Back to sabrang.com
See what's in?
Subscribe to CC
Want to Advertise in CC
Cast your vote,
Make a difference.
Raise your Voice,
Let others hear you!
What others say about us
Meet those talented people
Activities carried out by Sabrang
Letters to Editor
Send your letters to
Umh!, Whats this?
Get FREE E-mail.
Hindutva’s fascist heritage
In the 1930s Hindu nationalism borrowed from
European fascism to transform ‘different’ people into ‘enemies’. Leaders
of militant Hinduism repeatedly expressed their admiration for authoritarian
leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler and for the fascist model of society.
The existence of direct contacts
between the representatives of the (Italian) fascist regime,
including Mussolini, and Hindu nationalists demonstrates that Hindu nationalism
had much more than an abstract interest in the ideology and practice of
fascism. The interest of Indian Hindu nationalists in fascism and Mussolini
must not be considered as dictated by an occasional curiosity, confined
to a few individuals; rather, it should be considered as the culminating
result of the attention that Hindu nationalists, especially in Maharashtra,
focussed on Italian dictatorship and its leader. To them, fascism appeared
to be an example of conservative revolution. This concept was discussed
at length by the Marathi press right from the early phase of the Italian
From 1924 to 1935 Kesari regularly
published editorials and articles about Italy, fascism and Mussolini. What
impressed the Marathi journalists was the socialist origin of fascism and
the fact that the new regime seemed to have transformed Italy from a backward
country to a first class power. Indians could not know, then, that, behind
the demagogic rhetoric of the regime, there was very little substance.
Moreover, the Indian observers were
convinced that fascism had restored order in a country previously upset
by political tensions. In a series of editorials, Kesari described the
passage from liberal government to dictatorship as a shift from anarchy
to an orderly situation, where social struggles had no more reason to exist.
The Marathi newspaper gave considerable
space to the political reforms carried out by Mussolini, in particular
the substitution of the election of the members of Parliament with their
nomination and the replacement of parliament itself with the Great Council
of Fascism. Mussolini’s idea was the opposite of that of democracy and
it was expressed by the dictator’s principle, according to which ‘one man’s
government is more useful and more binding’ for the nation than the democratic
Is all this not reminiscent of the
principle of ‘obedience to one leader’ (‘ek chalak anuvartitva’)
followed by the RSS?
Finally, a long article of August
13, 1929, ‘Italy and the Young Generations’, stated that the Italian young
generations had succeeded the old one to lead the country. That had resulted
in the ‘fast ascent of Italy in every field’. The article went on to describe
at length the organisation of the Italian society according to fascist
models. The principal reasons of the discipline of the Italian youths were
strong religious feelings, widespread among the population, attachment
to the family, and the respect of traditional values: no divorce, no singles,
no right to vote for women, whose only duty was to sit at home, by the
fireplace. The article focussed then on the fascist youth organisations,
the Balilla and the Avanguardisti.
One can easily come to the conclusion
that, by the late 1920s, the fascist regime and Mussolini had considerable
popularity in Maharashtra. The aspect of fascism which appealed most to
Hindu nationalists were, of course, both the militarisations of society
and what was seen as real transformation of society, exemplified by the
shift from chaos to order. The anti–democratic system was considered as
a positive alternative to democracy which was seen as a typically British
The first Hindu nationalist who
came in contact with the fascist regime and its dictator was BS Moonje,
a politician strictly related to the RSS. In fact, Moonje had been Hedgewar’s
mentor, the two men were related by an intimate friendship. Moonje’s declared
intention to strengthen the RSS and to extend it as a nation–wide organisation
is well known.
Between February and March 1931,
on his return from the Round Table Conference, Moonje made a tour to Europe,
which included a long stop–over in Italy. There he visited some important
military schools and educational institutions. The highlight of the visit
was the meeting with Mussolini. An interesting account of the trip and
the meeting is given in Moonje’s diary and takes 13 pages.
The Indian leader was in Rome during
March 15 to 24, 1931. On March 19, in Rome, he visited, among others, the
Military College, the Central Military School of Physical Education, the
Fascist Academy of Physical Education, and, most important, the Balilla
and Avanguardisti organisations. These two organisations, which he describes
in more that two pages of his diary, were the keystone of the fascist system
of indoctrination — rather than education — of the youths. Their structure
is strikingly similar to that of the RSS. They recruited boys from the
age of six, up to 18: the youth had to attend weekly meetings, where they
practised physical exercise, received paramilitary training and performed
drills and parades.
