The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, widely known by the acronym RSS, is a Hindu fundamentalist organisation in India working for the promotion of Hindutva. Hindutva basically connotes “hegemonic Hinduism.” According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics and International Relations, the term Hindutva “has fascist undertones.”
In fact, Hindu fascism is what RSS has indulged in to achieve the overall national objectives for a Hindu India. This is also precisely what liberal analysts in India have been repeatedly accusing RSS of but their voices mostly remained muted. The Nazi salutations and symbolism have been an integral part of the RSS structure. Interesting comparisons can be drawn between India’s Hindu man of ideas Savarkar’s 1923 pamphlet ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?’ and Goebbel’s 1926 German publication ‘Der Nazi-Sozi.’
Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a Hindu ideologue, established RSS on September 27, 1925. His aim to set up the organisation was to strengthen the Hindu identity, especially vis-à-vis the Muslims and Christians of the Subcontinent. Thus, the prime objective of establishing a Hindu nation (rashtra) has been foremost in the minds of the RSS leadership.
Out of antipathy for Islam, Hedgewar sometimes described the people of the Muslim faith as “the hissing Yavana snakes.”1 He along with fellow activists used derogatory terms for the Dalit and Sikh communities as well.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India has been described as the political face of the RSS. RSS is to BJP what Schutzstaffel (SS) was to the Nazi party in Germany. The difference being that SS under Himmler was subordinate to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) under Hitler. In India, BJP draws inspiration from, and takes instructions from the RSS.
Mainly, due to reasons of history, Islam has been considered by RSS as its arch-enemy. Post-9/11, fundamentalist Hindus in India have been targeting the holiest personalities of Islam more than ever before. RSS ideologues describe Islam as “an evil religion” which promotes an “evil ideology.” Some even claim that the Muslim Kaaba was once “a holy temple of the Hindus” from where started “the domain of Emperor Bharata.”2
The RSS is an all-male organisation that bars women from joining or taking up a role.3 Nevertheless, a separate organisation for women exists in India by the name of ‘Rashtra Sevika Samiti’ but it is independent of RSS while sharing the same goals and objectives. Predictably, RSS gives preference to Brahman Hindus in its rank and file.
The RSS also has an overseas body called the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). It was established in Kenya before the Partition with the aim to mobilise expatriate Hindus. The HSS has been active in around 42 countries, especially Nepal, Australia, UK, U.S. and some African states.
The RSS has serious reservations on some important clauses of the Constitution of the Republic of India. Not only this, there are reports that RSS firmly rejected the Constitution when it was formally passed on November 26, 1949. Its leadership has created controversy by making statements critical of even the national flag and the national anthem of India.
Apart from being secretive in its working, which it prefers because of reasons of strategy, RSS is also one of the most feared organisations in India. Not many would like to lock horns with a Hindu fundamentalist. As such, crimes against humanity committed by RSS remain undiscussed and are mostly downplayed.
Nevertheless, RSS attained notoriety when one of its activists (or ex-member, as some claim) Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Father of the Nation of India, on January 30, 1948. Godse committed this act of terror to punish Gandhi, for what he perceived as Gandhi’s “leaning” towards the minorities, especially Muslims. Consequently, RSS was banned by the government of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Earlier during the British rule, a ban was placed on RSS because of its association with the right wing organisations in Europe, especially German Nazis. The RSS was banned again when the Emergency was imposed in India by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975-77, and later when Babri Masjid was demolished by RSS activists in December 1992.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was introduced to the organisation when he was eight years old, is an active member of RSS. So is the case with his cabinet ministers, and close civil and military advisers.
The BJP has a students’ wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. This body of young Hindus has a large following within and outside India.
RSS is the “mother party” of almost all other important Hindu fundamentalist organisations in India. This includes Vishva Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has set up thousands of shakhas (Hindu madrassas) all over the country. Each and every significant city and town in India has a shakha. As per Encyclopaedia Britannica, the RSS “reveres Hanuman (in Hindu mythology, the monkey commander of the monkey army).” Training in militancy in these shakhas has been an essential part of the curriculum for the young Hindu recruits.
Vidya Bharati, the educational wing of RSS, announced the plan to open “its own RSS military school” in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh in July 2019.4 This move invited strong criticism from liberal Indians who accused RSS of creating a formal military school where fanatic Hindus would be trained in the art of “lynching” the minorities.
RSS has close to 6 million members in India. The Indian Express reported on March 16, 2016 that RSS has registered the highest growth in membership, especially between March 2015 and 2016, “ever since it was formed.”
