The recent visit by former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee to the headquarters of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) not only marks a dramatic turnaround in Indian politics, but is also a testament to the newfound eminence and glory of the Hindutva fascist organisation that was long shunned as a pariah for its not-so-secret involvement in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
Indeed, writing to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, his cabinet colleague and later the founder of the Jana Sangh, Home Minister Sardar Patel said on July 18, 1948: “As regards the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations, but our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible”.
Patel, who is known for his soft corner for Hindutva groups, went on to conclude: “There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constitute a clear threat to the existence of the government and the state. Indeed, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure”.
The home minister described the RSS as “an organisation run in secret or military or semi-military lines” No wonder the images of Pranab Mukherjee – the senior-most Congress leader who was tipped to take over as the prime minister after Dr Manmohan Singh – standing shoulder to shoulder with RSS veterans, their arms raised in tribute to the saffron flag, not the Indian tricolour, left everyone stunned, including the Congress rank and file.
Of course, the former president paid rich tributes to the idea of a secular, inclusive India even as he bent over backwards to find common ground with the Hindutva Parivar’s all-too-well-known view of the long Muslim rule over India. It had been a carefully crafted speech by a crafty, calculating man who perfected his wily art of survival over long decades in the trenches of Indian politics under the leadership of veterans like Indira Gandhi.
In the words of Manini Chatterjee of the Telegraph, “much of Mukherjee’s elementary history lesson on ‘Nation, Nationalism and Patriotism’ seemed to echo exactly what the young (RSS) recruits had heard from their instructors. That India has a ‘5000-year-old civilisational continuity’; that India was ‘a state long before the concept of the European nation-state gained ground’ in 1648; that India’s ‘ancient university’ system ‘dominated the world for 1800 years’; and that after the end of the Gupta Dynasty in 550 AD, ‘many dynasties ruled till 12th century when Muslim invaders captured Delhi’.”
Muslim invaders, a 5,000-year-old civilisation and civilisational continuity. Why, it is the exact same language and terms that have long been used by the RSS to describe South Asian history and the 1,000-year-long Muslim rule over the Subcontinent. No wonder the RSS and Mukherjee find such comfort in each other’s company.
But to be fair to the former president, he is not the first Congress leader to romance the Right. From Sardar Patel to Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Madan Mohan Malaviya, there had always been soft saffron elements within the Congress. SP Mukherjee, the architect of Jana Sangh – the forbear of the BJP – used to be a ranking Congress leader in undivided Bengal.
Indeed, it was the rabid nature of these ‘soft Hindutva’ elements within the Congress ranks during the struggle for India’s independence that contributed to Muslim insecurity and fears about the future in the first place, leading to the creation of the Muslim League and, subsequently, the creation of Pakistan.
However, while the RSS mindset and Hindutva strain have always been part of Indian politics, never in history has this religio-fascist exclusionary politics come to enjoy such legitimacy and ‘respect’ in the eyes of mainstream politicians and parties.
The BJP, the political arm of the RSS, has registered exponential growth over the past two decades, mutating from being a two-member outfit in parliament under Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the all-consuming party of power. Indeed, for long years, from Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira Gandhi, Vajpayee used to be its only face or the moderate mask in parliament.
While everyone enjoyed Vajpayee’s eloquence and brilliant wit in and outside parliament, no one took his party too seriously. That is, until the BJP discovered the emotional quotient and electoral relevance of the Babri Masjid-Ram Temple issue in Ayodhya, which had been watered and carefully nurtured for years by another Hindutva front organisation called the Vishwa Hindu Parishad through various yatras.
While the 16th century mosque was eventually razed to the ground on December 6, 1992 in full view of a horrified world, the BJP had found its ‘brahmastar’ (magical weapon) and repeatedly used it to reap electoral windfall.
By portraying the 90 percent Hindu majority as the victim of “historical Muslim aggression and tyranny”, and the country’s politically and economically dispossessed Muslim minority and Pakistan as the clear and present danger to the Indian existence, the BJP has managed to expand its electoral presence.
With the election of Narendra Modi – a life-long pracharak or ideologue of the RSS – as the prime minister of India, Hindutva’s capture of the ‘sovereign, socialist and secular’ republic of Gandhian dreams and Nehruvian values is complete.
Of course, Vajpayee and Advani also owed their fealty to the RSS. However, they maintained a semblance of independence from the ‘mothership’ as it were during their years as leaders of both the Jana Sangh and the BJP. In Modi’s case, no such pretence of organisational independence and a separation of powers exists. Indeed, Modi inducted many RSS hardliners, like Ram Madhav, into the BJP as his point men and even as federal ministers.
Thanks to its years of hard work and infiltration in all arms of the government, the armed forces, the police and security agencies, the civil services, universities, and the media and think tanks, the RSS now enjoys total control over the establishment and the deep state. It has captured all levers of power and arms of the state in every sense of the word.
With the RSS elements taking control of such influential academic institutions as the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and elite universities such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, and undertaking the rewriting of history in sync with the saffron worldview, the space for free intellectual debate and scientific inquiry is fast shrinking.
No dissenting voices or alternative views parallel to that of the Sangh’s saffron universe are tolerated. Instead, an elaborate personality cult of worshipping Modi and Modi alone is carefully cultivated. Any criticism of the BJP or the government and their disastrous decisions such as the 2016 note ban is viewed as a personal affront to their hero who can do no wrong.
The arrival of this order is clearly seen as a licence to kill for the saffron clan and the larger following. Muslims are being hunted and killed across the length and breadth of the republic. Not only has the government maintained a deafening silence on these mob lynchings and organised violence against Muslims, senior federal ministers like Jayant Sinha have also had the audacity to garland the killers.
Shocking as this is, it is only a small part of the larger campaign to dismantle the edifice of a secular and democratic republic built after many long years of hard work and sacrifices by the first line of leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Azad. India is already beginning to look like the Hindu Rashtra of RSS dreams.
The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor.