On March 16, 2019 Indresh Kumar, member of National Executive of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS) ideological fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), told a sympathetic gathering in Mumbai that they could be rest assured that “5-7 saal bad aap kahin Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sialkot mein makan kharidenge aur business karne ka mauka milega (Within 5-7, you will get a chance to buy a house and do business somewhere in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Sialkot).”
He continued after a pause: “47 ke pehle Pakistan nahin tha. Log ye kehte hain 45 ke pehle woh Hindustan tha. 25 ke baad fir se woh Hindustan hone wala hai (There was no Pakistan before 1947. People say it was a part of Hindustan before 1945. It will again be a part of Hindustan after 2025).” Elsewhere in his address, Kumar turned his ire against those who do not toe his organisation’s line.
Sakshi Maharaj, while addressing a gathering of party workers in the Uttar Pradesh town of Unnao, declared that after the approaching Lok Sabha elections there would be “no need for elections in 2024” or thereafter.
He wanted fresh laws against alleged ‘traitors’ to ensure there is “no Naseeruddin (Shah, the actor), Hamid Ansari (Former Vice President of India) and Navjot Sidhu, (ex-cricketer turned Congress politician and no stranger to controversy and Pakistan). This was the nth time that a prominent leader of the RSS or any of its affiliates was speaking about Pakistan, its leaders, people and its land in the same vein as any of the critics of the RSS in India.
Controversies are nothing new to Indresh Kumar. He was an accused in several acts of terrorism from the celebrated Samjhauta Express blast case, to attacks on Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, and mosques in Ajmer Dargah and in the Maharashtra town of Malegaon all of which took place between September 2006 and October 2007.
Although nothing was proved against Kumar or any of the other accused – in the verdict on the Samjhauta Express case that was the last to be delivered on March 20 acquitting all the accused, he (Kumar) was named in the confessional statement of one of the key executioners of the terrorist strikes. Despite all this, he remains a respected member of the RSS and is also the patron of Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the organisation established in December 2002 for the RSS’ outreach programme among Indian Muslims.
No Elections in India after 2019?
A day before Indresh Kumar’s provocative assertion, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJPs) parliamentarian, Sakshi Maharaj, while addressing a gathering of party workers in the Uttar Pradesh town of Unnao, declared that after the approaching Lok Sabha elections there would be “no need for elections in 2024” or thereafter. He claimed that after the Modi wave of 2014, this time there would be a tsunami in favour of the Indian prime minister.
Implicit in this outrageous claim of no further necessity for polls is the supposition that the BJP would secure such a parliamentary majority that it would be able to junk the existing constitution and India would no longer be the world’s largest democracy. That such a dramatic transformation of the nation would not be possible without widespread social violence is of scant worry to the Maharaj and his ilk in the political fraternity led by the RSS and which has the moniker of Sangh Parivar (family of the assembly).
Macabre nature of the agitation became clear when after the demolition, Advani declared agitation was not just for building a Ram temple. Rather, he explained, the strife was planned to propagate belief of “cultural nationalism” and to promote the idea of Hindutva.
Violence and extreme postures are not new to the RSS and the saffron brotherhood. This colour, often identified with Hinduism, was made the organisation’s emblem within years of its formation in 1925 when Maratha king, Shivaji’s saffron flag was adopted as its own.
Although the founder of RSS Keshav Baliram Hedgewar had been a member of the Indian National Congress in his youth and even served a short jail-term for participation in the Non-cooperation–Khilafat movement, he was influenced by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s prison treatise, Hindutva—Who Is A Hindu; which in a nutshell argued that Hindus were a nation and were historically subjugated, by British colonialists and Muslim invaders previous to that, because Hindus were ‘weak’.
In 1923, two years before he established the RSS, Hedgewar took the lead in marshalling Hindus during a dispute with Muslims of Nagpur, the city of his birth and where he established the RSS. The conflict had erupted because belligerent Hindu youth insisted on playing devotional music loudly during a religious procession while crossing a Muslim colony in the city.
Regimentation and undemanding albeit military-style drills became part of daily schedule with the introduction of the characteristic “shakha” every morning where members would assemble to pay obeisance to the organisational flag, Mother India, sing a prayer and loosen a few muscles gently.
This was the most visible way that RSS went about ‘strengthening’ Hindu society for almost two decades of its existence even as the Congress became the vanguard of the anti-colonial struggle. The only time that cadre of the RSS took to the streets was during Hindu-Muslim communal riots when its members fanned out in Hindu colonies organising ‘resistance’ and often also leading the ‘charge’ into Muslim colonies.
