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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 45, New Delhi, October 26, 2019

RSS Combine: Ideology, Violence and Power

Monday 4 November 2019

by Ram Puniyani

The RSS is the major organisation influencing politics and other aspects of our society for the last nearly three decades. As such it has the agenda of a Hindu Rashtra, and it politics is called Hindutva, which is the politics based on elite, Brahminical Hindu values. While the dominance of Hindutva poltics is self-evdent what is less known is that it is the outcome of over nine decades of continuous work on the part of the RSS. “What is not so obvious is the institutional groundwork that supports this movement; its long historical roots, the precise meaning and implications of its objectives. The frequent represenatations of Hindutva as a spontaneous mass movement in search of Hindu identity naturalises and suppresses a whole history of meticulously organised efforts towards a Hindu Rashtra.” (Basu, KSSF, page 1) The foundations of the RSS were laid in the Nagpur district of Vidarbha region of the then CP and Berar province. Five Chittapavan Brahmins were the main persons who brought this about and Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar became the first Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Dictator) of the organisation. Its activities were restricted to the Nagpur area in the beginning; later it spread to many parts of North India in particular.

Background of Formation of RSS

During the colonial period due to social changes, industrialisation, modern education and judicial system, new social classes were coming up. These were the industrialists, businessmen, workers and modern educated classes. These classes threw up many organisations which got crystallised into the Indian National Congress, Satyashodhak Samaj of Joti Rao Phule; later Ambedkar came up with the Bahishkrit Hitkarini sabha and Narayan Meghaji Lokhade and Singarvelu laid the foundation for workers’ unions. These were from the rising classes of society. The old ruling classes, the landlords, Zamindars, Rajas and Nawabs also threw up organisations which in due course culminated in the formation of the Muslim League on one side and the Hindu Mahasabha on the other. These organisations were later joined in by many middle, upper class educated and other elite also.

The RSS came up in the decades of the 1920s as in this decade many social changes were taking place, changes which were disturbing the status quo of landlordism, caste and gender equations. The backdrop of social changes of workers coming up in cities, Dalits getting educatin and women’s education and women’s entry into social space began.

The RSS was founded in the backdrop of a situation which needs to be understood. With the entry of Mahatma Gandhi into the political arena, the dynamics of the anti-British movement got tremendously galvanised. He converted the anti-British movement into a mass movement, with people of all religions, castes and creed joining in the movement with great enthusiasm. The Brahminical and elite domination in the Congress started declining. At this time the upper castes, and the Brahmins, supported by the zamindari elements and banias, in order to reassert their hegemony on the political and social scene came up with the idea of a religion-based national organisation, the RSS.

Ideologically before the formation of the RSS “Savarkar put forward the idea of ‘Hindutva as the basis for politics, which stood for Nationa-lism based on Hinduism’.” (Puniyani, 2000, 51) Savarkar put forward the notion of Hindutva as total Hinduness based on the Aryan race,
land from the Sindhu river to the seas, and Brahmanical culture. He posited that there are two nations here—the Hindu nation and the Muslim nation.

The RSS took this further to organise the young boys dedicated to the cause of the Hindu nation through the politics of Hindutva. At that time (1920s) the non-Brahman movement was peaking itself and was threatening to shake the very social power of the Zamindar-Brahmin nexus. At the international level the race-based Nationalism of Nazis (Germany) and Fascists (Italy) was on the ascendance. This was the main inspiration for the idea of ‘Nationalism’ of the RSS. Later the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS was to articulate it very bluntly, “German National pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown to the world how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the roots to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in India to learn and profit by.” (Golwalkar, 1938, 27)

Marzia Casolari, an Italian researcher who has done work on roots of Hindu Nationalism concludes that “(a) the main historical organisations and leaders of Hindu Nationalism had a distinctive and sustained interest in fascism and Nazism; (b) fascist ideological influences on Hindu Nationalism were present and relevant; (c) to a certain extent, these influences were channeled through direct contacts between Hindu nationalists and members of the Italian fascist state.”(Casolari, 2000, 37) The RSS decided to keep aloof from day-to-day political struggles and began to train the young boys into the doctrine of the Hindu Rashtra. As per this core ideology of the RSS, “Hindus and Hindus alone, constitute the Indian Nation, since they are the original inhabitants and sole creators of its society and culture. Hinduism is uniquely catholic and tolerant and hence superior to other faiths, ....The subsequent entry and takeover by foreigners created an illusion that India was a land of many different and equal cultures....Only a ‘truly secular’ Hindu Rashtra will afford protection to non-Hindus.”(Basu, 1993, 37)

