RSS

Salman Khurshid’s observation comparing Hindutva with jihadist Islam has quite predictably raised the hackles of the Sangh Parivar. To go back to the context in which he made this observation in his book, `Sunrise Over Ayodhya: Nationhood in Our Times,’ he was referring to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. Describing the change that was taking place in Hindu religious society at that time, he said: “Sanatan Dharma and classical Hinduism known to sages and saints was being pushed aside by a robust version of Hindutva, by all standards a political version similar to the jihadist Islam of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram of recent years.”

I think Salman Khurshid has made a very perceptive and prescient statement. Over the last twenty years since the Babri Masjid demolition, the leaders of Hindutva (under the patronage of the ruling BJP) have been able to strengthen and expand the power of their armed outfits – Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Abhinav Bharat, Sri Ram Sene and similar other groups that have proliferated as foot soldiers of the Sangh Parivar. They are fast resembling the Islamic jihadist groups that Salman Khurshid talks about. They make no bones about their aim to establish a theocratic Hindu Rashtra through violent means (similar to the parallel goal of the ISIS which wants to establish a caliphate according to its Islamic religious norms, through warfare). They are imbibing the operational tactics of the Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. Like the way these groups operate in their areas of influence in the Middle East, their Hindutva terrorist counterparts in India also follow a similar pattern. They terrorize religious minorities, deprive them of their occupations, loot and burn their houses, drive them out from their places of residence, and occupy their space to establish the authority of their supreme religious order. They also target political dissenters, human rights activists, and inter-faith married/engaged couples among others who may not conform to their religio-political dictates.

In fact, these Sangh Parivar activists lived up to the very allegation that Salman Khurshid made when equating them with the Islamic terrorist groups. On November 16, they attacked and vandalized Salman’s house in Nainital, shouting Hindutva slogans.

It may look ironical that two sworn enemies – Islamic fanaticism and Hindutva fanaticism – unwittingly resemble each other when adopting similar tactics in search of their respective goals. It is the tactics of terrorism. Political powers which resort to terrorism are increasingly asserting themselves as a decisive force in determining the fate of people in certain parts of the world. The success of the Taliban in forcing the US and other global powers to come to terms with their forcible capture of power in Afghanistan, is an ominous foreboding of this trend. It is likely to embolden other terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, which already occupy vast territories in their respective areas of operation, to make further advances and capture the capitals to establish their own governments, that will eventually gain recognition from global powers.

Operations by Hindutva terrorist groups – historical background In India, Hindutva terrorists have been operating in a different environment, unlike their Islamic counterparts. The ISIS is fighting against the state governments of Iraq and Syria. Boko Haram, based in north-eastern Nigeria, aims at overthrowing the government and establish an Islamic state. In India however, Hindutva terrorist groups had grown from infancy to today’s adulthood under the benign gaze (if not protection) of the Indian state, irrespective of the political parties that ruled it.

To go back to the past, the RSS, one of whose members killed Gandhi, was given a reprieve (after a brief ban in 1948) which allowed it to resume its hate campaign soon after, this time as a `cultural organization.’ Similarly, in 1975 the RSS was banned during the Emergency period, but after it was lifted, the organization resurrected itself under the guise of its political front the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and merged with the newly formed Janata Party that formed the government after Indira Gandhi’s defeat in 1977. It showed its real colours of terror very soon. In April 1978, communal riots broke out in Jamshedpur in Bihar, when some hundred people were killed. The ruling Janata Party’s inquiry panel named the RSS among the main culprits. The other constituents of the Janata Party government demanded that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh legislators who retained their links with their parent body RSS must snap their ties – a demand that they rejected. The crisis over this issue of dual membership of the Jana Sangh members of the Janata Party, led to the split in the ruling party, and eventually its collapse in 1979.

After their ouster from power, the RSS and its foot soldiers in the Bajrang Dal, Vishva Hindu Parishad and other outfits, concentrated on re-organizing themselves on a military footing through training camps set up in different parts of the country. A window for displaying their might was opened a few years later – again by a generous Indian state. In February 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government at the Centre, allowed the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya – acceding to the demand of the Sangh Parivar which had been claiming the site of the mosque as the birthplace of Ram. Taking advantage of the opening, a few years later in 1989, the Vishva Hindu Parishad entered the site, and performed the religious ceremony of `shilanyash’ (laying a foundation stone) for the building of a Ram temple there.

This event inaugurated a long reign of terror by the Sangh Parivar. It began with the infamous `ratha-yatra’ led by L.K. Advani during September-October, 1990 from Somnath to Ayodhya with the aim of demolishing the Babri Masjid and build a Ram temple on the site. The `ratha yatra’ left in its trail a long killing field stretching from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh. Wherever it passed through, the terrorist brigade of the Sangh Parivar, under the hypocritical guise of `kar-sevaks’ (worshippers with folded hands), appealed to the Hindus to support their objective of building the Ram temple, and directed their ire against Muslims branding them as descendants of Babar who was accused of having encroached on Ramjnambhoomi. Their hate speech fuelled Hindu-Muslim riots that left hundreds killed and rendered homeless.

After that there was no looking back for the terrorist brigade of the Sangh Parivar. In December 1992, its ascendance reached the peak when its outfits – the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and other armed gangs – succeeded in bringing down the Babri Masjid. This act of destruction was again carried out under the gaze (benign or helpless ?) of the Congress Prime Minister Narsimha Rao. His government remained a silent spectator to the communal riots in Mumbai that followed the demolition.

