Book Review: ‘Because India Comes First’

‘Because India Comes First’ is a collection of essays that Ram Madhav, pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and leading thinker of India has penned over a decade’s time. The title of the book is drawn from the May 17, 2014 article that the author had written for the Indian Express, a day after the historic mandate for the 16th Lok Sabha was declared and Narendra Modi was elected as India’s Prime Minister. The author explaining this mandate wrote, ‘The challenge came from not just the divisive politics of caste and religion but also a formidable section of the intelligentsia. It is the journey of that idea of India that culminated in the historic victory yesterday, in the process decimating the politics of caste, religion and vote banks. That idea has become pan-Indian, encompassing all regions and sections of society.’

‘Because India Comes First’ is a ready reckoner to read and understand the view of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party on various ideological aspects. The book provides an insight into the mind of a leader who has been part of the highest decision making bodies in both the RSS and the BJP. Ram Madhav was part of the National Executive of the RSS and later worked as the National General Secretary of the BJP, in-charge of states in the North East India and Jammu & Kashmir. This places him suitably to articulate and explain the ideological, political and policy perspective on issues like Citizenship Amendment Act and Kashmir.

In his chapter on ‘The Art of the Possible’, the author expresses his abhorrence on phrases like ‘politics is the art of the possible’ and distinguishes ‘political science’ from ‘art of politics’ that is practised today. Although he acknowledges that as a practitioner one has to adopt to the current milieu of politics as art of skillful handling rather than being purely driven by ideology, what strikes while reading through the book is adherence and continuity in the ideological standpoint over the years! The ideological view on Kashmir, North East and Citizenship have been widely discussed and written about but this book exposed me to the continuing stand on two other aspects too: ‘Tibet’ and ‘Strategic Culture’.

Reading the essay ‘India has a Moral Commitment on Tibet’, which was initially published in October 2009, showed the concern as well as India’s obligation towards the people of Tibet who are settled in various parts of India as refugees. The same concern can be found in the essay ‘The Dalai Lama at Eigthy Five’ which was published in July 2020. Similarly on ‘Strategic Culture’, the author wrote a blog in November 2012, ‘in order to secure its borders from the Mongol invaders in the North the Qing dynasty in China had built the Great Wall of China — a thousands-of-km-long wall around its central territory after 13th Century. India was invaded by successive waves of hordes for more than 2000 years through one mountain pass called the Khyber Pass. Why has no Indian king ever thought of sealing that pass to prevent the invasions? That is where the difference in strategic cultures stands. That is why we can’t even seal our borders with Bangladesh.’ It is not surprising that among the first decisions that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government took after forming the government was signing the ‘Land Boundary Agreement’ with the Government of Bangladesh in 2015 and settled the boundary question with an important neighbour. As a citizen one can only hope India settles the border with China and honourably rehabilitates Tibetans living as refugees in India.

In his rejoinder to a motivated article ‘Modi the Moderate’ published in March 2014, at the peak of Lok Sabha election campaign, Ram Madhav wrote, ‘they write conclusions first and then the hypothesis. Their biases become their arguments and their positions the launching pad for their false rhetoric.’ This has been the plight of India Story where narratives are build based on perception and biases rather than facts. The book ‘Because India Comes First’ provides an insider’s perspective on issues shaping Indian polity. The book is an attempt to correct such perceptions and must be read for representing the story of India enriched by wisdom of its sages throughout history and which has gained from the Vedic ideal of ‘आ नो भद्रा: क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वत:’, let noble thoughts come to me from all directions.

(This was originally published in the Organiser Weekly.)