RSS Shakha: Indoctrination

This organisation decided to keep aloof from  direct poltical intervention in the society and focused on building cadres in the ideology of Hindu nationalism. It started the building of organisation through shakhas. In shakhas to attract the young boys, they started Indian games. With this they added on ShakhaBauddhik, the intellectual sessions to indoctrinate the young minds into the ideology of the Hindu nation. Its training module was based on the glorious Hindu past which has been spoiled by the Muslim aggressors. As per their indoctrination module, Hindus alone constitutite this nation since they are in possession of this land from times immemorial. Hindus in their presentation is tolerant. “But its tolerance has often been mistaken as weakness. The Hindu nation has been repeatedly conquered by aliens, parti-cularly Muslims and then the Christian British, and must acquire strength through the RSS sangathan to counter the present and future threats.” (Basu, page 37)

Through this indoctrination the ‘Hate against Muslims’ is created by narrating stories against Muslim kings in particular. The Shakha Bauddhiks tell the stories of evil Muslim kings versus glorious Hindu kings. The theme, percolated through young minds is that this is a Hindu nation, Hinduism is a great and tolerant religion. The Muslims came here and tried to convert through force due to which communities became unequal and Islam was spread through the sword. The selective examples of Muslim and Hindu kings’ battles are presented as battles between Muslims and Hindus. Some Muslim Kings have been picked up to present the whole Muslim period of Indian History. In this Mahmood of Gazni as the destroyer of Somnath, Mohammad Ghori, who betrayed Prithviraj Chauhan, find an important place. From the Moghul dynasty Babur is singled out for destroying the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Auragnzeb is accused of spreading Islam by the sword and also by imposing the Jijia. In addition the destruction of Vishwanath temple in Banaras is taken up as an example of how Muslims insulted the Hindu religion.

The stories of battles of Akbar and Rana Pratap, Shivaji and Afzal Khan, Shivaji and Aurangzeb are presented in the form of stories to spread Hate against Muslims and then in turn against Muslims of today. These stories are the staple diet of the Shakha Bauddhiks and told with lots of twists to show the Muslim kings in a bad light. The same type of interpretation of History is disseminated through the chain of Shishu Mandir Schools and Ekal Vidylayas, which are being managed by the RSS organi-sations. The RSS has set up many organisations in the field of education and these are coming up with books with communal slant, and many schools in different States are picking these up as a part of the school curriculum. The word-of-mouth propaganda of the vast network of RSS volunteers is by now part of the social common understanding about the history.

At another level the Shakha Baudhhiks also propagate the greatness of Hindu holy scriptures like Manu Smriti, while the epics like Ramayan and Mahabharat are presented as a part of ancient history. This patern has created Hate for Muslims in India. To begin with, there also was the Muslim communal historiography, which looked down upon the Hindu kings as the ones being subordinate to Muslims, and that it was Muslims who have been the rulers. The con-flicting interpretations by now are the deeper part of social thinking of the majority of society. They have laid the foundation of Hate against the Muslim community.

Communal Violence

Hate has in turn been the foundation due to which communal violence has ben orchestrated in the society. While in pre-partition India the violence was orchestrated around beef in temple, pork in mosque, the killing of cow, the rumours of rape and molestation of the woman from ‘our’ community by those from the other community, taking of musical processions in front of the mosque, in religious processions among others. The British Police was fairly objective and  neutral in dealing with the violence.

Post-partition major riots

Who starts the riots

: Teesta Setalvad (Who Casts the First Stone, Communalism Combat, March 1998) by citing the extracts from five commissions of inquiry shows the truth behind the start of communal riots.

Ahmedabad 1969 : “There was deliberate attempt to suppress the truth from the commission especially the active participation in riots of some RSS and Jan Sangh leaders” (Jana Sangh is the previous political avatar of present-day BJP) (from Justice Jagmohan Reddy Commission).

