It cannot be described as his moment of epiphany because Mohanrao Bhagwat has not said anything that had not been said by his ideological progenitors before. From Vinayak Damodar Savarkar downwards, assertions to the effect that all Hindustanis are Hindus have been made by Hindutva ideologues from time to time. But when Savarkar, the one who formalised Hindutva by writing a Bible for it, insisted that Hindus may not read the Vedas and Upanishads but must read science and technology and western political theory, he had something else in mind. He was looking for a way to transform a chaotic, diverse, anarchic and divided society into an organised, masculine, western-style nation-state, something akin to Bismarck’s Germany.
Savarkar was the one to decide that mere geography was too insipid a basis for building a nationality and began to look for an emotional basis and a national community and found them in Hindu nationalism and in the Hindus. The clenched-teeth hatred of non-Hindus came from him. The idea of Hindutva is supposed to be something Hindus can hold on to — to become, docile, obedient citizens of a modern nation-state.
In Savarkar’s novel Kala Pani, there is an utopian vision of a future India — a totally homogenous society, in which people marry across caste, sect and language and become good, pan-Indian citizens — almost like what Ashis Nandy has described as the insipid, boring predictable versions of Indians one sees nowadays in the metropolitan cities.
For the likes of Bhagwat, however, the idea of India’s pluralism is a romantic myth. The Modi establishment is making conscious efforts to saffronise the educational system, and the assertions by Bhagwat cannot be taken to mean as some kind of individual ramblings alone. By saying that all Indians have the same DNA irrespective of their specific background, Bhagwat is paraphrasing his mentors without a hint of originality, but he is also being as dangerously ahistorical as Dinanath Batra and YS Rao have been in recent weeks. Barely a few days after the Modi regime took over, the ‘one nation, one language’ schema of which Rajnath Singh is an avowed proponent came up to cause serious disquiet.
All these things suggest that it is not just saffron’s ideological fringe that is threatening to assume ascendancy but the moves have the direct and active participation of leading busybodies. The timing of Bhagwat’s babble could not have been more ominous. One recalls that less than two years ago, his sexist mindset had come strikingly to the fore when he spoke in the wake of the Nirbhaya episode. Among other things, he had said then that rapes were rampant in India and not Bharat, thereby leading critics to snigger that he knew nothing about either India or Bharat. This time round, Bhagwat has been rapped for not adhering to the basics of the Constitution, which speaks of India that is Bharat and which at no point implies that all Hindustanis are Hindus. Bhagwat is neither a charismatic figure nor a conspicuous ideologue. But he happens to head the brigade of which the BJP is a part. His worldview may smack of narrow nationalism, Brahminism and half-digested modernity, but taken together, it constitutes a lethal combination. There are many in the Modi regime who take his word to be the gospel truth.
The Hindutva project, which from Savarkar’s time onwards has taken different forms, has got the kind of official sanction that it lacked at any point in the past. That is what makes even individual assertions seem so important, coming as they do from supposedly responsible circles. Thus, when Bhagwat openly propagates patriarchy and comes up with his views on domestication of women and blames ‘western values’ for most ills afflicting the family system, his views are echoed by the various wings of the RSS who try to convert people accordingly.
And when he tries to redefine the idea of India in the prism of his own ideology, he is seeking wider sanction for his assertions. Historically cagey about joining real debate and dogmatic to the core as it is, the Sangh has now got active executioners who are announcing their intentions with greater alacrity than ever, ruffling many feathers in the process.