A Hindu Nation but not a Hindu State
by Radha Rajan on 30 Jun 2009 1 Comment

[This excerpt refers to the Hindu tradition of statecraft and makes the distinction and connection between Hindu rashtra and Hindu rajya - the Hindu nation and the Hindu state. Detailing the reasons behind the Imperial government’s creation of the INC and the Muslim League, this chapter deals with the rise of Hindu nationalism, the decimation of the nationalists, and tragically, the rise and retreat of Aurobindo which created the space in the INC for Gandhi. We have also examined the reasons why Gandhi was compelled to pen Hind Swaraj – Author]
Armed resistance and British response

Jugantar’, a revolutionary off-shoot of the Anusilan Samiti and one of the earliest armed Hindu resistance movements of the twentieth century came into being in the early 1900s. The partition of Bengal, British appeasement of Muslims by Viceroy Minto, and the creation of the Muslim League added an edge to the resistance, which also influenced a section of the INC. Tilak and Aurobindo, among others, refused to allow the INC to serve as implementing agency of British intent. As a definitive response to the Muslim League and Muslim appeasement policies of the colonial power, and as a response to the meek leadership of the INC which neither responded effectively to the creation of the League nor opposed the British successfully, the INC, under the Presidentship of Aurobindo split vertically in December 1907, just one year after the League was born, with Tilak and Aurobindo leading the ‘nationalist’ faction[1]. The ‘Nationalist’ section soon began to be pejoratively labeled as ‘Extremist’, while the faction led by Surendranath Banerjea and Gopal Krishna Gokhale was termed ‘Moderate’.

-- We should be absolutely unsparing in our attack on whatever obstructs the growth of the nation, and never be afraid to call a spade a spade. Excessive good nature, chakshu lajja [the desire to be always pleasant and polite], will never do in serious politics. Respect of persons must always give place to truth and conscience; and the demand that we should be silent because of the age or past services of our opponents, is politically immoral and unsound. Open attack, unsparing criticism, the severest satire, the most wounding irony, are all methods perfectly justifiable and indispensable in politics. We have strong things to say; let us say them strongly; we have stern things to do; let us do them sternly. But there is always a danger of strength degenerating into violence and sternness into ferocity, and that should be avoided so far as it is humanly possible [2].  

Unnerved by the armed revolution of ‘Jugantar’ and the rise of votaries of armed resistance within the INC, the British government, consistent with its response in 1857, employed the full might of repressive State power against the members of ‘Jugantar’ and the nationalist segment of the INC, in order to break the backbone of Hindu resistance. National sentiment over the partition of Bengal, fuelled by the swaraj and swadeshi movement soon spread to the Punjab, Central Provinces, Poona, Bombay, Madras and other cities of the country. It was a dangerous replay of 1857 and the Raj reacted just as ferociously. Within two years, by the end of 1909, almost all the leaders of Jugantar, the nationalists in the Congress including Tilak, Aurobindo, and Savarkar had been hanged, deported, or arrested and confined in jails; some opted for voluntary exile. 

Savarkar was inspired by the three Chapekar brothers – Damodar, Balakrishna and Vasudev, who had been found guilty of conspiring to kill and killing British ICS officer Walter Rand on 22nd June 1897, on Ganeshkhind Road, in Pune, when Rand was returning from a party to celebrate the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation. The three brothers and their close associate, Mahadev Ranade were hanged in Pune over a period of 13 months between April 1898-99 and Lokmanya Tilak was arrested and sentenced to 18 months rigorous imprisonment for ‘seditious writing’ which allegedly inspired the Chapekar brothers to take up arms against an officer of the British government. This act of great courage by the Chapekar brothers and Ranade and their brave death left a deep impression upon the teenaged Savarkar who too decided to take up armed struggle against the British. To this end he set up the Abhinav Bharat Society which preached only armed resistance to British rule. 

But in the two years between 1907 and 1909 an enraged and extremely frightened British government brutally crushed this spontaneous and soon well-organized armed revolution by the nationalist faction of the INC, by Jugantar, and Savarkar. Aurobindo was first arrested in August 1907 and jailed for a month on charges of seditious writing in Bande Mataram; he was arrested again in May 1908 in the Alipore Bomb Case, Tilak was charged with seditious writing and jailed in Mandalay in the then Burma [3] and Savarkar who was arrested in France in 1910, following the killing of Sir Curzon Wyllie by Madanlal Dhingra in London, was sentenced with ‘transportation for life’ and suffered confinement in the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, a sentence unparalleled in the history of the British Empire; it is significant that Vasudeo Balwant Phadke, Tilak and Savarkar, all Hindu Nationalists were sentenced to ‘Transportation’ which in effect meant removing them from the scene and from public consciousness with a view to denying them martyrdom [4]. 

Aurobindo was arrested, tried and released in the Alipore bomb case, but when he was threatened again with fresh arrest for ‘seditious writing’ in Karmayogin he decided inexplicably to abandon politics and armed resistance. As in 1906, the British Government in 1909 again empowered the Muslim community while simultaneously decapitating the Hindu nationalist leadership. The Minto-Morley reforms of 1909 granted the Muslim League demand for separate electorates for Muslims, and thus Muslim separatism acquired a sharper edge. In more ways than one, the year 1909 was a turning point in the political destiny of the Hindus.

Unable to cope with the barbaric use of British State power, which left the nationalist movement in complete disarray, Aurobindo, immediately after his release on May 6, 1909 in his famous Uttarapara Speech delivered on May 30, 1909, signalled his retreat from active politics and armed resistance; justifying this abdication as deference to what he termed was the call of his ‘inner voice’.

To his own physical advantage but to the detriment of Hindu nationalism, Aurobindo declared his intention to depart from Bengal, his political karmabhumi, and seek refuge in the distant French colony of Pondicherry down South, beyond the reach of the British government and henceforth work only for the spiritual uplift of the nation. Relieved on this front, the British took further measures to ensure that Hindu armed resistance from within the INC was effectively neutralized. A part of this grand strategy was to get Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who had already positioned himself against armed resistance, against the nationalists, and who always spoke with tremendous affection and awe of the English, to quietly occupy the space vacated by the nationalists.

1] Implicit in the term nationalist was ‘Hindu’ nationalist.
2] “By the Way” Bande Mataram, 13 April, 1907, page 257
3] Tilak was sentenced to transportation and removed to Mandalay in Burma, over 3000 miles away. The life expectancy of an average British male in 1908 was around 48 years while for an average Indian male living in conditions of slavery would have been even less. The barbarity of British rule can be estimated from the fact that Tilak was aged 52 years when he was sentenced to transportation to Mandalay.
4] The very idea of ‘Transportation’, if it weren’t so tragic, would be considered black humour. That invaders who were forcibly occupying territory not their own, were actually transporting natives of that territory as punishment, to alien lands surely belongs to the realm of the absurd. For details of Savarkar’s trial and the sentence, see end of chapter.
Excerpted from
Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and his freedom struggle
Radha Rajan
New Age Publishers (P) Ltd., Delhi, 2009
Price: Rs 495/-
ISBN 81- 7819 - 068- 0
The book may be ordered from the publishers at
or at 011-2649 3326/ 27/ 28

The author is editor, www.vigilonline.com

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