Bhiwandi, Jalgaon 1970 : “In his report to his superior the SP, Thane district has stated, “I found that a section of Hindu elements, particularly RSS and some PSP men, were bent upon creating mischief. Their idea in accom-panying the procession was not so much to pay respect to the Great Shivaji but to establish their right and, if possible, to provoke and humiliate Muslims.

“The villagers shouted provocative anti-Muslim slogans, behaved aggressively, threw swine meat on the Moti Masjid at Bangad galli Hyderi mosque situated at the junction of Dargarch Road and Sutar Alli aided by passive police.” (Justice D.P. Madon Commission).

Tellichery 1971 : “In Tellichery Hindus and Muslims were living as brothers for centuries... It was only after the RSS and Jana Sangh set up their units and began activities in Tellicherry that there came a change in situation. Their anti-Muslim propaganda, its reaction on the Muslims who rallied around their communal organisation, the Muslim League...the communal tension that followed prepared the background for these disturbances”.

(Report of Justice Joseph Vithyathil (Commission)

Jamshedpur 1979: From Report of Commi-ssion of Inquiry : “In the run up to the communal build up before the elections prepared by the Intelligence branch, Jamshedpur (March 23, 1979) there was a special mention made to the divisional conference of the RSS scheduled to be held on March 31 and April 1, in which among others the RSS Sarsanghchalak was to participate. The dispute on route of the procession became sharp and agitated reactions from a group of persons who called themselves Samyukta Bajarang Bali Akhara Samiti, who systematically distributed pamphlets to heighten communal feelings and they had organisational links with the RSS. A call for defiance of authority and administration when it refused permission for one of the routes led to violent mob protesting and raising anti-Muslim slogans. Thereafter incendiary leaflets doing rounds of Jamshedpur (issued on behalf of Sri Ramnavmi Kendriya Akhara Samiti), that is nothing short of an attempt to rouse the sentiments of Hindus to a high pitch to distort events and show some actions as attacks on Hindus that appear to be part of a design”.

Kanyakumari Riots (1982): Justice Venugopal Commission :

“RSS methodology for provoking communal violence is:

Rousing communal feelings in the majority community by propaganda that Christians are not loyal citizens of this country.

Deepening the fear in the majority community by a clever propaganda that the population of minorities is increasing and that of Hindus is decreasing.

Training young people of the majority community in the use of weapons like daggers, swords, spears;

Spreading rumours to widen the communal cleavage and deepen communal feelings by giving a communal colour to trivial incident.”

Srikrishna Commission Report: Extracts: “The irresponsible act of Hindutva Parties in cele-brating and gloating over demolition of Babri structure was like twisting a knife in the wound and heightened the anguished ire of the Muslims. The celebration rally organised by Shiv Sena in Dharavi jurisdiction is an example.” It further continues, “The Muslims protested, and pro-tested angrily on the streets. Large number of Muslims congregated near Minara Masjid in Pydhonie jurisdiction at about 2320 hours on 6th December, 1992 and came out protesting. Even at this stage, if the mobs had been handled tactfully and with sensitivity and by accepted leaders of both communities, the protest would have been peacefully blown over.” But according to the Commission, “the police mishandled the situation and by their aggressive posture turned the peaceful protest into a violent demonstration during which the first targets of the anger of the mob became the municipal van and the constabulary, both visible signs of the establish-ment.” Justice Srikrishna further observes in his report, “it is significant that the mobs were not armed, not even with stones and sticks, though they were just angry and wanting to vent their spleen against anyone in authority. The situation was misdiagnosed, mishandled and turned messier.”(vol 1 Pg 4)

“The Maha Artis were started from 6th December, 1992 and kept adding to the communal tension and endangering the fragile peace which had been established. Some (were used to deliver) communally inciting speeches and the crowds dispersing from (them) indulged in damage, looting and arson of Muslim establishments in the vicinity.” (Volume 1,page 13) On 1st January, 1993 there was an article in Samna under the caption’ Hindunni Akramak Vhayala Have’,Hindus should become aggressive now) openly inciting Hindus to violence.” (Volume 1 page 13) On 4th January, 1993 a big mob of Hindus led by Sheri Gajanana Kirtikar, Shri Ramesh More and other Shiva Sena activists took a Morcha to the Jogeshwari Police Station complaining of lack of security for Hindus. Some of the people in the morcha attacked Chacha Nagar Masjid and the Muslims in the vicinity and injured them. Several Muslim huts in Magdum Nagar in Mahim jurisdiction were set on fire by the Hindus.” (Volume 1 page 13-14)

