Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh By c r thomas

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Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh 

By C R Thomas

The furtive, fearful and fanatical Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, whose initials - RSS - conjure up images of a military-orientated group of young hotheads lead by older, sophisticated strategists with an extremist, long-term agenda. And that just about sums up the RSS, the pre-eminent organisation behind Hindu revivalism and orthodoxy - if orthodoxy can be feasible in a movement like Hinduism, with its lack of hierarchy, structure or organisation. It has no bishops, mullahs or rabbis to promote a political/religious ideology, but Hinduism does reach into the soul of India and any ideological exploitation of it, however limited its reach, has profound repercussions.

The destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in December 1996 was one example. The recent persecution of Christians in Orissa and Gujarat is another.

The shadow of the RSS passes over all such events. So what is the RSS? Who supports it? It grew out of Hindu-Muslim communal conflict in the 1920s, and continues to feed on that powerful poison. It hated Mahatma Gandhi for his supposed appeasement of Muslims: Natharam Godse, the Mahatma's assassin, had been associated with the RSS although he was not a member at the time. The RSS furiously denounces anybody accusing it of links to the murder, although it was banned immediately after it.

That proscription was later lifted, but it has been banned twice since then: during the Emergency in the mid-1970s, and after the destruction of the Babri Mosque. Those proscriptions have forever given the RSS the aura of a menacing organisation. Yet today it wields substantial influence over the federal Government, a coalition headed by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party - a testimony to how far hardline Hindu politics has come. Only the fragility of the coalition has prevented the RSS from fully exploiting its position.

At the heart of the RSS philosophy is a belief in a golden Vedic age and the dream of establishing a Hindu state. Its rallies are a chilling sight: ranks and ranks of young men in white shirts, khaki shorts and matching socks, stand to attention with long sticks held in the left hand - symbolising weapons - while listening to inspirational readings from ancient texts or the rhetoric of hate from one of the organisation's many excellent orators. The notion of Christian infiltration of the Hindu fold through proselytising missionaries has fired the faithful of late: at least it made a change from Muslim-bashing.

The RSS believes in a supposedly casteless motherland. Its cohesion is its strength: in 75 years it has had only four sarsanghchalaks - the supreme leader. The current incumbent is Professor Rajendra Singh. Like his predecessors, he will appoint his successor. The position is almost mythical in the eyes of the devoted, and the incumbent practically a living god. Beneath him boils a cauldron of activity, including the teaching of martial arts in ancient Sanskritic language. The RSS has ample funds collected from members and supporters at home and world-wide. The ethos is simple: discipline, character, patriotism. It articulates the concept of Hindutva, roughly translating as Hinduness. That one word harnesses an attitude to what it means to be an Indian, which in RSS-speak means being Hindu.

The RSS actively seeks the sympathy of the armed services: many retired senior officers belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party, its political wing, because they are attracted by the notion of devotion and discipline. In 1993 the RSS launched an organisation specifically to promote the interests of retired military personnel. Many former senior officers are brought in to promote soldierly qualities among RSS youth and to teach them at residential military schools.

The power and influence of the RSS can be gauged through its educational schemes. Through a separate organisation run under RSS auspices it operates 13,000 schools with 74,000 teachers and 1.7 million students. The aim is to counter what is perceived to be the impact of Western education and television. It concentrates on five subjects: physical education, yoga, music, Sanskrit and moral/spiritual education. Before a child starts school the parents must attend two weeks of training, to ensure that what the child is taught at school is echoed at home.

In law, the upper bureaucracy, among farmers and even among tribals, the RSS wields influence. Its attitude to women is summed up by its definition of their role: a woman must "inspire her father, brother, husband and son on the righteous path as a good daughter, sister, wife and mother."

Women supporters hold regular drills in uniform. Their role was crucial in cooking food for thousands of Hindus who headed for Ayodhya in 1996 - an operation conducted with military precision, even down to knowing how to pull down a sturdy 16th century mosque with nothing but pickaxes and ropes, without leaving a brick standing nor incurring a single injury.

The RSS strategy is long-term: as mainstream politics continues its decline towards anarchy its nationalistic message becomes increasingly attractive. It represents one of the most far-reaching developments in mainstream Indian politics since independence. But so far it has failed to consolidate its appeal among the mainstream. The next general election, when the BJP will almost certainly be trounced, should prove that. This will be seen by the RSS, however, as merely another unimportant event in its march towards a glorious new Hindu age.

C.R. Thomas is a British journalist covering India

RSS - The "Sangh"

What is it, and what is it not?

by Partha Banerjee

"Jesus is junk. It is high time for Hindus to learn that Jesus Christ symbolizes no spiritual power, or moral uprightness. He is no more than an artifice for legitimizing wanton imperialist aggression. The aggressors have found him to be highly profitable so far. By the same token, Hindus should know that Jesus means nothing but mischief for their country and culture."1

The above was recently said by a prominent leader and theorist of RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps), in a treatise on Jesus Christ.


Dr. K. B. Hedgewar floated the organization in 1925 on the Hindu holy day of Vijaya Dashami (the triumphant tenth day of the moon) in the Maharashtrian city of Nagpur. According to Hindu mythology, this is the day when in a holy war, Lord Rama, the God king, triumphed over Ravana "the demon king". The Sangh and its offspring organizations such as the BJP have successfully used the name of Rama as a ploy to garner Hindu votes and drum up anti-Muslim hatred. In addition to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the RSS, Jana Sangh (now known as BJP), and VHP or Vishwa Hindu Parishad have been implicated in numerous communal riots all over India.2 RSS now has two other important offshoots Bajrang Dal (a militant auxiliary of VHP) and Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, the organization targeted to include the tribals in its fold.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the parliamentary leader of BJP, is a lifelong member of RSS, more commonly known as the "Sangh". Most leaders and active members of BJP are products of the Sangh and steeped in its Hindu supremacist doctrine. Vajpayee was a full-time RSS worker before he was "released" for BJP (formerly Jana Sangh) activities. In one of his Hindi poems, Vajpayee proclaims: "Hindu Hindu mera parichay"-my only identity is Hindu. This may remind us of his campaign speeches during the recent Indian elections, "Is it a crime to be a Hindu in this country?"3 One can perceive the same Hindu Vajpayee only with refined rhetoric and a display of moderation-very similar to the recently toned-down functioning style of BJP itself.


The meteoric rise of BJP is now all but certain to usher in an era of more social and political pressures for the traditionally oppressed-the "untouchables", the religious minorities, and women. BJP's ally Shiv Sena (SS) and its leader Bal Thackeray have been openly supportive of racist and oppressive social codes. Thackeray said that democracy is not for India and what Indians need is a "benign dictatorship." BJP's important home minister Advani is now actively touting a presidential form of government replacing the present prime ministerial system-an alarming proposition that foreshadows an authoritarian rule.

BJP leaders like Vijaya Raje Scindia, the queen-mother of the royal family of Gwalior favor the now-outlawed "sati" system ("sati" was a horrible practice where the widow was burnt along with her dead husband) and the degenerate Hindu caste system where Brahmans and other upper castes remain the leaders of the society, keeping the lower castes and "untouchables" in abject poverty, subservience, and death. Even though M. S. Golwalkar and Balasaheb Deoras, the second and third supreme leaders of the RSS, spoke against the caste system in its "degenerate form", they did not espouse its abolition.4 The theory and practice of caste differences is very much in vogue in RSS and its offshoot bodies, although, in order to bring together Hindus of all castes under its artificially-created "unity platform", a unifying theme of hatred for Islam and other "foreign" religions has been deliberately brought in. "Lower caste" legendary heroes such as Birsa have recently been included in the RSS Ekatmata Stotra (the verse of unification) to garner support among the dalits, "forest-dwellers", and other oppressed classes of the society.5