According to the literature promoted
by the RSS and other Hindu fundamentalist organisations and parties, the
structure of the RSS was the result of Hedgewar’s vision and work. However,
Moonje played a crucial role in moulding the RSS along Italian (fascist)
lines. The deep impression left on Moonje by the vision of the fascist
organisations is confirmed by his diary.
“The Balilla institutions and the
conception of the whole organisation have appealed to me most, though there
is still not discipline and organisation of high order. The whole idea
is conceived by Mussolini for the military regeneration of Italy. Italians,
by nature, appear ease–loving and non–martial, like the Indians generally.
They have cultivated, like Indians, the work of peace and neglected the
cultivation of the art of war. Mussolini saw the essential weakness of
his country and conceived the idea of the Balilla organisation…Nothing
better could have been conceived for the military organisation of Italy...
“The idea of fascism vividly brings
out the conception of unity amongst people... India and particularly Hindu
Indias need some such institution for the military regeneration of the
Hindus: so that the artificial distinction so much emphasised by the British
of martial and non–martial classes amongst the Hindus may disappear.
“Our institution of Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh of Nagpur under Dr. Hedgewar is of this kind, though quite independently
conceived. I will spend the rest of my life in developing and extending
this Institution of Dr. Hedgewar all throughout Maharashtra and other provinces”.
Definitely more meaningful is the
report of the meeting with Mussolini. On the same day, March 19, 1931 at
3 pm, in Palazzo Venzia, the headquarters of the fascist government, he
met the Italian dictator. The meeting is recorded in the diary on March
“I shook hands with him saying that
I am Dr Moonje. He knew everything about me and appeared to be closely,
following the events of the Indian struggle for freedom…
“Signor Mussolini asked me if I
have visited the University. I said I am interested in the military training
of boys and have been visiting the Military Schools of England, France
and Germany. I have now come to Italy for the same purpose and I am very
grateful to say that the Foreign Office and the War Office have made good
arrangements for my visiting these schools. I just saw this morning and
afternoon the Balilla and the Fascist Organisations and I was much impressed.
Italy needs them for her development and prosperity. I do not see anything
objectionable though I have been frequently reading in the newspapers not
very friendly criticisms about them and about your Excellency also.
“Signor Mussolini: What is your
opinion about them?
“Dr Moonje: Your Excellency, I
am much impressed. Every aspiring and growing Nation needs such organisations.
“Signor Mussolini – who appeared
very pleased – said – Thanks but yours is an uphill task. However I wish
you every success in return.
“Saying this he got up and I also
got up to take his leave”.
The description of the Italian
journey includes information regarding fascism, its history, the fascist
‘revolution’, etc, and continues for two more pages.
One can wonder at the association
between BS Moonje and the RSS, but if we think that Moonje had been Hedgewar’s
mentor, the association will be much clearer. The intimate friendship between
Moonje and Hedgewar and the former’s declared intention to strengthen the
RSS and to extend it as a nation–wide organisation prove a strict connection
between Moonje and the RSS. Moreover, it makes sense to think that the
entire circle of militant Hinduism must have been influenced by Moonje’s
Moonje’s Plans for Militarising
Once Moonje was back in India,
he kept the promise made in his diary and started immediately to work for
the foundation of his military school and for the militant reorganisation
of Hindu society in Maharashtra. He really did not waste time, for, as
soon as he reached Pune, he gave an interview to The Mahratta. Regarding
the military reorganisation of the Hindu community, he stressed the necessity
to ‘Indianise’ the army and expressed the hope that conscription would
become compulsory and an Indian would be put in–charge of the defence ministry.
He finally made a clear reference
to the Italian and German examples: “In fact, leaders should imitate the
youth movements of Germany and the Balilla and Fascist organisations of
Italy. I think they are eminently suited for introduction in India, adapting
them to suit the special conditions. I have been very much impressed by
these movements and I have seen their activities with my own eyes in all
Soon fascism became a subject of
public debate and Hedgewar himself was among the promoters of a campaign
in favour of the militarism of society, according to fascist patterns.
