National Convenor of Prajna Pravah J Nandakumar with Senior Assistant Editor Ananthakrishnan G in The Indian Express newsroom. (Express Photo: Abhinav Saha)
As protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act spread, senior RSS leader J Nandakumar argues in his new book, Hindutva for the Changing Times, that Babasaheb Ambedkar would have been “happy to see the passage of the Bill”. The book also assesses contemporary issues “in light of Hindutva”. National convenor of the RSS-affiliated think-tank Prajna Pravah, a forum for ‘nationalist’ thinkers, Nandakumar has been at the centre of what the organisation calls its attempts to “decolonise Indian minds from Eurocentric impact” through academic rigour. In the past, he has spoken out against “CPM aggression” in Kerala
ANANTHAKRISHNAN G: What prompted you to write Hindutva for the Changing Times?
The book is a compilation of write-ups and articles based on the Hindutva paradigm. I tried my best to address and analyse the philosophical aspects of Hindutva darshan. I am using the word ‘darshan’ because I am not quite sure if the book is a true description of the philosophy (of Hindutva). I have tried to analyse the contemporary issues which we, and humanity as a whole, are facing, and attempted to answer some of the major questions before us. For example, the political turmoil, environmental issues, multiculturalism, the so-called liberalism, the industry 2.0 or the technological advancements... I have tried to touch upon the hot subjects of the modern era.
“...Not 100 per cent of the Hindus, Muslims, and Christians are against it. In Northeast, people are out on roads in support of CAA. Some selective reporting is also creating misunderstanding,” J Nandakumar said.
It is, of course, necessary for us to progress, but along with that, some vested interests are trying to get all our data and based on that are creating algorithms to control our emotions. So not just trade or economics, but even your emotions are being controlled. So that’s the purpose of the book, to look at some of these issues through the Hindutva paradigm or with the help of the Hindutva light.
ANANTHAKRISHNAN G: Your book also comes at a time when there are protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. You have touched upon the subject in your book, and have also said that B R Ambedkar would approve of the law. Can you elaborate?
The enactment of the CAA is, in some way, a fulfillment of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream. That’s my conviction. Someone who has sincerely gone through his thoughts on Pakistan, his observations on Partition, will surely agree with my statement. He has clearly stated the difficulties that Hindus, especially Hindu Dalits, the minorities in Pakistan, are facing. The Hindus of Pakistan cannot exist peacefully there. They will face total annihilation, especially the Dalits of Pakistan. So his suggestion for that grey question was... his famous statement, that populations should be transferred. He quoted the Greece-Turkey agreement of 1923. There was a big issue over minorities in both the countries, and they settled it through a transfer of population. (As part of the Treaty of Lausanne, the two countries agreed to uproot two million people in a population exchange. Only since the 1990s have people been able to visit what they see as their ancestral villages.) I am not saying that transfer of population happened at the time. That is not my point, but what Ambedkar said at that time, in due course, history proved him correct. What is the plight of minorities, especially the Hindus there (in Pakistan)? At one point, there were 20% Hindus there, now that number has reduced to 1%. The promises that were made by Liyaqat Ali Khan on behalf of Pakistan to Jawaharlal Nehru have not been met. In fact we have actually kept our promises and the minorities here have flourished in all aspects. The CAA was not an issue when I wrote the book, but in the present context (what I wrote) holds relevance. That is what I said.
LIZ MATHEW: But the CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC) are no longer Muslim issues, they have become national issues...
Firstly, the CAA is not a discriminatory Act. It is an inclusive Act as far as I am concerned; it’s against discrimination that minorities face in (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan). It was a dream not only of Ambedkar but also Mahatma Gandhiji. It was a promise made by Jawaharlal Nehru... The NRC is a promise made by our constitutional heads, our government.
Also, while the CAA has been passed, where is the NRC? I am not saying that the NRC will not come, but why is there agitation and rioting against the NRC? The rules, regulations, legalities, and modalities have not been finalised. Still, some people are campaigning against it and creating havoc.
A caricature of National Convenor of Prajna Pravah J Nandakumar.