In order to learn about the BJP, the rising star of Indian politics, one must examine the RSS with an open mind. Most secular and progressive Indians, and those who do not have any particular political faith, either do not know much about the RSS and its modus operandi or because of a preoccupied mind, refuse to recognize them. To me, this ignorance or rejection is the very thing that has allowed the rapid growth of the Sangh organizations. We must defeat the RSS in its own game-its supremacist-divisive Hindutva doctrine must be countered with the secular and all-inclusive version of Hinduism which is the religion of Sri Chaitanya, Ram Mohan Ray, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, and Bhakt Kabir. The Sangh Parivar's doctrine of separatism and supremacy must be exposed by drawing parallels between them and other social-religious fundamentalist groups that fiercely fight with each other. Only then, their global bigotry and deceit can be truly assessed and dealt with.

Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by an RSS member-and that is the common belief

On the 30th of January 1948, within less than a year of the Indian independence, Nathuram Godse, a Hindu zealot from the western Indian state of Maharashtra, shot and killed Mahatma Gandhi at a prayer meeting in Delhi. Nathuram Godse was a prominent member of the RSS and a close associate of its founder Dr. K. B. Hedgewar. Just before the assassination, however, Godse "left" the RSS and joined another Hindu supremacist group Hindu Mahasabha.

So, why was the Sangh not convicted in Gandhi assassination?

RSS was never officially implicated and convicted in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi because, among other reasons, Nathuram Godse could not conclusively be proven to be an RSS member. This apparently bizarre conclusion was possible because of RSS' non-existent membership roster and the absence of any internal documented proceedings of Sangh activities or meetings. At the time of the assassination, the Sangh did not even have a constitution-this was after twenty three years of its public existence! 6

RSS mobilizes workers into its different fronts. Other than the BJP, the Sangh mentors its cadres for its education front Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Industry-based cadres are sent to organize the labor front, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and the more gray-haired and often rich workers from the business world move into the powerful well-financed religious wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the World Hindu Council. Although very much in the fray of capturing unions through electioneering (and hooliganism), both ABVP and BMS claim to be non-political.7

RSS, Shiv Sena, and their admiration of fascism

Dr. Hedgewar, the RSS founder, propounded the idea that national unity would only come about if it was declared that all non-Hindus in India, such as Muslims and Christians, do not form a part of the nation. This was because, in his opinion, non-Hindus deny Hindu traditions, ideals, and culture. Hedgewar indoctrinated this idea into his hand-picked protégé Madhavrao Sadasivrao Golwalkar (more commonly known as Guruji-"the teacher"), again from Nagpur.

The most comprehensive statement of this exclusionary idea was made in Mr. Golwalkar's book "We or Our Nationhood Defined" published in 1938 8. The pamphlet-like book has so many laudatory references to Hitler and his theories of racial supremacy that it became embarrassingly uncomfortable for the RSS to continue its publication and was soon withdrawn from circulation.

It would be worthwhile to cite a few excerpts here:

"German race pride has now become the topic of the day. 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. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole-a good lesson for us in Hindusthan (i.e., the land of Hindus) to learn and profit by."


This is the lesson the "Guruji" wants Sangh volunteers to learn: "From this standpoint sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the non-Hindu peoples in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age-old traditions, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners 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." 9

The Hindu Mahasabha leader Savarkar, a much-respected personality in RSS circles, proclaimed,

"If we Hindus grow stronger in time Moslem friends ...will have to play the part of German Jews."10



"We or Our Nationhood Defined" was replaced by Golwalkar's "Bunch of Thoughts", now the Sangh "Bible", in which an attempt has been made to clothe the RSS's fascistic concept of nationhood in a religio-cultural garb.11

The RSS and Hindu Mahasabha have always been fiercely anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. Golwalkar went as far as to raise an objection when Abdul Hamid and the Keelor brothers were honored by the Indian government for their patriotism and gallantry during the Indo-Pak war. Golwalkar did not want any non-Hindu soldiers to be honored however much they might have sacrificed for India.12

The fiercely anti-Muslim attitude of the RSS goes to the extent of dubbing even Urdu as a foreign language. "The import and significance of the word 'Urdu' is so derogatory to national self-respect that it suppresses all emotional upsurge in favor of the language. How and why should we own a language the very name of which constantly reminds us of our political subjugation? Hindu ancestors passed on Sanskrit and Hindi to their descendants. They had nothing to do with the transmission of Urdu".13

The Sangh family's political ally Shiv Sena even today hail Hitler and Nazi Germany. Shiv Sena's godman Bal Thackeray often eulogizes Hitler at public gatherings and in interviews. In its quest for political power, the Sangh naturally does not want to be a part of this "nuisance" any more. However, it is yet to come out with a censure of Thackeray.

First RSS, Jana Sangh, then BJP-then a turn of luck

In 1951, RSS floated the Jana Sangh, its political wing, now known as the BJP, to counter the rising public hatred resulting as a fallout of RSS' involvement in Gandhi's assassination. It also wanted to have its voice heard in the first Indian elections of 1952. M. S. Golwalkar put Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, an ultra-nationalist and famous orator from the Bengal Hindu Mahasabha, in charge of the Jana Sangh. Dr. Mukherjee was allegedly murdered by the Congress Party or Sheikh Abdullah's14 party in a jail in Kashmir, and later, Sangh activist Deendayal Upadhyay became the president of the Jana Sangh. The unassuming and mild-mannered Upadhyay 15 was also assassinated, again, allegedly by political rivals. Atal Bihari Vajpayee then took over as the Jana Sangh president and carried the mantle for a long and lonely decade. Jana Sangh came close to obliteration during the heydays of Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and subsequently his daughter Indira Gandhi. It was only the proclamation of the totalitarian Emergency rule by Indira Gandhi in 1975 that gave a second breath of life to Jana Sangh through its opportunistic alliance with other national opposition parties. Imprisonment of forgotten personalities like Vajpayee and L. K. Advani on Indira Gandhi's orders elevated them to national stardom. Indira Gandhi, under the mistaken impression that her popular support was strong, called for general elections in 1977. She and her Congress party were nearly wiped out, largely due to a massive people's movement led by socialist leader Jaya Prakash Narayan, and a hodgepodge coalition formed the government. Vajpayee and Advani assumed important portfolios of the foreign affairs and information-broadcasting ministers, respectively (a third unknown BJP person Brijlal Verma assumed the important communication ministry portfolio-even to many Sangh workers' surprise-this happened when another Sangh stalwart Nana Deshmukh 16 declined the offer). Until then, few could dream of such a turn of luck for these two career politicians and for the BJP the new incarnation of the Jana Sangh.

"Guru-Dakshina", and tons of soft money too!

Other than the enormous amount of money collected at the Guru-Dakshina (charity for the guru, in this case, the saffron flag) day every year (which goes largely unreported, and hence untaxed), RSS also reportedly generates huge sums of money from its members and sympathizers abroad 17. Other than contributing to election funds of BJP, they say, immigrant Sangh sympathizers pay their "Guru-Dakshina" at various branches of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the overseas version of RSS 18. Money is also reportedly pumped in and out by other organizations such as the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), VHP of America, and the Hindu Student Council or HSC of America. Traditionally conservative but apolitical Hindu temples in USA and Europe are now targeted by the Sangh in order to mobilize second-generation Indian-American youth through organization of VHP-sponsored Hindu summer camps and various religious conventions of HSC. Under the guise of cultural education, a whole generation is being indoctrinated to be blind, separatists, and bigots. Many Indian immigrants, ignorant of the relationship of the VHP and HSC with BJP and RSS, are being used to further the fascist-like sociopolitical agenda of the Sangh Parivar.

