New Book Explains The RSS's Approach To Conflict Resolution In India's Major Insurgencies
The various insurgencies that the book speaks about are far from over, but there is little doubt that the RSS’s efforts to consolidate and strengthen Hindu interests has now been largely mainstreamed.
Conflict Resolution: The RSS Way. Ratan Sharda and Yashwant Pathak. Garuda Prakashan. 2021. Pages 492. Rs 549.
What exactly is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) about? Thus far, the world’s largest voluntary organisation has been defined (or, rather, demonised) largely by its enemies. Is it a social service organisation, a cultural outfit, a sort of Hindu sampradaya with its own set of traditions and practices, or a leviathan with larger designs on India that is Bharat?
The RSS’s enemies range from “secular” individuals (including self-loathing Hindus) to various religious and communist organisations who see it as a threat to their own hegemony and an obstacle to the progress of their divisive and/or violent ideologies in India. The Sangh’s detractors see it as an evil organisation that wants to establish a Hindu theocratic state in India, which will not stop with violence to achieve its aims.
This is a travesty. An organisation with an estimated membership of more than six million – a population larger than present-day Singapore – and whose mass-based affiliates (Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh) will have many, many more millions as their own direct members, ought to have been studied more and understood on its own terms.
Just three years short of its centenary (the Sangh was founded in 1925), the Sangh ought to have received a lot more scholarly attention than it has. Contrast this with the kind of coverage the Catholic church receives with just 414,000 priests, but a larger flock of 1.34 billion believers.
In part, this disinclination to understand or study the RSS is largely the result of the organisation’s own reticence and lack of concern for documenting its views and actions. Its political opponents, of course, have no reason to understand it, for then they would not get the privilege of abusing it.
But this situation is slowly changing, as the RSS has been more open to interactions with the media and authors since 2014. It has also got itself some new chroniclers who know the organisation from the inside and can talk about it with some authority. While the best-known studies on the RSS are undoubtedly those written by Christophe Jaffrelot (The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics), and Walter Andersen and Shridhar Damle (RSS: A View To The Inside), these books suffer from the fact that they try to situate the Sangh in a western paradigm based on an orientalist understanding of India as a nation in the making rather than a civilisation that’s been around for 5,000 years – and still evolving.
For a corrective, we could profit from reading books by Ratan Sharda, who has been a Sangh insider for decades. Two books of Sharda, RSS 360; Demystifying the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and RSS: Evolution from an Organisation to a Movement (read the reviews here and here), have begun to fill the gap in literature on the Sangh. Now, a third, and a potentially more explanatory one, has been written along with Yashwant Pathak, who happens to be Sharda’s PhD thesis guide, on three of India’s major insurgencies, in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and the North-East.
The book is titled Conflict Resolution: The RSS Way, but it is less about the Sangh’s own conflict resolution efforts and more about how the Sangh read these insurgencies and their causes, and how its own various resolutions on these subjects explain its approach to dealing with them. The book offers, probably for the first time, an analysis of the RSS’s various resolutions on different subjects of national interest.
The book is logically divided into three parts, with book 1 focusing on Jammu & Kashmir, Book 2 on Punjab and Book 3 on the North East, with the last one being further divided into two sections, one focusing on insurgencies in the smaller states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur (Arunachal and Meghalaya were largely free from this malaise), and the second on Assam, where the insurgency was largely precipitated by the huge influx of Bangladeshis, both persecuted Hindus and Muslims seeking a better life.
Using resolutions of the RSS’s top policy-making bodies, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (comprising the Sangh’s all-India delegates), and the Kendriya Karyakarini Mandal (its working committee), Sharda and Pathak provide explanations for the J&K crisis, the Khalistani violence, and the north-eastern insurgencies. They are clear that the primary responsibility for separatism was Nehru’s decision to undercut Maharaja Hari Singh in the belief that Sheikh Abdullah should rule the state, and India’s lack of strategic clarity on how to prevent outside interests from fishing in the state’s troubled waters.
The trust gap between the erstwhile ruler of the princely state and the newly-formed Indian Union lay at the root of the ruinous Nehruvian decision to take the Pakistani invasion issue to the UN, thus giving global vested interests to seek a role in “solving” the Kashmir problem. It has taken Pakistan’s defeat in the 1971 war and the Modi government’s decision to nullify article 370 to bring Jammu & Kashmir back within the ambit of the full Constitution of India.
On Punjab, and the Khalistani insurgency of the 1980s, Sharda and Pathak trace its origins to two post-Partition developments: the decision of many Arya Samaj Hindus to declare Hindi as their mother tongue instead of Punjabi, which left Sikhs as the only protectors of Punjabi language in PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union), the state created after the merger of eight princely states between 1948 and 1956. When states were linguistically reorganised, present-day Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were carved out of PEPSU, leaving Sikhs feeling short-changed.
The second reason for the Khalistani insurgency was the Congress party’s efforts to deny the Akalis legitimacy in Punjab, often by promoting schisms within, the most dangerous one being the covert support to Sant Bhindranwale in the 1980s. It ended with the assault on Harmandir Sahib, the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, and K P S Gill’s valiant efforts to eliminate terrorism over the next few years using rough and ready methods.
Sharda and Pathak, however, readily admit that the RSS’s narrow view of seeing Sikhism as merely an outgrowth of the larger Hindu Dharmic tradition increased animosities between extremist Sikhs and the RSS. The RSS is hated by many Khalistanis, even though it has become more sensitive to Sikh feelings on this issue now.
As for the North East, the insurgencies relate to church backing to separatist movements in Baptist-dominated Nagaland and Mizoram, the huge influx of Hindus into Tripura, which reduced the local tribal population to a minority, and Nagaland’s efforts to claim large parts of Manipur, where the majority are Hindu Meiteis.
The various insurgencies that Sharda’s and Pathak’s book speaks about are far from over, but there is little doubt that the RSS’s efforts to consolidate and strengthen Hindu interests has now been largely mainstreamed. Little wonder, the RSS is now directly in the cross-hairs of evangelical groups, Islamist and Left-wing organisations and their international allies.
This book is more than a useful addition to the slowly growing literature on the RSS and its philosophy of Hindu Rashtra.
This still leaves us with the question we began with: what exactly is the RSS, and what is it upto?
The answer lies in applying the principle of Occam’s Razor – that the simplest explanation is probably the most likely one. Maybe it is what it says it is, and what it does explains most of its attitudes and approaches to issues.
Sharda and Pathak say in the preface to their book that the “RSS works to unite Hindu society for a stronger India, ie, Bharat. It wishes to create citizens of high character and with greater discipline and high values….The RSS philosophy asserts that disunity, orthodoxy and lack of national pride have resulted in the problems we face as a nation”. Its idea of Hindu Rashtra or Hindutva is not theocratic or religious, but cultural (samskritic) in nature.
This does not mean some of its affiliates are not about Hinduism as a religion (the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, for example, is clearly a religio-political movement), and some of its key leaders have umbilical links to the RSS, but the Sangh itself is not religious in character, as evident from the fact that it hardly celebrates any major Hindu festivals like Holi or Diwali. Its DNA is cultural Hinduism, not religious.
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