Dangerous Hindutva portents in India and RSS Ideology

New Delhi, Praful Bidwai: Hindutva crossed another red line on October 3 when India’s state-owned Doordarshan broadcast live, for the first time ever, a Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief’s annual Vijayadashami (Dussehra) address.

Dangerous Hindutva portents in India and RSS Ideology

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The speech is meant to convey to swayamsevaks the Sangh’s thinking on current issues, including its relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It’s thus an internal matter of the Sangh Parivar, patently lacking relevance for the public.

Yet, DD rationalised the broadcast on the ground that it is “newsworthy.” So did information minister Prakash Javadekar, claiming his ministry didn’t order it. DD is nominally autonomous, but its chief is appointed by and answerable to the government.

The crucial point is the Modi government’s culpability in giving publicity to an organisation with a sectarian Right-wing agenda, which routinely deploys inflammatory hate-speech. Taxpayer-funded Doordarshan has no business to provide it a platform.

This is Hindutva majoritarianism gone berserk. The RSS is no “cultural” organisation, as claimed. It’s an intensely political organisation—a militia with a secret society-like structure, whose leaders aren’t elected, but nominated. It’s the ideological parent, political master and organisational gatekeeper of the BJP and the multiple fronts that constitute the Sangh Parivar.

The RSS was banned in 1948 following Gandhi’s assassination by a Hindutva-inspired activist. The ban’s ground was the RSS’s involvement in violence and subversion, including “suborning” the state, and spreading communal “poison,” as the “final result” of which India had to “suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji …”

The ban was lifted in July 1949 on condition that the RSS have a written constitution specifying its respect for the Indian Tricolour—not the saffron flag—and commitment to function openly and peacefully, and most important, stay clear of politics.

The RSS has flagrantly defied these conditions by instigating communal violence and playing politics. It spawned the Jana Sangh and later the BJP. It recently nominated all the BJP’s organisational secretaries—and prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. It controls the BJP.

The RSS’s defiance must not be condoned. All non-BJP parties must launch sustained nationwide street-level protests against it and the government—to begin with, by demanding an apology for the Doordarshan broadcast.

The RSS and BJP have carved out a close but unequal relationship, which has strengthened the Parivar. As Constitutional expert AG Noorani says: “Either the Sangh Parivar will have to be contained and defeated,” or else secularism “will have to be abandoned and with it, democracy…”

What makes the Parivar uniquely pernicious is its insistence that India has always been a quintessentially Hindu society, subjugated by “foreigners” belonging to “alien” religions; and second, secular India must become a Hindu Rashtra.

The first proposition is comprehensively contradicted by history. Hinduism as we know it, in its Brahminical-casteist form, goes back to the eighth century AD, whereas Christianity in India goes back to the first century and Islam to the seventh century. Well before Hinduism became dominant, India had large Jain and Buddhist communities; many were wiped out.

For a thousand years before the Modern Age, India was a mosaic of ethnic-religious groups, including animists, ancestor-worshippers, and syncretic traditions including atheism and agnosticism, besides Hindus and Muslims.

True, non-Hindu groups ruled parts of medieval India; most did so not as Muslims, but as Turks, Persians, Pashtuns or Moghuls, without mass-scale religious conversion. India’s Hindu and Buddhist rulers also invaded parts of South and Southeast Asia: that’s how these religions spread there.

More important, the anti-colonial Freedom Movement which conceptualised the Modern India project developed a notion of nationhood, independent of ethnicity or religion. Central here was citizenship, with equal rights for all.

The Parivar didn’t participate in the Freedom Movement. As RSS chief Golwalkar said: “Hindus, don’t waste your energy fighting the British; save your energy to fight our internal enemies that are Muslims, Christians and Communists.”

The same Parivar today speaks for nationalism which glorifies an invented past. Thus Parivar ideologue Dinanath Batra claims ancient India was “the fountainhead of everything.” In Outlook (Oct 6), he says: “So whether it be the first spacecraft, television or car, or plastic surgery, or rockets there’s nothing that wasn’t conceived, designed and executed by Indians aeons ago,” including atomic bombs.

Historians who question these fantasies have again become the Parivar’s target. Hindutva ideologue Subramaniam Swamy demands that books written by eminent scholars Bipan Chandra and Romila Thapar “should be set afire.” Shamefully, Batra’s books are part of Gujarat’s school curriculum.

This represents despicable social and intellectual retrogression, and a mass-scale attempt to brainwash children and infantilise adults. Yet, nothing will halt the Parivar but a popular mobilisation for secularism and rationality, against blind ultra-nationalist hubris, and for a commitment to building a modern, forward-looking, society free of caste, gender and communal prejudice.

The Parivar has thrown down the gauntlet. Secular parties, civil society organisations and public-spirited citizens must pick it up and fight communal obscurantism by legal means, through mass education, intellectual criticism, media intervention, and in the streets. That’s the only way to take India back from Hindutva reactionaries by pushing them behind the red lines they have crossed.

Editor’s Note: The writer Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist and freelance journalist


1. http://www.thedailystar.net/dangerous-hindutva-portents-45159
2. http://www.navhindtimes.in/preserving-nations-secular-fabric/
3. http://www.kashmirtimes.in/newsdet.aspx?q=37548