Hate speech, lynching, mob violence, ransacking public property etcetera have become a part and parcel of our daily lives. The right wing cultural brigade of the Sangh Parivar increasingly finds itself at the very centre of all such episodes. At the same time, there is little clarity among people about who exactly does the “dirty work” for a particular party that looks to reap political dividends in our deeply polarising times. Dhirendra K Jha’s new book Shadow Armies : Fringe organisations and foot soldiers of Hindutva seeks to bring in the basic insight needed to make sense of these mushrooming groups all over the country. Their organisation, membership and methods of cultivating fear and hatred at the same time are brought out in a very clear and accessible manner.

shadow-armiesJha focuses on eight such groups who find themselves converging on a similar ideological plank even if their modus operandi differ from each other significantly. Four of these belong to the Sangh Parivar – Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, Bhonsala military school & Hindu Aikya Vedi and the others operate independently ( not directly linked with the Sangh Parivar ) – Sanatan Sanstha, Hindu Yuva Vahini, Sri Ram Sene and Abhinav Bharat. Baring the Bhonsala military school, all the others came into existence and prominence after 1980’s, the time when the BJP was trying to find a foothold in Indian politics. The connection is crucial as the highly equivocal division of labour between these outfits and the political arm of the Sangh feed into the larger divisive identity of Hindutva. Even as the author rightly distinguishes it from Hinduism, the banal cultural moorings of everyday quotidian life, marked by an innocuous sounding term “Hindu sanskriti”, seamlessly jells with the contemptuous, virile propaganda of Hindutva forces. Creating a false sense of fear among Hindus has been a historical ruse to save Hinduism from the ‘nuisance creators’ as the erstwhile pracharak B.S.Moonje would suggest. He rightly says in the introduction that it is Brahminism ( read a particular mindset more than a particular caste) which is getting pushed forward, ultimately upholding the hegemony of the upper castes.

Sanatan Sanstha, like all other groups, comes off as a benign spiritual organisation combining western science and local traditions. Hindu Yuva Vahini, that started as a Goraksha Manch, is seen as able  protector of Hinduism, especially after the Ram-Janmabhoomi incident. Bajrang Dal is portrayed as a fascinating security group exploiting the heightened sense of insecurity among Muslim businessmen in Manglore. Sri Ram Sene, another Karnataka outfit, is the rebellious faction within the larger Sangh Parivar, who now works independently courtesy an intense rivalry over the conflicting means to achieve the shared goals. Hindu Aikya Vedi, the emerging Kerala outfit, holding shakhas in temple premises with a single minded agenda of liberating temples from the control of the devaswom boards. Abhinav Bharat, led by Himani Savarkar, carries forward the legacy of Savarkar who had started a revolutionary orgnisation by the same name in 1904. Bhonsala Military School, established as Central Hindu Military Education Society in 1934, continues with its notorious foundational objectives of educating students in Sanatan Dharma and thereby facilitating militarization of Hindus. And the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, who after coming to existence in the turbulent times of mid 1980’s, works for coaxing the belligerent Sikhs into the fold of Hinduism, with a sinister attempt of watering down a distinct sense of a Sikh identity  by subsuming it into an overarching Hindu identity.

The basic purpose of the book is not only to introduce readers to the functional mechanism of these fringe elements but to also expose the veiled liaison of the political and the cultural. Several anecdotes throw refreshing light on internal rivalries ( as the one between Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sene ); surreptitious cajoling of rival gang members to join your own faction ( Pramod Muthalik trying to lure Sanatan Sanstha members to  bolster his own position in South Karnataka); a perceptible disdain of the local populace for their covert, dubious functioning ( Sanatan Sanstha, Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Sikh Sangat ) and B.S.Moonje’s meeting with Mussolini and his adulation for Italian fascist youth group Opera Nazionale Bilale.

Even when all these groups differ in their working style, they all have  uniformly latched on the breeding ground of the increasing jobless environment since liberalization. The utter helplessness, boredom and ennui of the monotony of life has become enough reason for people to be more aggressive for realizing themselves under the larger cultural banner of soul searching. It is not an irony to see professional doctors, teachers and engineers helming the affairs of  such rogue outfits. ( A  practise that has been in vogue starting with Savarkar and Golwalkar themselves ). The rapid proliferation of such groups,  members having cases as heinous and barbaric as murder, rape and bombing religious congregations ( Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif, Mecca Masjid etcetera that find a mention in the book in considerable details ) are enough to make us suspicious of what gets disseminated as culture and religion. The book also in a way challenges the mediatised stereotypes of what constitutes terrorism in general. A climate of hate speech that we find ourselves in, is very much an act of terror which should be received in the same urgency as that of a physical act of terror. Jha’s book will help us not only to broaden our horizons for comprehending these cultural shadows of the political army but also to situate them in the ongoing debates of nation and nationalism.

Suraj Kumar Thube is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is interested in Indian politics and Indian political thought. He spends most of his time reading books, playing football and listening to Hindustani classical music.

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One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Rise of fanaticism under the garb of ‘ Indian culture’ needs serious and analytical discussion. Works on the increase of political armies with culture imperialism are absolute need of the day. This book can help in deeper understanding of the fascist nature of imposing culture through politics and the armies behind them