This RSS perhaps the most controversial organization in contemporary India. This book explores the mission, method and motive of the RSS and suggests that the ideological core of the RSS—Hindu Rashtra—is political and not cultural. It argues that K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, had a clear political mission, while M.S. Golwalkar, his successor, despite his saintly appearance and overt distaste for ‘politics’, sharpened and amplified its ideology. Nevertheless, deep down the ASS remained political.
This book goes on to delineate how Balasaheb Deoras, the third chief, who did not have much of a fancy for ‘culture’, plunged into Indian politics on the organizational and ideological foundation created by his predecessors. Deoras seriously pursued the homogenizing agenda of the RSS to integrate different sections like the Dalits, tribals and women into the fold of the Hindu Rashtra. Rajendra Singh, the successor of Deoras, consolidated the political mission by getting control over the State and reaching out to civil society more effectively. K.S. Sudarshan, the present chief, while attempting to retain a tight control over State power, simultaneously reinforces Hindutva.
The author concludes by arguing that the RSS—from Hedgewar to Sudarshan—continues its tryst with politics to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra.
Highly readable and of contemporary relevance, this book would be of immense interest to political scientists, political sociologists and all those interested in present-day India.
Pralay Kanungo is Reader at the Department of Political Science, Ramjas College, University of Delhi. His current research is on aspects of Hindu identity and diaspora in the United States, for which he has been awarded a Fellowship by the Nehru Memorial Museum &amp; Library, New Delhi.
If New Delhi’s familiar Ring Road is known as Mahatma Gandhi Marg, the upcoming parallel Outer Ring Road has been named after Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Hedgewar, a marginal Congress activist, perhaps never imagined that his swayarnsevaks would one day become so powerful as to assign place to him parallel to Gandhi. The naming of a road is perhaps inconsequential and may easily be dismissed as a purely symbolic gesture. But this is certainly not symbolic when the Bharatiya Janata Parry (BJP), the carrier of Hedgewar’s legacy, has occupied the seat of power at Delhi for the third time, though the first and the second times were only for thirteen days and thirteen months respectively. The Congress, which supposedly inherited the Gandhian legacy, has been convincingly defeated in the race to control state power.
This is nor to make any comparison between Gandhi and Hedgewar, but to recognize chat an organization, which starred with only five persons in 1925, has spread its tentacles into every possible sphere of India’s civil society, including the political. Hedgewar may be unknown to the Indian masses, but his creation—the RSS—has become a household name, its ideology—Hindu Rashtra—which remained peripheral during India’s freedom struggle, has come to occupy the centrestage.
The RSS is perhaps the most talked about and probably the most controversial organization in contemporary India. It is equally revered and feared, applauded and attacked. While its proponents incessantly chant the hymn of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra, the opponents unequivocally condemn its ‘communalism, ‘fascism’ and ‘fundamentalism’. Interestingly, it preaches an exclusivist ideology, which simultaneously segregates and integrates, divides and unites. Thus, any discussion on RSS generates strong reactions and opinions swinging from one extreme to the other. And accordingly, most of the contemporary literature on the RSS exhibits either a blind defence or an uncharitable offence. In order to have a better idea about the mission, motive, method and messengers of the RSS, it would be useful to examine some of the literature associated with the RSS.
What is the RSSs mission? its ideologues explain that Keshav Baliram Hedgewar founded the organization with the objective to uni&amp; and revitalize the Hindu community and to establish India as a Hindu Rashtra. MS. Golwalkar, the second chief of the RSS, thus announces that the supreme goal of his organization is to achieve the all-round glory and greatness of our Hindu What is Hindu Rashtra? What sort of ideology and politics does it represent?
The commitment of the RSS to the Hindu Rashtra creates an impression that it is revivalist in nature. Craig Baxter, an American State Department official, describes the RSS as ‘a virile organization dedicated to the revival of Hinduism and to the setting up of a Hindu Rashtra in India’ 2 K.K. Gangadharan3 observes that the RSS inherits and represents the strong and militant Hindu revivalist ideologies, which sprang up in Maharashtra. Andersen and Damle4 also characterize the RSS as ‘Hindu revivalist’, which seeks to define the national identity by taking inspiration from ‘Hindu antiquity’. Without providing an adequate explanation, they believe that the RSS represents the ‘reformist’ variety of revivalism.