Gujarat: Citizens Tribunal Report

Godhra, Gujarat and Akhshardham have been the major blots on our democratic ethos in post- independence India. In the din of the tragedies which gripped Gujarat for over a period of ten months, different versions were floating about “who did it?” The State leadership had one version, while the events themselves were either difficult to decipher on the face value or were indicating the cause of the carnage in some other direction. It is at this point that a Concerned Citizens Tribunal was conceived and most outstanding legal brains of the stature of Justices V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.B. Sawant, Hosbet Suresh, Adv. K.G. Kannabiran, and serious sociologists, Prof. Ghanshyam Shah, Prof. Tanika Sarkar and social workers, Aruna Roy, formed this tribunal.

The task was mammoth, the need for knowing the truth paramount and that’s what prompted the tribunal members not only to examine 2094 oral and written testimonies (both individual and collective), from the victim-survivors and Human rights groups involved in relief and rehabilitation. It also examined volumes of relevant material and all this is put together in two volumes, ‘Crimes against Humanity’, which in a way is a landmark investigation in situations like these, where vested interests not only try to hide the truth but also to distort the same.

The findings of the tribunal at one level are close to what many leading Human Rights activists and scholars were suspecting. The immaculate method of investigation leaves no doubt about the high merit of the report. Its findings point to the complicity of State leadership in the whole tragedy. The tribunal in all its fairness wanted to hear the version of the State Government, Central Government and many individual Ministers, who did not respond, while a few of them did meet the tribunal and opened their heart. This two-volume report gives interim findings also recommendations about relief, rehabilitation and punishing the guilty. But the list of those named by the witnesses is so large that it is practically a ‘who is who’ of Gujarat’s political and administrative machinery.

The central point of Godhra, which was made the pretext for the riots, the revenge theory and all that, comes out very clearly in the report. The tribunal concludes that the Godhra incident does not seem to be pre-planned. Neither is there proof of a ‘foreign hand’, which was propagated with confidence. Tribunal’s tentative conclusion that the fire was lit from inside and not outside will force us to review the whole, action-reaction thesis, which in a way was used to give legitimacy to state inaction in the face of one of the most severe riots in independent India.

Why was the State political leadership so eager to jump at make-believe conclusions, and what might have been the deeper design behind the whole carnage becomes slightly more clear after going through the twin volumes. The tribunal also makes it public that witnesses deposing before the tribunal informed it about the meeting called by the Chief Minister in which instructions were given not to take action against the ‘Hindu reaction’ to Godhra. This speaks volumes about the real mechanics of the whole tragedy of marathon proportions. Most of the significant part is put in the annexure.

Bannerjee Commission on Godhra train burning

After two-and-a-half years after the tragic incident, Justice U.C. Bannerjee came out with the truth of Godhra. According to the report of this Commission, this tragedy was a mere accident and was not a preplanned one as claimed by Narendra Modi and the RSS and its progeny. During the NDA regime, dictated by the RSS combine, the mandatory commission to inquire this major accident was not appointed. The report focuses on the core point of the the conspiracy theory. Putting in 140 litres of petrol from outside to burn kar sevaks holds no water for the following reasons. One, every conspiracy requires precise timing. The Sabaramati Express was running late and no one knew this. Accidents are more likely in uncertain schedules. Two, that the outside conspirators pulled the chain is impossible as the chain was pulled for the second time, probably by kar sevaks, as some of them had been left behind. Three, that the vestibule next to S-6 was cut open is impossible to believe as the train stopped for a mere five minutes. Four, that 140 litres of petrol was poured from outside is impossible to believe. The forensic lab report has confirmed that petrol could not have been poured from outside. The absence of traces of hydrocarbons debunks this theory yet again. The pouring of petrol in such huge quantity would result in massive fire in which most of the coach passengers would have died. The type of injuries suffered by the victims belies this theory yet again. The injuries found are mostly superficial burns in the upper part of the body while a petrol conflagration would result in severe burn injuries in lower parts of the body. Five, it is known that the kar sevaks had picked up a tiff with the hawkers and also tried to molest a girl. This could have led to the stone throwing from the outside. (

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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