Book Review—’Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha’ By Rahul Roushan

“The need was to adopt the Sanghi label”

~Rahul Roushan in ‘Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha’

For those who are unaware, the term ‘Sanghi’ is often used as an abuse against supporters of ‘Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)’, a cultural organisation. RSS is considered the parent organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party. And the term ‘Shakha’ refers to a regular gathering of the members of the RSS.

The book tells the story of the author’s ideological journey, which is apparently similar to that of many BJP voters. Rahul Roushan explains how he was angered by the ‘Sanghi’ abuse at first, but eventually went on to adopt the label voluntarily.

Before I delve into the details of the book, I must mention a thing or two about the prevailing political environment in India right now. The word ‘polarised’ would accurately describe the scenario. Pro-Modi and anti-Modi citizens are at each others’ necks. Neutral guys are often branded as closet-Modi supporters. But there is more to it.

I have seen people ending friendships because of their political differences. Terms like ‘fascist’, ‘bhakt’, ‘liberandu‘ (liberal gandu), ‘sickular’ (a person who supports a contorted, pro-minority version of secularism) etc are thrown around while having heated debates on politics. All of this has affected nearly everyone, unless they are lucky enough to have pragmatic or apolitical friends.

Much of the hatred directed at BJP supporting Hindus stems from a distorted interpretation of ‘Hindutva’, the ideology espoused by the RSS. Hindutva has been branded as a fascist ideology, while in reality, Hindutva’s definition of citizenship is very similar to that of American value based citizenship. It demands Indians to subscribe pluralistic and liberal values that have been a part of India’s ethos, irrespective of the religion being followed by them today. Let me quote the FAQs section of the RSS website.

Why does RSS always talk only about Hindus? Is it a religious organisation?

In the RSS, we do not use the word “Hindu” in the context of a worshiping deity or as a religion. Hindus have a “View of Life” and a “Way of Life”.

In the RSS we use the word Hindu in this context. In a landmark judgement the country”s Supreme Court has also said that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. For instance, Truth is one but there may be several ways to look at it, describe it, and also to attain and realize this truth. Yet all these several forms are similar.

This unity in diversity is Bharat’s world view and also the Hindu’s world view. All those who share this world view, accept and honour Bharat”s history, nurture the country through their own social values and make sacrifices to protect these value systems are “Hindus” despite having different religious moorings or following a separate religion.

However, there is a pushback to this proposition from from followers of Abrahamic faiths, especially those who subscribe to a pan-Islamic identity, in spite of being citizens of India.

Rahul Roushan’s Ideological Journey

In the first two chapters, Rahul recounts his childhood and explains how his family brought him up as a ‘Congressi Hindu‘ , i.e. Congress supporters who were not very assertive about their identity as Hindus. He explains why such a phenomenon was possible in the first place. The Congress party was able to send different messages to different communities without sounding incoherent. However, such a strategy included encouragement of anti-Hindu leftist intelligentsia in academic circles and media. Thus, Rahul says that Congressi Hindus lived a blissful life while their cultural heritage was being silently destroyed in important spaces like media and academia.

Later on, in the third and fourth chapters, the author explains his life in IIMC (Indian Institute of Mass Communication), where he hoped to build the foundation of his career in media. He tells us the fascinating story where he came face to face with a terrorist-batchmate , Shahbaz, but could not identify Shahbaz’s true nature inspite of obvious clues in the worldview he espoused. He coins the term ‘casual Islamism’ to describe the attitude of such undercover terrorists. Rahul says:

“Just like liberals call out causal sexism, casual racism and casual casteism in daily behaviour and lexicon of people, one should be free to call out casual communalism, or casual Islamism to be precise, by highlighting certain beliefs or manners of the Muslim community. And Islamism has to be called out because it is solely responsible for the partition of the country and for the millions of deaths, not only in India but worldwide.”

Later on, Rahul narrates his experience while working in the media. At this juncture, the author admits that he didn’t even understand the term ‘vicharadhaara’ or ideology. He learns that ‘responsible journalism’ in India was hell bent on protecting reputation of Muslims even if they were perpetrators of a crime.

Rahul figures out that something is wrong, but he doesn’t turn into a ‘Sanghi’ yet. The author focuses on getting into a B-school and further his career. After getting into IIM-Ahmedabad, Rahul learns about the other stories related to the 2002-Gujarat riots from people in the city. He cites some of the factors that ensured successive victories of Narendra Modi. Till the fifth chapter, the book documents Rahul’s journey as a ‘Congressi Hindu’ who is not ideologically committed.

But things change after the Anna movement and corruption within the media establishment comes to his attention. He documents the popular narrative in the run-up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections. A major churn happens in the mind of the author. He questions the narrative of the leftist establishment and feels that Modi deserves a chance. However, he says that he didn’t even have a voter ID when the elections happened. And he was not a ‘Sanghi’ even after the BJP swept 2014 elections.

Subsequent behaviour of the media and the partisan campaign that was launched by the Congress-Left establishment converts him into a ‘Sanghi who never went to a Shakha’. Rahul realises that much of the narrative that goes in the name of ‘secularism’, ‘human rights’ and ‘equality’ in India is actually inspired by an anti-Hindu ideology. The double standards adopted when analysing events related to Hindus and minorities disturbs the author. The author finally makes an ideological leap when he can’t tolerate the status quo anymore. He declares:

The need was not to be neutral and balanced, but to balance this lopsided narrative by bringing in counter-arguments. The need was not to respect the boundaries of political correctness but to push the boundaries to show why political correctness was hiding the truth. [..] The need was to stand up for my identity, by not surrendering and seeking liberal validation.

In the last few chapters, Roushan tries to deconstruct the term ‘ecosystem’ (referring to the leftist ecosystem which includes media, academia, judicial setup and non-BJP politicians) and the manner in which it has been functioning over the decades. The author explains how exclusivist terms like ‘Bhakt’, ‘Sanghi’ and other pejorative terms are invented and stuck on people by the leftist-establishment. He admits that pejoratives ‘anti-national’ and ‘urban naxal’ have been coined to described the left-establishment.

Rahul expresses fears about a second partition and draws parallels between events that occurred during anti-CAA protests and events that happened in the run-up to partition. However, he asks ‘Sanghis’ not to turn into a replica of ‘secular-liberal’ gang and remain open to conversation with reasonable people.

This is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to understand the nature of political changes happening in the country since 2014. It demonstrates how a tolerant majority (which is still tolerant) which earlier voted for the Congress party has made a decisive shift, possibly a permanent shift, towards BJP. 

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