Sangh and Hindutva: The expanding footprint

The last seven years have helped the Sangh Parivar bring out dozens of books sympathetic to its worldview
Last Updated : 31 October 2021, 02:03 IST

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The Hindutva discourse has come to dominate social media, much of news television and the editorial pages of significant sections of Hindi language newspapers. It has inspired the founding of several think tanks since 2014 and successfully shaped a seminar circuit all its own in the last seven years, while its leading lights invariably make it to the speakers' lists of sundry literary festivals.

Add to this the vibrant outreach the Sangh Parivar has to the Indian Diaspora, both under the umbrella of its overseas offshoot, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which is organising October as the 'Hindu Heritage Month' in the US, but also outside it.

For example, on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met representatives of the Italian Hindu Union Sanatana Dharma Samgha and ISKCON in Rome. According to a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) press release, the PM "lauded the role played by them in propagating Indian culture in Italy". Modi also interacted with several Indologists and Sanskrit experts from Italian universities and "noted their interest in Indian culture, literature, the practice of yoga and Ayurveda," the MEA said.

The last seven years have helped the Sangh Parivar bring out dozens of books sympathetic to its worldview. Prestigious publishing houses have queued up to publish eulogies of the RSS, and hundreds of edit page articles in leading newspapers have followed. The Hindutva civilisational project under the Sangh Parivar, it would seem, has flourished.

R Balashankar, a former editor of RSS mouthpiece Organiser, believes there is now wider acceptability of the BJP's worldview. "The discourse is now BJP ideology-centric, and the stubborn resistance in certain quarters has come down, who now have a better understanding and exhibit better accommodation (of the Sangh Parivar's point of view)," he said. Balashankar, the author of 'Narendra Modi, Creative Disruptor: The Maker of New India', attributes it to the non-discriminatory governance, particularly the social welfare schemes, that Modi has run.

Still, the votaries of Hindutva come across as peeved at not being taken seriously in the academic circles, and their failure to acquire cultural capital continues to trouble them. Earlier this month, at the launch of his colleague Ram Madhav's book, 'The Hindutva Paradigm: Integral Humanism and the Quest for a Non-Western Worldview', RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale was at pains to claim that "Hindutva, it is neither Left nor Right." He agreed with former diplomat Pavan K Varma that there was a need for "shaastraarth" or discussion today.

Such offers from the RSS are not new. Madhukar Dattatreya 'Balasaheb' Deoras, the third sarsanghchalak, reinvented the RSS from an organisation steeped in quasi militaristic discipline to involving itself in social service projects and engaging with other political parties. For Deoras, as author Dinesh Narayan has written in his book 'The RSS and the Making of the Deep Nation', there was nothing so sacrosanct that it could not be broken. The only guiding principle was that "Hindustan is a Hindu Rashtra", everything else could change.

Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, idolises Deoras. If Deoras used the RSS numerical strength to support the anti-Emergency movement, the organisation supported India Against Corruption movement, conceived at New Delhi-based think tank, Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). The VIF eventually supplied several key bureaucrats once the Narendra Modi government took up the reins of power in May 2014.

Interestingly, according to a University of Pennsylvania survey released in January 2021, India has the world's third-highest number of think tanks, and only the US and China have more. India witnessed a spurt of new think tanks since 2014 when it had 192 and currently has 612. The report noted the prominence of such nationalist think tanks of recent vintage as VIF, India Foundation and Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.

The RSS was first invited to the Jaipur Literary Festival in 2017, with some of the established authors threatening to boycott. However, none did. Namita Gokhale, the event's curator, defended the decision by stating that they have invited representatives of other political ideologies in the past. "However, none boycotted, which was evidence that they had reconciled to the arrival of the Sangh Parivar on the literary scene," recalls political commentator Radhika Ramaseshan.

Ramaseshan points out that the Sangh Parivar representatives pioneered engagement in the blogosphere and social media to win legitimacy among the bhadralok, or intelligentsia, which persuaded others across the political spectrum to follow suit. "One of their prongs in Bengal was to reach out to the Bengali bhadralok outside Kolkata, and they put the likes of Swapan Dasgupta, Anirban Ganguly and Ashok Lahiri on the job. It is a strategy they have earlier deployed in Uttar Pradesh and other high growth states," Ramaseshan says.

The RSS is known to change its stripes. The plethora of think tanks and affiliates help firefight and disseminate government policies. On September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the entry of women of all ages into Kerala's Sabarimala temple. The RSS compromised its stated position on the issue of gender equality when it opposed the entry of women for strategic reasons — to defeat its ideological opponents, the communists in Kerala.

A little over a week before the SC verdict, at a three-day lecture (September 17 to 19, 2018) at New Delhi's Vigyan Bhavan, Bhagwat said the Sangh had removed offensive references to Muslims and Christians as internal threats in M S Golwalkar's book, 'We or Our Nationhood Defined'. It has been rephrased as "Islamic fundamentalism" and "evangelism". The lecture aimed to convince detractors that the RSS was a moderate, flexible organisation, willing to review some of its positions in a changing world.

In mid-2020, the Sangh Parivar needed another of its affiliates to step up. The RSS helped set up GIA, or the Group of Intellectuals and Academicians, in 2015. It comprises women lawyers, authors and journalists. In March 2020, as reportage over the Delhi riots singed the Sangh Parivar, the GIA came up with its version of the events. Bloomsbury published 'Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story'. It was a shoddy exercise, which lacked rigour, and the publisher soon withdrew it. Soon, another publishing house, Garuda, stepped in. It had earlier published such tomes as 'Urban Naxals' by Vivek Agnihotri.

The Sangh Parivar understood the importance of think thanks early. In 1968, veteran Jana Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh established the Deendayal Research Institute. After the 2002 riots in Gujarat, the BJP leadership founded the India First Foundation and the Image India Foundation. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the BJP's Rajya Sabha member, has headed the Public Policy Research Centre (PPRC), which brings out reports on government schemes, like the crop insurance scheme. Mumbai-based Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini trains elected representatives.

One example of firefighting was in the aftermath of Parliament scrapping Article 370 on August 5, 2019. Two little known think tanks arranged the visit of over 24 members of the European Parliament to Kashmir. These were the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies and the Women's Economic and Social Think Tank.

However, the Sangh Parivar isn't merely restricting itself by expanding its ideological footprint but also messaging those it believes support its ideological enemies. Recently, Panchjanya, the RSS mouthpiece, attacked Bengaluru-based IT major Infosys for trying to destabilise the Indian economy and accused it of helping "Naxals, Leftists and the tukde-tukde gang". Clarifications ensued, but the message was unambiguous.

But many within the Sangh Parivar fear that the electoral victories of its political arm, the BJP, and the expansion of its ideological footprint has failed to include the young educated youth. The obscurantism pervading its rank and file and its leadership hinders it from resolving its ideological incoherence over issues such as caste, gender equality and the status of Muslims in a Hindu Rashtra.

Published 30 October 2021, 19:11 IST

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