Hegemony and Hindu Dharma in West Indies : Part 5

M.K. Gandhi  

Gandhi, for mostly personal reasons of his own, accepted the British definition of Hindu ‘spirituality’ with its strong anti-physicality element. Initially, he defended his technique of confronting the British overlords peacefully – Satyagraha – in tactical terms,“ I contend that the revolutionary method cannot succeed in India. If open warfare were a possibility, I may concede that we may tread the path of violence that other countries have, and at lease evolve the qualities that bravery on the battlefield brings forth. But the attainment of Swaraj thought warfare I hold to be an impossibility for any time we can foresee”.

Soon, however he defined the method Satyagraha, in normative fashion: “Satyagraha, then is literally holding on to truth and it means, therefore- Truth force. It excludes the use of violence because man is not capable of knowing absolute truth and therefore, not competent to punish.” [Young Indian, 222-223]

This of course was the ideal Indian leader for the British. With Gandhi as the guiding force behind the Indian National Congress, (INC) the political party opposing British rule, the game would be played according to the British rules, which, of course, they always interpreted and could always amend as they saw fit. This they did repeatedly to Gandhi. The Satyagraha movement was therefore heartily supported by the British and their Bharatiya collaborators. In this manner, the militancy of the most downtrodden people of Bharat was dissipated and demobilized both against the British overlords and their local agents.

B.G. Tilak 

Tilak was from Pune in Maharastra state, like Gokhale and Ranade, but even though he was a graduate of the same British educational institutions as they, he was light years away from them in temperament. Tilak differed from Gokhale in rejecting the British’s assumptions of superiority. He founded an English language magazine, “Mahratta” that took the same line as the Marathi language magazine, “Kesari’ whose editor asserted that, “all evils, social and political, from which the Maharatta population is at present suffering, are to be traced to the unique system of education now followed by the government.”

He demanded that political freedom from the British should not be linked with social “progress”- Swaraj was a non-negotiable issue. Thirdly he was not willing to rule out violence against the British in the pursuit of freedom. Branded by the British as the leader of the “Extremist” faction within the Indian National Congress, he was vehemently apposed by Gokhale and Ranade. He rejected the latter’s assumption of British enlightened social policies by apposing an “age of consent” to marriage bill. Tilak’s position was that the British had no legitimacy in instructing Bharatiyas on social policy while continuing to oppress them. Freedom – Swaraj – had to come first. He advised that Bharatiyas should not “get enamoured of the sentences full of good words used cheaply and the glamour of the English. Though the exterior may look beautiful, Ram only knows what is going on behind…We must behave towards these people with cunning and shrewdness.”

He was imprisoned at the height of his popularity in Congress and was released a broken man. The mantle of leadership of Congress passed to Gandhi at Tilak’s death in 1920.


Bose brings us into the modern period – even though he died before Gandhi, he was so much younger. He was the second generation of his family to go through the English educational system; his father was an attorney who was a member of the Bengal Legislative Council and firmly believed in the beneficence of the British. Before he was sent off to Cambridge University to prepare for the Indian Civil Service exams, he was exposed to the nationalistic teachings of Vivekananda, but the firebrand Aurobindo (who had opposed the Congress Moderates) was his political hero.

Upon his passing the exams in 1920, which would have allowed him entry into the profession, which was the epitome of what Bharatiyas could achieve in Bharat, Bose went directly to Gandhi and indicated that he was going to dedicate his life to the struggle for Bharat’s Independence. The twenty-three year old graduate asked Gandhi what were his goals and strategy for achieving them. What was the goal? Political freedom? Moral development? Mobilization? He was not satisfied with Gandhi’s answers and found him “confused”.

Bose favoured a more militant approach than Gandhi’s Satyagraha, to end British rule and opposed Gandhi on several initiatives. He concluded Gandhi was a good mobiliser who lost his nerve at crucial moments. Bose became President of the INC in 1939 over a candidate supported by Gandhi, who moved politically to isolate him and eventually forced his resignation. Bose proposed that the INC should support the enemies of Britain during WWII to gain Independence. A national uprising, he argued would go a long way in building national unity, which became an issue by the 1930’s. He was imprisoned but escaped and proceeded to Germany from where he was sent to Singapore to join up with the Japanese. He formed the Indian National Army and invaded British occupied Bharat but was defeated.


The lives of these men illustrate a crucial point about the imposition of a hegemony: it is never so complete even in a person much less than a people as to preclude them from trying to escape its implications. This will be due to several reasons. As we pointed out earlier, one’s identity is never totally monolithic; depending on other influences, there will be dissonances in the individual mind that compel reflection and questioning of “common sense” – new personas can develop out of this questioning. For instance the reports of the Bharatiyas who had visited England and experienced the disparity between the paradigm spread in Bharat and the reality of English life had to be explained. Bharatiyas educated within the paradigm like Dadabhai Naoroji had access to the facts of the economic strangulation and drain of Bharat’s wealth because native clerks had to compile the figures – the British could not hide them completely.

Then, of course, even the most hegemonised, upper class Bharatiya, in his everyday interaction with Whites, experienced the contempt and condescension of the newest, rawest lower-class white recruit from England. When their superior qualifications in British scholarship did not secure commensurate status or respect, this humiliation pushed many of them to agitate for equal treatment as preached by the paradigm.

Then, of course, there will be individuals in every society who will have escaped the hegemonising apparatus or who will have a personality that questions reflexively. Out of this group would arise individuals who would be willing to change the whole order – to create a counter-hegemony. Gramsci proposed that a people who want to be free will have to counter the hegemony with a “counter-hegemony” to that which keeps them subjugated. To the extent that the counter-hegemony can provide new answers which addresses most, if not all of the debilitating premises of the hegemony, to that extent it has a chance of succeeding. A civilisation such as the Hindu’s, that has confronted so many of mankind’s dilemmas through the millennia, would be better equipped to provide answers. Yet this has not proved to be the case in Bharat. This demonstrates the power of the hegemon, which perpetuates itself through the hegemonising apparatus.

Even though Bharat became independent of Britain in 1947, the men who replaced them accepted much of their hegemonic premises. This was not a coincidence: the British had always encouraged the “moderates” such as Gandhi and banished the “extremists” such as Tilak, who saw through their game. Bharat was handed over to the British approved successor, who unashamedly saw himself as “English” in culture. Jawarharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, was a protégé of Gandhi, who favoured him over his more radical contemporary, Subhas Chandra Bose. Nehru, educated in England from childhood, defined himself to be a “socialist” as did Bose, but unlike the latter, Nehru accepted the British view of Hindu Dharma as backward. Nehru never saw the need for a ‘National” revolution which would wipe away the hegemonic driven insecurities from the people, but saw development in only economic terms.

Hegemony Nehru
Nehru described himself as ‘English by education, Muslim by culture, and Hindu by birth’

The hegemonising apparatus was left intact – even Sanskrit was not reintroduced after being banished for over a hundred years. The curriculum never replaced, or even supplemented, the English literature with literature of Bharat in the colleges. The history still spoke of an Indian invasion and the ancient stories were still labeled “myths”.

Gramsci emphasised the role of the “organic” intellectual in the construction of the counter- hegemony, which is very similar to the Hindu conception of the intellectual. In this tradition, the intellectual does not retire to the seclusion of an ivory tower but remains embedded with and within the masses of the people. He lives the ideas of the new paradigm and becomes an example for others to follow. In his delineation of society into state and civil components, Gramsci was also proposing a strategy for action. Most activists, including those who fought British “Imperialism”, focused on capturing the state but Gramsci had shown that much of the hegemonic apparatus is located in Civil Society and if these are captured, then the minds of the people could be freed – as important a process as capturing political power, and in addition was an essential precursor in even achieving the latter goal.

Gramsci therefore proposed a “war of maneuver” to capture the state and simultaneously a “war of position” to capture the mind. In Bharat the construction of a counter-hegemony has been led by a group – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – that has produced over two dozen all-Bharat organizations, which are operating in all fields of endeavour – in an effort to capture both civil society and the state. One group – the Bharatiya Janata Party operates in the political field and has challenged the Congress as the dominant party in Bharat. Another group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has taken up the mobilization of Hindus and has played a reforming role there also. It is most noteworthy that these groups, by and large, are not formed by graduates from the (powerful) remnants of the British hegemony. In fact that apparatus has proven to be their most powerful opponent.

Against the foregoing background, we now move to Guyana.

(Other parts of this series – 1, 2, 3, 4, 6)

About the Author

Ravi Dev
Shri Ravi Dev is the Sanghachalak of Hindu Swamyamsevak Sangh (Guyana). He has been a Hindu activist for the past 27 years in Guyana, after 21 years in New York where he was a corporate executive and a member of the New York Bar.