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Attacking the RSS on stereotypes will not help counter its growing hegemony: Author Badri Narayan who has studied the rise of the RSS minutely and has published his findings in his new book, Republic of Hindutva published recently, talks to Vasudha Venugopal about the future of Hindutva during Covid-19, what makes the Sangh the expansive organisation itis today, and the challenges itfaces. Narayan who has chronicled the BSP and Kanshi Ram’s movementin the past also talked about shortcomings ofthe BSP to counter the RSS in UP.
In your book, you write about how the RSS works among the most marginalised sections of society such as Dusadha, Musahars and Saperas, and religious sects such as Kabirpanthis and Ravidasiyas to give them socio-cultural recognition. Have many regional and national political parties ignored the factor of religion in shaping identities?
The RSS is working with various Dalit communities to respond their inner urge of acquiring dignity and development. To address the need for dignitythey try to carve their identity by using various identity resources such as hindutva-framed identity history and provide them religious space in the society. Through developing their history in hindutva frame, RSS also plans various socio-cultural actions to provide respect to the icons of Dalit communities. The icons of Dalit communities like Suhel Deo, King Baldeo, Dal deo and many others are being celebrated by organising their janm jayanties, worshiping Buddha, Kabir, Rabidas in their various cultural programmes. The appropriation of BR Ambedkar through narrating, remembering and celebrating his memories is one of the important project of the sangh to include dalit communities in Hindutva fold. The RSS and Sangh-inspired organisations support most marginal communities to construct the temples of their caste-based religious deities in basties and villages.The other social support projects such as opening schools, hospitals, organising health camps are the ways through which sangh parivar approaches marginal communities by responding to their desires of development. Other political parties of opposition, who mostly work under the frame of secularism fail to understand these strongly hidden popular urges of subalterns and marginal communities for acquiring religious identities and dignity. Their narratives are mostly centred around issues related with merely socio-economic identity and quality.
In the context of West Bengal, why did the Hindu meta narrative ofthe Sangh Parivar that combined hindutva and promise of development fail to give expected electoral benefits to the BJP?
See, in West Bengal, it is not the end of Hindutva politics, but it is beginning. As I said, electoral performance depends on many things, but may or may not be considered an indicator of expansion of sangh led Hindutva consciousness. Electoral politics may be considered one of its indicators not all.In coming days Bengal politics is going to evolve as sharp contestation between Hindutva and Centrist-left combine discourse.
In the recent years, we have seen Ambedkarites have emerged as among the biggest critics o fthe RSS? How does the RSS view this challenge, particularly because both the BJP and RSS have tried their best to promote BR Ambedkar.
Sangh in its narrative of inclusion of Ambedkar ,works on three type of discursive strategies-first of all-project him as Mahapurush of the nation, secondly- Make him an icon to worship, not reiterate and remind Ambedkar critique of Hinduism in their memorialising schemes and thirdly,accept evils of caste system proposed by Ambedkar and try to include marginal communities in broader Hindutva frame work.The Ambedkarite criticism is largely ignored by Sangh, as it focuses on expanding its Samajik samrasta fold.
As someone who has also chronicled the rise of the BSP and Kanshiram’s movement, what are the mistakes the BSP made that made a section of the Dalits shift to BJP?
It is a very interesting question. Infact, this question is a departure from where I started writing this book. You may remember in the nineties two movements were dominating the political scene of Hindi-heartland. One was the Bahujan movement lead by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, second is Ramjanm Bhoomi centred Hindutva movement. The Hindutva movement is constantly growing and Bahujan movement is decaying. Why? Infact most of the identity resources of Dalit-bahujan communities such as heroes, histories, icons, memorials which were invented and evolved by Kanshi Ram ji, are being renarrated by Sangh Parivar in their own ways. So they successfully taken away symbolic pwer which was base of bahujan movement.Mayawati could not retain the long term symbolic capital which was invented by Kanshi Ram , slowly weakened the Bahujan politics in the Hindi heart land.
You say in your book that the opposition is talking about an RSS that no longer exists, and that the organisation has evolved and emerged as a new entity altogether. What are the most striking changes the RSS has made in the last five years?
RSS is constantly changing and those who want to contest its influence don’t understand these changes .Attacking its stereo-types will not help you to counter its influence and growing hegemony. I found Sangh has acquired various kinds of functional flexibility to include the communities who were projected as difficult social groups in terms of spreading hindutva consciousness. They have evolved an enormous capacity of adaptability, accommodation and appropriations of various social groups in the Hindutva frame. One may also find the Sangh is constantly responding to the modernity and issues posed by contemporary socio-political changes. Organising Esakhas in various metropoles during Covid-19 and many other modern forms of social action of Sangh are evident.
