The Hindutva brigade’s paradox
The RSS doesn’t see the bigotry of proclaiming to be proud Hindus wanting to build a Hindu nation but utilising western symbolism alien to Hindu culture
Golwalkar, the ideologue and second chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) made no bones about being influenced by Nazism. He writes in We, or Our Nationhood Defined published in 1939 ‘To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by’. Hitler thought Indians were racially inferior, derogatorily calling them ‘Asian Jugglers’. However, this fact did nothing to reduce or change Golwalkar’s and the RSS attraction to Hitler’s ideology.
It’s bewildering Golwalkar could gravitate to Nazism especially when as early as 1930 the Fuhrer considered the Freedom movement to be a rebellion of the ‘lower Indian race against the superior English Nordic race’. Considering these facts, it is plausible that Golwalkar not wanting to be identified with the ‘lower Indian race’ and wanting the RSS to be taken seriously ordered the RSS to abstain from participating in the freedom movement.
The RSS doesn’t see the bigotry of proclaiming to be proud Hindus wanting to build a Hindu nation but utilising western symbolism alien to Hindu culture. Their uniform, their salute, the musical instruments they play or their marching through streets is not reminiscent of the ancient India they crow about. Infact, the format for the weekly RSS and its affiliates shakha meets was imported from Italian fascists. When BS Moonje, the mentor of Hedgewar, founder of RSS, visited Italy in 1931 he saw Italian boys participating in weekly meets. The curriculum for these gatherings was physical drills, para-military training, and indoctrination. On his return Moonje suggested that Hindus follow this system.
That being said, this early rightwing Europeanisation of the RSS did not result in much international recognition. This raises two desires that the RSS must be breaking their heads over to fulfill. The first, satiating their craving to be taken seriously internationally. This leads to the second - navigating through the bigotry of other right wing groups to plant the Hindutva flag across the world as a form of global Hindu unification to help India.
The RSS and its ideology got recognition when they successfully got their former Pracharak Narendra Modi elected as India’s Prime Minister in 2014. The US and many European nations who had refused him a visa during his tenure as Gujarat’s Chief Minister for his alleged complicity in the Gujarat riots were now forced to accept him. PM Modi’s awkward hugs of international leaders was smart optics, it suggested their acceptance of him and the ideology he represents. Modi created opportunities to obfuscate the difference between Hindutva and Hinduism and successfully made the RSS and its philosophy palatable. It is now SoP for foreign ambassadors to make a pilgrimage to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.
This hankering is being met through unofficial channels too. RSS affiliates are making their presence felt socio-politically abroad. Organisations like the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) operates in 156 countries. In the US, RSS affiliates supported Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in her 2020 presidential campaign. Their approval stemmed from her claims to be a Hindu and her backing PM Modi’s policies. Later, they backed Trump for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies which mirrored those of Modi’s rightwing government. The backing of a liberal candidate and a bigoted right wing conservative candidate was hedging at its Machiavellian and pragmatic best. Ultimately, both gave legitimacy and recognition to the organisation.
Just as the RSS has infiltrated every aspect of Indian society, its cadre is trying to do the same abroad. In the US, Americans of Indian origin with affiliation to the saffron brigade have entered politics and government administration. The HSS also conducts innocent sounding meetings with local civic bodies.
Much like the RSS in India, the HSS in the US has begun marching on the streets. Interestingly, white supremacist and rightwing groups in the US, like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who are Trump supporters, also hold such events.
In the UK too, the HSS participate in civil and political discourse. Local shakhas have started a tradition of tying a rakhi to the mayor of their town. The organisation is an official partner of the UK Parliament Week. In 2019, Lord Lieutenant John Crabtree OBE, Chairperson of the Commonwealth Games 2022, attended the HSS Khel Pratiyogita. With a footprint in almost 87 towns in the UK, HSS is a formidable socio-political force. The current British Home Secretary of the Conservative British government– Priti Patel- has not shied away from supporting HSS events. She, like other members of the current British government, is a vocal supporter of Brexit.
However, the current UK government’s racist tendencies were exposed recently. Their report on racism and racial discrimination was condemned by United Nations experts who pointed out to the racist tropes and the rationalizing of white supremacy. In fact, last year Navendu Mishra, a Labour Party MP, tabled a motion on the rise in anti-Indian racism in the UK.
One wonders at the transiency of the validation desired from the Hindu right from those who themselves are racist and xenophobic.
The RSS and its cadre have a Darwinian adaptive ability which aids in realising their aspirations. Modi unofficially campaigning for Trump in 2020 points to the extent of their success.
Unlike their counterparts abroad, the RSS has global ambitions. But, like other right wing supremacist groups, coexistence is anathema for the RSS. They have done well overseas because the right everywhere has a few common grouses. Further, liberalism has provided Hindutva organisations a buffer to flourish alongside other right wing groups. This has resolved part of the second dilemma faced by the RSS.
However, there is one problem. Just as the RSS and its ideology dominates India today, right wing ideologies are embedding themselves and becoming belligerent in society and politics abroad. The existential crisis facing the Hindutva brigade in distant shores will not be just from racism and xenophobia but from a clash between right wing ideologies.
Will the global ambitions of the RSS be similar to a moth being drawn to a candle? It would be a moment conjured by the divine to see the outcome of right wing groups doing, to each other, what they do best.
Views are personal