National and International Issues

The Rise of RSS

In his seminal work Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler dubs the Western culture “Faustian,” because of what he calls its insatiable thirst to overwhelm other societies. The word “Faustian” is derived from Faust, who is the protagonist of one of the most famous legends in Western literature. The legend depicts the story of a scholar, who in his quest for boundless knowledge and unlimited power, is swept off his feet and sells his soul to Satan. After the deal with the devil is sealed, Faust begins to realize that he has been led down the garden path. The prince of hell is neither capable of nor did he ever intend to be as good as his word. But Faust’s proclivity to trust the devil is so overpowering as to bring all his suspicions to rest and he inexorably moves towards damnation.



To date, Hindutva remains the paramount philosophy and militancy the principal instrument in the hands of RSS, while paramilitary training and daily drills form the kernel of its curriculum for the rank and file. Nathuram Godse, the man who pulled the trigger on Mohandas Gandhi, was an RSS member. So is Narendra Modi, the current heartthrob of fanatical Hindus.


It’s not only an individual but an entire community or society that may be taken in hook, line, and sinker by a diabolical ideology or a toxic narrative. The Germans did so when after the First World War they voted to power Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, who exploited the nationalistic sentiments trampled by a rancorous Treaty of Versailles. In recent years, Indians swept along by communalism struck a Faustian bargain when they overwhelmingly elected back-to-back Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who are the political faces of the Mephistophelian organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). 
What is RSS? What’s its agenda? Why is it going from strength to strength in a state which continues to pay a lip service to secularism? What does its rise portend for neighbouring nations, particularly Pakistan?  


It was from the womb of RSS that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s present ruling party, was born in 1980. The BJP comprised the main dissidents from the Janata Party, which had the distinction of forming the first non-Congress government in India in 1977. Almost all the leading BJP figures including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who would later serve as prime minister thrice, were also on the membership of BJS. That’s how RSS made its way into the mainstream politics.


RSS or the National Volunteers Corps was set up in Maharashtra, British India in 1925 with an eye to creating a “Hindu nation.” The organization’s raison d'être was manifestly in contrast with the stance of the Indian National Congress, which, at least on the face of it, regarded all Indians as constituting one nation. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the RSS founder, was in thrall of the Hindu nationalist ideologue V. D. Savarkar. It was Savarkar who coined the term, “Hindutva,” which more than any other notion has shaped the contemporary Indian politics. Hindutva defined Indian culture in terms of Hindu values and Indian nationalism in terms of Hindu nationalism. Savarkar was also a prominent member of the Hindu Mahasabha, a militant organization, which claimed that Hindus were culturally superior to Muslims. Later, in 1951, the Bharatiya Jana Singh (BJS), or Indian People's Association, was established as the political arm of the RSS. 
The organizational structure of RSS, as conceived by its founder, had much in common with Fascism, as it rose to prominence in Italy in early 1920s, and later its German variety, National Socialism. Both consisted of a hierarchical organization, with a paramount leader representing the nation at the apex and a highly disciplined cadre frantically committed to the organizational cause at the base. Both organizations sanctified violence towards alien communities as the chief method of social control. However, contrary to Fascism, RSS made religion (Hinduism) as the basis of nationalism. 
Over past nearly one century, RSS has freely drawn upon religious symbols. The RSS in particular reveres Hanuman, (portrayed in Ramayan as the commander of the monkey army, who helped Rama defeat Ravana). To date, Hindutva remains the paramount philosophy and militancy the principal instrument in the hands of RSS, while paramilitary training and daily drills form the kernel of its curriculum for the rank and file. Nathuram Godse, the man who pulled the trigger on Mohandas Gandhi, was an RSS member. So is Narendra Modi, the current heartthrob of fanatical Hindus.


Today, RSS is stronger than it had ever been. Its membership runs into millions. India’s President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Modi, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Home Minister Amit Shah, who until recently also served as the BJP’s president, as well as several high-ranking officials are among its members. Its network penetrates almost every section of Indian society and its influence runs deep — deeper than any other organization’s — into the polity. It’s the ideological fountain from which the BJP draws inspiration and it provides the enormous apparatus from which the ruling party draws its strength.


It was from the womb of RSS that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s present ruling party, was born in 1980. The BJP comprised the main dissidents from the Janata Party, which had the distinction of forming the first non-Congress government in India in 1977. Almost all the leading BJP figures including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who would later serve as prime minister thrice, were also on the membership of BJS. That’s how RSS made its way into the mainstream politics. 
Understandably, the BJP’s politics rested on Hindutva and it pilloried the Congress for espousing secularism. However, in its initial years, the party remained virtually a non-entity and could win only two seats when it faced the electorate for the first time in 1984.



