RSS conclave revives communal ideals of MS Golwalkar’s "We or Our Nationhood Defined"

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat(l) and the RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosable, at the Sangh’s annual conclave, in Haryana’s Panipat city, on 12 March 2023.
30 March, 2023

A year ago, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh quietly revived one of the most controversial formulations of MS Golwalkar—that sought to strip Muslims of their rights as citizens—during its annual conclave, in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad. In this year’s edition, held at Haryana’s Panipat, the RSS went further in its bid to legitimise yet another controversial formulation by Golwalkar—one that sought to portray communal cruelty as an inescapable part of nation-building in the history of India, thus justifying the sharp rise in attacks on minorities as well as mob impunity, over the past few years. 

On 13 March, the second day of the three-day Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the RSS adopted a resolution formally reinstating Golwalkar’s formulation on India’s history. The only difference was the use of the term “Bharat” rather than “Hindu,” apparently to avoid any controversy. “The Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) is of the considered opinion that the prolonged journey of Bharat’s ‘Swa’”—selfhood—“to realize the noble objective of global wellbeing has always been a source of inspiration for all of us,” said the resolution. “During the period of foreign invasions and struggle, Bharat’s societal life got disturbed and social, economic, cultural and religious systems were severely mutilated. In this period, under the stewardship of revered saints and great personalities, the entire society preserved its ‘Swa’ while being in continuous struggle.” 

The idea that the prolonged journey of Hindu selfhood despite “foreign invasions” and “continuous struggle,” constituted the fundamental principle of India’s history—and, to that extent, formed the basis of nation-building—was one of the key assumptions of Golwalkar’s controversial book, We or Our Nationhood Defined. Published in 1939, about a year before Golwalkar became the chief of the RSS, the book contains the clearest, uncensored expression of his virulent ideas. Not only does it unambiguously compare the Sangh’s Hindu Rashtra project with Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism, by prescribing the mantra of total assimilation or ethnic subjugation for minorities, but it also imagines a long period of “unflinching war” through which the “Hindu nation” struggled for existence and protected its identity, or “Swa.”  

In the book’s prologue, Golwalkar explains: “What we want is swaraj; and we must be definite what this ‘swa’ means. ‘Our kingdom’ – who are we? It is this question, most pertinent at this stage, that we shall attempt to answer.” He then presents a theory of “the History of Hindusthan,” and concludes: “In short our history is the story of our flourishing Hindu National life for thousands of years and then of a long unflinching war continuing for the last ten centuries, which has not yet come to a decisive close.” In another section of the book, he says: “Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindusthan, right upto the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to shake off the despoilers. It is the fortune of war, the tide turns now to this side, now to that, but the war goes on and has not been decided yet. Nor is there any fear of its being decided to our detriment. The Race Spirit has been awakening.”