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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 37, New Delhi, August 29, 2020

RSS steadily moving towards creation of Hindu Rashtra | Arun Srivastava

Friday 21 August 2020


by Arun Srivastava

With Modi’s rise in the national politics a shift in the power structure within the BJP and broader Sangh Parivar was noticed. The RSS brought in its committed cadres and those who cannot emerge as the focal point of politics on their own to the centre stage. Modi’s 2014 victory was interpreted as purely development-oriented, and an impression gained that the new government’s reign would be marked by a laser-like focus on implementing economic reforms and infrastructural improvement. The obvious implication was the communal violence would be become a matter of past and India would witness a new future.

But soon it got obliterated. The RSS Hindutva groups waitin in wings to strike at the appropriate occupied the centerstage. The thrust shifted to cultural nationalism than development. RSS defined its agenda as to reflect its specific brand of cultural nationalism by engineering long-term changes in their programmes and priorities by appointing RSS loyalists. RSS, the so-called ‘cultural’ organisation has never had such a stranglehold over politics and governance of the country. These people behaved like extra constitutional authorities and these organisations were beyond the legal scrutiny.

While other NGOs are supposed to furnish a public declaration of their income and sources of their funding, donations to the RSS remain anonymous, as ‘Gupt Daan’. While large number of other NGOs have been hauled up for alleged violations of FCRA (Foreign Contribution regulation Act), the foreign donations to the RSS remain opaque and hidden from public domain. RSS also did one work; it placed all its important cadres and leaders in government organisations.RSS has been introduced as a subject in secondary schools and even in some universities in BJP-ruled states. So, where does the RSS move from here?

These developments underline that RSS has much deeper design than to simply rule India. In 2019, on Christmas Day, the RSS marched through the streets of the Indian city of Hyderabad in a Nazi style procession. The uniformed cadres of the RSS armed with lathis the iron-bound bamboo poles used by police paraded to the beating of drums and blaring of bugles. The march drew criticism for the reason that at a time when all other rallies in the city were banned the government allowed this march. Muslims constitute 30 per cent of the Hyderabad’s population

The RSS has many subsidiary organizations. These maintain “symbiotic links” with the RSS, write historians Walter Andersen and Shridhar Damle. According to M S Golwalkar, the RSS’s second and longest serving supreme leader (1940-1973), the mission of these affiliates is to serve “their own specific roles in their respective fields,” and also working as “recruiting centers for the Sangh”

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom calls Hindutva an ideology “which holds non-Hindus as foreign to India.” Amnesty International says: “Hindutva is the political ideology of an exclusively Hindu nation.” An exclusively Hindu nation is exactly what the supreme leader of RSS Mohan Bhagwat desires to create

Under Bhagwat’s leadership, today the RSS operates as a state within a state. It is more than that, argues novelist Arundhati Roy. “No longer a shadow state or a parallel state, it is the state,” she writes. “Day by day, we see examples of its control over the media, the police, the intelligence agencies. Worryingly, it appears to exercise considerable influence over the armed forces, too.” Nonetheless it has taken decades of hard work for the RSS to achieve this level of social and political control.

It is also a widely known fact that the police, the administration and the political cadres have been “systematically penetrated” by the RSS cadres across the country. At least twice the RSS was banned. But even then its cadres scrap through the official verification procedure and manage to get the jobs.The traditional muscle power of the BJP has always been the RSS, especially the upper caste and urban middle class. The former US ambassador to India has quipped “The RSS can survive without the BJP but the BJP cannot exist without the RSS. This inextricably links the BJP to the RSS’s Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) agenda”

RSS was perceived to be an organisation which mobilises voters for its political wing BJP. But it is a simplistic explanation. In the existing scenario it exercises control over the BJP. Legal luminary AG Noorani had identified BJP as “a creature of the RSS”. He had also observed “Without it the BJP will collapse. Not only does the RSS provide the muscle, cadres who constitute the indispensable foot soldiers during elections, but also the top officials.”

At the core of the RSS’s ideology is the idea that only Hindus hold a birthright to India, and so the country should be a Hindu Rashtra (nation). For RSS India is already a Hindu nation.” Nevertheless, since India is officially a secular democracy, they need legislative and judicial action to usher it into Hindu Rashtra. “When the BJP came to power in 2014, the Hindu protagonists exercised some amount of restraint. However, “a resounding victory in 2019 provided the Modi government with the much needed license to pursue exclusionary policies without restraint.” Since May 2019, Modi regime has acted fast in the direction of implementing the RSS’s agenda.

