Conflict Resolution: The RSS Way
This book focusses on how RSS performed, thought, prevented and held on to its own amid heavy odds and hostility in three major theatres of conflict in modern Indian history, specifically, post-independence.
In nearly a century of its existence, the RSS has been an object of unwarranted criticism from several quarters for reasons that cannot be called cogent or well-founded. Also, there has been a mystique about it among the common people—whether it is a pillar of Hindu unity, a socio-cultural organisation working on nation building, a well-oiled organisation giving way to the largest party in any democracy and much more. It has faced bans from its detractors, and criticism—often from the people it is supposed to be working for.
This book, through the study of resolutions of the RSS, has filled the gap in the RSS history; indeed, in the history of contemporary India. It focusses on how RSS performed, thought, prevented and held on to its own amid heavy odds and hostility in three major theatres of conflict in the modern Indian history, specifically, post-independence. These are: Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Northeastern Region. The work was part of a PhD thesis on the subject.
“The authors have masterfully illuminated the stand that the Sangh has taken on important issues of national security and integrity, which are central to its beliefs, in the wake of the insurgency in states such as Kashmir, Punjab and the Northeast. A must-read scholarly intervention,” - Vikram Sampath, Author, Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past (1883-1924)
Great insights on RSS' nationalism
ForewordIt has been my distinct pleasure to know both Dr Ratan Sharda and Dr Yashwant Pathak for several decades and I have admired their work. Dr Pathak and I have collaborated on many projects. Thus, I was keen to read this manuscript, especially because I am one of the Punjabis displaced when India was partitioned in 1947, and have also closely followed the developments in the other insurgencies the book covers. I found that Conflict Resolution–The RSS Way is not only insightful and penetrating but it brings to light facts and their implications generally missing in the available literature.
The book is based on Dr Ratan Sharda’s PhD dissertation at the Hindu University of America. Sharda is a widely respected author, among whose publications are six books on the RSS. His co-author, Dr Yashwant Pathak, is an equally recognised scholar and author, who worked for six years in Northeast India and was among the founders of the Research Institute of World’s Ancient Traditions, Cultures and Heritage, with its primary office in Arunachal Pradesh. They have presented a detailed and thorough account of the complexity and intricacy of these conflicts, the actors involved, and the nuances missed by earlier writers.
Historians will surely record the visionary leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder, Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, and his successor, MS Golwalkar (Guru Ji), and the profound impact of the RSS led by them in shaping India’s social, cultural, and political landscape. This book introduces the reader to the indispensable role the RSS played in correctly diagnosing the roots of three domestic insurgencies in post- independence India–Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and the Northeast– and deploying optimal strategy and tactics to combat the separatist elements bent upon what Rajiv Malhotra calls “Breaking India;” it perfectly captures the RSS contribution.
The questions prompting the inquiry and culminating with writing the thesis are most pertinent: How does the RSS, “a national organisation, professing its commitment to integrity and unity of India,” measure up in addressing “the most serious challenges that India faced post- independence?” Were its views “holistic and found useful in resolving the conflicts as they ran their course?” To answer this inquiry, the authors turned to the content of the organisation’s resolutions on these conflicts which represent its official position and are adopted at the twice-a-year meetings of its highest deliberative bodies–the Central Working Committee and All-India Delegates Conference. The dissertation was accepted in July 2018, and, building on it, the authors have rewritten the book by reviewing and analysing the major related developments since then, such as the abolition of Article 370 and 35A and reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir.
This book deserves special attention because, as the authors note, the “RSS has received scant academic attention in India,” which may in part be explained by the RSS’s practice, changed only in the last couple of decades, of not releasing “official statements,” and top officials not being “more accessible [to] give interviews, contribute articles and talk on public platforms.”
The detailed and thorough study of these conflicts, meticulously researched and fully documented, is based on the available literature, supplemented with archived historical records, and also on personal interviews with those involved, including first-person accounts. In each of these conflicts the authors provide historical context, including the RSS connection and its official stand as reflected in the several resolutions on the conflict and the follow-up action. The style is easy-flowing and highly readable.
One common feature the authors find in the three conflicts they study is the foreign hands, specifically, of Pakistan, China, and Saudi Arabia, along with the role of various denominations of churches in sowing the seeds of disunity and separatism. For example, in Jammu and Kashmir, they narrate the aggression of Pakistani troops with Kabailis (tribals) in 1917, the support of Saudi Arabia for Wahabis and the introduction of radical Islam in 1975, culminating in the 1991 exodus of Kashmiri Hindus. They underscore the role of terrorists and the alliance of separatists and Khalistanis.
