(Prof. Ram Puniyani has sent the article based on which he delivered a thought provoking speech against communalism in the seminar organised at the venue of 16th All India Conference of Students' Federation of India, SFI held at Shimla. We are publishing it for the larger audience)
The coming to power of Narendra Modi in 2014 has brought to fore the deeper agenda of RSS. During last three decades in India there has been an encroachment of fundamentalist politics in India. This politics has been focusing on the issues related to identity, like Construction of Grand Ram Temple at the site where Babri Mosque was located, those related to personal codes. This politics has whipped up the sentiments of people by abusing the faith of people in religion and used it for strengthening of a Right Wing politics, in the form of the party called Bhartiya Janta Party. This politics has been spreading hate against minorities, initiating and leading violence against them, intimidating them, ghettoizing them and trying to relegate them to the status of second class citizens.
Rashtrriya Swamyam Sevak Sangh (National Volunteers Organization, RSS) has been the real force behind this politics. RSS operates through organizations like BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Forest Dwellers Organization) Bajrang Dal (Storm Troopers in the name of Hindu God hanuman) and many lie this. It also operates through modulating cultural mechanisms through the Religious Saints (Clergy), through education (Schoolbooks, and chain of schools) through media (direct control over some and infiltration in to others) through infiltration in bureaucracy, police and military)
RSS was formed in 1925 in Nagpur. The immediate cause of its formation was the discomfort amongst the upper castes/landlord elements due to the non cooperation movement launched by Gandhi as a part of freedom movement. This movement brought into fold the average people into freedom movement; this caused discomfort to the elite sections of society. At the same time the Non Brahman movement was shaking the social relations of Brahmin landlord on one side and the dalits-workers on the other. The founders of RSS were very inspired by the ideas of nationalism of Hitler. RSS had contempt towards the concept of Indian nationalism, which was the ideology of Nationalism, led by Gandhi.
RSS took off from Hindu Mahasabha, an organization which was formed by the Hindu Kings and landlords. Later this organization was led by a middle class intellectual, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He propounded the ideology of Hindutva, Hinduness, which is the concept of Nationalism based on Brahiminical values of hierarchy of caste and gender. RSS founders were to make this concept of Hindutva and Hindu rashtra as their base ideology and politics.
RSS in Action
RSS began with training its volunteers into the version of History, which was communal and had nothing to do with the truth. It said that India has always been a Hindu state and Muslims are aggressors and foreigners. The concept being promoted by Gandhi-Nehru that India is a land belonging to people of all religions is wrong and that what is needed is to build a Hindu nation and undermine the Muslim nation. It decided to keep aloof from direct electoral politics and went to create a set of volunteer, swayamsevaks trained in the ideology of Hindutva. It kept aloof from freedom movement, as freedom movement was based on the values of secularism and democracy, while RSS was for Hindu nation and perpetuation of Brahmanical values in newer garb.
It was/is exclusively male organization and when Laxmibai Kelkar wanted women to be taken into RSS, they were advised to form a subordinate organization, Rashtra Sevika Samiti. In the very name of this organization the word swayam (self) is missing as this organization, like all other communal organization stands for superiority of males, believes in patriarchy. It discouraged people from participating in movements related to freedom. Barring few exceptions none from RSS went to jail during freedom movement. And those who happened to go to jail went either for looking for more recruits for RSS or accidentally went to jail and later on apologized to British and got themselves release from the prison.
RSS, Hindu Mahasbha held Gandhi as the person responsible for appeasement of Muslims, for partition of the country etc. On this charge Nathuram Godse and ex Pracharak of RSS, who joined Hindu Mahasabha killed the father of the nation. At that point Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel said that it is due to the hate spread by RSS that the country had to loose its father, Gandhi. Savarkar was also one of the accused in the murder of Gandhi, but he was let off for lack of corroborative evidence.
