If Uttar Pradesh assembly elections were the reason behind the BJP’s decision to repeal the farm laws—as is being conceived by the leaders of the opposition parties as well as the leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the question arises why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi choose Sikhism founder Guru Nanak's birthday to announce the decision.
This especially when Uttar Pradesh does not have any significant Sikh population and Punjab—the heartland of Sikhism, does not hold much electoral prospect for the BJP?
It is because Sikhism has been integral to the BJP's ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)'s agenda of Hindutva, or ‘Hindu cultural nationalism’, a senior ideologue of the RSS told Outlook on Saturday, insisting anonymity.
The RSS and organisations affiliated to it, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, consider all religions born in India - such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism - as part of the Hindu cultural identity, as opposed to the Islam, which they consider as the “invaders' religion”.
This is precisely why the RSS did not want to antagonise the Sikhs beyond a certain extent.
“The Sikh community's anguish over the farm laws was pushing them closer to the Muslims. We had specific inputs on how organisers of protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were coming close to the farm law protesters. Also consider the recent instance of a Gurdwara in Gurugram inviting Muslims to use their compound to offer namaaz. These were alarming trends, given our long term plan of uniting all faiths born in India," said the ideologue.
Formally, the RSS denies it influences the BJP-led government’s policies in any way.
In 2014, an Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha meeting in Madhya Pradesh categorically described the Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists as 'part of the Hindu society', and so did numerous books published by the RSS and its affiliated organisations.
In RSS literature, while Buddha is frequently described as the 10th avatar of Lord Vishnu, Sikh valour against Muslim invaders find a very prominent place.
In the Bodhmala series of books published by the RSS-linked Vidya Bharti Sanskriti Shiksha Sansthan that are mandatory for all teachers and students in all schools run by the Vidya Bharti Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha sansthan,the fight of the Sikhs, and of the Hindu community of Rajputs and Marathas, against Muslim rulers or aggressors, have been repeatedly placed in the same bracket with the fight against the British.
Take this question in a book for class 5 students for example. It was under the sub-heading, ‘martyrs’ tale’.
Q. Who are the sons of Guru Govind Singh who agreed to by buried alive in walls rather than changing religion?
A. Joravar Singh and Fateh Singh
In the same book, under the subheading ‘inspiring quotations from great men’, the series of quotes starts with Guru Nanak’s: “Move my leg towards any direction where your Kaba does not exist!”
Scholars may argue that placing the quotation without context, and in the manner it has been written, makes it misleading. Nanak did not have any intention to show disrespect for the holy Islamic site of Kaba in Mecca but was trying to explain that God existed in every direction.
The Hindutva camp’s concept of placing all faith born in India against Islam and Christianity stems from the writings of the nineteenth century literary stalwart Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, whom the leaders of the RSS and the BJP, including home minister Amit Shah, have described as ‘the fountainhead of Hindu cultural nationalism.’
The Bengali novelist had identified both the British and the Muslims as colonial forces, with the latter being the worse one. It is him who started placing the fight of the Maratha, Rajput and the Sikhs against Muslim rulers as freedom struggle, or anti-colonial struggle.
However, later ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi and ‘Netaji’ Subhas Chandra Bose in their versions of India’s history had identified Muslims as who had completely integrated with India and the British as the only colonial force. This is evident from Gandhi’s 1909 book, Hind Swaraj and the many writings of Bose, including those compiled in ‘The Background of Indian Polity, Collected Works of Subhas Chandra Bose, Vol 2, The Indian Struggle (1920-42).
But in the Hindu nationalists’ idea of India, Muslims remain "invaders".
"If we had to retreat, what better than trying to end animosity with the Sikhs at the same time? There was no reason why the Sikhs should get closer to the Muslims. It was purely an economic reason that was causing this," said an organiser of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmers wing of the RSS, who did not want to be named.
A BJP leader who comes from a background in the RSS explained that the during the movement, ‘some over enthusiastic supporters of the government’s policy’ had dubbed the protesters as ‘Khalistani’ - referring to an erstwhile separatist movement - which had antagonised a marge section of Sikh population against forces preaching Hindutva.
“Our idea of Hindu identity includes the Sikhs. ‘Guruji’ (Madhav Sadashiv) Golwalkar used to say every true Sikh is a Hindu at heart. But this protest was harming one of our core agenda of uniting all Hindus,” the leader told Outlook.
No leader of the BJP and the RSS agreed to speak on record on this subject, saying it was being dealt ‘from the top’ of the organisations.