The Rama Movement of the 90's-Vajpayee still wants the temple

Unlike many other religious fundamentalist movements across the globe that have a well-defined vision of the society they want to build, the Sangh's vision of the Hindu Rashtra (nation) is purposefully vague. As RSS seeks to extend its reach, its Hindu revivalist mission finds itself tangled with a number of serious obstacles. The RSS' brahminical version of Hinduism has little support among the poor and the lower castes, and its assertion of Hindu supremacy ignores deep-rooted caste, class, ethnic, linguistic, and regional loyalties. Against the backdrop of these difficulties, the Sangh came up with two objectives to forge its ambitious Hindu nationalism: (1) the tenet of hatred toward the Indian government and (2) drumming up hatred toward the minority Muslim population in India. The Rama Janmabhoomi campaign and the concurrent nationwide communal riots orchestrated by Sangh militants (where Muslims were the victims of murders, rapes, and destruction of property in overwhelmingly disproportionate numbers) fulfilled these two objectives. The Sangh Parivar now depicts itself as a nationalist movement besieged and confronted by a "socialistic and atheistic" state that pampers the minority communities-although the Sangh knows well how Muslims and other minorities in India have traditionally suffered as second-class citizens in political and economic life. 19

Thus, in the nineties, RSS, VHP, and BJP forged the strong Hindu revivalist Rama platform that dwelled on the issue of the "historic" birthplace of Lord Rama in Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Their contention was that the mosque, known as Babri Masjid (after the Islamic ruler Babar) was built upon the ruins of a Hindu temple that was supposedly been demolished by "Muslim" invaders. This temple, the Sangh says, was built to mark the holy birthplace of Rama, the God king. The Sangh contends that a temple with pillars had indeed been there since the eleventh century.

However, even an avidly pro-BJP Belgian columnist Koenraad Elst, in his book argues, 20

"When that building (the temple) was destroyed, we do not know precisely, there are no descriptions of the event extant anywhere. Mohammed Ghori's armies arrived there in 1194, and they may have destroyed it. It may have been rebuilt afterwards, or it may only have been destroyed by later Muslim lieutenants. So it is possible that when Mir Baqi, Babar's lieutenant, arrived there in 1528, he found a heap of rubble, or an already aging mosque, rather than a magnificent Hindu temple."

Other archeologists plainly assert that there has not been a single piece of evidence for the existence of a temple of either brick, stone or both. 21

The fact is, Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) also has the largest number of parliamentary seats and is important enough to sway the outcome of the elections for one party or another. BJP has long concentrated to carry the state. The Rama movement of 1990-92 culminated in the forcible demolition, by Sangh militants, of the mosque on December 6, 1992, and consequent massive communal riots that claimed thousands of lives all over India-especially in North India and Bombay. 22 Repercussions followed in adjoining Pakistan and Bangladesh, where reactionary Muslim fanatics gathered strength out of this incident, and destroyed Hindu temples, lives and property.

The BJP managed to worm its way into a short-lived coalition government in U.P. in 1995, paving the way for a big win in the 1996 elections. In early 1997, after a long impasse, BJP and Mayawati-Kansiram's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, a splinter party of "lower castes") forged another coalition government in the state where a power sharing deal was cut-the small contingent of Mayawati's party would be given the chief ministership for the first six months, BJP would then have its own chief minister, and so on. In late 1997, however, BSP withdrew its support but the BJP managed to hang on to power in U.P. by means of massive "horse-trading" and use of muscle-power and money. The "new inductees" were subsequently rewarded with ministerial portfolios. The BJP chief minister had to create numerous portfolios to appease the "disgruntled" lawmakers. RSS, for its part, blessed these practices from its Nagpur headquarters.

Vajpayee and other BJP leaders still support the long-promised Rama temple on the demolition site. This is a centerpiece of the Sangh pledge to the conservative upper caste Hindus. Does Vajpayee want to ignore the RSS whip from the Nagpur headquarters? Not very likely. 23 Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is also keen to create another bloody movement to "free" Mathura in U.P., the so-called site of Lord Krishna's birth an objective Mayawati-Kansiram's party (the BSP) does not favor.

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