By Pieter Friedrich for Hindutva Watch
In his, MS Golwalkar — the longest-serving and most influential Supreme Commander of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who is today revered as the paramilitary’s “guru” — asked: “What is the attitude of those people who have been converted to Islam or Christianity?” Answering his own question, he claimed:
“They are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to their salt? Are they grateful to this land which has brought them up? Do they feel that they are the children of this land and its tradition, and that to serve it is their great good fortune? Do they feel it a duty to serve her? No! Together with the change in their faith, gone is the spirit of love and devotion for the nation…. So we see that it is not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity. What else is it, if not treason, to join the camp of the enemy leaving their mother-nation in the lurch?”
Indian Christians — and Muslims — are, in the eyes of the RSS, traitors.
The RSS — whose name stands for “National Volunteer Corps” — was founded in the then British-occupied Indian subcontinent in 1925 in order to “organize the entire Hindu society” and “put in reality” that “this is a nation of Hindu people.”
The particularly menacing nature of the call to “organize the entire Hindu society” must not be overlooked. For the RSS’s founders, their new paramilitary could not simply serve as a organization within the sphere of the Hindu religion, but must become the sole custodian of Hinduism, a head dictating and controlling the actions of every segment of the religion. This vision is explicitly stated by the RSS today, which openlythat it wants to “expand so extensively” that everything related to the religion will be “engulfed into its system.”
The paramilitary’s five co-founders included the brother of VD Savarkar, a writer who published the book Hindutva (in 1923) to articulate the religious nationalist political ideology which he believed India must implement. “Hindutva,” meaning “Hinduness,” claims that the core identity of India is just that: Hinduness. Anyone in India who is not a Hindu is therefore, in essence, not considered a true Indian. Thus, non-Hindu Indians are consequently viewed — as suggested by the Guru of the RSS — as traitors.
Hindutva and its commitment to establishing India as a Hindu nation for — and only for — Hindu people is the foundational and governing ideology of the RSS. It’s an ideology which, asby the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “holds non-Hindus as foreign to India.” It is also an ideology which originated not only alongside the rise of European fascism in the 1920s-1940s, but actually took inspiration from those very same fascists, praised their genocidal goals, and even directly interacted with them to some extent.
As the Nazi party was formed in Germany (in 1920) and fascism took root in Italy (in 1921), Savarkar formulated his concept of “Hindutva” in India. He argued that Hindus were not just a religious unit but also a “race” — one holding the only unique birthright to the land. “India must be a Hindu land, reserved for the Hindus,” he. “If you call it an Indian Nation it is merely an English synonym for the Hindu Nation. To us Hindus, Hindustan [Land of the Hindus] and India mean one and the same thing. We are Indians because we are Hindus and vice versa.”
He argued that Christians and Muslims were incapabale of being loyal Indian citizens because, unlike Hindus, they did not view India as both their “Fatherland” and their “Holy Land,”: “For though Hindustan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu, yet it is not to them a Holy Land too. Their Holy Land is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas, and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided.”
Savarkar contrasted the allegedly suspect loyalties of Indian Muslims and Christians with those of Hindus, claiming, “Hindustan being their Fatherland as well as their Holy Land, the love they bear to Hindustan is undivided and absolute.”
The way forward, he a Hindu Nationalist Front,” to “be prepared to fight any non-Hindu power that stands in the way of our onward march,” and to “capture the political power that even today obtains by voting only for Hindu Nationalists.” Doing otherwise, he claimed, was “to commit a cultural and political and racial suicide.” His ultimate demand was to “Hinduize all politics and militarize Hindudom.”, was to form “
In 1925, five adherents of Hindutva ideology joined together to form the RSS to, essentially, incarnate Savarkar’s call for a militarized Hindu nationalist front. It was the same year that, in Germany, Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf and founded the Schutzstaffel (SS); the Nazi concept that “blood and soil” defined nationality did not escape these RSS co-founders.
“We do not say that others should not live here,”the first RSS chief, KB Hedgewar. “But they should be aware that they are living in Hindustan of Hindus.” He repeatedly compared his concept to that of a “Germany of Germans.”
By 1931, RSS co-founder BS Moonje — who was Hedgewar’s mentor — was directly reaching out to the European fascists to learn about their ideology and methodology.
During a ten-day tour of Italy, he visited the fascist youth groups and then concluded his trip by personally meeting Benito Mussolini. “The idea of Fascism vividly brings out the conception of unity amongst people,” heafter his tour. “India and particularly Hindu India need some such Institution for the military regeneration of the Hindus…. Our Institution of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of Nagpur under Dr. Hedgewar is of this kind.”
Returning to India, Moonje reported having seen “with my own eyes” the “youth movement of Germany” and “Fascist organizations of Italy,” stating: “They are eminently suited for introduction in India.” In 1934, in a recorded conversation with Hedgewar, he insisted that India ought to also adopt the cult of personality implemented by the European fascists. Demanding “standardization of Hinduism throughout India,” he declared: “This ideal can not be brought to effect unless we have our own swaraj [independence] with a Hindu as a Dictator like… Mussolini or Hitler of the present day in Italy and Germany. But this does not mean that we have to sit with folded hands until some such dictator arises in India. We should formulate a scientific scheme and carry on propaganda for it.”