Savarkar deputed one of his trusted associates, a former RSS to lead one of the brigade of protestors.
Although the RSS stayed out of politics till well after independence, other leaders advocating the idea of Hindu nationalism resorted to violent action. In 1938, a short period after being released from detention and being allowed to become politically active, Savarkar took charge of the Hindu Mahasabha.
He soon committed the party to the anti-Nizam movement in Hyderabad which began as a mass agitation against the emperor’s tyrannical economic policies but degenerated into a communal campaign targeting Muslims in the region. Savarkar deputed one of his trusted associates, a former RSS to lead one of the brigade of protestors. This man later acquired notoriety for independent India’s first unthinkable crime — the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. His name? Nathuram Vinayak Godse.
Jana Sangh & BJP: Changing faces of RSS after Gandhi’s Assassination?
In the aftermath of Gandhi’s murder, the violent underpinning of RSS and other Hindu nationalists – manifested so visibly by Godse’s action — made them an abhorred political community.
Consequently, these organizations not only failed to make any further political headway through the 1950s, but whatever support existed for them in the aftermath of the partition riots – and even the goodwill accumulated by the RSS by successfully managing refugees camps in the absence of state support – did not translate into political electoral support for the Bharatiya Jana Sangh which was formed principally with RSS backing in 1951.
As a result, the first time after independence Jana Sangh and its affiliates within the Sangh Parivar made their presence felt nationally was much later in November 1966 with the anti-cow-slaughter agitation. Violent protestors outside Parliament in the Indian capital were accompanied by a large number of Hindu religious leaders and when a large mob estimated at almost 700,000 attempted to storm the citadel of politics, police opened fire in which there were several fatalities.
The only time that cadre of the RSS took to the streets was during Hindu-Muslim communal riots when its members fanned out in Hindu colonies organising ‘resistance’ and often also leading the ‘charge’ into Muslim colonies.
This violent incident played its role in letting the Jana Sangh winning more seats in the 1967 elections than it had ever secured. Yet, because violence was then not endorsed by majority in the country, the Jana Sangh did not pursue such tactics and even the struggle against Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi between 1975-77 was waged by non-violent means.
Despite this, RSS advocacy of the need for Hindu society to strengthen itself and give a ‘fitting reply’ during communal clashes with Muslims resulted it being accused of fomenting violence in riots which periodically broke out in different parts of India. Of these, the most violent such rupture was in 1969 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. So serious was this inter-community rupture that it became one of the reasons for India to get ‘disinvited’ at the initiative of General Yahya Khan, Pakistani president, from the inaugural Summit Conference of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).
By early 1970s, electoral gains made by Jana Sangh in the late 1960s had withered away and Indira Gandhi was a triumphant leader riding on the support generated by the formation of Bangladesh. The Sangh Parivar had been around by that time for around half a century. Yet, it remained a peripheral political force.
Its leaders decided at that juncture that while the Jana Sangh could strike tactical political and electoral pacts with other non-Congress parties, the RSS and its affiliates must go back to programmes that reinforce Hindu solidarity and following this, further social prejudice against Muslims in India. This was a tricky matter as compulsions of realpolitik in the late 1970s, when India’s first non-Congress government with Morarji Desai as prime minister was in office, necessitated that the RSS must throw open its doors to Muslims, the principal supporters of RSS, were vehemently opposing such a proposal.
It was left to then-chief of RSS, Balasaheb Deoras to walk on the thin rope; striking a balance between opening the ranks of RSS portals to non-Hindus and keeping these restricted for Hindus. Eventually, Deoras worded his decision smartly: Muslims were welcome to become members of RSS if they “believed that India was their country, that their past was in this land and they were ready to comply with the minimum demands of the rituals of the “Shakha” (which meant paying obeisance to Bharat Mata in form of a deity and singing the RSS prayer which can be considered to be resonating with Hindu imagery).”
This ensured that although officially RSS declared itself open to people of all faiths, effectively it shut the door on anyone who wished to retain belief in their religion of birth. Till date the RSS maintains the following: “Christians and Muslims who live in Bharat have not come from an alien land, rather than of this nation. All our forefathers and ancestors are from this country.
The RSS and its affiliates must go back to programmes that reinforce Hindu solidarity and following this, further social prejudice against Muslims in India.
If for any reason, a person changes his religion then that does not mean that they should change their values and vision towards life. So Christians, Muslims or people following any other religion who live in Bharat and who subscribe to the world view of Bharat are all ‘Hindus’.” By the early 1980s, the RSS was able to find the right issues to begin consolidating Hindus in support of its causes and affiliates.