March of Hindutva terrorism

The demolition of the Babri Masjid earned the Sangh Parivar brownie points among the Hindu electorate, who were persuaded to believe that the BJP leaders were the modern re-incarnation of the ancient historical heroes like Shivaji, and capable of establishing a militant regime of Ram Rajya. It helped the Sangh Parivar to rally the majority Hindu voters and enable the BJP to come to power at the Centre in 1999.

Encouraged by the installation of their patrons at the Centre, the militant outfits of the Sangh Parivar unleashed a series of terrorist attacks all through the first decade of the 21st century. In 2002, they organized a genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, presided over by the same Narendra Modi, who was the state’s chief minister then and India’s prime minister now. On February 18, 2007, terrorists of Abhinav Bharat, a Hindutva outfit, threw bombs on the Samjhauta Express train that was carrying passengers from India to Pakistan, killing 68 people, mainly Muslims. It was revealed later that the terrorists were trained by a serving Indian army officer, Prasad Shrikant Purohit in a secret camp. This was a dangerous portent, indicating how the Hindutva zealots were infiltrating India’s armed forces. On October 11, 2007, there was an attack on Ajmer Dargah. Of the five accused perpetrators, four belonged to the RSS. One of them was Swami Aseemanand, an RSS pracharak, who in his confession stated that the then RSS general secretary Mohan Bhagwat ordered the terrorist strike on Ajmer Dargah. On September 29, 2008 , in Malegaon in Maharashtra, near a mosque, an explosive device strapped to a motorcycle went off killing six and injuring over 100. It was traced to the BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, who was arrested along with several activists of the Sangh Parivar.

Over the next five years, the violence of the Parivar reached such an extent that it compelled the Home Secretary of the then Congress-led UPA government, R.K. Singh to officially designate it as a perpetrator of ‘acts of terror.’ He issued a statement on January 21, 2013, saying that people having links with the RSS and its affiliated organizations had been named accused in various acts of terror across India.

Two years later, the much decorated and retired Inspector General of Police of Maharashtra, S. M. Mushrif in a public speech in November, 2015, accused the Intelligence Bureau of being hands-in-glove with Right-wing extremists, and called for a ban on the RSS, describing it as “India’s number one terror organization.”

In June, 2018, the CIA’s world fact book described Bajrang Dal and VHP as “religious militant organizations”.

Apotheosis of Hindutva terrorism under Modi-rule

The armed vigilantes of the Sangh Parivar, the operatives of the Bajrang Dal, Vishva Hindu Parishad Abhinav Bharat, Sri Ram Sene and other outfits have reached the highest level of their achievement, ever since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. They enjoy total impunity in their spree of marauding – whether moral policing and hounding inter-faith couples, or lynching Muslim meat-sellers, or killing rationalists, or mowing down protesting farmers. By now, it has been proved beyond doubt that the killers of Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh were terrorists from a Hindutva militant outfit of the Sangh Parivar. As for the outbreak of communal riots in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi during February 23-26, 2020 all evidence indicates that they were instigated by the BJP leader Kapil Mishra. His hate speeches urged his followers to unleash terror on the peaceful anti-CAA demonstrators who had gathered there. It was again in October, 2021 that Ashish Mishra, son of the BJP central cabinet minister Ajoy Mishra, directed the driver of his car to mow down protesting farmers in Lakhimpur, killing three and injuring many.

Acts of terrorism by the Hindutva brigade continue unabated. As late as November 23 this year, Jeet Vashisth, a member of Bajrang Dal, vandalized a Muslim shrine in Ballabgarh in Faridabad and made a bonfire of the objects that were preserved there.

Need to add Hindutva militant outfits to the UN designated list of Islamist and other terrorist groups
The UN has designated a large number of organizations as terrorist. Most of them are of the Islamist hue – like Al-Queda, Boko Haram, and the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba among others. As for non-Islamic militant groups in India, the UN has designated the India-based All-Tripura Tiger Force, Garo National Liberation Army, People’s Liberation Army of Manipur, and the CPI(Maoist).

When designating them as terrorist, the UN has relied on the criterion laid down by the UN General Assembly’s resolution (GA Res 49/60) of December 1994, which defines terrorism and condemns it in the following words: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes, are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

The long record of the murderous activities of the various outfits of the Sangh Parivar (e.g. RSS, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, etc.) as chronicled above, should make these outfits eminently eligible for joining the UN-designated list of terrorist groups. They fit all the requirements that are described in the UN General Assembly resolution of December 1994. Their actions `provoked a state of terror in the general public’ (as happened in the aftermath of their `criminal’ act of demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992), and `in a group of persons’ (the Muslims in Gujarat in 2002), and `particular persons’ (rationalist and dissident individuals like Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh). They `invoked…political, philosophical, ideological … religious considerations to justify their criminal acts’ (Re: hate speeches by BJP ministers, and leaders of Bajrang Dal, RSS and VHP, invoking the divisive and aggressive religion and ideology of Hindutva, and the politics of warlike jingoism).

Isn’t it time for the UN to designate these Hindutva groups as terrorist organizations, and request the Indian government to ban their activities ?

Sumanta  Banerjee is a political  commentator  and  writer,  is  the  author  of  In  The  Wake  of  Naxalbari’  (1980  and  2008); The  Parlour  and  the  Streets:  Elite  and  Popular  Culture  in  Nineteenth  Century  Calcutta (1989)  and  ‘Memoirs  of  Roads:  Calcutta  from  Colonial  Urbanization  to   Global  Modernization.’  (2016).


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