RSS started forming other subordinate organizations. One of them was Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which started working amongst students. In 1951, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha in collaboration with RSS formed Bhartiya Jansangh. Bhartiaya Jan Sangh raised identity related issues and resorted to war mongering by calling for the Nuclear weapons to be made by Indian state. It also demanded that, Muslims should be Indianized. It remained a marginal force till it joined the Jaya Prakash movement and got the chance to become part of Janata Party. Meanwhile RSS was silently infiltrating in all the wings of state and society, bureaucracy, police, education, media, judiciary and army. It was working to oppose the progressive liberal values by promoting religiosity and conservatism in cultural arena.
Jansangh joined Janata Party and came to power in 1977; its leaders became the part of Government. Using this opportunity they further planted their workers in media and other parts of the state apparatus. After splitting Janata Party, the Jan Sangh component remerged as Bhartiya Janta party on the grounds of Gandhian Socialism. The values which it never believed, but had to project those for electoral purposes! It lent support to Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 elections Meanwhile it gave birth to Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. VHP started taking up emotive issues and Ram temple issue was made the center of their political credo. Also they went on to form Bajrang dal on the lines of storm troopers of Nazi party in Germany.
During 1960s and 1980s, also it kept doing its work of propagating Hate against minorities, first against Muslims and then against Christians. The result was anti minority violence. In anti Muslim violence, amongst the victims of violence around 80% are Muslims. Most of the inquiry committee reports have concluded that riots are generally begun by RSS affiliates, pretexts are created for that right in advance. Also due to communalization of state apparatus most of the guilty of the crime are generally not punished. Many a times other political leaders have also used the communal violence for heir narrow political goals. The agitation around Ram Temple created a great deal of social hysteria, leading to Babri demolition and intense violence in Mumbai-Bhopal-Surat and other places. Mumbai violence of 92-93 shook the whole country and instilled a great amount of fear amongst the minorities.
(Photo: Ram Puniyani Speaking at the Conference)
Violence in the name of Religion
Due to violence the RSS base went on becoming stronger and its political wing BJP went on becoming stronger to the extent that it could grab power at the center in 1996. Later again it came to power and ruled the country, under RSS supervision for six yeas. From 1997, in order to scare away the Christian missionaries from Adivasi areas, the areas where their work is leading to empowerment of poor Adivasis, the violence started and during its course, they also burnt Pastor Graham Stewart stains, on the charge that he is doing conversion work. The Wadhva Commission, which went into this murder, opined that Pastor had not done any conversions. Most horrific form of anti Christian violence was witnessed in the BJP ruled Gujarat and later BJP ally Biju Janata dal ruled Orissa (2008). With every act of communal violence BJP becomes stronger.
Agenda of RSS:
RSS has nothing to do with the moral values of Hindu religion. The word it has coined for its politics is Hindutva (Hinduness, which simply explained means a politics based on the values of birth based hierarchy of caste and gender. It is trying to propagate the virtues of Hindu Holy scriptures which glorify the secondary status of women and Dalits (ex-Untouchables). It is stands for abolition of democracy so that the feudal system of rigid hierarchies is brought back with hegemony of upper caste Hindu males. While it talks in the language of religion and glorious ancient traditions, it has subtly opposed the Father of nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who was a Hindu, but stood for secular democratic values and all embracing inclusiveness of people of all religions and castes.
As such India has been a plural society and people of all religions have lived in peace and harmony. It was during the colonial period that seeds of divisiveness on religious lines were sowed and fundamentalist organizations harped on their politics, which as not only opposed to the freedom movement, to secularism and democracy but also to plural culture of India. Today, politics of RSS poses a serious threat not only to the democratic edifice of the nation but also to plural traditions and the spirit of tolerance, which is a part of Indian ethos.
At surface its politics oppresses and intimidates the religious minorities, at deeper level it is opposed the rights of weaker sections of society, the dalits (ex-untouchables), women, workers and Adivasis (tribal). Under the garb of Hindu religion its aim is to subvert the values of Indian Constitution and that India has stood for during the freedom movement.