By 1940, Golwalkar — who would become the “guru” of the RSS and, in his 1960s writings, propagate the idea that Indian Christians and Muslims are “traitors” — replaced Hedgewar as chief of the growing paramilitary.
In his race spirit,” comparing it to the spirit and consciousness which the RSS sought to rouse and awaken so that the world would “see the might of the regenerated Hindu Nation strike down the enemy’s hosts with its mighty arm.” Both fascist nations had proven, he argued, that “every race” possesses “the indisputable right of excommunicating from its Nationality all those who, having been of the Nation, for ends of their own, turned traitors and entertained aspirations contravening or differing from those of the National Race as a whole.”, Golwalkar had echoed and expanded the Hindu nationalist admiration for Europe’s fascists. Pointing to both Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, he praised their “race consciousness” and “
This “indisputable right” of national excommunication included, in his mind, the right to demand that “foreign races” in India — that is, non-Hindus — “must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea[s] but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt.” Continuing to look to Nazi Germany to justify his views, he celebrated how “German race pride has now become the topic of the day,” declaring:
“To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
In Golwalkar’s mind, in India, these different “races and cultures” who were ostensibly incapable of “being assimilated into one united whole” were, primarily, the Christians and Muslims whom he accused of, by virtue of converting away from Hinduism, losing “their spirit of love and devotion for the nation,” changing their “national identity,” and engaging in “treason” by joining “the camp of the enemy.”
Particularly in his later writings in the 1960s, Golwalkar viciously accused Indian Christians and Muslims of adopting a “foreign mental complexion” by leaving “their ancestral Hindu fold.” He insisted that “history does not record a single notable instance” of any Indian converting to Islam or Christianity out of sincere conviction. Their very existence as Indians following such faiths represented, he argued, “foreign domination,” and required that they be called out of “religious slavery” back to “the ancestral ways of devotion and national life.” After all, he claimed, the only way to achieve unity amongst all Indian citizens was “to fuse them all in the Hindu way of life.”
Failing to address this problem was supposedly an issue of national security. The presence of both Islam and Christianity in India constituted, in Golwalkar’s words, “internal threats.” In fact, he even went so far as to claim that Christians and Muslims were conspiring to “join together and, between themselves, partition the country.”
Positing that Indian Muslims are universally secessionist, he argued that they treated every mosque in the country as “their own independent territory.” Even those serving in Indian government positions were, in his mind, “rabidly anti-national” figures whose “speeches carry the ring of open defiance and rebellion.” Arguing that, “in practically every place,” Indian Muslims maintained secret communications with Pakistan, he warned that they “are trying to undermine our very national existence.”
Christians, he insisted, are fundamentally “anti-national” and solely devoted to destroying the “nationalism” of Indian citizens. The goal of Christians “residing in our land today” was, he said, “to demolish not only the religious and social fabric of our life but also to establish political domination.” In India, he claimed, they “refuse to offer their first loyalty to the land of their birth,” behaving instead as “agents of the international movement for the spread of Christianity.” Declaring that, “wherever they have gone,” Christians have been nothing but “blood-suckers,” he concluded: “They will remain here as hostiles and will have to be treated as such.”
Such a prejudiced outlook towards one’s fellow citizens would be disturbing enough in the average powerless hate-monger. Yet these weren’t the mindless ramblings of a cranky, drunk old uncle shouting at passersby from his back porch. It was the ideological perspective of a man who served as chief of the RSS from 1940 until his death in 1973 — a man who is, today, revered as the paramilitary’s Guru.
Little has changed about the RSS’s ideology, but everything has changed in terms of its modern-day access to social and political power.
Today, the RSS has ansix million direct members — notably, a number that only includes members who participate in daily activities. It has dozens of special purpose subsidiaries, but the most important and prominent of these are the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, which serves as a religious wing) and the Bajrang Dal (which serves as the VHP’s youth wing). The VHP has (according to past ) nearly seven million members while the Bajrang Dal has (according to recent ) around five million members. Exact membership details are impossible to come by because none of these groups release figures, but, combined, they easily constitute a force surpassing 10-15 million or more.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which serves as the political wing of the RSS, has180 million or more members, making it the largest political party in the world. While not all BJP members are actively involved in the RSS or its subsidiaries, members of those groups control the BJP. “There is no difference between the BJP and RSS,” a Hindutva activist once . “BJP is the body. RSS is the soul.” Or, as a former US ambassador to India , “The RSS can survive without the BJP but the BJP cannot exist without the RSS.”
All of these — the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, BJP, and other affiliates — are collectively and commonly known as “the Sangh Parivar” (Family of Organizations) or simply “the Sangh.”
Current RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat for the paramilitary to “reach every household” and establish branches in “all villages” of India by 2025. Meanwhile, the RSS has already reached the highest halls of national power. Prime Minister Modi is an RSS member. So is President Venkaiah Naidu. So is Home Minister Amit Shah (who is in charge of the country’s internal law and order). At last count, in 2019, 71 percent of Modi’s have a background in the RSS (or one of its affiliates), up from 62 percent during his first term.
The RSS has de facto ruled India since 2014. Its power is only growing stronger. The threat that poses for the future of Indian Muslims and, increasingly, for Christians, cannot be overstated.
(Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in the analysis of South Asian affairs. He is the author of “Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers” and co-author of “Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent.”)