What type of revivalism does the RSS represent? The revivalist usually upholds the tradition and confronts the modern. How successful has been the RSS’s role towards this end? Does it really espouse traditional Hinduism? Ashis Nandy’s answer is in the negative. To him the RSS idea of a Hindu Rashtra is ‘only an edited version of the modern nation- state’5 which it wants to capture in the name of ancient Hindu traditions. Hindutva, in his opinion, not only comically mimics nineteenth century European nationalism, it also carries a deep hostility towards everyday Hinduism and ordinary Hindus. Further, the RSS has scant reverence for the plural culture of traditional Hinduism. Nor does it criticize modern science and technology, except for a vague commitment to some selected indigenous systems ‘that are relatively more Brahmanic and happen to be peripheral to the pursuit of power. Despite its occasional testimonials to Ayurveda it never advocates any ‘romantic’ adventure with denuclearization and anti-militarism. The RSS will certainly not give up on western nuclear and missile technology. Nandy thus concludes that Hindu nationalism has always been an illegitimate child of modern India, not of Hindu traditions.
Hindu nationalism is not the remainder of a pre-modern religious conception, suggests Pattha Chatterjee: it is an entirely modern, rationalist and historicist idea. Like other modern ideologies, it allows for a central role of the State in the modernization of the society and strongly defends the State’s unity and sovereignty. Its reason is not religious but political, and the framework of its reasoning is entirely secular.
True, the RSS employs tradition, but it is only for the sake of the modern. As Ainslie Embree9 suggests, the main objective of the RSS is to define the modern Hindu nation. Peter van der Veer’ has shown that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an important member of the Sang Parivar, does not revolt against modernity but in fact is an expression of it. In this light it becomes difficult to label the RSS as revivalist as its proclamations do not actually speak of its revivalist commitments. At the same time, the impact of its revivalist rhetoric and rituals in the identity-building process can not be ignored and needs to be studied carefully.
Revivalism promises a return to an earlier, better age. People succumb to the temptations of fundamentalism under conditions of disruptive It needs to be explored whether the RSS could be characterized as fundamentalist.’2 Martin F. Marty, the director of the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and R. Scott Appleby, treat the RSS as one 0f the fundamentalist movements. 3 The project noted three general findings. First, fundamentalisms are inevitably political. Secondly, fundamentalist movements are also genuinely religious: ‘We will fail to understand these movements if we neglect their irreducible religious dimension.’ Thirdly’, religious fundamentalisms are hegemonic, anti-pluralist movements that are constrained in their impact by the conflicting demands made upon them by their dual identity as inherently religious and inherently political entities.’
Disagreeing with the inclusion of the RSS under the banner of fundamentalism, Dipankar Gupta’ observes that the term ‘fundamentalism’, as employed in Fundamentalisms Observed is often synonymous with orthodoxy, traditionalism and communalism or even nationalism. The RSS is a communal rather than a fundamentalist organization, Gupta argues. As he explains, communalism and fundamentalism are, in some respects, close to each other: for example, both have activism in common and the activists in both cases are generally urban, educated, middle and lower members of the petty bourgeois and bureaucratic class. Despite these similarities, there remains a major distinction: whereas the communalists have a ‘particular other’, for the fundamentalists it is rather a case of ‘us’ versus the ‘rest’. Gupta, therefore, pleads that had the RSS been a fundamentalist organization, Hindu disenchantment would not be limited to teaching the Muslims a lesson, but would extend to the other religions as well. He further argues that this could only happen if Hindus in India had been a deprived community, or if there had been a great cultural gulf between a closed set 0f Hindus and the rest. In his opinion, India’ vast middle class reach out to classes both above and below to take the wind out of any fundamentalist sail.’
Gupta’s analysis does not consider whether ‘us’ versus ‘them’ has the potential to become ‘us’ versus the ‘rest’. His assertion that the Hindu antagonism of the RSS is restricted to the Muslims alone has been proved wrong, as Christians have also become recent targets of the Sangh Parivar Further, he dispels the fear of fundamentalism, as Hindus are not a deprived community and the presence of a huge middle class acts as a buffer against fundamentalism. This proposition could also be questioned, as the RSS, through its professional propaganda machinery, could successfully create an imaginary deprivation among the Hindus. Moreover the middle class could hardly be relied upon in the light of some past experiences.’
Mark juergensmeyer’9 thinks that ‘fundamentalist’ is an inadequate expression to describe the RSS. First, the term is pejorative, less descriptive and more accusatory; it reflects our attitude towards other people than it describes them. Secondly, fundamentalism is an imprecise category for making comparisons across cultures. Finally, the term suggests only religious motivation and does not carry any political meaning. Juergensmeyer, therefore, prefers to describe the RSS as ‘religious nationalist’ as it has both religious and political interests. However, Susana B.C. Devalle argues that Hindutva has become a key concept in Hindu fundamentalist ideologies. Both Hans Bakker’ and Susan Bayly’ also highlight the fundamentalist features of the RSS sponsored Ayodhya movement.
The RSS has time and again denied the charge of fundamentalism. Balasaheb Deoras, the third chief of the RSS, argues that while the fundamentalists accept the holy book as the ‘literal truth’, the RSS does not have such a book. Moreover, unlike the former, the RSS never insists on a particular form of worship. The RSS, he mentions, has never suggested that the government should be run as per the dictates of the Shankaracharya. Deoras observes that though the RSS is proud of the past and would never forget it, at the same time it would ‘not walk towards the past’; it is not ‘a stagnant pond of traditions and beliefs’.
Could the RSS then be exonerated from the charges of fundamentalism just because it is not a revivalist organization? As Mom Shakir24 observes, fundamentalism should not be mistaken with the tendency of reviving religion and adhering to pre-modern ideology, though it certainly utilizes religion and tradition to respond to the contemporary needs and to meet the challenge of a secular democratic polity. He finds, the origin of fundamentalism in economic and political factors rather than religious ones.
Fundamentalism, first of all, has faith in the authority and infallibility of the scriptures or other sacred traditions; and accordingly, it prescribes the ordering of the family, civil society and the state. With regard to the first aspect, the denial of the RSS about its commitment to any sacred scripture needs a thorough examination. The RSS does not rule out the possibility that certain ‘fundamentals’ laid down by M.D. Savarkar’s Hindutva and MS. Golwalkar’s We or Our Nationhood Defined will not be imposed on the citizens of Hindu Rashtra; these treatises, though nor holy in the conventional sense, are no less sacred to the champions of Hindutva. Secondly, the RSS has developed a model of man, family, civil society and state on the basis 0f the ‘fundamentals’ laid down by its ideologues.
Communal and Fascist
Despite the controversial nature of the term ‘communalism’, in its common Indian usage the word refers to ‘a condition of suspicion, fear and hostility between members of different religious communities. The common charge against the RSS is that it is communal.26 Most of the critics stretch their arguments further to describe it as fascist as well.
In Jawaharlal Nehru’s opinion, the RSS is communal as well as fascist. K.K. Gangadharan finds a striking similarity of ideas between Hitler and Golwalkar, the main ideologue of the RSS. However, he is not sure whether this was a mere coincidence or an imitation. Comparing ‘Hitlerism’ with ‘Goiwalkarism’, he concludes that the ideology of the RSS is ‘Hitlerism under Hindu garb’. DR. Goyal a former swayamsevak and a staunch critic of the RSS, describes the RSS as communal, anti-democratic, totalitarian, authoritarian and fascist. Ram Lall Dhooria, another former swayamsevak, is no less bitter. Characterizing the RSS as a ‘rank communal outfit’ with an antediluvian way of thinking, Dhooria believes that it is not different from its ‘nazi cater-cousin’. He finds similarity between the swayamsevaks of the RSS and the German Youth of Hitler, as both believe in the ideology of hatred and body culture and have a blind unreasoning faith on their respective leaders. Marzia Casolari claims that there existed direct contacts between the representatives of the fascist regime, including Mussolini and Hindu nationalists, especially B.S. Moonje— the mentor of Hedgewar Casolari thus concludes: ‘No doubt, beginning with the early 1920, and up to the Second World War Hindu nationalists looked at the political reality no fascist Italy, and subsequently of Nazi Germany, as a source of inspiration such influence is still alive in today’s militant Hinduism.’
The authors of Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags’ brand the RSS as the ‘fountainhead of aggressive Hindu communalism’, which aspires to change the nature of Indian polity, subverting the basic principles of democracy and secularism. Sumit Sarkar” compares ‘Hindu communalism’ of the Sangh Parivar with the traits of Nazism of Hitler. Sarkar concludes that the RSS is fascist to the core. He further asserts, the agenda of the Sangh Parivar is nothing less than to remove the secular foundations of the Indian state and usher in a fascistic authoritarian polity.
Not all communalism as such is fascism, argues Aijaz Ahmed.34 But with reference to the destruction of the Babri Masjid, he observes that the very nature of the event, the modes of mobilization and the very structure of the Sangh Parivar and the specific ideological form in which the RSS practices and propagates its communalism demonstrate the fundamentally fascist character of the organization and the event. He concludes convincingly that the true object of its desire is not mete Muslim submission but state power and i-c-making of India as a whole— politically, ideologically, historically.
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