For the BJP the defining moment came in 1989 when its president L.K. Advani spearheaded a nationwide march to pull down the historic Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, in India’s largest and politically most important state of Uttar Pradesh, and build a temple in its place. For secular India, the event turned out to be the thin end of the wedge. The campaign fired religious sentiments of the majority Hindu community and culminated in the demolition of the mosque in December 1992. A year earlier, the temple politics had smoothed the party’s way in securing 120 seats in the elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. For the BJP, it was a quantum leap.  
That fateful event has had a three-fold significance for Indian politics and society. One, it provided a perfect platform for the rise of the BJP. In the ensuing 1996 parliamentary elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest party and formed its first government under Vajpayee. The party also won subsequent national elections held in 1998 and 1999. Thenceforth, anti-Muslim politics would be a passport to success for the BJP. Two, it set the stage for Hindutva to replace secularism as the dominant ethos of Indian polity. To date the building of a temple in Ayodhya, and all that it signifies, remains the kernel of the BJP/RSS politics. The party’s 2019 election manifesto reiterated that promise. Later, in October 2019, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the disputed land in India may be used for constructing the temple, thus caving in to the BJP/RSS narrative. 


When a party whose bread and butter is communal violence forms the government, it is bound to pursue a jingoistic foreign policy. If like Modi a political leader incites hatred and violence against the minorities and is rewarded with the most powerful office of the land, he can’t resist the temptation of treating the neighbouring nations in a similar fashion.


Three, the demolition of the mosque ushered in the reversal of fortunes for the thitherto dominant Congress Party, which championed secularism. In 2014, those trends combined to bring about the resounding electoral victory of the BJP with Modi in the van. It was Modi, the poster boy of Hindutva and an RSS veteran, who as Chief Minister of Gujarat had set the stage for the 2002 carnage of Muslims in communal riots. Five years down the road, as Hindutva went from strength to strength, the electorate handed an even heavier mandate to the BJP and RSS.
Today, RSS is stronger than it had ever been. Its membership runs into millions. India’s President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Modi, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Home Minister Amit Shah, who until recently also served as the BJP’s president, as well as several high-ranking officials are among its members. Its network penetrates almost every section of Indian society and its influence runs deep — deeper than any other organization’s — into the polity. It’s the ideological fountain from which the BJP draws inspiration and it provides the enormous apparatus from which the ruling party draws its strength. 
The organization’s major demands including construction of a Hindu temple at the disputed site of Ayodhya, a uniform civil code for all religions and the abolition of special status for the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) figured in the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto — the IOJ&K’s special status was subsequently revoked by New Delhi on August 5, 2019. Most of the people who voted for Modi did so in support of RSS. In a word, RSS’ ideological support and its immense network set the stage for BJP’s thumping victory. Many believe that RSS is the difference between the BJP and the Congress. 
An alternative narrative argues that Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi represent the two ends of the changing social spectrum in India. The former has risen to the top by the sweat of his brow; while the latter owes his status to being a scion of the country’s most powerful political dynasty. Modi, and not Gandhi, is the logical choice of a “new” India.


As per the data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2013, India’s defense spending was USD 51.6 billion, which racked up to USD 54.27 billion by 5.2 percent in 2014, Modi’s first year as prime minister. Subsequently, it went on increasing and reached USD 66.52 billion in 2018. In 2019, the first year of Modi’s second term, the defence spending ratcheted up by 6.9 percent to USD 71.1 billion.


Such an argument is a red herring. Dynastic politics would have been the difference between the two parties had the BJP thrown up a progressive leadership, which eschewed communal politics. Instead, the BJP rode the crest of popularity on the back of a leader who is a picture-perfect personification of its Hindutva narrative. Nor did the Indian economy fare much better under Modi. During the BJP’s tenure (2014-19), the economy grew on average 7.5 percent, while the average growth rate recorded during the Congress’ last term (2009-13) was 7.4 percent. Hindutva, not the economy or the dynasty, sets the two parties apart.   
When a party whose bread and butter is communal violence forms the government, it is bound to pursue a jingoistic foreign policy. If like Modi a political leader incites hatred and violence against the minorities and is rewarded with the most powerful office of the land, he can’t resist the temptation of treating the neighbouring nations in a similar fashion. Not surprisingly, New Delhi’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric has spiked, and its defense budget scaled up under the RSS/BJP government. Let’s also not forget that when in 1998 India went nuclear, the BJP was at the helm in New Delhi.


