The RSS War on Thought and ABVP as Foot Soldiers
November 2, 2016
Ever since the present Modi government came to power, there appears to have been a clear set of orders issued from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters to its student organisation, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), to go on the rampage in university campuses all over India. From getting specific parts of syllabi changed under threat of violence, disrupting events by other student organisations on campuses, to forcing university administrations to intervene to curb freedom of expression, to filing police complaints against dissenters, they seem to have been acting according to a well-rehearsed script, subverting democratic processes on campuses. After its recent electoral defeats in JNU and Hyderabad Central University (HCU), however, the ABVP’s role seems to have acquired an even more virulent feature. The game plan appears to be to provoke violence wherever possible so that rather than any kind of debate, however contentious, on issues such as nationalism, minority rights and caste injustice, what we are increasingly likely to see are violent standoffs between student groups, which have to be controlled by the police. These are often represented in the media as brawls between students, as if there were no ideology or political content involved, just two groups of students “clashing.” But of course, in each case the ABVP is involved, and in some kinds of reporting it can even be made to appear that the ABVP was somehow the victim.
This is the moment at which teachers need to finally accept that the ABVP is not just another student organisation. We have tended to take the position in our universities that we must not condemn or directly address the ABVP, since we must not directly involve ourselves in student politics. Teachers must talk to the administration, be publicly critical of its lapses, take all measures necessary to display and enact our solidarity with students under attack by this regime. While students take their own decisions on modes of struggle and so on, teachers see our role as being supportive but with a critical distance.
However, now we may need to start thinking of ways in which we recognise the organisation of the ABVP as a serious threat to Indian democracy. I don’t mean individual students, who would also be in our classrooms, and with whom it may still be possible to continue a conversation, and whose examinations we will continue to grade with utmost probity. As we have always done.
But the ABVP as an organisation has a specific role to play, as storm-troopers in the project of Hindu nationalism, and we cannot afford any longer not to face up to this fact frontally.
The Hindutva Project
Those of us who can clearly see the current regime under Narendra Modi as involved in a many faceted project to bring about a ground level transformation of India into a Hindu nation, cannot remain innocent of the knowledge that the ABVP is not just another students’ organisation. It is the students’ wing of the RSS, the fountainhead of Hindutvavaadi philosophy, an organisation acknowledged time and again by members of the BJP as the revered source of authority for every action taken by this government from the Prime Minister downwards. The most recent pronouncement of this kind was by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar who attributed the allegedly successful “surgical strikes” by the Indian Army against Pakistan to “RSS teaching.”
The RSS acts as an extraconstitutional source of power, legitimising a wide range of activities from violence against Muslims and Dalits under the garb of cow protection, to violent policing of social media and social spaces to weed out any form of dissent to its masculinist, savarna, anti-women, anti-minority Hindu nationalist project. The actual actors in these attacks need not be directly linked to RSS, but they are spawned by the legitimacy given to the Hindutva project by the current regime, and by the impunity enjoyed under it by the smallest foot soldier of Hindutva for the most criminal of actions.
There is of course, a split in the Hindutva forces along the fault line of caste, for a Savarkarite rendering of Hindutva required the modernisation of Hinduism to eliminate caste discrimination and indeed caste itself, through internal reform and intermarriage. The Savarkarite project was to consolidate the Hindu community, to modernise and militarise it, and all of this requires Hinduism to break the Seven Shackles of caste discrimination that bind it. As part of this project of Hindu consolidation, probably recognising that many communities that he wanted to bring under the umbrella of Hinduism ate beef, Savarkar even said:
…When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by the cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected…(Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p. 341)
But B. R. Ambedkar was right, and Savarkar was wrong. Hinduism cannot survive without caste, and caste cannot be eliminated without eliminating the Hindu shastras. And this is what explains the large scale extension of the violence of gau rakshaks from Muslims to Dalits, which cannot be contained even by Modi’s heartfelt plea to get the Hindutva project back on track – “Kill me, not Dalits”, he famously said. What he meant was “Kill Muslims, not Dalits.” But the visceral hatred of the caste Hindu self for Dalits cannot, it seems, be held at bay even for the Hindu nation to succeed. A CRPF jawan who died in Pompore during a militant attack was denied public land for cremation by the upper castes of his village because of his “lower” caste. His status as martyr for the glory of the nation did not protect him from this indignity in death. Within the ABVP itself, caste prejudice is rampant, and there have been resignations from it on the issue of caste.
The teaching of Savarkar that the RSS and its followers do take very seriously however, is the need to build a Hindu nation through producing hatred of the Other, even when that Other is intimately tied to one’s self. Criticizing Buddhism for destroying India’s “political virility” and preventing the possibility of “common worship” that could have built the Hindu nation, Savarkar writes in Essentials of Hindutva:
Moreover everything that is common in us with our enemies, weakens our power of opposing them. The foe that has nothing in common with us is the foe likely to be most bitterly resisted by us just as a friend that has almost everything in him that we admire and prize in ourselves is likely to be the friend we love most. The necessity of creating a bitter sense of wrong invoking a power of undying resistance especially in India that had under the opiates of Universalism and non-violence lost the faculty even of resisting sin and crime and aggression, could best be accomplished by cutting off even the semblance of a common worship…
This necessity of “creating a bitter sense of wrong” is in essence the Hindutva project, whose goal is, paradoxically, to destroy the confidence of Hindus, an undisputed majority community whose heterogeneous cultures define this land, and to create in them a sense of humiliation, defeat and impending doom from minorities.
To read the rest of the article, go here.
First published in Sabrang.
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