The newspaper quoted RSS leader Alok Kumar as stating, “The organisation has grown steadily since 2012. This was the year RSS recorded the highest growth rate. We are pleased.”
By and large, silent support for the RSS has always existed in sections of the Indian civil society, bureaucracy, armed forces and especially in the security agencies of India.
According to a write-up posted on Samvada website, the first Army Chief of India, Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa once in his speech to the RSS volunteers underlined: “RSS is my heart’s work. My dear young men, don’t be disturbed by the uncharitable comments of interested persons. Look ahead! Go ahead! The country is standing in need of your services.”5
Understandably, RSS has rendered invaluable services to India. The following contributions are not really discussed in public:
• More than 200,000 Muslim men, women and children were mercilessly massacred in the State of Hyderabad in 1948. (Even though the Sunderlal Committee Report downplayed the casualty figure to 30,000-40,000 only). The RSS activists fully collaborated with the Indian security forces in the perpetration of rapes and mass murders.
• RSS terrorists in collaboration with security personnel of the Maharajah of Kashmir butchered 500,000 Muslim men, women and children in Kashmir in 1947-1948.6
• Dressed in the uniform of the Pakistan Army, widespread atrocities, especially rapes, were committed by RSS terrorists in East Pakistan in 1971.7
• Close to 2,000 Muslims were massacred in just three days in Gujarat in 2002 by RSS activists on specific orders of the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi.8
• Reports indicate that RSS activists dressed in uniform of the Indian Army may now perpetrate one of the worst genocides of the Muslim populace in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
• Earlier in August 1946, a large number of Bengali Muslims were massacred in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Many perpetrators were inspired by the RSS ideology.
• Direct or indirect RSS involvement was there in widespread loot, rapes and killings during the Partition.
In a rather chilling interview in 1993 with Time Magazine, the RSS allied Hindu fundamentalist party Shiv Sena Supremo, Bal Thackeray, commented: “There is nothing wrong if Muslims are treated as Jews in Nazi Germany... If you take Mein Kampf and remove the word ‘Jew’ and put in its place the word ‘Muslim’, that is what I believe in.”
In its August 23, 2019 issue The Times reported that extremist Hindu groups in India have been offering “money, food and alcohol to mobs to kill Christians and destroy their homes.” The allegations followed British government’s refusal to grant visas to the members of the Hindu radical groups, as they were “linked to the worst anti-Christian violence in India since the Partition.”
Even the United States and other countries had refused visa to Narendra Modi because of his involvement in Muslim massacres.
Earlier, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, was burnt to death along with his two sons in Orissa (now Odisha), by a Hindu mob of Bajrang Dal activists.
Significantly, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist groups have accused RSS of decimating their identity, and trying to subsume their religions into Hinduism.
While neo-Nazi websites in Europe declare Hitler as “the reincarnation” of Hindu God Vishnu, some in India, especially RSS activists, have emblazoned Adolf Hitler as “India’s Swastika God.” Slogans of “Hail Shree Ram; Hail Hitler” have been frequently raised at RSS gatherings.
Textbooks are being rewritten in India for school children. In Gujarat, chapters have been added in Social Studies textbooks with titles such as ‘Hitler, the Supremo.’ A section on Nazi ideology emphasises: “Hitler gave dignity and prestige to Germany. He adopted a policy of opposition towards the Jewish people, and advocated supremacy of the German race.”9
According to Palash Ghosh, during World War II, Indian nationalists received “explicit support” from the German Nazis. In fact, some even served in “Hitler’s army and the notorious SS.” Ghosh adds that in a speech in Dresden, Germany in 1943, Adolf Hitler emphasised: “I am impressed by the burning passion” with which Netaji (India’s nationalist leader, Subhash Chandra Bose) seeks to liberate India “from foreign domination.” Hitler added, “Netaji’s status is even greater than mine.”10
Similarly, Natasha Noman comments, “More than a dozen editions” of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kamphf’ have been circulated throughout India; and translated into various languages “such as Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil and Bengali.” The English edition “sold more than a 100,000 copies between 2003 and 2010.”11
Bakht Buland Shah, a voluntary Hindu convert to Islam, established the city of Nagpur in 1702.12 Today, RSS which was established in that very city, is converting Muslims by force to Hinduism.
In February 2007, more than 60 Pakistanis were killed in a terror attack on Samjhauta Express (train) which was running from New Delhi to Pakistan. The attack was carried out by RSS activists.
