”, which presumably had a prejudice against the working class, and wanted to reduce its influence, if not eliminate it. But this in itself was flawed, because fruits of labour shared with all would undermine initiative and stall any progress. Now think where China stands on this argument! Are we to believe that everything centralised and controlled at the moment will one fine day be done away with and given back to the people?! Nonetheless, when Marx tried to tweak the communist belief by introducing a pro-technology reform to induce a sense of creating wealth due to be shared, all he did was bring about a tipping point, to say that industrialisation should happen (of course not everyone could possibly exhibit the same level of competence in a specific area of study and contribute equally!) but the fruits of that would have to be shared by all. In India, the communists ensured that even this idea of Industrialisation wasn’t achieved in the name of stalling imperialism.
It is interesting to note that an ideal society in the Hindu scriptures too declare that eventually there isn’t any need of, in this context, a King. There was neither a King nor a Kingdom; all citizens safeguarded each other on the basis of Dharma. But it is important to note the difference between these two notions of societal structure. The communist one had no belief in a construct such as Dharma. I am not even referring to the “Religion-Opium of the Masses” comment here, as ‘Dharma’ scores higher than religion (read faith or ‘Mat’ or ‘Panth’). It negated that there was a spiritual pursuit in the life of man/woman and treated them as only material objects with needs to be fulfilled. Crudely put, Abraham Maslow, I am sure would have disagreed with this, because he re-iterated what was known in the Hindu domain for thousands of years, a theory of Self-actualisation (I am not trying to equate any Hindu spiritual concepts of ‘Self’ or ‘Realisation’ with Maslow’s theory), based on the pursuit of a higher goal, after immediate needs and wants were fulfilled.
Current times
In terms of being relevant to the current times, the Sangh is not a laggard, even though it may not be an early adopter. The Communists, who proudly claimed moral high ground on progressive, liberal thinking couldn’t redefine their theories to appeal to the youth. More than anything else, for a society as tightly bound to Religion and its affiliates of all hues as India, communism in its present form was just not the right choice. Today, as a desperate move, communists in Kerala are trying to adopt and counter the RSS through different Dharmic symbolisms, as opposed to their stated ‘Secular’ stance, such as the Janmashtami celebrations, using Swami Vivekananda, Bhagat Singh, Netaji, etc., whenever it suits them! This after all the murders of local RSS workers has proved to be ineffective in subduing any growth of the Sangh. Imagine if the Sangh hadn’t taken a stand to reciprocate in the same tenor, would it have survived in Kerala? Today, a lot of millennials subscribe to the Sangh despite having a family history of allegiance to Communism due to a realisation that communism has failed them –politically and economically.
Despite all the differences, there are very few agreements on the concept of Swadeshi, Socialism (different forms, names, concepts, interpretations around this), reducing the impact of Imperialism, globalisation etc. which the Sangh inspired organisations liked the Swadeshi Jaagaran Manch also pursue, in National interest – topics for another article. However, differences notwithstanding, the communists have a long way to go before gaining any considerable acceptance or to get into a position to challenge the Sangh –on Ideological, Intellectual, moral and may be even political aspects (Getting political power back in West Bengal or even Kerala, seems farfetched).
The Sangh has put out a solution to all these failed experiments of the past, tailored specifically to Indian circumstances, with a counter – An analysis of society, truly ‘Swa’tantra in idea, from the standpoint of Dharma, known as “Integral Humanism” – propounded by the Sangh ideologue, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya. From the Indian economic standpoint, even if it is too early for predictions, a policy towards Integral Humanism consistently for a few decades will allow us in the near future to say that this philosophy possibly stands – “As an idea, whose time has come”!