Pursuing RSS’s strategical ideological line the government has been targeting Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh, where around 20 people died in just the first few days of protests, the BJP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath vowed to “take revenge” on protestors. Following the adoption of the CAA in December 2019, the streets of India were engulfed by mass protests demanding its repeal and opposing introduction of the NRC. His vow of “revenge” manifested in targeted violence against Muslims throughout the state.Throughout India, the Police brutalized protestors.

The United Nations has warned about the militancy of “Hindu extremists” who are attracted to “ultra-nationalism,” engage in “political exploitation of religion,” and perpetrate violence against Christians and Muslims. In 2017, journalist Gauri Lankesh was killed by a Hindu nationalist who was later arrested. Lankesh had actually anticipated the development. A year before her death, she said: “We are living in such times that Modi [devotees] and the Hindutva brigade welcome the killings […] and celebrate the deaths […] of those who oppose their ideology, their political party and their supreme leader Narendra Modi. […] Let me assure you, they are keen to somehow shut me up too.”

In 1969, Gujarat was struck by “the worst communal riots the country had seen since Partition.” A few months after the RSS held a three-day rally in Gujarat where its chief pleaded for a “Hindu Nation,” sword-wielding mobs of people from the RSS and other Hindu nationalist groups attacked Muslims throughout the state. Officially, over 400 died; unofficially, the death toll ran as high as 2,000.

The next two decades brought a series of massacres. From 1970 to 1989, riots in Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh left thousands of Muslims dead. The RSS persistently protested its complete innocence, but witnesses and investigations all implicated the paramilitary and its subsidiaries.

The Babri mosque had stood in the city of Ayodhya since the early 1500s. In the mid-1980s, the VHP launched a campaign to reclaim the ground on which the mosque stood, on the plea that Ram was born here. Soon, the BJP formally joined the campaign, with party president LK Advani leading the charge. On 6 December 1992 the masjid was demolished. Anti-Muslim violence spread throughout northern India and lasted into the New Year. According to a rough estimate around 2500 persons were killed. None of the violence was spontaneous. According to a UN investigation, the Sangh “infiltrated the crowd,” planned the mosque’s destruction, and “brought about the death of Muslim demonstrators, […] the pillage of Muslim houses and shops,” and the widespread violence that followed. Post demolition , by 1998, the BJP for the first time rose to national power..

The religious nationalist political ideology of Hindutva was first articulated by VD Savarkar, whose brother was one of the five people who co-founded the RSS. Another co-founder was BS Moonje. He was the mentor of yet another co-founder, KB Hedgewar, who became the first supreme leader. Savarkar, Moonje, and Hedgewar were also the leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha, a religious nationalist political party formed in 1915. Convinced that losing touch with this past made Hindus “easy prey to foreign invaders, whether they were the Muslims or the British,” these men committed themselves to “reviving this ancient past.”

They strongly held that being Indian meant being Hindu. They emphasised that true freedom for the Hindu people could only be achieved by recognizing India as a Hindu nation. As these three men cultivated the Hindu nationalist movement in India, they took ideological inspiration from the Fascist movements in Italy and Germany.

Calling for the Indian subcontinent to be turned into an ethno-state of Hindus – for Hindus, and only for Hindus – he laid out a vision for unifying the “Hindu Race.” He wrote. The Hindu people must be “fused and welded into an indivisible whole, till our race gets consolidated and strong sharp as steel.” Insisting that “common blood” is the essence of nationality, he wrote: “We, Hindus, are all one and a nation because, chiefly, of our common blood.”

Two years later, in 1925, Hitler published Mein Kampf, in which he declared: “What makes a people or, to be more correct, a race, is not language but blood. […] Common blood belongs in a common Reich.” Obsessed with protecting Germany’s national and racial cohesion, he set out to fuse and weld the German people into an indivisible whole strong sharp as steel. In April 1925, Hitler founded the Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron) — or SS — to protect the racial purity of a Germany of Germans; in September 1925, in India, Hedgewar and his cohorts founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization) — or RSS.

Hedgewar insisted that the subcontinent should be called “Hindustan.” Calling it “a nation of Hindu people,” he compared it to a “Germany of Germans.” The goal of the Sangh, he said, was “to put in[to] reality the words ‘Hindustan of Hindus.’” Claiming that “the Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindustan,” he argued that the only way to protect “Hindustan” was to “first nourish the Hindu culture.” If the Hindu culture “perishes” and “the Hindu society ceases to exist” in “Hindustan,” he warned, it would no longer be a nation but a “mere geographical lump.” He was convinced there was a grave risk of that happening. Warning that the “Hindu society” faced “daily onslaughts by outsiders,” he said the only solution was to “organize the entire Hindu society.” The “true path” to “national salvation” was “none other than organization,” he said. “The Hindu race can save itself only through such organization. […] It is to fulfill this duty of protecting the Hindu society that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has come into existence,” declared Hedgewar.

Golwalkar, who was in his early 20s and fresh out of university when he joined the RSS’s original shakha in Nagpur in the early 1930s. By then, the Nazis had become the second-largest political party in Germany while Mussolini had been ruling Italy as its dictator for a decade. Impressed by reports about the Italian fascist institutions, Hedgewar’s mentor, Moonje, looked to the West for inspiration. In 1931 applauding “the idea of fascism” for bringing out the “conception of unity amongst people,” Moonje told Mussolini that he was “much impressed” with the Italian fascist groups, had “no hesitation” to raise his voice “from the public platform” in praise of them, and concluded: “Every aspiring and growing nation needs such organizations. India needs them most for her military regeneration.”

Returning to India, he argued that Hindu nationalist leaders “should imitate the Youth movement of Germany and the […] Fascist organizations of Italy.” Two years later, in 1933, the Nazis came to power in Germany, Hitler was made dictator, and the first concentration camp was constructed.

Meanwhile, in India, Golwalkar was appointed secretary of the Nagpur shakha and assigned management of the RSS’s Officers’ Training Camp, the institution responsible for producing pracharaks — the full-time workers who form the backbone of the paramilitary. The fledgling organization had already attracted the attention of the occupying British Empire, whose intelligence services warned that “the Sangh hopes to be in future India what the ‘Fascisti’ are to Italy and the ‘Nazis’ to Germany.” Moonje however in a meeting with Hedgewar, had proposed that the subcontinent needed “a Hindu as a Dictator like […] Mussolini or Hitler of the present day in Italy and Germany.”

As the Nazis laid the foundations for the Holocaust, Savarkar argued that his concept of a Hindu nation was justified by the predominance of the racial majority in Nazi Germany. “A Nation is formed by a majority living therein,” he said less than a month before Kristallnacht. “What did the Jews do in Germany? They being in [a] minority were driven out.” He further claimed that Indian Muslims — “like Jews in Germany” — were unlikely to assimilate into national life because they allegedly identified “themselves and their interests” more “with Muslims outside India than Hindus who live next door.” He concluded, “If we Hindus in India grow stronger, in time these Muslim[s]… will have to play the part of German-Jews.”

In March 1939, after the Nazis annexed Austria and as they prepared to occupy Czechoslovakia, the Hindu nationalist movement explicitly praised Hitler’s embrace of Aryanism. The Hindu Mahasabha, with Savarkar as its president, declared: “Germany’s solemn idea of the revival of the Aryan culture, the glorification of the Swastika, her patronage of Vedic learning and the ardent championship of the tradition of Indo-Germanic civilization are welcomed by the religious and sensible Hindus of India with a jubilant hope […] Germany’s crusade against the enemies of Aryan culture will bring all the Aryan nations of the World to their senses and awaken the Indian Hindus for the restoration of their lost glory.”

Seven months later, just weeks after the Second World War began with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, Moonje complained that “the Muslims are making themselves a nuisance.” He claimed that “we shall have to fight” them and suggested that “the RSS may be useful and handy” for that purpose. Meanwhile, Golwalkar had been appointed second-in-command of the RSS. His ideological influence within the group expanded alongside his authority over it. That year, he published his manifesto, We or Our Nationhood Defined, as what Andersen and Damle call the “first systematic statement of RSS ideology.”

Today, Golwalkar is revered as the Guru of the RSS. In Narendra Modi’s words: “Till the end of his life, from 1940 to 1973, traveling all over India constantly, Guruji threw himself into his work of expanding the RSS.” Golwalkar adorned Mussolini’s Italy for awakening “the old Roman Race consciousness of conquering the whole territory round the Mediterranean Sea” and celebrated how “the ancient Race Spirit, which prompted the Germanic tribes to over-run the whole of Europe, has re-risen in modern Germany with the result that the Nation perforce follows aspirations, predetermined by the traditions left by its depredatory ancestors.” And added: “The world has to see the might of the regenerated Hindu Nation strike down the enemy’s hosts with its mighty arm. […] Race Spirit calls. National consciousness blazes forth and we Hindus rally to the Hindu Standard, the Bhagwa Dhwaj [saffron flag], set our teeth in grim determination to wipe out the opposing forces.”

He believed that European fascists had demonstrated the right to define nationality by race and proved how “every Race” possesses the “indisputable right of excommunicating from its Nationality” all who have “turned traitors” by entertaining aspirations different from those of the “National Race.” Defining the “National Race” as the “Hindu Race,” he declared: “Only the Hindu has been living here as the child of this soil.” In other words, only Hindus held a birthright to the land. The country could only thrive, he thought, by advancing a doctrine of racial exclusivity. “In Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu nation,” he wrote. In his mind, all non-Hindus faced only two options: “Either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.”

He claimed that non-Hindus like Christians and Muslims were “internal threats.” Describing them as members of “foreign races,” he demanded that they “give up their present foreign mental complexion and merge in the common stream of our national life.” Claiming that they should be stripped of citizenship if they refused to be fused into “the Hindu way of life,” he wrote: “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea[s] but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture […] and must lose their separate existence to merge in[to] the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights.”

Ultimately, however, Golwalkar implied that violence may be the necessary final solution to the problem of non-Hindus residing in India. Denouncing Judaism as “an intolerant faith,” he wrote: “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.” He concluded that Germany had set a good example by showing how it was supposedly “impossible” for different “races and cultures” to be “assimilated into one united whole.” Thus, he proclaimed that the Nazi policy towards the Jews was “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”

The current chief of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat, grew up in a family of RSS activists. His father was a “close associate” of both Hedgewar and Golwalkar. He himself became a pracharak just two years after Golwalkar’s death. Prime Minister Modi, for his part, joined the RSS in the 1950s and became a pracharak in 1971 under Golwalkar’s leadership.

In today’s information age, however, the RSS is much more cautious about how it publicly articulates its ideology. In 2006, what it appeared to be a tactical retreat the RSS formally disowned We or Our Nationhood Defined, claiming it did not represent “the views of the grown Guruji nor of the RSS.” Yet as early as the 1950s, scholars referred to it as the Sangh’s “Bible” and, in the 1970s, senior RSS leaders said it was written to give a “scientific base” to demands for a Hindu nation. Noorani nevertheless observed; “The book was so “brutally candid” that a desperate attempt was made by the RSS to distance itself from it.”

While dropping the description of non-Hindus as “traitors,” for instance, the book laments that some Indians have “even changed their religion” and adopted the “religion of foreigners.” The “essence of our nation is spiritual,” writes Golwalkar. “Without the foundation of dharma, our country has no future.” Declaring that the “living principles of the Hindu society are the living systems of this nation,” he proclaims: “In short, this is [a] Hindu nation.”

Consequently, Bhagwat announced: “We say ours is a Hindu Rashtra. Hindu Rashtra does not mean it has no place for Muslims. Bhagawat however advances the core concept of Hindutva: that being Indian means being Hindu. Thus he argues: “Hinduism is not some form of worship or some language. Hinduism is the name of a cultural legacy which is of all people living in India.” The word “Hindu,” he says, “is an identity of the people of this region, not their religion.”

Meanwhile, Golwalkar’s influence still predominates over the RSS and its members. When Bhagwat speaks to mass RSS rallies, he invariably does so while standing before a huge, usually garlanded photo of Golwalkar. Modi names Golwalkar as one of his primary inspirations, calling him a “gem” and a “very great man” who is his “Guru worthy of worship.” And Amit Shah has eulogized “Guruji Golwalkar” as “the one who motivated us […] to serve Maa Bharati [Mother India].”

Shah, the most reliable lieutenant of Modi and the man who has been driving force behind the CAA and the NRC, has recently described undocumented Muslim immigrants in India as “infiltrators” and “termites.” Shah believes it’s necessary to protect against — to quote Hedgewar — the “daily onslaughts” by these “outsiders.”

Since the secular forces have abandoned their responsibility and are in a moribund state establishing the Hindu Rashtra would not be a tough task for the BJP, especially for the Modi government. RSS has been growing at “unprecedented” rates. Long back Hedgewar had said “It must continuously keep growing. Our goal can be achieved only if the organization grows continuously and rapidly.” It has grown so rapidly that Bhagwat, in 2018, said he can “prepare military personnel within three days, something the Army would do in 6-7 months.”

At that point of time no one took Bhagawat seriously. But his remarks out to be paid proper importance. It transpires from what he said that taking over India’s military would be one of the next major goals for RSS. In Uttar Pradesh, it has opened its first “Army school” to “train children to become officers in the armed forces.” One thing is absolutely clear that under the RSS regime, the fascist vision of the founding fathers of the Hindu nationalist movement is swiftly being implemented with deadly consequences. Soon the RSS would come to rule the roost. The way in which the legislative and judicial businesses are being transacted it would not come as a surprise if Modi moves a resolution before the Lok Sabha sometime in 2024 for transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra. This would also guarantee a new term for the BJP in Lok Sabha and the party continuing to rule India under the guidance of the RSS.

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