Muslims have always been a persecuted minority in India. Since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, Muslim persecution has increased manifold. There are almost daily reports of lynchings and rapes. Most of these atrocities are carried out by Hindus inspired by the RSS psyche.
The RSS leadership has publicly announced the conversion of all Muslims and Christians in India to Hinduism. They have even set deadlines.
Importantly, accusations of terror against RSS continue. The following needs to be noted:
• Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) is considered to be the architect of the Constitution of India. He was India’s first Law Minister. In a statement in January 2019, his grandson Prakash Ambedkar described RSS as “a terrorist organisation.”13
• In a statement in November 2018, CPI (M) leader Ramachandran Pillai equated RSS “with Taliban and Khalistan terrorists.”14
• Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said in June 2018, “All Hindu terrorists who have been caught have association with RSS in some way or the other... so, this ideology is spreading hatred, hatred breeds violence, and from violence is bred terrorism.”15
• The then Home Minister P. Chidambaram urged India to be aware of saffron terror in an August 2010 meeting of the State Police heads in New Delhi.16
• In his address to the Congress party in Jaipur on January 20, 2013 Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde emphasized that the BJP and the RSS are “promoting ‘Hindu Terrorism’ through their training camps in India”. He added that investigations revealed that BJP and RSS were conducting training camps to spread terrorism.17
• Supporting this view, Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said, “I am hundred percent with Shinde on this. This is not a secret. I want to thank the Home Minister for saying what everyone knows, but do not have the courage to say.”18
An RSS sympathiser once termed the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 as the ‘Second Liberation’ of India – the first in 1947 when the British left the Subcontinent.
According to others, “India is on the look for her third liberation by fully annexing Bangladesh into ‘Mother India’, and the fourth and final liberation would be when she could completely annex the territory of existing Pakistan.”19
All this is in line with the RSS thinking.
Indian analyst Pankaj Mishra in his article in The New York Times, referred to his interaction with Gopal Godse, the younger brother of Nathuram Godse. According to Gopal, Nathuram had advised him to immerse his (Nathuram’s) ashes in the Indus, “The holy river of India that flows through Pakistan, only when the Mother India was whole again.” Gopal opined that given the circumstances, now he may not have to wait too long.20
In a May 2019 write-up, Sonia Sarkar expressed the view, “That sense of threat from an often-unspecified source – be it Muslims, Christian missionaries, Pakistan, communists or secular liberals – is at the heart of RSS training.... Take the common shakha game Lahore kiska hai (whose is Lahore).” The group leader asks, “Lahore kiska hai?” and players shout back, “Lahore hamara hai (Lahore is ours).”21
Is all this so easy a task, as the RSS is daydreaming? Only time will tell. Jingoism is not good, peace is imperative; and so remains survival of Muslims and Pakistan that has to be ensured. Importantly, Pakistan is the Mother of India. India is called India because of River Indus, which flows through Pakistan, not India. The Mahabharata was recited for the first time in history in Taxila, a city located in Pakistan, not in India. Like China, India wants to be proud of its 5000 year long history. Ironically, the main sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, are not located in India but in Pakistan. The name Sindh which is a province of Pakistan, is an integral part of the national anthem of India.
RSS considers Chanakya as one of its greatest scholar diplomats. Chanakya was civilizationally a Pakistani. He was not born in Delhi or Varanasi, but in Taxila. Importantly, Chanakya’s first students hailed from what is today Islamabad, not Nagpur.
The coming into power of Narendra Modi has once again re-validated and re-authenticated Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Two Nation Theory, not only in Pakistan but in India, and also for the Muslims of Bangladesh. His ascent to power is bound to weaken the ideological foundations of India. All this is also being carefully noted in the neighbourhood.
The recent abrogation of the articles on Kashmir is bound to have long term repercussions.
The interests of the People’s Republic of China in the issue of Jammu and Kashmir are at stake. And, Beijing knows that RSS hates China. India’s 1962 humiliation has been unpalatable for the RSS.
Those Kashmiris who sided with Nehru in 1947 are regretting their gravest mistake today. The long list includes Farooq Abdullah and many others.
Many term RSS as the largest “voluntary organisation” in the world. In the same vein, others categorise BJP as the largest “political party” in the world. How can one ignore the view that RSS is the largest terrorist organisation in the world, while its political arm BJP has been implementing the RSS agenda of Hindu fascism.