Also, any agitation will have all sorts of religious representation. However, that does not mean 100% Hindus, Muslims, and Christians are against it. This is not a fact. And where is this agitation going on now, please tell me. I am coming from the Northeast, I was in Manipur, I didn’t see any agitation there. In Jamia Millia (Islamia University) agitation, there were specific slogans on the Northeast, but the people of the Northeast are out on the roads in support of the CAA. Huge programmes are going on, lakhs of people are participating. Now whether it is being covered in Delhi or not, that is a different thing. Some selective reporting is also being done by a section of the media. That is creating misunderstanding.
LIZ MATHEW: But the Home Minister spoke about chronology and said the CAA will be followed by the NRC. That is why people are making the link.
The Home Minister has said that in due course the NRC will be... The plan is there, you can submit your ideas, what your problems are... You can raise them before the government when the modalities and legalities are being formulated. We can come up with a solution. See, the CAA and NRC are not a secret thing. It has been in the public domain since 2016.
“There are many points behind considering a person a refugee — religion, language, class... One serious issue people are facing has been taken into account in CAA. Other classification can be made in due course," J Nandakumar said.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: But why make religion a criteria for CAA? Persecution is not just based on religion...
There are many points which need to be taken into account to consider a person a refugee or not — religion, language, class. But when a particular (law) is formulated, you cannot take all the issues together. One serious issue that people are facing has been taken into consideration at this point in time. Other reasonable classification can be made in due course. When such Acts are made, we cannot complicate it... The persecuted minorities (based on) religion are to be taken care of. It is our obligation, our moral duty, a constitutional obligation.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: BJP leaders often say that the NRC was brought in by the Congress. But that was for Assam. Why is the BJP pushing for a nationwide NRC?
This particular aspect is mentioned in their (the BJP’s) manifesto. People of this country gave them two-thirds majority on the basis of their manifesto. How can they go back on a promise they made to the public? Not just in the 2019 manifesto, it was mentioned in the 2014 manifesto as well. Also, if you look at the NRC through a non-political, national perspective, then it is specifically related to the security of the nation. That is why almost all nations have their own Register.
DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: But do you think the NRC exercise is really feasible in a country like India where a large section of people have no assets or documents to prove even their date of birth?
I’m very optimistic about it. If you have an Aadhaar card, ration card, or any other identity card, then it’s well and good. But even if you have none of it, it (the law) asks you if there are three-four people who know you... So in that way, it is feasible and I am quite optimistic that it can be done.
DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: But in Assam, where the exercise was conducted, I don’t think four people testifying that you are a citizen of this nation has been enough to prove citizenship...
Let us try. We are positive about this step. Once people said that Article 370 is a sacred clause, it cannot be touched, but it was scrapped. So if there is a will, there is a way. I understand the concern of the people, but if the move helps our country prosper, if it ensures our security, then it is our duty to support it.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: There are allegations that ABVP members beat up students on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus...
ANANTHAKRISHNAN G: Also, you come from Kerala which is not new to campus violence. In your book you have written about political violence in the state, and you have also been one of the main campaigners against what you call “redtrocity”. In that context, how do you view the violence on the JNU campus?
First of all, any violence in a university is highly condemnable. There must be no place for violence in educational centres and in student politics. As for JNU, I have heard and read a lot about it... When more than 70 CRPF jawans were massacred by Maoists in Dantewada, there were celebrations on JNU campus. Later, the infamous ‘tukde gang’ incident also happened. I heard about it through the media, I wasn’t there. There has been some agitation going on there for months... Their (protest) style has changed. Professors are being chased, the Vice-Chancellor is heckled. Students have all the right to hold a strike, but its style and nature have changed. Classrooms are closed, they have been transformed into living rooms. Is this the way to strike? They are not ready to write examinations... I think my conclusion is that a frustrated section of students from an organisation of a (certain) political leaning, on seeing that they are losing ground... These student organisations have themselves unleashed trouble in JNU. Also, as per my information, many fake photos are being published. I condemn the violence, it should not have happened, and, of course, both sides have been injured. You say ABVP students have done it but ABVP students were also taken to hospitals. One girl student has lost her memory. We have to look at things from a proper perspective, see how JNU is changing, that’s my point.