You argue that the RSS is able to mobilize people because of its cultural rooting,the austere habits of pracharaks and the organisation’s ability to reach marginalised groups. But States with a significant presence of RSS, such as Kerala, New Delhi or even Maharashtra have not voted for BJP in large numbers. Why is that?
The sangh prepares consciousness and conditions over which politics may evolve. The transformation from consciousness to politics is a very difficult and complex process. The role of regional political traditions, the ability of local leaders and local political history all play a role in it. The transformation of consciousness in politics also takes a long time.
Has the acceptance of the RSS increased because of a popular leader such as Narendra Modi atthe helm of the government?
Possible. Due to BJP in power and leaders like Narendra Modi may have provided media visibility and other support to Sangh in their work, but Sangh has been constantly working since many years without much media attention.
How do RSS leaders view the soft hindutva approach of many political parties such as TMC, AAP and even Congress?
I think Hindutva mobilisation has made it necessary for all political parties to respond to the Hindutva-loaded political strategies and dictions. That is why TMC, AAP and Congress leaders also assert their Hindu identities at least during election to stop polarisation of Hindu social groups in the favour of BJP.
How does the RSS successfully manage to reach out to SC/ST/OBC groups many of whom have been deeply suspicious and even dismissive of brahmanical value systems, and also victims of it, even as it preserves its hold over upper caste groups. Does the prevalence of groups with conflicting interests not complicate the working of the RSS?
This perception about Dalits and marginalised communities may be true for their microscopic minorities-educated middle class and elites of these communities.But a large section of Dalit communities in rural areas are influenced by the values which you are saying –‘Brahmanical’. The Dalits and marginals on the one hand feel uncomfortable with these values, but on other hand feel attracted towards them. Sangh in its actions translate Hindutva in a very pragmatic sense and prepare a popular reception of it.The social project of Sangh and their narrative of appropriations attract a section of the marginal towards sangh defined hindutva. The Sangh understands well the complexities of Indian society.They know without including SC-ST and marginal their mission of making Samagra Hindutva is not going to complete.So their mission had to reach among these communities and they are reaching effectively.
You write that the strength of the RSS is in its appropriation and inclusion. In co-opting social groups,the diverse traditions of communities are often subsumed into more dominant hindu traditions. In that case, is that truly representative of the aspirations of the communities?
See, when communities are arranged in the form of mobilisation for any action oriented goal, it does not remain in its regular, routine and original social forms. The additions, deletions and dilutions in the identities are part of these appointive processes. It depends on communities how and why they accept these conditions of appropriations.
Buddhism was an important political tool that BR Ambedkar had given to Dalits, but today, except in Maharashtra,there are hardly calls for mass conversions to Buddhism. Why is that?
Buddhism was proposed as an alternative of Hindu religion by Baba sahib Ambedkar. But Buddhism could not perform itself as a real alternative of Hindu religion. The position of women, ritual dominance could not change drastically also in Buddhism. Secondly, the rise of Hindutva also created a check on this process. The assertion of Hindu identity are growing fastly a section of Dalit-marginal communities in India.
Critics say Hindutva and democratic values often are at odds with one another. There is also a belief that Hindu consolidation happens with deliberate othering of Muslims. How is the RSS, according to you, trying to address that?
I have not done deep fieldwork among Muslim communities and that is the gap which I realise while writing this book. In fact democracy is embedded with great strength to change the social-political stream of society. RSS has to also respond Indian democracy. So willingly or unwillingly sangh is required to imbibe the democratic influence in its process of mobilisational actions.
In times of Covid-19 and its aftermath resulting in loss o flives and livelihoods, do you see the RSS changing its way of working, particularly because Hindutva is not a top concern for many now?
Indeed, Covid-19 in one way has ruptured the Sangh parivar’s project of promoting Hindutva public due to two reasons. Firstly, it has changed our idea of “social.” It also created hurdles on the smooth mobility of pracharaks of the Sangh. But even in this time of emergency, the Sangh is continuing to work with Covid-19 victims in its own way by establishing isolation camps, distributing food and medicine kits . These activities may retain some space in the heart and mind of people. So that when normalcy comes back, they may again restart their long term project of making Hindutva public in India.
Courtesy: Economic Times | Indian Express.