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Friday, September 24, 2021

Reclaiming and redefining the narrative: ‘Sanghi who never went to a Shakha’

Rahul Roushan’s Sanghi who never went to a Shakha provides a robust and well researched counter narrative to the mainstream secular liberal leftist discourse that has become so deeply entrenched in the fabric of our lives. However, it does so with a difference—by  juxtaposing the personal and political; the personal and professional and managing the polarities admirably with thorough research and generous dollops of self-indulgent humour!

I found myself nodding and pausing at several moments in the narrative  as the author contextualises the political and ideological perspectives that have  over valued and over glorified  pseudo-secular libertarian values and  by corollary,  attributes pejorative labels such as “sanghi” or “Hindutva” to positions that  challenge the dominant socio-political cultural  narrative.

Has Bharat “fundamentally changed?”, wonders Roushan.

“The shade and spread of this debate are often ideological, with people wondering if the long established ‘idea of India’— epitomised by Nehruvian secularism— has   been replaced  with Hindutva, a term popularly identified with the politics and philosophies of the RSS. If India has fundamentally changed, it means Indians have changed. Unfortunately, the debate in established circles is still around Modi, or around the BJP and RSS, not about the people.

“If at all the focus of the debate shifts towards people, it is only to berate and malign the people who have changed, instead of understanding what brought this change in them. My story is about this change. It is the story about someone who had no idea about the RSS, who never found this organisation highly appealing and who is still not a member of the RSS,  but now he has no problem in being identified as a Sanghi,” writes Rahul Roushan, well known entrepreneur, media professional, social commentator and CEO, OpIndia.

Below are excerpts from an interview with the author.

Q.) How did you come up with such a provocative, tongue in cheek title for your book?

When the ‘liberals’ started labelling anyone a ‘Sanghi’ for just disagreeing with them, they just gave this title on a platter to me! Further, ever since I started writing – whether serious article or satire – I had always kept a conversational tone with my readers, and the first thing that I used to think of was the headlines or titles of the article, so here too, the first thing I decided was the title of the book.

Q.) How have your impressive  educational achievements and your profession as a journalist  influenced your career trajectory as a media entrepreneur?

Well, first of all thanks for some flattering adjectives! And yeah, my education as well as my first job as a journalist did influence the career decisions I took later on. The book actually explains that. In fact, it explains how I ended up being a journalist while having dreams of studying at IITs and why I came back to the media industry after my management degree from IIM Ahmedabad.

Q.) While reading  your book, the intensely personal transformation or your inner journey from a secular liberal  (libertarian) to a person proud of his identity as a Bharatiya Hindu come about. What drove this transformation?   

True. The book is about that transformation, and my story just happens to be a tool to talk about this transformation that literally millions of Indians have gone through. The reasons for this transformation lie in the socio-political and technological developments of the 90s and the first decade of the 21st century. The book decodes and demystifies those developments and matches those to this transformation.

Q.) How did you reconcile your self-image as a libertarian and the pejorative label ‘right wing’ that was attributed to you?

It happened gradually over time. You become numb to mindless labels thrown at you. All that matters is that you are honest about your feelings and you know what you believe in. Then it stops bothering what others think about you.

Q.) Can you tell us about the process of writing the book? (the duration, the research, finding an interested publisher  etc.) 

The duration to actually write the book was spread over six to eight months – most of which lie during the first COVID induced lockdown in first half of 2020. Research was a gradual thing that was not only in parallel to writing but before it too. As I decided the topic and flow about the book, I knew what are some of the aspects I should research about. Even though the story is shaped as my journey, it did require research as it’s not really an autobiography where I just jot down what happened in my personal life. Finding a publisher thankfully was not such a painful process as a literary agent, who had approached me way back in 2012 itself, helped me find one. I got one within a couple of weeks of sending the book proposal to this literary agent.

Q.) What were some of the challenges you faced while writing the book and how did you address them?

I wanted to be sure that the historical events that I’m mentioning, even though most of them were contemporary, were well documented in public records. So, I made sure to have citations for most of the stuff I was writing even if they appeared obvious or well-known. Also, there was an inherent challenge of how to make sure that the story doesn’t become about me because that was never the idea. I ended up deleting many parts that I thought was too much of ‘my story’ than ‘our story’.

Q.) While your book is certainly not autobiographical, your personal journey is intertwined with the larger social political changes sweeping across the country. How do you reconcile the personal and political? 

There was not much to reconcile as such because that personal journey was influenced by socio-political developments. Since I kept out other personal developments from the scope of the book, there were no conflicts warranting reconciling as such.

Q.) Please elaborate on your interesting statement: “My book is a memoir of a sanghi who never went to a shakha.”  

That’s the gist of the book. It’s a memoir, but not my personal story. It’s the story of many who were labelled Sanghi, bigots, communalists, et al. while having no formal or official relationship with organizations like the RSS or the BJP.

Q.) What have been some of the major influencers that have shaped your ideological landscape?

Many have been and the process is continuous. One of the earliest were Arun Shourie and VS Naipaul. Then I discovered Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swaroop.

Q.) Lastly, how do we address and dismantle the pervasive Hinduphobia that has replicated itself in every institution and has become an institutional malaise?  

We have to speak up and not be scared of labels, like I was no longer scared of the ‘Sanghi’ label. Similarly, there is no need to be apologetic for the Hindutva level. We have to push back and tell what we believe in and what we stand for. ‘Hindutva’ is used as proxy to spread Hinduphobia, so the first step has to be to dismantle this fake distinction.

Book websitesanghithebook.com

Buy from: Hindu eShop, Garuda Prakashan and other online retailers.


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Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera. 

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