Since the Narendra Modi government came to power in May 2014, Hindutva politics has witnessed a dramatic resurgence in the country, thanks to the patronage given by the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party to its ideological parent – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). BJP isn’t the only body that helps the RSS in pushing the Hindutva ideology. Behind this ascent are also several shadow organizations, each tracing its origins back to Savarkar’s ideals.
Senior journalist Dhirendra Jha, who has long followed saffron politics in India, traces the roots of eight of these organizations in his new book “Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva”. The book is a timely primer on these ancillary organizations that help the RSS in its stated goal of turning India into a ‘Hindu rashtra’, even if it means operating outside the ambit of the law or even against the interests of the Indian constitution.
In a free-wheeling interview, Jha talks about the inner workings of the RSS and these fringe organizations, the rapid rise of Hindu fundamentalism in the country and how their very existence threatens to tear the social fabric of the country.
Shikha Sharma (SS): Why did you decide to write this book? And why now?
Dhirendra Jha (DJ): After the Lok Sabha elections, I saw various fringe organizations working on the ground. They claimed to be cultural outfits but were working just like the BJP did. Everybody knew it, saw what they were doing. These organizations claim to be separate from the RSS, but in fact, operate as a part of it. That was the trigger. Around the same time, discussions about a book on India’s shadow armies were also happening. It took me around 8 months of extensive field work and some archival research to write this book.
SS: You have observed the RSS closely, both as a journalist as well as during the time of writing this book. What is your key understanding of the workings of both the RSS and these organizations?
DJ: The first and the most obvious is that all these organizations operate on myth building, and draw everything from the RSS. They always position themselves against an enemy that doesn’t exist – mainly minorities and specifically Muslims, and through that positioning, call themselves champions of Hinduism. That’s first. Second, through legitimizing violence, aggression, hooliganism and sometimes raising militant armies, their cadres are made to believe they are working for the nation, when in truth, what they do is against the nation. In terms of ethos, what the RSS and its organizations promote is nothing but Brahminism. They take the name of Hinduism but mobilize for Brahminism. This is key to understanding the RSS. At its root, the RSS is deeply Brahminical. And lastly, it is in the upper castes that these organizations have the most takers. There are members from Dalit communities, but you will rarely find them at the top echelons. That’s because the RSS’s vision represents a Brahminical vision, and there is no place for Dalits or any other community for that matter in this vision.
SS: So why do the youth get attracted to these organizations?
DJ: You have to understand this in the context of where India is presently, especially as far as youth is concerned. The RSS presents itself as champions of Hinduism. They start attracting them by giving them a sense of empowerment. In our society, where there is much anger, so much deprivation, unemployment, any group that promises some sense of purpose, it gets attractive. It is this atmosphere that these organizations thrive in.
Then there is the issue of religion. RSS is like a kind of religion. And religion is attractive. It can also be easily used to manipulate or polarize.
SS: Talking about religion, is there a reason why these organizations target Muslims?
DJ: Why do these people call Muslims and Christians enemies? Because these organizations themselves represent Brahminism, and not Hinduism. And Brahminism’s main threat comes from the anger of lower caste people, who want to be freed from oppression. So, an enemy is imagined – Muslims and Christians, and propaganda is created around this enemy. For example, Muslims have four wives, that they are from the rich Arab world. Have you ever met Muslims who have four wives in your life? Or those with Arab connections? This abstract Muslim is not visible in real life, yet they have succeeded in convincing a section that they indeed exist. This creation of the enemy is a part of the larger design of RSS.
You place yourself as someone from the lower caste, and if you haven’t bought into the propaganda, you see Brahminism for what it is – your enemy number one. They don’t want that.
SS: Yogi Adityanath recently became Chief Minister of UP. Did you see it coming? What does this development mean for UP as well as for India as a whole?
DJ: Frankly, I did not see this coming at all. But I do know one thing. RSS never does anything without a reason. For them, Uttar Pradesh is very important. They turned Gujarat into a laboratory for Hindutva, but Gujarat is one small state. If they can grab the heart of the Hindu heartland, they can convert Uttar Pradesh into India’s largest Hindutva laboratory. Now, consider Yogi’s case. He is a Thakur by caste, who traditionally represent the sword arms of Hinduism. This Thakur is a saffron clad man, and he represents everything Brahminical. His appointment is the best way to cultivate a Hindutva laboratory in UP. For India at large, this is not good news.
Because this is not good for Indian institutions as we know it. What the RSS wants is directly against what the constitution stands for. You have to remember that this is the same organization that never accepted the tri-color as its own flag.
SS: What does this mean for the future of India?
DJ: This is a battle against communalization, a battle for India’s constitutional ideals. This battle was also fought at the time of Nehru, and at the time of Indira Gandhi, but that battle was half-hearted. The truth is, there has been no systematic attempt in India to root out communalism completely from the body politic. This time around, communalism is also shrouded in a layer of Hindu traditionalism. And it’s a battle that India has to fight this time.
SS: How is it that an organization that threatens our very social fabric has been allowed to work in this country for so long?
DJ: Every organization is this country has to follow the law of the land, be a part of the system. But the RSS isn’t recognized under any law. It’s not a party or an NGO. This creates several problems. Most obviously, its finances remain unchecked and unregulated. Even when they do break the law, they always have the opportunity to get away with it. One of the reasons this has happened is because there has never been any political will to take them on.
But that is not the only reason. India has not been able to generate the required kind of social movement to take on Brahminism, which is what RSS ideologically represents. We did see a social movement against Brahminism during Kanshi Ram’s time, but that just vanished. Under him, BSP wasn’t just a party, it was a movement for social reform. But under Mayawati, the BSP has been reduced to a party.
SS: When it comes to religious fundamentalism, do you see a difference between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism in India?
DJ: There is no denying the fact that all kinds of religious fundamentalism are bad. In India, the difference is that while Muslim fundamentalism, is at best, a law and order problem, majoritarian fundamentalism has a tendency to develop into fascism. Islamic fundamentalism cannot affect the basic structure of the country, but Hindu fundamentalism can tear the country’s social fabric.
Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva by Dhirendra K Jha is available in bookstores and on Juggernaut.