On January 31, 1934, Hedgewar presided over a conference about fascism
and Mussolini, organised by Kavde Shastri. Moonje made the concluding speech.
A few months later, on March 31,
1934 Moonje, Hedgewar and Laloo Gokhale had a meeting, the subject of which
was again the military organisation of the Hindus, along Italian and German
“Laloo — Well you are the president
of the Hindu Sabha and you are preaching Sanghathan of Hindus. It is ever
possible for Hindus to be organised?
“I said — You have asked me a question
of which exactly I was thinking of late. I have thought out a scheme based
on Hindu Dharm Shashtra which provides for standardisation of Hinduism
throughout India... But the point is that this ideal cannot be brought
to effect unless we have our own swaraj with a Hindu as a dictator like
Shivaji of old or Mussolini or Hitler of the present day in Italy or Germany...
But this does not mean that we have to sit with folded hands until (sic)
some such dictator arises in India. We should formulate a scientific scheme
and carry on propaganda for it.
The intimate connection between
Moonje and the RSS and the fascist character of the latter is confirmed
by British sources. An intelligence report published in 1933 and entitled,
‘Note on the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh’, ascribed to Moonje the responsibility
of the reorganisation of the Sangh in the Marathi speaking districts and
in the Central Provinces in 1927. The report, describing the activity and
the character of the RSS, warned that, “It is perhaps no exaggeration to
assert that the Sangh hopes to be in future India what the
‘Fascists’ are to Italy and the
‘Nazis’ to Germany”.
Summing up, it is clear that the
Hindu nationalists were very much attracted by the figure of a strong leader.
Moreover, they were keen to give their organisation a strongly centralised
Moonje’s trip to Italy, contrary
to what happened in the case of Subhash Chandra Bose and other nationalists,
did not give place to any further co–operation between Hindu nationalism
and the fascist regime. However, these contacts were important at the ideological
and organisational levels. In fact, Moonje kept his promise to improve
military education in India and, as soon as he came back from his European
trip, he started to contact all those who could support his idea of militarising
In 1934, Moonje started to work
for the foundation of his own institution, the Bhonsla Military School.
For this purpose, in the same year he began to work at the foundation of
the Central Hindu Military Education Society, whose aim was to educate
them in ‘Sanatan Dharma’, and to train them “in the science and art of
personal and national defence”. Moonje’s programme was therefore entirely
devoted to Hindu society, and not to Indian society as a whole.
It is possible that the other function
of the society was that of facilitating the diffusion of military education
and supporting the foundation of new schools. During the preliminary work
for the foundation of both school and society, Moonje publicly admitted
that his idea of militarily reorganising Hindu society was inspired by
the “military training schools of England, France, Germany and Italy”.
Moonje’s ‘Preface to the Scheme
of the Central Hindu Military Society and its Military School’ says at
the outset: “This training is meant for qualifying and fitting our boys
for the game of killing masses of men with the ambition of winning victory
with the best possible causalities (sic) of dead and wounded while causing
the utmost possible to the adversary”.
Moonje does not give any clear–cut
indication regarding this ‘adversary’, whether is was the external enemy,
the British, or the ‘historical’ internal enemy, the Muslims. The document
continues with a long dissertation on the relation between violence and
non–violence. In it are drawn many examples from Indian history and Hindu
holy books, all in favour of organised violence, in the form of Militarism.
On the contrary, non–violence is considered a form of renunciation and
Moonje’s views corresponded almost
perfectly with Mussolini’s opinions: “...The same thought is repeated though
in a more forceful and direct language by Signor Mussolini, the maker of
modern Italy, when he says: ‘Our desire for peace and collaboration with
Europe is based on millions of steel bayonets’.”
And again from Mussolini’s Doctrine
of Fascism: “I absolutely disbelieve in perpetual peace which is detrimental
and negative to the fundamental virtues of man, which only by struggle
reveal themselves in the light of the sun”.
“War alone brings up to its highest
tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples
have the courage to meet it”.
“Fascism believes neither in the
possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the
doctrine of pacifism, which is born of renunciation of the struggle and
an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice”.