It is not that India is a rich country, which can afford such as expansionary defense policy. In fact, India is an exception to the correlation that holds between a nation’s defense budget on one hand and the size of its economy or per capita income on the other. Despite being a lower middle income economy it has the world’s third largest military budget. India has also the lowest per capita income ($2000) — and that too by a wide margin — among the world’s top 10 defense spending nations.


As per the data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2013, India’s defense spending was USD 51.6 billion, which racked up to USD 54.27 billion by 5.2 percent in 2014, Modi’s first year as prime minister. Subsequently, it went on increasing and reached USD 66.52 billion in 2018. In 2019, the first year of Modi’s second term, the defence spending ratcheted up by 6.9 percent to USD 71.1 billion. India has overtaken Saudi Arabia to have the globe’s third highest defense spending. Cumulatively India’s defense expenditure has gone up by more than 31 percent between 2014 and 2019. During previous five years (2009-2013), the defense spending had increased in total by 0.27 percent. The difference is too conspicuous to be set aside.

It is not that India is a rich country, which can afford such an expansionary defense policy. In fact, India is an exception to the correlation that holds between a nation’s defense budget on one hand and the size of its economy or per capita income on the other. Despite being a lower middle income economy it has the world’s third largest military budget. India has also the lowest per capita income ($2000) — and that too by a wide margin — among the world’s top 10 defense spending nations. 




A comparison between the relative sizes of defense budget and per capita income among the world’s three largest defense spending countries is in order. The per capita income of the U.S. is 31 times higher than that of India; however, Washington’s defense expenditure is only 10 times higher than that of New Delhi. Likewise, the per capita income of China is five times greater than that of India; however, Beijing’s defense expenditure is only 3.7 times higher than that of New Delhi. Not only that, while in case of China defense spending makes up 1.9 percent and 5.4 percent of the GDP and general government expenditure respectively, in case of India the share of defense spending in GDP and general government expenditure is 2.4 percent and 8.8 percent respectively (SIPRI data). 
Yes, Washington spends more on defense relative to its GDP and general government expenditure — 3.4 percent and 9.4 percent respectively — than India. But that’s because it has several international commitments. On the other hand, the enormous size of New Delhi’s defense wallet is rooted in its incorrigible tendency to rise roughshod over its smaller neighbours. Bludgeoning smaller neighboring nations into submission is the keystone of the foreign policy of the states which are in thrall of a fanatical doctrine. 


While in 2013, the difference in defense budget of India and Pakistan was about USD 44 billion, at the end of 2019, the defense spending gap had ballooned up close to USD 61 billion by a whooping 38.6 percent. Thus, not only does India spend much more than Pakistan on defense, it is driving up its expenditure at a much higher pace as well.


India’s rising defense expenditure is bound to raise the hackles of its neighbouring nations, particularly Pakistan. The two nuclear and rival countries in South Asia have fought three full-scale wars. Compared with India’s USD 71 billion military expenditure, that of Pakistan in 2019 was only USD 10.25 billion. This places Pakistan in an unenviable situation as the military budget of its arch adversary, whose reins are being pulled by a party and a prime minister who have a chip on their shoulder, is nearly seven times greater. Not only that, during last five years, Pakistan’s defense spending has gone up by 22.7 percent (from USD 8.35 billion in 2014 to USD 10.25 billion in 2019) compared with 31 percent hike in case of India. As a result, while in 2013, the difference in defense budget of India and Pakistan was about USD 44 billion, at the end of 2019, the defense spending gap had ballooned up close to USD 61 billion by a whooping 38.6 percent. Thus, not only does India spend much more than Pakistan on defense, it is driving up its expenditure at a much higher pace as well. 
With India toning up its military muscles, Pakistan is left with no choice but to maintain a minimum deterrence capability — though New Delhi’s ambitious defense spending is adding to the cost of the deterrence. But in the end, it’s the Indian people, who are bearing the cost of New Delhi’s expansive policies. For all its ambitions to become a world power, India remains shrouded in squalor and slough of misery. More than a quarter of the population earns less than USD 2 a day and thus lives below the poverty line. Not only that, the growing fanaticism and communalism anchored by a vicious RSS-BJP combine are rending a remarkably multi-ethnic Indian society apart. But that’s the inevitable price of the Faustian bargain that the electorate has struck with the BJP and RSS.


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Twitter: @hussainhzaidi
 

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