(Published in Daily News and Analysis, 27 November 2014)

by Praful Bidwai

Nothing in Indian politics has dismayed me recently as much as a report (The Hindu, November 22) on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s success in attracting 600 middle-class professional families in Noida to a late-night education-cum-entertainment event featuring preacher Satyanarayan Mourya. Each family paid Rs300 to attend it. Mourya is a crasser version of Ritambhara. He speaks (http://communalism.blogspot.in/2014/11/india-rss-outreach-show-with-baba.html) execrable language while attacking Muslims, and invokes Hindutva pride by claiming that ancient India gave the world geometry and airplanes, besides mastering space and nuclear technologies, achievements that today’s youth have all but forgotten under the evil influence of modern Western culture.

It’s truly tragic that professionals mostly in the 25-35 age-group should be rapturously inspired by a man spouting forth such bilge. But that’s crucial to understanding why the RSS, whose shakhas (branches, where swayamsevaks gather usually daily for an hour) decreased by 10,000 from 60,000 in 2004-12, is now growing rapidly, adding between 2,000 and 4,500 shakhas annually. The RSS says it has no formal membership, but as many as 120,000 members attended its training camps this year, up from 80,000 in 2013.

This has happened simultaneously with the rise to national power of its progeny, the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose claimed membership has increased to 32.5 million. The BJP has set a target of recruiting 100 million new members to become the world’s single-largest political party. According to insiders, it’s planning to open a party office near every railway station and post office (1.5 lakhs) in India. No party in India, perhaps in the world, has set itself such an ambitious target. The Congress in its heyday couldn’t even have dreamt of doing this despite its 4-anna membership fee. The BJP is diabolically different, and has become hyper-activist and muscular under its new president Amit Shah.

Like the RSS, the BJP is not only recruiting members online, targeting young netizens, but using all manner of methods to propagate Hindutva. The abuse of Doordarshan to broadcast live the RSS chief’s Vijayadashami address (an internal affair of the Sangh), and the frequent commandeering of All India Radio to air Narendra Modi’s views, are only the beginning. In Delhi, new GPS-based fare-meters are being compulsorily installed in all its 85,000 autorickshaws, which carry Modi’s picture under the guise of his Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

Couple this with the RSS-BJP’s new initiatives in demonising the religious minorities, communalising education, rewriting history textbooks along Hindu-chauvinist lines (as Delhi university’s Sanskrit teachers are doing despite their lack of expertise in the discipline), promoting Sanskrit as the prime symbol of Indianness (as if Tamil were not a classical language), and imposing Hindu religious symbols on schoolchildren (as it has just done in Chhattisgarh even in Church-run schools), and you have an energetic effort to distort and redefine Indian culture, society and nationhood — something no other party or social movement has attempted so methodically.

The Sangh Parivar is trying to recreate the original conception of Hindutva politics as outlined by BS Moonje (RSS founder KB Hedgewar’s mentor, who met Mussolini in 1931), VD Savarkar and Hedgewar himself, summarised in the idea, “unite Hindus and militarise Hindu society”. This would enable the Sangh to envelop and encompass Indian society along profoundly anti-democratic lines, emulating what Mussolini achieved and what they admired, namely Italy’s military regeneration.

Many people voted for the BJP because it advocated development and effective governance — albeit along Right-wing, market-fundamentalist lines. This was in part a huge deception to cover up the Parivar’s despicably reactionary-communal agenda. Such voters should ask themselves if that’s what they really wanted.

The author is a writer and columnist based in Delhi