As far as Germany was concerned,
Moonje quoted a booklet entitled Wehrwisssenschaft (Military Science),
written by Ewald Banse, a professor at the Brunswick Technical High School:
“The starting point of the book is that war is inevitable and certain and
that it is imperative to know as much about it and to be as efficient as
possible...the mind of the nation, from childhood on, must be impregnated
and familiarised with the idea of war”, because, the Professor says: ‘The
dying warrior dies more easily when he knows that his blood is ebbing for
his national god’.”
The spirit of the last sentence
is surprisingly coincident with the essence of the Hindu nationalism.
When Moonje had to indicate practical
ways of militarising Hindu society, he returned again to the example of
Italy and its military and paramilitary organisations, and reported what
he had seen. He described in detail the structure of the ‘She Wolf’s Children’,
the Balilla and the Avanguardisti. He asserted that these organisations
could provide paramilitary training to the male population from the age
of 8 upto18, when the youth became young fascists. Italy was therefore
in a position of having “command of 6,000,000 trained and disciplined men
ready to face any emergency”.
The result was that, “The Balillas
are taught to build up moral character and take the first steps towards
becoming soldiers”. As a consequence, “There will thus be no longer any
distinction between the citizen and the soldier, between the civilian and
the man in uniform”.
Of course, nowadays we know that,
inspite of this remarkable number of militarily trained citizens, Italy
lost the war. Moonje did not know that the level of the training was low,
and the fascist faith of the people skin–deep.
Fascist ideas were widespread among
Hindu nationalists, at least in Maharashtra. The above mentioned script
had been printed in the form of a pamphlet and distributed not only among
the people Moonje tried to involve in his project, but most probably, to
an even wider public, which unfortunately, is at present difficult to measure.
Eve of Second World War:
After Moonje’s trip to Italy there
was no further direct contact between exponents of the main Hindu organisations
and the Italian government. However, by the end of the 1930s Italian representatives
in India established some connections with the extremist fringes of Hindu
nationalism. The Italian consulate in Bombay was very active in seeking
contacts with the local political milieu. The Italian diplomatic mission
in Bombay was part of a network linking consulates in Bombay and Calcutta
with the radical movements of Maha-rashtra and Bengal.
The influence of fascist ideology
and practice must have gone far beyond the limits of the main organisations
of Hindu militant nationalism and must have tended to the wide and intricate
net of secondary militant groups and centres of physical education or paramilitary
training. This is shown by the example of the Swastik League, founded on
March 10, 1929 by M R Jayakar — who became president — and by other local
personalities. In organising the Swastik League, Jayakar, who had a prominent
position within the Hindu Mahasabha, drew some inspiration from the fascist
Savarkar and Nazism:
At this point we have to dwell
on the crucial problem of Savarkar’s position vis–à–vis the European
radical right. With Savarkar’s coming on the political scene, from the
late 1930s to the Second World War, there was an intensification of cries
in favour or in defence of Italian and German policy, even if the preference
for Germany increased progressively.
Savarkar was declared president
of the Hindu Mahasabha as soon as he was released in 1937, and he held
that office until 1942. His presidentship covered the most sensitive period
of both Indian and international history in this century. According to
the commonly accepted opinion — supported by the organisations of militant
Hinduism — the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha have never been particularly
close, and during Savarkar’s presidentship, they severed their links. Reality,
however, seems to be different. In fact, the available documentation shows
not only that such a split never happened, but that the two organisations
always had close connections.
We should not forget that Hedgewar
had been secretary to the Hindu Mahasabha from 1926 to 1931. The RSS seems
to have provided support to the Hindu Mahasabha, as shown by the fact that
groups of RSS militants used to gather at the public meetings organised
to celebrate Savarkar’s release.
Two of the main topics of the speeches
Savarkar gave at the gatherings organised in his honour and at any other
public function of his party were the international situation and Hindu–Muslim
Regarding the first aspect, Savarkar
had a rather cynical view of the relations India should entertain at the
international level. He returned to freedom and entered into politics at
the time of the formation of the Rome–Berlin Axis and Japan’s adhesion
to the pact. Such an outcome was favourably assessed by Hindu radical nationalism,
including the Hindu Mahasabha.
