A recent book by Prof Badri Narayan gives a picture, from the ground, on how RSS has managed to turn some OBC, Dalit, Mahadalit castes, and Schedule tribes, into its ideological supporters
It is true that there have not been many systematic attempts to study Rastriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS). Apart from a few, by scholars like Walter K. Andersen, Christophe Jaffrelot, Shridhar Damle, Des Raj Goyal who critically looked at RSS and its growth — mostly theorising RSS in western terminologies, and narratives, comparing its role- based identity with other right – wing groups in world history.
That prism often gives a myopic view of what RSS is, and what it does in the current scenario. It simplifies the significance and role of the RSS as a bastion of right-wing ideology in India. The organisation has in reality grown immensely in its power and reach in the last few decades, making inroads into different domains to mobilise a bigger following.
Insiders’ accounts by RSS members don’t hold academic credibility and so, there is a need to study the changing dynamics of RSS’s functioning, role, influence and design.
A recent book “Republic of Hindutva: How the Sangh is Reshaping Indian Democracy” by Professor Badri Narayan, Director at G.B Pant Social Science Institute attempts to fill the gap by giving a picture of RSS from the ground.
It reveals how RSS in the last few decades has updated itself as per new socio-political and cultural demands, and how it helped BJP to win elections after elections. And most importantly, how RSS turned some OBC, Dalit, Mahadalit castes, and Schedule tribes, into BJP supporters.
It is well known that the Sangh is not one single group, it has many allied organisations like VHP, Bajrang Dal, BJP, together constituting the Sangh Parivar. There are also some social, cultural, and educational outfits that professor Badri mentions in his book — Rashtriya Sewa Bharti, Vidya Bharti, Vandemataram, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Keshav Sharanam, Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, Shishu Shiksha Prabandh Samiti, Sahakar Bharati (a microfinance unit of Sangh Parivar), these organisations are not directly allied with RSS but spread message of RSS.
Narayan says that opposition parties are fighting the “shadow of RSS” because they don’t understand the fast-changing RSS — their understanding of RSS is archaic. The cadre of RSS is working “from booth management to input- giving agency.” Mobilising large number of Dalit and OBC castes in Hindutva fold, is the biggest target of RSS.
RSS knows that value of religious identity-based mobilisation. It considers every caste, tribal, religious identities as part of the whole Hindu identity. BJP- RSS by invoking Dalit heroes like Suheldev, Daldeo Pasi also their gods like Ravidas, Balmiki, have made them their supporters.
Prime Minister Modi, in a Rally mentioned Nishad Raj (god of Nishad community) thrice to appease Mallah (Nishad community). “Amit Shah also held caste- based rallies in UP like he addressed rallies of Maurya and Patel in Prayagraj on 22 June 2016.” Also recognising their heroes, like Sardar Patel is part of this strategy.
BJP also did micromanagement of castes directly reaching out to Most Backward Castes (MBCs) like Nishads, Bind, Kasera, Kumhar, Thathera and Tamboli. “Party also reached out to non-jatav Dalits like Musahars, Nat, Kanjar, and Kuchbadiya.” Narayan, gives an example of Kabutara caste in a village called Kabutara basti in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand. A caste known for making alcohol, RSS urged them to build a temple for themselves. The RSS cadre, Narayan’s team interviewed, told them how they are helping marginalised communities like Nat, Sapera to get their temples built.
Apart from that, BJP formed strategic alliances — like with Apna Dal (considered as party of Kurmis) and the Bhartiya Samaj Party ( considered as party of Rajbhars). While SP made alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal (considered as party of Jats) in 2019. BJP smartly avoided pre- poll alliance with parties of strong communities like– Jats, because they demand representation as per their strength, not as per electoral result.
The push for “Quota within Quota” by the Yogi government, which is planning on bringing a bill, is aimed to further dent SP and BSP vote base. Narayan in a piece in 2019 for The Print writes, a committee suggested trifurcating the reservations for the OBC category – 7 per cent reservation for castes like Kurmi, Yadav and Chaurasiya, 11 per cent for Kushwaha, Shakya, Teli, Gujjar, Mali castes, and 9 per cent for Rajbhar, Mallah, Bind, Ghosi and other backward castes. Similarly another committee is looking to divide reservation for SC and ST communities in two categories — 10 and 11 percent reservation each.
Talking about riots and their engineering, Narayan says that data suggests that out of 600 recorded communal clashes since 2014 lok sabha elections, 259 were reported from western UP, which is a relatively well off region. But now these clashes are reaching small villages. Unlike big riots, these clashes don’t get a lot of media attention. They are engineered by some groups mostly before elections, “RSS and its cadre is not interested in escalating these clashes, but uses their impact to strengthen Hindutva ideology.”
Professor Narayan is known for his ground research, his earlier books like — Fractured tales: Invisibles in Indian Democracy, Kanshiram: leader of Dalits, Women heroes and Dalit assertions in north India among others were praised for extensive research, vigour and quality analysis based on empirical data.
This book too has been received well. However, this book may look a bit sympathetic towards RSS and prone to get misunderstood. But as the title suggests — the book was not written to do a critical commentary on RSS. This book could not have been possible without looking at RSS outside preconceived ideas about it, and writing neutrally without being judgemental. Author also reveals in the book that he was an RSS member during his childhood, but later inspired by left ideology, quit RSS.
The quote of Michel Foucault used on the first page of the book, sums up the book. “I don’t write a book so that it will be the final word, I write a book so that other books are possible, not necessarily written by me.”
(Cover: Mobilising large number of Dalit and OBC castes in Hindutva fold, is biggest target of RSS // Photo: Getty images)