Nationalism, crime and punishment: An extract from UR Ananthamurthy’s Hindutva or Hind Swaraj

Our belief in nationalism leads to a loss of our everyday morality.
Nationalism, crime and punishment: An extract from UR Ananthamurthy’s Hindutva or Hind Swaraj
Nationalism, crime and punishment: An extract from UR Ananthamurthy’s Hindutva or Hind Swaraj
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On August 22, 2014, Kannada literature lost one of its most eloquent writers. On the second anniversary of UR Ananthamurthy’s death, The News Minute has reproduced an extract from his last work, Hindutva or Hind Swaraj.

Towards the end of his life, Ananthamurthy faced the ire of many Hindutva supporters for his criticism of the RSS and also Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He wrote Hindutva or Hind Swaraj in response to his growing disquiet over a belligerent nationalism. Through aphorisms, history and fictional characters, Ananthamurthy mulls questions of good, evil, nationalism, Hindutva and also the actions of political parties. He concludes that Gandhi’s ideal of Hind Swaraj, or self-rule, had ceded ground to Hindutva, as advocated by Veer Savarkar in his book Essentials of Hindutva.

(Note: Raskolnikov is the protagonist of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is a gifted student who kills two women. As the title suggests, the novel explores crime and punishment in the context of greatness, through Raskolnikov’s character and those of others.)

  • Evil is not evil in the context of love for one’s nation. The patriot Gandhi, during his final fast, saw the growing hubris of nationalism in his beloved Nehru and Patel. More on this later. An examination of how Napoleonism gives rise to the desire for nation building, evident in the histories of every country, allows us to understand why Gandhi and Tagore were opposed to the idea of nationhood. Our belief in nationalism leads to a loss of our everyday morality. Raskolnikov couldn’t help the presence of this everyday morality in his inner voice. For the sake of an Indian Napoleon, one he believed could build a strong and stable nation, Godse was prepared to kill Gandhi and die himself. This imperative did not come from a morality present in his inner voice but an external rhetoric. Political rhetoric lies to the people; a writer’s rhetoric lies to himself, says Yeats.

Godse and Savarkar aspired to a strong system with a mighty army. People like Modi live in a gumbaz, a dome that echoes what they say to themselves over and over again. This in itself is not new for India: the Congress leaders did that too.

  • Savarkar believed that only those who view this land as punyabhoomi should rule. Others may only live here. […]
  • I will compare Savarkar’s analysis of Hindutva with Gandhi’s book Hind Swaraj. History with its equalities and inequalities, and its highs and lows, has flashes of inner turmoil. My search is for the underlying coherence in it. This writing, born in the current Modi era, should be viewed as an attempt to swim against the tide.
  • Like an aphorism, an idea appears throughout this writing, concealed in the light or shadow of several other thoughts. Order is needed, so is punishment – within limits. While extolling the Kodanda (bow) of Rama, who was born to protect the good and punish the wicked, the Kannada poet Adiga expresses scepticism: ‘Kodanda dandavu heege danda.’ Punishment is as necessary as it is futile. Ravana’s heads grow back as fast as they are chopped off.
  • It is important to note that the necessity of order and the inevitability of anarchy are the warp and weft of society. The state and its machinery become redundant and an impediment to our existence, which is made up of a love of life, of our many human relationships and of a self-imposed morality. Goodness is present naturally and effortlessly in sage-like people, in Gandhi and Tolstoy. Gandhi accepted the State but did not embrace it. As a test, Jesus Christ was asked if Jews should pay taxes to Rome. The restrained anarchist replied, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ There is never a time when it is not necessary to oppose the state. That resistance is the ever-essential satyagraha. It is present in the poet’s creativity. It is there in the steadfastness of a devotee who confronts his God.
  • […]
  • My essay ‘Fear of the Ruler, Fear Without the Ruler’ (Poorvapara, 1990) was written after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. That is when I began thinking about some of these things.

Several writers and philosophers have been troubled as much by the fear of authoritarian rule as by the fear of anarchic rule. The great novelist Joseph Conrad was fascinated by the widespread anarchy in Poland but was also fearful of it. He found an environment where there were no restraints, no rules unbearable. His ideal was the British Merchant Navy. The harsh rules that the captain of a ship imposes on the crew are applicable to him as well. But within the rigid framework of these rules, there is freedom of creativity for each one. The ship has a life of her own. In English, a ship is referred to as ‘she’. Conrad is afraid that man may do whatever he pleases if there are no checks or restrictions on him. To all appearances a rightist, he is an author who believes that man’s hubris must not be given free rein.

Gandhi was able to reach his inner God, and heed His words in his fasts, in his silences and in his solitude. His last fast – where he ignored the material benefit to the country for whose freedom he had struggled – was at the behest of his conscience. With this fast he opposed Nehru and Patel, both dear to him. This was possible because of divine grace.

(Hindutva or Hind Swaraj was published in English by Harper Perennial in 2016.)

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