‘India’s foreign policy’ was the
subject of a speech Savarkar gave to about 20,000 people in Pune on August
1, 1938. The following are the most meaningful parts of the speech, according
to a press note issued by the Bombay office of the Hindu Mahasabha.
“He observed India’s foreign policy
must not depend on “isms”. Germany has every right to resort to Nazism
and Italy to Fascism and events have justified that those isms and forms
of governments were imperative and beneficial to them under the conditions
that obtained there. Bolshevism might have suited Russia and Democracy
as it is obtained in Briton (sic) to the British people”.
Political systems correspond then
to the nature of the respective population. This theory was clearly inspired
by a deterministic conception of race, similar to the conception of race
then dominant in Europe.
Starting a controversy with Nehru,
Savarkar openly defended the authoritarian powers of the day, particularly
Italy and, even more so, Germany: “Who are we to dictate to Germany, Japan
or Russia or Italy to choose a particular form of policy of government
simply because we woo it out of academical attraction? Surely Hitler knows
better than Pandit Nehru does what suits Germany best. The very fact that
Germany or Italy has so wonderfully recovered and grown so powerful as
never before at the touch of Nazi or Fascist magical wand is enough to
prove that those political “isms” were the most congenial tonics their
Savarkar asserted in a speech in
the presence of some 4,000 people at Pune on October 11, 1938, (that) if
a plebiscite had taken place in India, Muslims would have chosen to unite
with Muslims and Hindus with Hindus. This was a consequence of the principle
according to which it was not enough living together for a few countries
to form a nation, as “the common desire to form a nation was essential
for the formation of a nation”.
During Savarkar’s presidentship
the anti–Muslim rhetoric became more and more radical, and distinctly unpleasant.
It was a rhetoric that made continuous reference to the way Germany was
managing the Jewish question. Indeed, in speech after speech, Savarkar
supported Hitler’s anti–Jewish policy, and on October 14, 1938, he suggested
the following solution for the Muslim problem in India: “A Nation is formed
by a majority living therein. What did the Jews do in Germany? They being
in minority were driven out from Germany”.
Then, towards the end of the year
in Thane, in front of RSS militants and local sympathisers, right at the
time when Congress expressed its resolution against Germany, Savarkar stated
that, “in Germany the movement of the Germans is the national movement
but that of the Jews is a communal one”. And again the next year, on July
29, in Pune, he said: “Nationality did not depend so much on a common geographical
area as on unity of thought, religion, language and culture. For this reason
the Germans and the Jews could no be regarded as a nation”.
Without this unity, not even Muslims
and Hindus could be regarded as belonging to the same nation. Indian Muslims
should rather resign themselves to be considered as a minority, the recognition
of whose rights should depend on the magnanimity of the majority.
Finally, at the end of 1939, on
the occasion of the 21st session of the Hind Mahasabha, Savarkar made one
of the most explicit comparisons between the Muslim question in India and
the Jewish problem in Germany: “...the Indian Muslims are on the whole
more inclined to identify themselves and their interests with Muslims outside
India than Hindus who live next door, like Jews in Germany”.
One can find a certain continuity
between the ideas of nations and nationhood expressed in Savarkar’s Hindutva
and the content of these declarations. Indeed in his book, Savarkar, referring
to the Muslims, asserted that “their holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine.
Their mythology and godmen, ideas and heroes are not children of this soil.
Consequently their names and their outlook smack of foreign origin (Hindutva:
Who is Hindu?).
A feeling of admiration for the
Jewish policy of Germany seems to have been shared by the entire circle
of Hindu nationalism at the end of the 1930s. In We, or Our Nationhood
Defined, Golwalkar, who would become general secretary of the RSS
a year later declared that:
“German national pride has now
become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the nation and its
culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic
races — the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here.
Germany has also shown how well–nigh impossible it is for races and cultures,
having differences going to the mot (?), to be assimilated into one united
whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”.
This had its root in the idea that
being a Hindu was a matter of race and blood, not only a matter of culture.
In turn that was an idea which was strikingly similar to the racial myths
celebrated in Germany, more than in Italy.
Golwarkar’s position regarding
Muslims was even more extreme than Savarkar’s: “in one word, they (Muslims)
must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated
to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less
any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights”.