In Punjab, among the contributing elements was mismanagement and short-sightedness of the state and the central government in ignoring the demands for a separate Sikh state and the recognition of the Punjabi language. And in the Northeast, the pertinent factors included illegal migration from Bangladesh, massive foreign funding to churches, mass conversions, and external support to the insurgents from China and Bangladesh.
Following the study of these conflicts, the authors in the Epilogue provide a glimpse of the post-independence history of India, with RSS in the centre of their narrative. They provide extensive reference material to corroborate their narration of this history. To illustrate, they succinctly analyse the cultural underpinnings of what constitutes a nation in the Indian context, underscoring the uniqueness of India, contrasted with the Western understanding of a nation-state.
The authors conclude that much of the RSS effort toward conflict resolution went unnoticed or was reported negatively, primarily because of the RSS’s inability to project both its positive role in India’s socio- political life and its long-term vision. They find that the RSS strategy in conflict resolution is based on appreciating India’s deep cultural unity, which the RSS has used successfully as the binding force and which is responsible for India’s ability to successfully control or overcome these insurgencies. This, indeed, is unlike various insurgencies that have broken up other countries. The RSS correctly identified the root causes of the conflicts and undertook a humanitarian approach with firm handling of conflicts, without compromising or appeasing the insurgents.
The authors conclude: “The inherent pluralism of India and respect for all faiths and belief systems” has helped India address the challenge of insurgencies better.
After having read every word, my advice to the reader is to follow my lead. I am sure that s/he will thank me for this recommendation.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is now acknowledged as the largest voluntary organisation not just in India but also in the world. What it does or does not do affects India in a perceptible way. RSS was founded in 1925 by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in Nagpur. As of now it has over six million members in 60,000 plus branches, and more from 18,000 weekly get-togethers across India. It has a presence across India at the district level and in major parts at the tehsil level. RSS and organisations inspired by it have a presence in nearly all the dimensions of the social life of India. Affiliated organisations or those inspired by it have a large number of members and associates working in nearly all walks of national life. Of the more than thirty national organisations with affiliations to RSS world view, some are mass organisations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), having memberships running into millions. Sewa Bharati oversees around 130,000 social service projects across India. Ekal Vidyalaya Movement begun by an RSS prachaarak, Shyam Gupt, has now many supporters with their own organisations and foundations running around one hundred thousand single-teacher schools.
How could such a multifarious, multidimensional organisation be looked at in a unidimensional way? Each of its organisations can be a topic of a number of theses. For example, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is a unique labour organisation that is left of centre but does not draw inspiration from the Communist-Socialist philosophy. Ekal Vidyalaya is a unique model with 100,000 single-teacher schools that would be a great lesson for poor countries anywhere. The social service model of RSS, with Sewa Bharati as the umbrella organisation, drawing inspiration from Swami Vivekananda, Advaita philosophy and Hindu cultural values, needs study by all NGOs. It seeks minimal support from the governments; it has zero or lowest overheads in the world for any NGO. It has full-time workers working without any pay except subsistence expenses. This would be a great case study for NGOs habituated to spending 50-70% on overheads.
It is surprising that despite such impressive antecedents, RSS has received scant academic attention in India. Even in international academic circles, it has not received polemical attention. Much smaller organisations have reams of academic documentation. There are not many research papers or thesis on it and its allied organisations. Whatever literature is available on RSS is written by intellectuals with some a priori assumptions. I had conversations with TV and radio researchers and Think Tanks from overseas who admit that if they searched for data on RSS, they only came across limited literature, most of which was critical of RSS. Among western writers, Christophe Jaffrelot is the major source of knowledge about RSS for westerners. In India, there are many books from the Left and Communalist stable with a predictable approach. Most of them end up taking only a political view of RSS’s work, analysing it using a western framework. Even supposedly sympathetic academics like Anderson and Damle analyse RSS from a political perspective. Interestingly, claiming to study RSS for 35 years, Anderson talks about a clash between Hinduism and Hindutva. His western glass still tries to fit it into a caste paradigm. One appreciable attempt at an objective academic study has been done recently by Malini Bhattacharjee in her well-researched book—Disaster Relief and the RSS: Resurrecting ‘Religion’ Through Humanitarianism. She has been a regular contributor to Economic & Political Weekly of India.
