Monroeville, PA: “HSS Links to RSS ‘Lack Merit’”

Mayor Dr. Nick Gresock caves to HSS, requests negative comments about group be stricken from record

Mayor Nick Gresock
Mayor Nick Gresock

I visited Monroeville, PA on 5 March 2024 to warn the municipality that the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) — which is the US wing of India’s Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary — has at least two branches in the Greater Pittsburgh region, has a habit of going all over the place for access to local governments, and may approach Monroeville.

The RSS is accused of a bunch of massacres in India of Christians and Muslims and all kinds of religious minorities. Massacres where they apparently killed thousands of people in a few days. Perhaps the the scariest thing was that one of the leaders of the RSS during World War II apparently said a lot of anti-Semitic stuff, including calling Judaism “an intolerant faith,” and talking about how the RSS should treat the Holocaust as a justification for its own goal of eradicating religious minorities from India.” That’s frightening.

I shared with the Monroeville council, including Mayor Dr. Nick Gresock, how I had stumbled across articles in the Pittsburgh City Paper and The Intercept about how a candidate for US Congress called Bhavini Patel has gotten into controversy because she’s fundraising from leaders in the HSS in America. Little did I know before I spoke that Mayor Gresock — along with five other members of the eight member Monroeville council — has already endorsed Patel’s campaign.

Fast forward a little while and, on 3 April 2024, three members of the HSS turned out to the Monroeville council to push back and agitate, including in support of the RSS itself! The first opened by congratulating the mayor before accusing me of “spreading misinformation about HSS and RSS.” The second began by again talking about “misinformation about HSS” and a desire to “set the record straight,” clarifying that Greater Pittsburgh actually includes four — not two, as I originally thought, according to HSS-USA’s website — chapters. The third began by accusing “some groups within the USA and Canada” of “systematically targeting” the HSS, saying that I have, in other public speeches, “attempted to draw false parallels between what is happening in Gaza and the activities of HSS and also the current democratically-elected Government of India,” concluding that my remarks are “not based on facts.”

In response, Monroeville Mayor Nick Gresock mentioned that I am “an author,” adding, “I didn’t personally, I don’t believe any of my colleagues up here put any kind of merit to what he was speaking of. We support you.” He then referred to a colleague, asking: “As far as that speaker’s comments in the minutes, that’s probably something that we could strike from the minutes?” His colleague affirmed yes, “If you choose to.”


Mayor Gresock then caved, as he concluded, speaking to the three representatives of HSS: “We do support you.” The question remains, does he mean that he supports the HSS? Of course, the outstanding question which Gresock neglected to ask is: “Is the HSS connected to the RSS or is it not?”

Thus, as the mayor remains apparently indifferent — perhaps due to his political motivations, as he has endorsed Bhavini Patel — to making any further enquiries, I have opened up dialogue with the council. Tonight, I emailed them the following:

Dear Council,

Following up on my remarks to you on March 5 warning about the municipality’s association with HSS (and pointing out, as reported by The Nation, that multiple cities which have unwittingly platformed HSS in the past have unanimously rescinded their proclamations in support of the group upon learning the truth of its antecedents), I was not surprised to see that the HSS — as is the national group’s typical behavior — turned out on April 3 to plead to you: “No, no, no, we are really just a benign cultural/charitable organization.”

As I mentioned in my remarks, if you recall, a simple Google search will yield the Wikipedia page for HSS, which states that its “parent organization” is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As the Wikipedia page for RSS states, that group is “an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist volunteer paramilitary organization.” Indeed, to cite just one of the very many mainstream Indian media outlets discussing the issue, the RSS in India has openly laid claim to control/guidance of the HSS internationally.

Of course, Wikipedia is hardly an authoritative source, but merely a good starting point for a quick summary and further research. Instead, for a more authoritative source, may I please refer you to this factsheet from the Bridge Initiative of Georgetown University? To quote the factsheet:

“RSS operates through dozens of direct affiliates, which in turn run an intricate web of organizations both in India and abroad that are rooted in the Hindu nationalist ideology. This collective web is commonly referred to as the Sangh Parivar. Representing RSS’s global interests, the network of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh administers its overseas branches.” As further clarified: “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is an India-based Hindu paramilitary organization spearheading the Hindu nationalist movement in India and around the world.”

There is no doubt that members of HSS (who, in their remarks, if you notice, also explicitly mentioned and defended the RSS) who spoke at the April 3 meeting are engaged in praiseworthy charitable work in their local communities, such as in Monroeville. That, however, does not negate the question: “Is the HSS connected to the RSS or is it not?”

And, if the HSS is connected to the RSS, is that a problem? Well, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom does describe the RSS as “a paramilitary force that acts in support of the current [Indian] government’s Hindu-nationalist policies” and which “aggressively advocates for a pure Hindu state.” The RSS has been banned in India three times for anti-minority violence as well as, the first time, after an RSS activist assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Thus, in associating with the US wing of the RSS (that is, the HSS), local governments might want to think twice.

You can watch here, for instance, where the city of Manteca, CA deliberated for over 20 minutes before deciding to unanimously rescind a proclamation given to the HSS specifically because of the HSS’s links to the RSS.

Lastly, I thank Mayor Gresock for acknowledging me as an author. Indeed I am. I am the author of four books since 2017, most recently including Saffron America: India’s Hindu Nationalist Project At Work In The United States, available on Amazon. If Mayor Gresock believes that allegations about the HSS being linked to the RSS “lack merit,” I would invite him to offer some kind of a factual rebuttal. Politically-motivated expediency makes it convenient to ignore this issue, but as outlets like New York Times acknowledge how Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s xenophobic Hindu nationalist government is using entities like the HSS for its own ends, the ultimate outcome of ignoring the facts in favor of the favor of your local HSS is embarrassment. 

I trust the municipality’s capabilities of discernment. 

Best,

Pieter Friedrich

If you would like to contact Mayor Nick Gresock to politely and respectfully request him to please look into the connection between HSS and RSS, please consider calling him at 412-856-3300 or emailing him at [email protected].

Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of South Asian affairs. He is the author of Sikh Caucus: Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington and Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers as well as co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Discover more by him at PieterFriedrich.net.

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