Waiting for the Right Enemy
The literature promoted by militant
Hinduism is trying nowadays to compare the attitude adopted by the Hindu
Mahasabha towards the totalitarian regimes with Subhash Chandra Bose’s
position towards the axis powers. According to this literature, the evidence
in favour of such interpretation is a meeting which took place between
Bose and Savarkar in Bombay in June 1940.
My impression of the episode is
that it is a sort of historiagraphic invention, directed to legitimise
the otherwise ambiguous position of the Hindu Mahasabha during the war.
Asserting that Netaji’s project had Savarkar’s sanction means not only
that Savarkar had a sort of patronage on Bose’s activities in Europe, but
more important, that Savarkar played an important role in the freedom fight.
Certainly the meeting did take
place, and very possibly the two leaders discussed Bose’s intention to
go to Europe and seek support of the axis powers. However, all this is
far from meaning that Savarkar inspired Bose, who, right from 1933, had
his own connections with the dictators’ governments. The president of the
Hindu Mahasabha put forward his claim on the content of his meeting with
Netaji four years after Gandhi’s assassination, when the image of the Hindu
Mahasabha and its affiliation were badly damaged by the suspicion of their
involvement in the murder. Accordingly it makes sense to think that the
organisations of militant Hinduism must have perceived the necessity to
rehabilitate their political past and re–invent a more clear–cut anti–British
stand. What stronger argument, therefore, could be available than the assertion
that the Hindu Mahasabha was secretly ready to support Bose’s plan?
The involvement in Gandhi’s assassination
was not the only reason of crisis; the image of Hindu nationalism was indeed
already damaged by the ambiguous attitude adopted in the war period. The
policy actually followed by Hindu nationalism during the war, namely, responsive
co–operation, was far from being unambiguous on both transfer of powers
and relations with the British.
The committee wished for the realisation
of the militarisation of Indian society and the Indianisation of the army.
It requested a reform of the Arms Act, along the lines prevailing in the
UK. It demanded also that territorial forces and paramilitary groups be
strengthened, that new military organisations be created in those provinces
where they did not exist before, and finally that more Indian students
be accepted in the military academies. The Hindu Mahasabha requested the
government to increase the local production of modern armaments so that
India could equip its army, without depending on imports from other nations.
Soon after this resolution, the
Hindu Mahasabha started to work for the creation of a national militia.
Naturally enough, Moonje became the person in charge. Inviting party members
to attend a preliminary meeting for the foundation of the militia, in Pune
on October 8, Moonje described the future organisation in the following
“I have the pleasure in bringing
to your notice a resolution of the Hindu Mahasabha for the organisation
of the Hindu Militia in the country for the purpose of taking part in the
defence of India both from external and internal aggression whenever an
occasion of emergency may arise during the course of the Anglo-German War.
“...I believe that it will be quite
in the fitness of things, in view of the historic All–India Military leadership
of the Maharashtra, that a beginning should be made in the Maharashtra;
so that the lead may be taken up by the whole of India afterwards”.
Who could be the internal aggressors
if not the Muslims?
The answer seems to be contained
in a letter from Moonje to Khaparde of October 18: “... the Moslems are
making themselves a nuisance. The Congress government will not stand up
but will yield to them. We cannot expect any consideration at the hands
of the Congress government. We shall have to fight both the government
and the Moslems just as the Khaskars are doing in UP. The Hindu Mahasabha
will give its support to such fights as the Muslim League is supporting
the Khaskars: you must prepare the volunteers in your towns. The Rashtriya
Swaymasevak Sangh may be useful and handy.
The theme of the ‘internal enemy’
is a further element of affinity between the ideology of fascism and of
Hind nationalism, expressed by a similar rhetoric. It seems nevertheless
that the Sanghatanists were inclined to fight the Muslims and the Congress,
rather than the British.
According to Moonje’s plans, the
RSS should be involved in the creation of the national militia. Indeed,
in a letter of October 18 to General Nanasahib Shinde of Baroda, Moonje
affirmed: “I am glad to note that you have approved of my idea of a Hindu
National Militia for Maharashtra as is being organised by the Hindu Mahasabha.
“I have been myself thinking of
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and I am corresponding with their leader.