LIZ MATHEW: But why didn’t police stop the violence at JNU?
It is some sort of dereliction of duty and needs to be looked into by the authorities and the government to see if this happened or not.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: What is the mandate of the Prajna Pravah? What work does the organisation do?
In the last five-six centuries, intellectual activities by nationalist people lost momentum. Bharat is the land of knowledge but maybe, because of continuous attacks on Bharat and its educational and academic centres, the churning for knowledge creation was stalled. So, many people, not just those linked to the RSS, but also those who have a Bharatiya viewpoint, came together to delve deep into the knowledge system and tradition. That is how this movement started. So in that sense it is not a single organisation, but an umbrella organisation for intellectual movements.
After Independence, from 1950 onwards, there was planned ethnic cleansing of such thinkers, their books got sidelined. Many of you may be political science students. Have you seen a copy of Kashi Prasad Jayaswal’s Hindu Polity? Jayaswal was not an RSS person. To put my point across clearly, Jayaswal as a thought process was cleansed. Where is Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy’s Hindu Chemistry? He wrote about the Bharatiya tradition of chemistry. So this churning has to be restarted. I have also pursued political science and we were taught about the thoughts of Karl Marx, Antonio Francesco Gramsci... Of course, all these thought processes should be taken into consideration, but why not Jayaswal’s, why not Chanakya’s?
SHYAMLAL YADAV: At the ground level, what is the relationship between the BJP and RSS shakhas? There have been some reports that at many places the numerical strength in shakhas has been declining.
RSS shakhas have no relationship with the political dispensation. Right from the beginning, the RSS is working on its own strength. If there was any such relation, the maximum number of shakhas would have been in Gujarat. The BJP has been in power in the state for the last four terms. If I say that the BJP will come to power in Kerala in the state election next year, all of you may laugh because you are well aware of the BJP’s political strength in the state. But you will be surprised to know that the maximum number of shakhas in a state are in Kerala. So, shakhas have no link to the party in power.
RAVISH TIWARI: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has often said that all Indians are part of the Hindu society, irrespective of their religion and culture. What is the RSS’s fascination with declaring everybody a Hindu?
He didn’t insist on calling everyone a Hindu. He said this is my concept. In his Vigyan Bhawan speech (in December 2019), at the outset, he said that it (the statement) is not to convince you... Those who are living in Hindustan are Hindus. A national newspaper is called The Hindu, there are no issues over that. That particular media group came to the conclusion that our paper is Hindu. The RSS is also thinking on the same lines. Both The Indian Express and The Hindu are Indian, and they are both Hindu. Mohan Bhagwat uses the word Hindu as a synonym for India.
When Vir Savarkar was in jail in the Andamans, suffering all sorts of criminal atrocities, he wrote thousands of poems. In one of them, he defined Hindutva. He said those who are living in this great nation, it is their punya bhumi (land of good karma), their sacred nation. Those who are born here, those who consider this the land of their ancestors, I am calling them Hindu. That’s all. I am putting my ideas before you, it is not binding for you to follow my ideas. You can accept or reject them.
ANANTHAKRISHNAN G: For several decades now the RSS has had the same structure, pattern, habits, sports. Has the RSS as an organisation failed to keep pace with the times? You took several decades to even change your uniform from shorts to trousers. Do you think there has been a delay in adapting to the times?
No, I don’t think so. When RSS shakhas were started, we adopted the most modern uniform of that time. You may look at it now and say that it was old-fashioned, but 94 years ago that was not the case. In fact, back then there was an allegation that the RSS has adopted a western uniform. And since then the uniform has also changed six times. Also, the basic concept of the RSS is to work to transform minds. Only through that can the system be transformed. We are continuing to do so through the people who come to our shakhas.
Secondly, the programmes which we have adopted, these have transformed people. In the shakhas, games such as football, physical activity for 40-45 minutes have transformed things. We have started I-T shakhas... But our basic concept and values have not changed.