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Book Review: 'Awakening Bharat Mata' by Dr. Swapan Dasgupta

The book is not about Hindu Nationalism in power, but as a social and political movement

Dhvanit Goswami

Book name: Awakening Bharat Mata

Author: Dr Swapan Dasgupta

Published by: Penguin Random House India Pvt. Ltd, Gurugram

Publishing Year: 2019

The political landscape and the intellectual sphere of India for almost seventy decades after the independence was dominated by the left-liberal consensus of Nehruvian secularism. The dynamic rise of the Hindu Right politics in independent India is a recent phenomenon in the last three decades. Earlier the Hindu right wing was maligned and stereotyped by the dominant Left-liberal cabal as either a variant of fascism or merely a collection of sectarian prejudices. Hindu conservatism was never studied in its broader context, with its intellectual side always ignored.

Even today, the Left intelligentsia demonises Hindutva as just reactionary politics pursued by narrow minded bunch of hooligans, in spite of the massive support it has from the various quarters of the society, including the urban educated middle class in large numbers. In one of his article titled, “Where are the Indian conservatives?” left leaning historian Ramachandra Guha questioned the existence of conservative intellectuals in India. Well, the fact is Hindu Right has never lacked intellectual fervor. A befitting reply to the false allegation regarding the lack of intellectual aspect in the Hindutva thought is the book titled “Awakening Bharat Mata” by Dr. Swapan Dasgupta.

A veteran journalist who has occupied senior editorial positions in reputed newspapers like The Times of India and The Indian Express, Dr. Dasgupta was awarded Padma Bhushan by the President of India in the year 2015 and in the following year he was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Dr. Dasgupta is one of the pioneer intellectuals of India with considerate and understanding views on Hindu nationalism.

The concept of political unity among the people of the adherents of native Indic traditions is actually recent concept, barely 200 years old. In the words of the veteran journalist of the last century, Girilal Jain, “the rise of Hindus was a phenomenon which began 200 years ago with the consolidation of the British Raj and disarming the local Hindu populations”. The book Awakening Bharat Mata is a crucial book to understand the ideological view point of this modern political Hindu Right from different angles, with various unseen and lesser known aspects of the history and polity, buried under the carpet by the Left. As stated by Dr. Dasgupta in the preface: “The book is not about Hindu Nationalism in power, but as a social and political movement”.

Hindu civilization is last surviving pagan civilization of the world with continuity of almost 5000 years, which makes it entirely different from the globally dominant monotheistic organised cults and religions. Hindu society from Himalayas in the north to the ocean in the south, from Dwarka in the west to Kamrup in the east, although a highly heterogeneous entity with large scale diversity of castes, sects, ethnicity and languages, has a common civilizational consciousness since centuries.

Thus, Hindu Right needs to be understood from a very broad perspective, keeping in mind the fundamental differences between the Indic philosophy and Semitic cults, the historical backdrop of India and the Hindu consciousness in the modern global, national and regional context. Hindutva movement as seen today is the culmination of the various socio-political phenomenon of last two centuries that happened across India. The book attempts to discover the different inspirations of the Indian Right, which comes from multiple sources, often many of them actually contradicting each other.

Only the first three chapters of the book are penned down by Dr. Dasgupta, in which he gives a vivid description of the rise of Hindu Right in the context of its ideological framework of cultural nationalism, the roots of which can be traced back to the early days of the British colonization. Rest of the book, is divided in three parts, which consists of different essays by various thinkers and intellectuals who can be considered as the inspirational figures of Indian Right. These writings by these people are originally either part of some book previously published or speeches given by them in some historical context.

The ideological reawakening can be traced to the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century CE with philosophers and nationalists like Swami Vivekananda, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and Sri Aurobindo’s thoughts building the foundational aspects of Indian nationalism. The writings of Chattopadhyay, Sri Aurobindo, Sister Nivedita and RC Majumdar’s essay on Swami Vivekananda links the origin of nationalist sentiment rooted in the spiritual values of the Indic civilization, personified in the later years as Bharat Mata (Mother India).

Jadunath Sarkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s essays on the military and administrative genius of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja and rise of the Maratha Empire symbolises the continued spirit of struggle to safeguard the civilizational ethos which Indian nationalism inherited. The speeches and articles of reformers and thinkers like MG Ranade, RG Bhandarkar and Ananda K Coomaraswamy gives glimpse of the reformist mind set of Hindu intellectuals.

The book does justice to the once world famous historians of the past but later completely side-lined from the mainstream academic discourse of India like Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Jadunath Sarkar and journalists like Girilal Jain (who was ostracized from the intellectual circle for his open support for Hindu Nationalism). The speeches, writings and interviews of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Nirad C Chaudhari, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and VS Naipaul highlights some of the bitter truth of the clash of civilizations and the civilizational challenges political Hindus face, which cannot be discussed publicly for the sake of political correctness.

The selected essays which originally were speeches, articles or part of some book by eminent thinkers, politicians, philosophers and social reformers in the time span of last one and a half century, do provide a very crucial understanding of the different shades of the political Hindu Right. The book consolidates them in a very effective manner, a collection which is rarity given the hegemony of the Left cabal in academia.

However, there is also a drawback of the book. It does not discusses the relativity of these essays in its present political context. It actually requires a mind with very deep intellect having holistic understanding of Indian politics, history and philosophy to link the present day orientation of the Hindutva politics as visible today with the events of the past. Origin and development of the various issues like cow protection and communal riots could only be understood from the essays by someone if he/she has studied it in its wider context apart from the book.

Barring this shortcoming, the book is actually a crucial literature to understand the rise of Hindu right in its different contexts, which are never discussed in the mainstream academic discourse. The shortcoming of the book should be used to further study the different issues the Hindu Right faces in its historical context and linking it with the current issues, in order to understand it more accurately. The book provides ample evidence and arguments to counter the allegations peddled against Hindutva supporters like no role of Hindu Nationalism in the freedom struggle of India and lack of intellectual presence in the political Hindu Right, which must be applauded.

The author is a research scholar in Gujarat University, Ahmedabad and an intern at Academics4nation.



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