The accusations of ‘saffron terrorism’ against RSS have not emanated from Islamabad, but from Indian analysts in India, who are understandably worried about the country’s future. The long list of critics of RSS among others, includes each and every Prime Minister of India, except Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. After all, RSS was banned so many times by so many governments in India since its formation.
The British banned RSS on account of solid evidence of the organisation’s militant connectivity with the Nazis. Jawaharlal Nehru banned the RSS after the Father of the Nation of India fell victim to the bullet of a terrorist having deep connections with RSS. Similarly, one cannot say that RSS was banned by the Governments of Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Narasimha Rao on some flimsy grounds. Desecration and demolition of the centuries’ old Babri Mosque, sacred to 2 billion Muslims in the world, is not an ordinary justification to put a ban on RSS.
As indicated earlier, even those liberals who have been critical of RSS in India have silently welcomed the organisation’s efforts to promote the wider national interests of the country, be it in Hyderabad, Kashmir, 1971, or on internal issues. Here lies the paradox!
According to Douglas Smith, “Militant Hindu nationalism is revivalistic, in that it appeals to past glories.”22 Hindu fundamentalism in India has come to stay. It may grow exponentially. Vajpayee was a visionary Hindu fundamentalist, whereas Modi is a militant Hindu fundamentalist.
The RSS ideologues do not want to call their country India or Hindustan. They call their country Bharat. Bharata, according to them, was their ancient legendary emperor whose name is ‘synonymous with power and expansionism.’
Indians should know too well that India has never been one country in history, except during the British rule and when Hindustan was ruled by Alauddin Khilji.
One should never fall prey to one’s own propaganda.
Analysts in Israel must have taken note of the RSS’ admiration of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.
The world is heading towards right wing religiosity. Hindus believe in millions of gods. While Islam, Judaism and Christianity believe in the all merciful God, the RSS hates all the three Abrahamic religions to the core.
On September 4, 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on RSS leadership at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Indian analysts emphasise that Modi went there “to present himself” before the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagat. “Almost his entire Council of Ministers was there to demonstrate their accountability to the RSS.” The message Modi received in the meeting was, “No matter how big or popular you are, you cannot be bigger than the RSS.”23
Today, India is no longer the country of Gandhi and Nehru. It has changed drastically and is being ruled by RSS whose members eulogise not Gandhi but his assassin Nathuram Godse. To presume that RSS does not have a comfortable control over India’s nuclear weapons would be a suicidal naivety.
The writer during his 34 year career in the Foreign Service of Pakistan has mostly been dealing with matters relating to the United States, China and South Asia. He has authored a number of books on subjects relevant to Pakistan’s foreign policy.
1. Singh, Khushwant. (2008, November 7). Saffron has a go at history. Hindustan Times.
2. Discussions in New Delhi on Hinduism and Sanatan Dharma.
3. The status of women in the caste ridden Hindu society has traditionally been subservient to men. Female infanticide and taboo on widow remarriage continue till to-date. Unfortunately, sati is still practised in remote rural areas of India, too.
4. (2019, July 31). National Herald.
5. (2012, October 24). Glorious 87: RSS turns 87 on today on Vijayadashami. Samvada.org
6. Ian Stephens, Editor, The Statesman.
7. Among others, discussions with Indian analysts, journalists etc., including K.K. Katyal.
8. Among others, interaction with Indian journalist, Harinder Baweja. Also, her reports available on internet.
9. Rao, Shrenik. (2017, December 5). Hitler’s Hindus: the Rise and Rise of India’s Nazi-loving Nationalists. Haaretz.
10. Ghosh, Palash. (2012, June 3). Hindu Nationalist’s Historical Links to Nazism and Fascism. International Business Times.
11. Noman, Natasha. (2015, June 12). The Strange History of How Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ Became a Bestseller in India. Mic.com.
12. (2014, December 5). Times of India.
13. (2019, January 28). ANI.
14. (2018, November 21). NDTV.
15. (2018, June 19). Economic Times.
16. (2019, April 2). Business Standard.
17. (2013, January 20). The Hindu.
18. Encyclopaedia on Pakistan’s foreign relations, page xi, by Afrasiab, published in Dhaka in 2013.
19. Afrasiab. (2016). 1971: Fact and Fiction. Islamabad.
20. Mishra, Pankaj. (2003, February 2). The Other Face of Fanaticism. The New York Times.
21. Sarkar, Sonia. (2019, May 21). India’s Young and Well-Educated are Marching to the Beat of Hindu Nationalism. zy.com.
22. Article in April 1972 issue of The Journal of Developing Areas.
23. (2015, October 10). Dawn.
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