RSS progeny BJP in seat of Power
BJP first came to power as a minority Government in 1996. That Government fell in 13 days. Later it came to power again for in 1998 as NDA to last the full term. During that period Atalbhihari Vajpayee was the PM with many parties as the part of coalition. The major things they did was nuclear explosion in Pokharan, and saffronization of education in particular. Its real agenda got manifested with Modi coming to power with full majority in 2014.
Modi’s campaign was high profile, backed by section of Corporate and Lakhs of volunteers of RSS Combine (RSS and its progeny-BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc.). Large section of media created blitz in his favor. The propaganda of Gujarat model of development had caught the imagination of large number of youth and some other sections of society. Modi derived enormous advantage from Anna Hazare movement for Jan Lokpal. Anna had a solid team in the form of Arvind Kejrival (Now Delhi CM), Kiran Bedi (Now Governor of Pondicherry), Gen Singh (Now a Minster), Baba Ramdev (now a bigger entrepreneur), Sri Sri Ravishanker to name the few. The primary target of campaign was to defame Congress. The Nirbhaya case was also taken advantage of by Modi, reminding people to keep Nirbhaya in mind while voting. Modi’s promises were sold in an impressive package; black money being brought back leading to Rs 15 Lakhs in every body’s account led the pack. Increase strength of Rupee (Becoming equal to Dollar), cheaper commodities and diesel did the trick; the people in some number got sold over to Modi. Still with all this BJP got 31% of vote share. As we have first past the post system, he was able to corner 282 Lok Sabha seats, a comfortable simple majority.
Though the Government was that of NDA, the other components of NDA had practically no say on the national issues. Forget that even within BJP, first thing which became noticeable was that all power is getting centralized in the hands of prime minster. The Cabinet system, where PM is first among the equals, got gradually replaced by a single leader, deciding all the issues related to policies and Governance. He undertook extensive tours abroad, more than any PM so far. The reaching of cooking gas to poor households and Jan Dhan Yojna, are some attempts to address the issues of poor, but that seems to be about all. In his absence Cabinet meetings are not held, as was the case earlier. Christian minority faced its own problems as now even Carol singing is being associated with conversion activity and sub radar violence against the community is going on.
Identity Issue to the Fore
His closer circle, which accompanies him in his travels abroad, is probably of business people, whose benefits have now become synonymous with development. The whole orientation of industries is revolving around the profits of corporate world; the employment generation has been given a go by. The promised creation of crores of job per year; has seen the practical jobless growth! The suicide of farmers has seen an upswing, as adding on to earlier issues now Holy Cow, has started affecting the agrarian economy. Now it’s difficult to fetch a decent price for old cattle. The prices of agrarian commodities are rising while farmers are getting deprived of their decent earnings.
Adding on to this has been the suicidal step of Modi, demonetization. Hundreds died while standing in the queues, the currency notes in circulation came back in equal measure and Government exchequer was burdened by lakhs of crores in printing of new notes. In addition thousands of daily wage workers lost their jobs, while Modi continued to show his arrogance and not admitting of his folly which plunged the nation in deep crisis. The whole claim of controlling terrorists and Naxalite violence through demonetization also turned out to be yet another of false claim. Adding salt to the injury, GST was applied in a manner which put large sections to discomfort. The people are still not comfortable with the financial hardships brought in by the economic measures.
Meanwhile the rot in the banking system has deepened. The Non Performing assets, loan primarily to big Corporate have increased in volume. Already Vijay Mallya made good his escape with huge loan and is living in London in a life of luxury. Two other business tycoons did the similar trick, right under the nose of Modi, who claimed that he should be elected as a Chowkidar, (watchman) to save the country’s wealth. Neerav Modi and Mehul Chowksi, known to Modi have made good their escape plundering our banks with huge amount of money. The poor farmers with small loans have to commit suicide as they are not able to pay the debts.
In matters of foreign policy, it was claimed that with Modi at helm the neighbors will shudder and behave. While Modi is seen roaming all around the immediate neighbors are what they are. India could not counter China in Dokhlam. There is a great sense of despair all around. The ‘Award wapasi’ campaign by noted citizens showed the despair due to the RSS combine affiliates taking law in their hands with impunity. On regular basis some or the other groups like Bajrang dal, Karni Sena unleashed themselves on emotive issues. Hate speeches went up in the extent with BJP leaders being foremost in such actions. The divisive activities ranged all around on the issues like Holy Cow, Beef, Love Jihad, Bharat Mata ki jai, Vande Matram and what have you. The issue of Ram Temple has been kept alive and surfaces whenever some elections are in the offing. Universities are another site where communal intimidation in the name of patriotism is ruling the roost. The hyper nationalist muscular policies are creating a situation in Kashmir where the alienation of the people is on the rise.
At the level of icons, Sardar Patel is being glorified and Nehru is being undermined. Rumors against Nehru are abounding the social media and his contributions in the building of Modern India being presented in an adverse manner. Since RSS combine did not participate in the freedom movement it has no icons worth its name. There are attempts to appropriate Ambedkar and Patel as its icons. Gandhi’s major contribution in Hindu Muslim unity is being erased and he is being presented mainly as pioneer of Swachta Abhiyan (cleanliness drvie).
At the same time through sleight of hand attempts are being made about participation of RSS in freedom movement, which is totally baseless. Many ideologues of RSS are trying their best to stretch the facts to show that RSS was part of freedom struggle. As RSS is wedded to Hindu Rashtra, its workers do spill this out times and over again. One Anantkumar Hegde recently stated such an intention on the part of BJP. Also as they don’t believe in secularism, Mr. Yogi, UP Chief Minister is asserting that secularism is the biggest lie of Independent India. While on one side they want to change the Indian Constitution, some of them have been demanding that Gita should be declared as the National book. In the arena of education they want to change the content in conformity with the Holy Hindu scriptures and change the pattern of schooling to Guru Shishya parampara (Guru-student tradition) in contrast to the present goal of society, where teacher is the one, who helps the student learn.
Scientific temper and achievements of science are aimed to change for what the Holy Scriptures say. In accordance there are claims of plastic surgery, genetic science, pushpak viman, internet and what have you all being part of the ancient Indian society. At the same time history is being aggressively changed to demonize Muslim kings and glorify Hindu kings. The intimidating sectarian mindset and attitude has led to murders of rational thinkers like Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh.
On every conceivable occasion Muslim kings are being presented in negative light, be it Alauddin Khilji, Tipu Sultan or Taimur. The claims that Taj Mahal was a Hindu structure, or that it is a symbol of slavery are alternately being voiced too often. This does deepen the communal cleavages in the society. Issues like the Love Jihad led to the ghastly murder of Afrazul Khan and tried to annul the marriage of Hadiya.
Anti dalit atrocities saw an upswing during last few years, while bigger garlands are being offered to the portraits of Ambedkar. At places, out of extreme intimidation, many a dalit groups are threatening and also converting to Buddhism. The violence against dalits in Bhima Koregaon was a sad reminder as to how planned violence against dalits is there in the country. The claims are that Modi government honored Ambedkar as no earlier Government did! Nothing can be farther from truth as the policies of BJP Government are polar opposite of what Ambedkar stood for. In tune with earlier Hindu communal organizations the present BJP regime is also trying to portray as if Congress is anti-Hindu, perception is being created that it I a Muslim party.
Challenges to Democracy: Tasks for Future
Now the question also comes at electoral level, how do principled alliances can be built up to stop the severe erosion of democratic secular values? The lessons of four and a half years of experience of Modi rule is a wakeup call for opposition parties to hang together, else the victim will be the very concept of democracy itself! The agenda of Hindu nationalism has quickly unfolded itself during this period. The insecurity of minorities, the blatant corporate loot, the failure of governance in the form of destruction of institutions like CBI, RBI and Academic institutions is a matter of deep concern. There is a need to combat Hate in society, need to promote the interests of youth, dalits, farmers and Adivasis. Time is overdue to build a democratic coalition to take the country back to the path of peace, progress and development.