Monday, September 16, 2019

K.N. Govindacharya: A Politico-Intellectual History of Independent India

Note: This is the English translation of Dr. Shankar Saran’s Hindi article titled गोविन्दाचार्य: स्वतंत्र भारत का एक राजनीतिक-बौद्धिक इतिहास published in “Naya India.” Translated by Priyank Chauhan.


Shri K.N. Govindacharya’s life is a mirror of the politico-intellectual history of independent India all the way up to the present time. Since he is among the seniormost of the second generation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), his life also gives a natural glimpse into the current situation of the Sangh. For a long time now, Govindacharya has not been an active functionary of both the RSS and the BJP. However, he can be said to be the foremost intellectual of the Sangh-BJP. With the exception of Subramanian Swamy, there is probably nobody there who comes close to him, in whose words the listeners find careful observation, grounded thought and beauty of language.

It is an interesting fact that in his adolescent age, Govindacharya too, was impressed with communism. In his early years, he was affected by the selfless service of the poor by the communist leader Rustam Satin. He even worked for the student wing of the party, the All India Students Federation for about two or three years. He used to read the communist newspaper ‘Blitz’. But as it happened with many idealists in India and the world over, observing the political behaviour of communism made him disillusioned with it.

The credit for Govindacharya abandoning Communism goes to the Soviet military intervention in Hungary, the flight of the Dalai Lama due to oppression by Communist China, and the Chinese attack on India in 1962. The exact same causes that made the Hindi author Nirmal Verma and the historian Sitaram Goel to move away from Communism.

This is a foundational event in the history of independent India, which separated the open-minded idealists from the close-minded or selfish or weak-willed idealists. In that era, that behavior of the Soviet Union and China did not have the same effect on Jawaharlal Nehru, Shripad Dange, Mohan Kumarmangalam and many other Marxists although these worthies had heard and seen the ugly reality of Communism from closer quarters and for an even longer period of time. The events in Hungary, Tibet, Czechoslovakia etc, had tested the leftist intellectuals: was it reason and commitment to truth that they held supreme, or was it blind faith and cowardice? Having seen the reality, did they stand by the truth, or did they settle for falsehood for multiple reasons?

The young Govind came out having passed that test. His heart grew weary of Communism. Then someone tried to make him join a Sangh Shakha, but its machine-like nature did not excite him. Then someone made an intellectual impression on him, that “The reason for country’s problems lies in colonial education, which can only be ameliorated by nationalist education, and this is the work that Sangh does.” These words attracted Govind, and he joined the Sangh.

And so, Govindacharya came into the Sangh for the purpose of consolidating nationalist education in the country. Along with this, the feeling for ground-level and direct service to the poor was there in Sangh as well. Guru Golwalkar would never take rest in the afternoon after lunch. After lunch, he would go to the hospital outside to serve the needy. In this way, Govindacharya devoted himself to the two notions of nationalist education and social service. He studied Ramkrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekanands, Shri Aurobindo, and Tilak. He also read writing by the Indophile foreign scholars who were famous at that time.

Fifty years have passed since. The assessment of the work that Govindacharya did in his tenure with the Sangh and the BJP must rest on this question: how much progress has been made in the nationalist education? From the very beginning, the bright and open-minded Govindacharya maintained his distinctive character. He never had the arrogance of the typical ‘dwarf leading a convoy of giants. The same cannot be said about many of his colleagues. Instead of becoming an expert at preaching, Govindacharya employed the art of making others become something by becoming that himself. In social life, he gave importance to good faith and his own reputation. He felt the need for creative work and employment of new methods. The three lessons that he had learnt from his Gurus – constant effort, self-introspection, and prayer to Ishwara: he always kept these in his mind.

But we also need to examine whether the purpose that attracted him and made him join the Sangh has been accomplished. Govindacharya’s life shows that he was soon absorbed in politics, because the Sangh eventually became ridden with politics. The task of nationalist education got confined to organization-education and party-education. Even Swami Vivekananda’s mere name remained while his excellent lessons receded into the background. In the meantime, learning from scholars from India and abroad remained a distant dream. The books and booklets published and distributed by the Sangh-BJP are good examples of this.

Despite having a massive network of their organization, offices, schools, institutions etc, all over the country, their intellectual output is surprisingly dismal and infantile. Its record and footprint of making disruptive and corrective interventions in history and contemporary intellectual discourse in the last sixty years is barely visible.

The Communism that they continuously fought against, the communists who continuously fought back, and the knowledge in these issues that the Sangh-BJP leaders themselves had…all of these continued to remain shallow. The storehouse of their written-oral content on these subjects largely contains some pre-made commentaries, quotations and empty slogans. Even the task of broadcasting the solid work of the rare Indian scholars who made original contributions to the subjects of communism, history and religion was not accomplished. Rather, they were not even recognised – honouring remains a distant feat. The top leaders of the Sangh-BJP used to consider a selfless sage like Sitaram Goel a foreign agent! And this, when there was regular contact and cooperation with him for decades. One wonders what is the vision and sense with which the Sangh-BJP leaders have moved throughout their entire lives.  

Without a doubt, all of this is not at all a contribution to the nationalist education. Rather, it is an indication of the absolute educationlessness. This is why even after running the various state-governments for decades and the central government for eleven years, not a single element can be described as the educational policy or the result of the Sangh-BJP. What losses it caused, what utter profit was reaped by anti-India and anti-Hindu forces by it is a separate subject. But after accepting the responsibility for nationalist education and then to make a disaster out of it has been the biggest travesty of the Sangh-BJP in independent India.

The social service did continue on. The work of Sangh in serving the disaster-hit people and the tribals has been visible frequently although it did not get the credit that it deserved, for political reasons. The enemies of Hindu Dharma cast a complete stigma on the Sangh-BJP, believing them to be the political representative of the Hindu society; rather they themselves were made the politico-intellectual basis of India. If the Sangh-BJP actually had nationalist education in their mind, then a solution to this would have been very simple. With the natural devotion in Indian public towards Dharma and truth, the only need was just for the truth to be presented and disseminated widely.

But the obsession with politics and party-politics over time, made the Sangh utterly ineffective in this very subject of nationalist education. Meaning: the refrain which influenced young people like Govindacharya to join the Sangh…that refrain was lost somewhere on the way. The party politics became supremely important. It absorbed all of their time and energy. As a result, after becoming distant from real education and real Gurus, this politics transformed into power-politics just like other parties in India. A rare leader like Govindacharya becoming inconsequential in the Sangh-BJP today, is an example of that very process.

Writer, author, and translator. Author of the bestselling "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." English translator of Dr. S L Bhyrappa's blockbuster Kannada novel, "Aavarana".

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