The Rationale Behind Critical View about RSS
Most of the commentary on RSS is based on two books, rather, one monograph and one book. The most ‘damning’ quotes are picked up from the monograph called, We, Our Nationhood Defined, written by the second RSS Sarsanghchaalak (President) MS Golwalkar, aka Guruji, in 1938-39 before he was anointed as RSS head. He disowned the book sometime around 1947 according to Devendra Swaroop. This was the re-written interpretation of a book originally written in Marathi, Rashtra
Mimamsaa, by Babarao Savarkar. He was the brother of the revolutionary and, later, the proponent of Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. During those risky days, Babarao misplaced that translation. Golwalkar, then just 32 years old, had been highly impressed with that book. So, he wrote a version based on this book. Nowhere does RSS or its leaders refer to this book as its foundational document.
The second book, often quoted selectively by the critics, is Bunch of Thoughts, a compilation of the speeches of Guruji in the 1960s. He had not written any book after the first referred above due to a very heavy travelling schedule. Whatever time he had was spent in writing letters to RSS colleagues and other friends to keep communications on. His letters are available as Patraroop Guruji, a book never referred to by any critic. Bunch of Thoughts has a historical context. It is a compilation of the most disturbing period for RSS and India–partition and its aftermath. RSS volunteers (swayamsevaks) had staked their all, sacrificed their lives, families, businesses and jobs to counter Muslim League hooliganism and violence. The reward was a ban based on patently false charges that led to another round of oppression, avoidable sacrifice, loss of lives, jobs and businesses. Guruji put in all his might to revive the organisation, keeping away from any publicity or political arguments. But he openly criticised the making of a constitution and economic policy based on borrowed concepts, not on Indian genius and conditions. All this is reflected in Bunch of Thoughts. But, to hold those contemporary issues as the perennial ideas would be an injustice to a person who worked for 33 years untiringly and even cooperated with the government in every crisis. In a newly independent nation undergoing dynamic evolution, every leader of the time had rightly commented on various issues. His perennial views have been expressed in his complete works compiled in the multi-volume Guruji–Samagra. Its summarised form is also available in English—M S Golwalkar–His Vision and Mission. However, one would not find any scholar or critic referring to these volumes.
The most criticised comment of his is that minorities should not demand or enjoy any special rights. Some even interpret it as his considering them to be second-class citizens. Providing any citizen with special privileges based on religion cannot be the founding principle of secularism. On the face of it, it can even be viewed as akin to non- believers or Kafirs being treated as second-class citizens in an Islamic country where they are denied the rights or privileges enjoyed by Muslims. It may appear as if he tried to impose bigoted views in a highly pluralist belief system. The critics would then need to take a clear stand whether they approve the Semitic Abrahamic philosophy or not. Either way, no government under RSS-inspired BJP has ever treated its minorities as second-class citizens. Konraad Elst has written the most comprehensive rebuttal of the charge of fascism in his book, The Saffron Swastika. Modi government has spent more on minorities education and skills development than any secular government. These arguments highlight the need to study other dimensions of RSS work too because one cannot understand the changing socio-political scenario in India in recent years without considering the RSS factor.
RSS Philosophy in a Nutshell
RSS works to unite the Hindu society for a stronger India, i.e., Bharat. It wishes to create citizens of high character and with greater discipline and high values. According to its senior leaders, RSS is on a ‘man-making’ mission. With its footprint across the length and breadth of India, its sphere of influence also extends to the politics of India. Thus, its views and actions have a great impact on the Indian society. The RSS philosophy asserts that disunity, orthodoxy and lack of national pride have resulted in the problems that we face as a nation. So, to resolve those problems, the Hindu society should unite, work hard to remove anomalies and rejuvenate itself by instilling a sense of pride in its heritage to progress together as a nation. Being the majority community, it is its primary responsibility to put its house in order so India progresses.
RSS defines its nationalism on cultural and geographical basis and says that its concept of Hindu Rashtra is a saamskritik (loosely termed in English as cultural) concept, not religious. The cultural bond that binds the nation together in case of Bharat is Hinduness–some central characteristics that are common to all Indians whether we belong to the Hindu religion or any other religion or faith. It defines Hindutva as the essence of the Hindu character of Bharat, i.e., India. This essence is pluralism, respect for all faiths and views, respect for nature, belief in Karma and rebirth, treating the nation as the motherland and viewing unity in diversity. This Hinduness is the underlying, unifying thread of this visibly diverse nature of India, exhibited through various common cultural traits and religious festivals. Hindu dharma is the sap that nurtures the diversity of the multi-coloured, multi-hued nation called Bharat. The day this sap dries up, the tree will die, according to a senior RSS leader H V Sheshadri.
A major cause of blindsiding RSS by critics is because they view the organisation through the western world view of nation state. RSS distinguishes between Nation and State and says that its concept of Rashtra does not mean State. Bharat as a Rashtra is Hindu in its Hinduness or Hindu character but State is secular in Dharmic sense–that is, respect for all religions and faiths. RSS is also very clear that the ruler has to follow Dharma (his/her duties, legal and ethical), which has nothing to do with the religion he/she follows or the religion his/her subjects follow.
Another cause of criticism is equating ‘dharma’ with ‘religion’. Hindu dharma is a way of life and ‘Dharma’ is not ‘religion’. Faith or way of worship is religion. India has hundreds of sampradayas or sects or denominations that worship God in different ways but have commonalities that make them a part of Hindu belief system. Dharma is a set of duties and ethical rules that define how a person, a family, a society or a nation should behave and live. Dharma is that which upholds the society. In Sanskrit, the Hindu scriptures say, “dhaarayati iti dharmah,” which translates as “dharma is that which upholds.”
The problem arises because critics view India, its entire knowledge system, its culture, its traditions and understanding of Dharma from the western standpoint. When you view India from the British or western standpoint, your view is bound to be different from those who view it from within Bharat. When you set your calendar to a few hundred years old Greenwich line and not to thousands of years old, zero longitude of Ujjain, your viewpoint is definitely going to be different. RSS is an India- centric organisation, rooted in its strong knowledge system.
The above arguments lead us to the view that one has to study RSS beyond RSS, as presented so far. Which means, one needs to find out how RSS views, applied to day-to-day affairs of the nation, have affected the national life of India with its humungous reach and philosophy.
Choosing RSS Resolutions as the Basis of this Analytical Study
This quest led me to research RSS from the most important documents of RSS–its resolutions about various national issues. These are RSS thoughts in action. These resolutions are passed twice a year by its top policy-making bodies–Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (All India Delegates Conference) and Kendriya Karyakarini Mandal (Central Working Committee). All critical decisions about the organisation are taken in these meetings. The resolutions passed by these bodies represent the official views of the RSS most accurately.
‘Prachaar Vibhag’ or the media cell of RSS was formed only in the 1990s. The role of the media cell was restricted to disseminating information about RSS and related organisations till recently. Only recently, in the 21st century, has RSS begun to release official statements on various issues necessitated by the very fast and vast spread of news and views due to the reach of the internet and the social media. The top leaders of RSS too have become more accessible and give interviews, contribute articles and talk on public platforms. Till RSS reached this stage, these two national-level meetings were the only fora where the official stand was disseminated. RSS resolutions are a collective response from the highest deliberative bodies of RSS. These resolutions are shared with the media since the time this practice began in 1950. Recently, all the resolutions were brought out in the form of a book in 2014, called RSS Resolves.
Till 2014, resolutions passed by RSS were not disseminated or analysed by the media. Many of its organisational activities and actions are impacted by these resolutions. As the study will show, many activities and movements were born as a result of these resolutions. Thus, resolutions are the RSS views applied in socio-political action. This is the reason we chose its resolutions to understand RSS.
If one were to analyse these resolutions in the light of the socio- political scenario in India at the time these resolutions were passed and the subsequent unfolding of events, one would be able to understand the philosophy of RSS in practice.
For my PhD thesis, my guide Prof Yashwant Pathak suggested that I study and analyse RSS views and its proposals about handling domestic insurgencies. For a national organisation, professing its commitment to the integrity and unity of India, this could be the litmus test to see how it measured up to the most serious challenges that India faced post- independence. Was its view holistic and found useful in resolving the conflicts as they ran their course?
The thesis, Understanding the RSS through its Resolutions–With Focus on Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and North East, is the basis of this book. It has been rewritten and has also been updated as events moved very fast since it was accepted in 2018.