This was done most appropriately with the agitation to build a Ram temple after demolishing the sixteenth-century Babri Masjid. Although the dispute was pending since 1949 in the local court as a civil matter of land ownership over which the shrine over which Hindus also claimed ownership, the matter acquired political overtones through the 1980s. The agitation was peaceful in the initial phase but only in the sense that its leaders did not goad masses onto violence.
Yet, the agitation violated laws of the land and questioned many constitutional safeguards. Above all, the agitation and its leaders spared no effort to paint Muslims as unjustly blocking the religious aspirations of the Hindus by not accepting a demand which was integral to Hindu faith.
They gave no credence that if for Hindus it was a matter of faith that Lord Rama was born at the precise spot in Ayodhya where one of the Mughal Emperor Babur’s generals ordered to built the temple, for Muslims in India too, it was a matter of faith that the legal process and rights guaranteed under the Constitution would be provided to them.
From 1986 onwards when the lock of the Babri Masjid was opened and the shrine was thrown open to Hindu devotees for them to offer prayers to the idol of the child Lord Rama that was surreptitiously planted inside the premises in December 1949, the agitation saw several turbulent phases each of which resulted in communal violence and loss of life and property.
The Sangh Parivar had been around by that time for around half a century. Yet, it remained a peripheral political force.
The first of the two most notable of these programmes was the former deputy prime minister, LK Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra in September 1990 when he travelled across India in a refurbished truck and in the process fanned communal passions.
This programme concluded with the fall of India’s second non-Congress coalition government, of PM VP Singh, and with the first physical attack on the Babri Majid on October 30, 1990. The second of the programmes was more dangerous because the Congress government at the centre was a silent witness to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
The macabre nature of the agitation became clear when after the demolition, Advani declared that the agitation was not just for building a Ram temple at the site of the dispute. Rather, he explained, the strife was planned to propagate the belief of the “cultural nationalism” and to promote the idea of Hindutva.
This objective was somehow cemented yet it also had limitations as a result of which the last decade of the 20th century was seen by the RSS and its affiliates, chiefly the BJP, putting Hindutva on the back-burner and providing a more centrist government under AB Vajpayee whose first act however was to test yet another nuclear device.
The agitation was peaceful in the initial phase but only in the sense that its leaders did not goad masses onto violence.
Events of 9/11 created grounds for reinvigorating Hindutva by siding with the global front against international (read Islamic) terrorism and spreading belief among Hindu Indians that Indian Muslims were either hand in glove with international terrorist groups or they at least tacitly supported them. This enabled the BJP to demonise Muslims but more importantly, it provided opportunities to BJP to consolidate its core support among the Hindu majority.
In his first opportunity to communalise elections in 2002, Modi used the imagery of ‘Mian Musharraf for Gen Perez Musharraf to project his narrative that Muslims in Gujarat had ‘links’ with the Pakistani leadership and people. The tactic was a recurring feature of various polls that Modi won in 2002, 2007, and 2012 in the state. He also castigated the Manmohan Singh government after the Mumbai terrorist attacks and demanded more ‘firm action’ against Pakistan although his party leadership, of BJP, backed the Indian government’s actions.
In the wake of the Pulwama terrorist strike against paramilitary troops, Modi has reintroduced Pakistan as a part of his election rhetoric. Although he rarely names the country, his words and phrases leave no doubt about what he is intending. Modi’s victory in the election is dependent on the majority of his core Hindu supporters, voting on an exaggerated sense of nationalism which is liberally interspersed with Pakistan bashing and prejudice against Indian Muslims.
It’s a clever argument because any criticism or questioning of his government’s decision or policy is depicted as being supportive of Pakistani government and its policies (termed desh me gaddar) and thereby being anti-national. (BJP, BJP, BJP) Modi and the RSS or BJP are little different from authoritarian leaders globally who deliberately obscure the distinction between nationalism and patriotism to consolidate their electoral base.
Side by side, they always demonise a minority and international forces or other nations to stir up a heady campaign mix. Indian voters have in the past seen through design of a previous autocratic regime and are appreciated for prudent decisions. But previous attempts at undermining democracy, unlike this time, have not been accompanied by objective of furthering a particular ideology. This makes the impending election more crucial and bigger test for the survival of the “idea of India”
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is a Delhi-based researcher, author, columnist and political commentator. His books include: “Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984” and “Narendra Modi – The Man, The Times and The Demolition: India At The Crossroads” He writes columns in leading Indian papers and websites, appears as a commentator on various TV channels and is working on his next book; he tweets at: NilanjanUdwin.
The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.