Book: Shadow Armies: Fringe organizations and Foot soldiers of Hindutva
Author: Dhirendra K. Jha
Year of Publication: 2017
While Hindutva is usually associated with Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and its associated organizations, there are a range of Hindutva groups operating across the country. There is no recorded data on number of such groups. About 175 of such groups had recently participated in the All India Hindu convention in Goa. The aim of all these groups is to establish a Hindu Rashtra. They may or may not be organizationally linked to the RSS, but have an ideological commonality of establishing a theocratic Nation. Each of the organizations has its own history, motivation, organizational structure and implementation strategy. The book by Dhirendra K. Jha titled “Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soliders of Hindutva” aims to capture eight such organizations – four of which have association with Sangh parivar and four others.
Referring to RSS in introduction it states that contrary to the claim that they represent a cultural organization, they have a deeper political motivation. Just like a political party it engages in mobilizing masses, developing issues for political polarization, identifying electoral candidates and managing booth level campaigns. It acts like an ideological mentor providing strategic directions to its members including the party BJP. It has a direct hand in communal polarisation through its affiliates such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal. It tends to treat the affiliates as autonomous. This helps them indirectly. Whenever the affiliates engage in violent activities, it immediately disassociates with them stating that these are the work of fringe organizations. This drawing line enables the fringe organizations to carry out the dirty work which RSS cannot directly undertake.
Some of these fringe organizations are outside the Sangh Parivar and not technically controlled by it. Yet they have unbilical cord attached to Sangh Parivar. All of them derive their inspiration from Savarkar’s “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?” All of their energies manifest in hatred towards Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. Young men from backward and lower castes are part of these shadow armies. They operate without the realisation that they are dedicating their energies towards creating Brahmanical Hinduism.
The eight organizations discussed include RSS affiliated (Bajrang Dal, Hindu Aikya Vedi, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat and Hindu Yuva vahini) and non-RSS affiliated (Sanathan Sanstha, Ram Sene, Abhinav Bharat and Bhonsala Military School).
Sanathan Sanstha was started by Dr. Jayant Balaji Athavale which was registered in 1991 and became active from 1999. It was after the 2009 bomb blasts in Madgaon that caught the attention of the country. Sanathan sanstha was opposed to Narakasura effigy contest, which they saw as glorification of Narakasura, a demon killed by Krishna. The celebration around Narakasura was traditional to cultural practice in Goa. A report by the Anti-terror squad (ATS) further drawing from Goa police sought ban on activities of the Sanstha. While the teachings of the founder Athavale at the outside looks spiritual and harmless, on the inside they are political teachings which directly attacks Muslims, Christians, Rationalists and Communists and who are referred as ‘durjans’. Training in usage of guns is integral to the ‘sadhaks’ which is depicted as self-defence training. Promotion of Superstition is integral including depiction of Athavale as an avatar to establish ‘Ishwary rajya’.
Their intolerance towards rationalists was reflected in their assassination of rationalist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar of Maharashtra Andhvishwaas Nirmoolan Sabha. Dabholkar was fighting superstition and carrying out struggle for setting up anti-superstition bill in Maharashtra. Sansthan ran counter campaign against it and assassinated him in 2013. Similarly Pansare was assassinated in 2015. Pansare was fighting communal, superstitious and obscurantist forces. His depiction of Shivaji as someone who respected all religions (as opposed to Hindutva depiction of Shivaji as anti-Muslim) did not go well with Sanstha. Kalburgi a veteran Kannada writer was assassinated in 2015. He fought against superstitious practices and right wing Hindutva groups. In a seminar on anti-superstition bill, he severely argued against idolatry. It was the dedicated energy of the rationalists against obscurantist forces that was seen as a threat by Sanstha. The recent assassination of Gauri Lankesh is also showing evidence of its linkage with Sanathan Sanstha.
Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) was formed in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath in Gorakhpur. From its inception, HYV rang aggressive religious politics turning small incidents into full blown communal wars and projecting minorities as the enemies of Hindus. During first year of its formation it saw six major riots and by 2007 it was involved in 22 riots. It aimed to build fear psychosis through emphasizing ‘love jihad’, the meat eating habits of Muslims, their ‘propensity to violence’ and ‘deliberate disrespect’ of Hindu rituals and National symbols. HYV maintains its fiefdom in eastern Uttar Pradesh and remains independent of RSS. Though it has office bearers on ground it acts like a squad of goons who only obey Adityanath. The organization is dominated by predominance of upper caste Thakurs in key positions. The political patronage carried by Yogi has reduced ‘rule of law’ to a ‘fiction’. His frequency of hate speeches could hardly attract punishment. Despite the FIRs, charge-sheets were hardly filed. The preceding chief ministers too had followed a policy of appeasement towards him. Being a Mahant of Gorakhnath temple gave further legitimacy to HYV and there was inaction on part of successive governments.
When established in 1984, Bajrang dal had as its objective Hindu mobilization for construction of Ram temple. It largely drew its activists from unemployed youth from economically weaker sections. The volunteers actively participated in Rath yatra of Advani in 1990. They were at the forefront when Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. The dal was involved in burning of an Australian missionary in 1999. They were involved in attacks on churches, priests and nuns. In 2002, they mobilized mobs in Gujarat to attack minority households and business. After hounding out Muslim residents in villagers, the local dal units proudly proclaimed them to “Muslim free”. Instances of preparation of explosives and planting bombs were reported in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. They attacked canvases of Artists like MF Hussain and others. Campaigns were launched against plays and movies such as ‘Ponga pandit’, ‘Water’ and ‘Fire’. Young couples were harassed during Valentines day. The dal was involved in forced conversions, which was given the name of ‘ghar vapsi’. Following Dadri violence in 2016, the dal stood by the murderers. Though a part of the RSS affiliate, the Dal is like a ‘rogue child’ over which a loose structural and ideological control is exercised. Though initially its cadre were from upper caste, it later had members from other backward castes too. The book also cites of an example of Mangalore, where a Bajrang dal entrepreneur while on the one hand creates security problems through vandalism activities, on the other hand provides security personal through security providing enterprise and thus forcing to buy security.
Ram Sena was headed by Pramod Muthalik. His attraction to Hindutva grew following his discussions with RSS leaders while in prison. He got the charge of organizing Bajrang dal in Karnataka in 1994. He left Bajrang dal in 2005 following results in 2004. The leadership did not allow persons from lower caste to come up within the party. He joined Shiv Sena later followed by Ram Sena. Ram sene was formed in 2006 and was active in Mangalore. It was involved in communal tension, vandalism and moral policing. It destroyed MF Hussain paintings in 2008. It announced training cadres for suicide attacks. Its attack of women in pub in Mangalore brought it into focus of the national and international news media. They attacked Muslim boys who were seen talking to Hindu girls stating it to be attempts at ‘love jihad’. Tehelka expose in 2010 exposed that Ram sene can be brought for a handsome fee. The arrest of Prasad Avattar led to downturn of Rame sene. Many joined Bajrang dal and Hindu Jagaran Vedike. Muthalik made efforts at revival which attracted him back to BJP. However, within hours of his membership, it was cancelled due to internal politics.
Hindu Aikya Vedi is an outfit of RSS in Kerala. The president Sasikala known for her oratory skills joined the front in 2003 and became its president in 2007. Her speeches are aimed at polarizing society on communal lines which gets depicted as ‘hindu awakening’. Though a teacher of history, she distorts historical facts to give it a communal colour. Rajashekharan is a less vocal but more astute politician. The organization was formed following Ponthura riots in 1992 and rose following Morod riots in 2003. The Ranganath Mishra commission report for inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the list of Scheduled Castes was used to launch nation-wide campaign by the front. HAV took up the issue of liberating the management of temples from the temple boards and handing it over to devotees. Since the boards do not allow utilization of its spaces for carrying out RSS activities, its strategy has been to infiltrate into management of temples. RSS which never stood for land reforms is attempting projection by calling for fresh land reforms. It was able to build some support among a section of Ezhavas and Nairs. The failure of secular parties and their sharing arrangements with other religious parties only benefitted HAV and BJP to increase its vote share.
