Dr. D.R. Goyal, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in his youth, was also one of its earliest detractors when he, along with veteran socialist Subhadra Joshi and others, set up the Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee” (Committee Against Communalism) in the late fifties. Apart from being the editor of Secular Democracy for several years, Dr. Goyal was author of the first pioneering work on the organization to which he once belonged, entitled The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, published by Radha Krishna Prakashan in 1979. Though currently out of print, this book which contains a mine of information and documents, about the formative years of the RSS, is likely to be out in a second edition authored by Dr. Goyal soon.
Here, Yoginder Sikand interviews Dr. Goyal for Communalism Combat. He speaks, with an insiders view, of the singleminded perspective of the organization that militated against any wholistic, multi-cultural solutions to the communal problem right from the pre-partition era. He is also critical of the approach of large sections of secularists who have ignored vital aspects like education and history, and shunned any understanding of the liberative aspects of religion leaving a wide are open for communalists to manipulate.
Q: You were a fulltime member of the RSS since your matriculation. What made you turn into one of its most bitter critics?
A: As my work at the grassroots with the organisation progressed, I gradually began to realise that the RSS had no answer to any political question. The RSS was silent on what sort of society and economy it wanted to establish in its proposed Hindu Rashtra. It was silent on the issue of food shortage. Punjab witnessed a severe famine in 1945-46, and, as a fulltime RSS worker in Hoshirpur, I wrote to the RSS headquarters asking them what to do. They merely said that everything would be alright only if India were to become a Hindu Rashtra. This magic should certainly did not appeal to me.
Q: What else promoted your dramatic ideological transformation?
A: Well, I was asking other questions also. For instance, what advice did the RSS have for the princely states? I got no answer. I also began to realise that had the RSS not engaged in poisonous propaganda, sections of the Muslim leadership would not have been interested in forming Pakistan.
Within the RSS, as an organization, I found no attempt to stop Partition. Later, I felt that the role of the RSS in the 1947 riots on both sides of the dividing line could be called more of a provocation that accelerated the Pakistan movement rather than decelerated it.
For instance, in west Pakistan, the role of the RSS was how to take non-Muslims out of Pakistan and not how to plan to keep them safely where they were. Non-Muslims formed between 30-40 per cent of the population in many areas. It would not have been easy to dislodge such a large population. The RSS however only organised retaliation in east Punjab rather than defence in west Punjab which I felt was very curious.
Q: The RSS says that it seeks to liberate the Hindus and Hinduism. Would you say that they are expounding a Hindu Liberation theology?
A: The RSS is not liberating but strangulating religion. Golwalkar himself was staunchly opposed to the liberative, progressive ideologies of Jainism and Buddhism. The RSS wants to throttle all liberative tendencies and contemplative, philosophic and humanistic currents, and replace them by a violent, combative, non-contemplative and rigidly authoritarian ideology.
Q: What is the RSS view on the caste system?
A: The RSS has never seriously challenged the caste system. They have never challenged those scriptures which ordain the caste system or the Varnashram Dharma. It has never repudiated what the Shankaracharya of Puri declared, forbidding temple entry to the dalits.
In fact in ’68 or ’69, Golwalker himself publicly advocated the caste system and said that the destruction of the caste system would mean the destruction of Hinduism itself.
Q: It is said that by making a dalit lay the foundation stone of the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya, the RSS has conclusively shown its opposition to caste?
A: They asked a dalit to lay the foundation stone, alright. But if they are actually anti-caste, why have they not replaced even a single Brahmin priest by a Dalit for at least a non-Brahmin in even one of the numerous temples under their control?
Already you notice the status the RSS gives to women at a time when they are close to capturing power. Look at their primitive reaction to the recent Uma-Bharati-Govindacharya episode. Both of them are public figures and are unmarried. Even supposing there was something between them, why make such a hue and cry about it?
Q: Why is it that traders in particular and the urban lower middle class, in general, provide the backbone of the support base of communal politics?
A: Yes, this is true of all forms of communalism. This section feels most alienated, it has no group life. Generally, these people are objects of contempt since everybody suffers at their hands. Thus they crave for respectability, power and security; among them cult figures are very popular as it is ritualistic religion.
The poor, of course, have neither the time nor the resources for ritualistic religion. In the RSS, the lower middle class gets the “good life” that it so eagerly pines for. While others look down upon a shopkeeper, the RSS people will address him respectfully as ‘ji’ if he becomes an RSS activist. In a village, the RSS man who wants to set up a shakha will first contact the shopkeeper.
I remember that in Punjab, where the temple priests are looked down upon, RSS activists would first contact them to set up a shakha in the villages.
Q: What do you have to say about the present attitude of the RSS towards the Congress party?
A: The RSS is attempting to, if possible, convert the Congress into a BJP. There are only two ways of doing this – either by infiltrating its activists into the Congress, or by making the Congress believe that it has lost the Muslim vote and so it would be in the interests of the Congress itself to take up the RSS platform.
Q: How did you begin your crusade against communalism?
A: I left Punjab and came to Delhi and took up a teaching assignment at the Delhi University. Along with some close associates I set up the Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee. We began by closely examining the RSS periodicals, Organiser and Panchjanya. We took out relevant extracts, cyclostyled them and distributed the same among members of Parliament. Later, we launched Secular Democracy.
If a communal issue arises, students and teachers should be the first to react since they have the greatest access to information. In India, however, they react a bit too late, with the result that people’s passions have already been aroused and rational arguments and logic are the last thing they will listen to.
Take the case of the Ayodhya dispute. Secular historians reacted only two years after the issue had been blown out of all proportion by the communalists. No one from the university community has so far challenged the thesis that Jagmohan has propounded in his big tome on Kashmir.
Q: What are the difficulties in combating communal biases within the educational system and what strategies could be used?
A: The Indian education system is not free from communal bias, yet no one has bothered about the education system except for the RSS. It has sedulously sent its activists to infiltrate into schools. Most of the RSS workers I knew in the ‘40s later became school teachers.
The RSS-minded teachers invariably distort history. For instance, take this line in a history book, “Akbar was a very liberal ruler”, the RSS teacher merely adds the phrase, “Inspite of being a Muslim.” That’s enough: the whole image changes. The RSS leader says something and the RSS activists at various levels repeat the same thing in smaller doses.
This is a strategy that I emulated with our own pamphlets. Even though I drafted most of them, I released many of them under the names of other activists so that our work would be considered to be a body of opinion and not the view of merely one person. A body of opinion is far more effective than a single soul crying in the wilderness.
Instead of only writing profound historical treatises, they should write secular, progressive textbooks for school children so that secularism could be strengthened at the basic level itself. No one was prepared to do this.
Unlike the communalists, the secular mind in India has never submitted itself to organised, collective effort.
Q: What about pressurising official bodies like the University Grants Commission to help secularists the educational system?
A: I’ll give you an example of the apathy prevalent even in bodies like the UGC. I was on the advisory committee on biographies of the National Book Trust. I advised them to publish a biography of the late Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madni of the Jamiat-e-ulema-i-Hind. He was the first Muslim theologian to point out the distinction between quam (nation) and millat (community).
You will be shocked to know that the committee members had not even heard of Maulana Madni. I then asked the Indian Council of Historical Research and the UGC to translate his writings but they did not bother.
Q: Are secular historians also to blame for neglecting crucial aspects of Indian social history?
A: Yes, for instance, very little research has been done on comtemporary Muslim society, and nothing at all on the Muslim ulema. Take Bipan Chandra’s work on ‘Economic Nationalism in India’ which he says was first articulated by Naoroji and Gokhale. Actually, I am of the view that the first to expound “economic nationalism” in India was Maulvi Sayyed Ahmed Shaheed who led one of the first revolts against the British. He wrote several letters to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Scindia Raja and to others, exhorting them to drive out the British who had drained the country of its wealth.
What was this if not the origin of economic nationalism? Why has this been ignored in writing Indian history? We have been kept ignorant of a whole tradition.
We have forgotten that it was Babar who told his children that their rule will last so long as they treated their subjects as equals, irrespective of creed. I suppose you could call this a sort of rudimentary secularism.
We have also blindly accepted the European interpretation of Islam. The West forgets that Greek knowledge was carried to Europe by the Arabs, and that this proved to be the stimulus for the Renaissance. This contribution of Islam to the world is completely overlooked.
Q: What, in your opinion, should be the attitude of secularists to religion?
A: The secular opinion must not be offensive towards religion.
Liberation theology is a promising field where believers and others can make joint efforts. The essence of liberation theology is to liberate religion from the exploiters.
(This article appeared in the October 1994 issue of the monthly Communalism Combat that had a cover story, “Voices from Pakisan”; this article is on page 7)