They may have their peculiar (sic) difficulties and the point is that the
militia should be organised under these circumstances whether the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh can undertake the task or not.
During this preliminary phase,
Moonje consulted Hedgewar, with whom he exchanged several letters and whom
Moonje hoped to meet, in order to discuss the participation of the RSS
in the militia.
On October 27 a militant from Lahore
informed Moonje that: “We have at present in Punjab several Dals and Sanghs,
the total number of members of which is approximately about 50,000, but
they are not working under a single organisation. There are Rashtriya Sevak
Sangh, Atma Sangh, Mahabir Dal, Seva Sangh and Akali Dal working under
different leaders. They have a sort of military organisation. The Akali
Dal is armed with swords, but the others have other weapons. The Rashtriya
Sevak Sangh has only lathis. The first thing to do is to bring all these
sanghs on a uniform basis working under a single leadership though not
of one man but of a council.
In spite of such mobilisation,
the Hindu militia had not been formed. The government did not withdraw
the existing restrictions imposed on military and paramilitary organisations
It is difficult to establish if
the organisations of militant Hinduism were arming themselves against possible
foreign invaders, the internal enemy, or the British. Most probably they
were carefully hedging their bet, ready to take advantage of any future
development. However, it is a fact that at a meeting with Linlithgow in
Bombay on October 8, 1939, Savarkar adopted a decidedly conciliatory position
vis–à–vis the British.
When, in the 1940s, the totalitarian
regimes had already revealed their true colours, the attitude of the organisations
of militant Hinduism towards fascism and Nazism was still benevolent. In
spite of the already, even if only partially, known atrocities committed
by Hitler and Mussolini, the main organisations of Hindu nationalism still
praised the dictators and their regimes. This position could be justified,
had it been part of a coherent and strong anti–British policy. However,
as I have tried to demonstrate, the forces of Hindu nationalism seem to
have concentrated their efforts more against the so–called internal enemies
— Muslims and Congress — rather than the foreign invaders. While Bose’s
alliance with the axis powers had mainly an anti–British function, the
Hindu Mahasabha used its support to the dictators as an instrument in blackmail
The preceding discussion has shown
that: (a) the main historical organisations and leaders of Hindu nationalism
had a distinctive and sustained interest in fascism and nazism; (b) fascist
ideological influences on Hindu nationalism were present and relevant;
and (c) to a certain extent, these influences were channelled through direct
contacts between Hindu nationalists and members of the Italian fascist
state. No doubt, beginning with the early 1920s and up to the second world
war, Hindu nationalists looked at the political reality of fascist Italy,
and subsequently of nazi Germany, as a source of inspiration.
One of the results of the contacts
between the fascism and Hindu nationalism was the attempt to militarise
Hindu society and to create a militant mentality among the Hindus. If it
is true that the Hindu society elaborated its own patterns of militarisation
— refer to the shakhas as a typically Indian phenomenon — it is equally
true that a most relevant result of fascist influence was the transmission
of a more functional organisation and a stronger political character to
the already existing organisation of political Hinduism.
At the ideological level, the most
meaningful effect of the fascist influence is represented by the way in
which Hindu nationalism developed its own concept of diversity, transforming
‘diverse’ people into enemies. Of course, the concept of internal enemy
is already implicitly contained in Savarkar’s Hindutva. Nevertheless, the
continuous reference to German racial policy and the comparison of the
Jewish problem in Germany with the Muslim question in India reveals the
evolution of the concept of ‘internal enemy’ along explicitly fascist lines.
In my opinion, if one is to understand
the evolution of Hindu radicalism in the post–independence period, one
has to take into account both the domestic roots of this phenomenon and
the external influence on its development.
In the 1920s and 1930s fascism
was an international phenomenon. As such it was bound to influence the
ideology and practice of similar movements all over the world. Since many
of Bal Thackeray’s most outrageously anti–Muslim and racist statements
are literal quotations of Savarkar’s speeches and theories, it is legitimate
to conclude that such influence is still alive in today’s militant Hinduism.
(The above article has been excerpted
from a much larger piece, with detailed references under the title, ‘Hindutva’s
Foregin Tie-up in the in the 1930s — Archival Evidence’, published in the
January 22, 2000 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly. Marzia Casolari
is an Italian researcher).