Abhinav Bharat had its origins from Abhinav Bharat society formed in 1904 but got its new form by Sameer Kulkarni. It was formed in 2006 in Pune by Shrikantpurohit and Ramesh upadhyay. It was headed by HimaniSavarkar, niece of Godse and widow of Savarkar’s nephew from 2008 for a few years. Following the Malegaon blasts, arrests of its members followed. The blasts were a result of a series of meetings carried out by top brass claimed to be undertaken as a revenge against Islamist groups. The Anti-terror squad uncovered hindu extremist link. Its linkages with blasts in Samjauta express, Mecca masjid and Ajmer sharifdargah was uncovered. Following change of government in 2014, the case was transferred to National Investigation Agency (NIA). Investigations were made to go slow. Transcripts found indicated its intent of having a new constitution based on Manusmriti. They saw RSS as a friendly organization but lacking modus operandi. For carrying out its activities of revenge, it sought to draw financial support from different sources including industrialists. Though RSS claimed Abhinav Bharat as a fringe group, many of its members had RSS connections and were associated with one or other RSS units. Purohithad even suggested Togadia of carrying outbomb attacks and sought if Sangh could claim it.
Investigations of ATS also led to Bhonsala military school. The school was started in 1937 at Nashik by Moonje to impart military training. Moonje sought to learn from Italy and drew inspiration from Musoolini’s fascist curriculums. He saw Balilla type of organizations essential for military organization in Hindu India. Thus the School was established for military education, awakening of Hindus and establishing Sanathan dharma. Following Moonje’s death it weakened, but again revived with RSS taking it over during 1953-56. While it provides window to defence services, it also attracts retired military personal to its activities. The ones attracted are those who end up linking nationalism with communalism. The school emerged as training ground for foot soldiers of Hindutva as the curriculum emphasises on hindu religious instruction. Its linkage with extremist activities were drawn as its premises were used for training of foot soldiers and the nature of content of its instruction.
Rashtriya SikhSanghat is part of RSS and claims aiming to unite Hindus and Sikhs. It was started following anti-sikh riots in 1984. Though RSS members too were involved in the riots, it sought to establish a sikh wing to bridge gap between the two. In reality, it does not see Sikhism as a separate religion but only as an arm of Hinduism. The larger purpose is to dilute sikh identity from within and bring it into the hindu fold. It sought to present that Sikhism and Hinduism were different only due to conspiracy of British. RSS engaged in celebration of tri-centenary of khalsa in which sadhus also participated. However the distribution of pamphlets which claimed Sikhs to be part of Hindus and the gurus as avatars of Ram, which angered Akal Takht. They claimed that similar to Aurangazeb who wanted to convert to Islam, RSS wants to convert everyone into Hindu. It also declared that Sangat is an anti-panth organization misleading Sikhs. Rulda Singh was shot dead in 2009 to which BhabbarKhalsa claimed responsibility. RSS increased its activities again in 2014 after its victory. AkhalThakt again cautioned against RSS activities.
The book provides an insight into the regional and religion specific strategies being adopted by the fringe groups to achieve its mission of Hindu rashtra. It may adopt both military as well as ideological means to bring other regions and religions to its fold. An inherent outlook of establishing ‘Hindu rasthra’ resulting in killings of both believers and non-believers of religion, carrying out proselytization, attacks on minorities is depicted. The stronger and weaker connections with the Sangh, maintenance of autonomy as well as larger binding among streams of fringe groups depicts the larger processes taking place among the Hindutva groups in communalising society. The book is a useful reading to understand the role of fringe groups in communalising Indian society.
T Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher.