The RSS’ current fascist rhetoric is not surprising given its historical links to fascism in the 1930s, which have been established convincingly using authentic archival material. It is a legacy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a pracharak for most of his life, identifies with and believes in. By A. G. NOORANI
As one stalwart after another of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) raises the decibel level in his screams for the various planks of the Hindutva campaign, overpaid, undereducated TV anchors, besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fawning fans in the print media, the corporate world and elsewhere, shuffle in their seats in deep embarrassment and cry in unison: “Modiji must distance himself from all this. It will harm his ‘development programme’.” The RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat, cares two hoots for their embarrassment. On December 20, he said in Kolkata apropos the RSS’ conversion drive (“ghar wapsi”, returning home) that “those who lost their way were separated from us. It is like a thief who steals our valuables. When the thief is caught, we will get our valuables back. They are ours” (Hindustan Times, December 21, 2014). Coarseness of language is typical of the RSS-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) style, which Modi exemplified during the election campaign not long ago. Up went the cries—“Is the fringe hijacking Modi’s programme?”, and “He should disown them”.
They forget that Modi spent all his life in the service of the RSS as a pracharak, an active promoter. He is himself one of the lot and thinks and speaks no differently from them. He cannot bridle the hard core, Modi himself is the hard core. The great constitutional lawyer Dicey’s remarks, quoted above, were made in the context of the internal limits on Parliament’s sovereignty: its members reflect the views of British society. And Narendra Modi shares the rabid outlook of the Sangh Parivar which groomed him. That explains his studied silence in the entire fortnight during which the cry for conversion rent the air. He inwardly rejoices at it.
Whether the willing dupes accept this or not, everyone who cares for India’s democracy ought to sit up and take notice of the trends of which these developments are but a part—the pulverisation of the Cabinet system, the gag on Ministers, the remoteness of the supreme leader, and attacks on the independence of the civil service. The BJP itself is a creature of a fascist body, the RSS. Meanwhile, in the last decade or so, the RSS has riveted its control over the BJP. The working of the Constitution will be distorted if the ruling party is a front of a fascist body.
That the RSS was a fascist body was known to all. Donald Eugene Smith recalled in his definitive work India as a Secular State that “Nehru once remarked that Hindu communalism was the Indian version of fascism, and, in the case of the RSS, it is not difficult to perceive certain similarities. The leader principle, the stress on militarism, the doctrine of racial-cultural superiority, ultra-nationalism infused with religious idealism, the use of symbols of past greatness, the emphasis on national solidarity, the exclusion of religious or ethnic minorities from the nation-concept—all of these features of the RSS are highly reminiscent of fascist movements in Europe. Fascism, however, is associated with a concept of state-worship, the state as the all-absorbing reality in which the individual loses himself and in so doing finds ultimate meaning.
“This conception has no counterpart in RSS ideology; in fact, the Sangh explicitly rejects the notion that its objectives could be attained through the power of the state. Its aim is the regeneration of Hindu society, which must come from within. However, it is impossible to say how the RSS would respond if political power ever came within reach, either directly or through the Jana Sangh. The implementation of certain aspects of its ideology, the policy toward Muslims and other minorities, for example, presupposes extensive use of the machinery of the state.” The foresight is impressive (emphasis added, throughout).
There has appeared a work of impeccable scholarship by an Italian scholar which exposes, from authentic archival material, the clandestine links between the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS and Italian fascism. In doing so, she has also brought out the close relationship between the Mahasabha and the RSS.
On January 22, 2000, the highly respected Economic & Political Weekly published an essay entitled “Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930’s: Archival Evidence” by the scholar Marzia Casolari (pages 218-228). On April 13, 2002, the journal published her essay “Role of Benares in Constructing Political Hindu Identity” (pages 1,413-1,420), also based on archival material. Fortunately, Marzia Casolari has put the fruits of her stupendous research in book form (In the Shade of the Swastika: The Ambiguous Relationship between Indian Nationalism and Nazi Fascism, I Libri di Emil, Via Benedetto Marcello 7, 40141, Bologna; http://www.ilibridiemil.it/, 218 pages).
A word about the author. Marzia Casolari is lecturer in History of Asia at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Perugia, since 2010. She read History of Eastern Asia at the University of Bologna, and carried out research in India from 1991 to 1993 as a Fellow of the Italian Ministry of External Affairs. The topic of her research was Italian foreign policy in India during the fascist regime and the relations between fascism and Indian nationalism. This research continued in 1994, under a PhD in History, Institutions and International Relations from the University of Pisa. She obtained the doctoral title in 1998. In 1994, she was also a Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research with a short-term scholarship. Since 1999, she has visited India several times, doing research on Hindu political radicalism and the Muslim issue in India.
In 2006, she published the paper L’islam in India (prima e) dopo 1’11 settembre (Islam in India before (and after) 9.11), in a volume edited by Diego Abenante and Elisa Giunchi. She has also published several papers about the conflict in Sri Lanka and connected issues. Since 2010, she has been chairman of Asia Maior, an association of Italian scholars working on contemporary South, Eastern, and Southern Asia.
India and fascist Italy
The book’s main subject is the foreign policy of fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini and India. It unravels the role of men like Subhas Chandra Bose, Rash Behari Bose and M.R. Jayakar and the activities of Italian personalities in India and the Italian consulates in Bombay and Calcutta (as they then were). Mussolini assumed direct control of the Foreign Office in 1932.
“Published materials, official records and other documents circulating among various offshoots of Hindu nationalism prove that the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS and other organisations of lesser importance displayed an interest in fascism from the 1920s right into the 1940s. Articles written by Mussolini and his biographies, as well as quotations from his writings, circulated within these groups. It therefore may be concluded not only that there was an awareness of fascism but also that the regime was looked upon most favourably.…
“About 1938, Nazi Germany became the main point of reference for the Hindu Mahasabha, under Savarkar’s presidency. Germany’s rabid policies regarding race were taken as the model to be adopted to solve the ‘Muslim problem’ in India.… Hindu organisations adopted two main political lines over the period between 1920 and 1940. On one hand, the ‘race’ issue was maximised, finding its fullest expression in the Hindutva discourse, which had much in common with widespread racial ideas in Europe at that time.
“On the other hand, Hindu organisations made remarkable efforts to convince public opinion that the Hindu population lacked a sense of militancy. According to them, Hindu society should be militarised with an anti-Muslim scope. From the 1920s onwards, Muslims became then the main target of Hindu policy, and Muslims started to be perceived and described as more threatening than the British rulers.”
This is the core of the expose, based on incontrovertible material. The research is thorough; the author’s integrity is evident. She is careful to moderate her views in the light of the record.
After Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, as a result of a conspiracy to which the former Mahasabha president, V.D. Savarkar, was privy, as Justice J.L. Kapur of the Supreme Court found, the RSS and the Jan Sangh (and its heir the BJP) began dwelling on the “differences” between Savarkar and the RSS. Marzia Casolari explodes this myth. “It is also a known fact that the decision to found the RSS was taken by a small group of individuals, all belonging to the same political environment. Apart from K.B. Hedgewar, the group of founders of the RSS included B.S. Moonje, L.V. Paranjape, Babarao Savarkar, and a certain Thoklar. All were members of the Hindu Mahasabha. Before founding the RSS in autumn 1925, Hedgewar met Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, at the time confined at Ratnagiri, and asked his advice on how to set up the organisation.” Every single assertion is fully backed by citing the source.
Mahasabha leader B.S. Moonje was the bridge between the Mahasabha and the RSS. He met Mussolini in Rome on March 19, 1931, during which he told Mussolini: “I have already started an organisation of my own, conceived independently with similar objectives”—the RSS. There is a full account of his establishment of the Bhosle Military School in 1934.
A British intelligence report accurately predicted that “the Sangh hopes to be in future India what the ‘Fascists’ are in Italy and the Nazis in Germany”. During a meeting on September 24-26, 1932, the Hindu Mahasabha passed a motion praising Hedgewar for his success in building a strong Hindu organisation. The meeting urged the RSS to open offices throughout India.
The RSS was opposed to Gandhian non-violence. To Hedgewar, the RSS was a means of collective self-defence, but Moonje had other ideas; he advocated a policy of “STRIKE FIRST”.
“During the second round of the Bombay and Suburban Hindu Sabha Conference, held in Bombay on June 23 and 24, 1934, the RSS came in for praise once more: This conference congratulates Dr. Hedgewar of Nagpur for the great service he has been rendering to the Hindu Cause by organising a volunteer corps called the ‘Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’ wherein Hindu youths of all castes from Brahmins to the so called untouchables are being trained with a view to prepare the Hindus, the premier community in India, to be able to discharge their prime duty of undertaking the sole responsibility for the defence of India, with or without the cooperation with others. This Conference appoint (sic) the Committee (sic) of the following persons to carry on the work of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in Bombay and Suburbs….” The list included 15 names, among whom were N.D. Savarkar and N.C. Kelkar. This is further documentary evidence of close and warm relations between the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS.
Now, read this about the nexus between two evils.
“Right from his release, Savarkar attended meetings and made public speeches, often to students. Most of these meetings were organised by local RSS offices. Militants took part in numbers to these happenings and sometimes Savarkar thanked them publicly. Neither could be forgotten Hedgewar’s role, mentioned on several occasions by Savarkar in the speeches: ‘…Congratulating the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh of Dr. Hedgewar of Nagpur on its work and discipline.’
“This tribute to the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh continued in the following years. On 29 July 1939, Savarkar spoke in front of approximately 5,000 people during the Guru Purnima celebrations organised by the RSS in Poona. Several years later, during a RSS’s Officers’ Training Camp held in Poona between 27 and 29 May 1943, in the presence of Golwalkar, who had taken Hedgewar’s place at the head of the RSS, of Moonje, of his brother, Babarao and in front of about 5,000 people (approx 1,000 were women), V.D. Savarkar, who was no more president of the Hindu Mahasabha, expressed his pleasure to see the display by Swayamsewaks in great number and said that he was proud to see the branches of the Sangh spread throughout India during his visits to various places…. He was pleased to see the Hindu Youths, boys and girls, joining the institutions, based on Hinduism, in great number.”
Savarkar attacked Nehru for his criticism of Hitler and supported Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and his behaviour towards the Jews. He wanted the Muslims of India to be treated the same way. A German agent presented him with a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
On March 25, 1939, a spokesman of the Mahasabha said: “Germany’s solemn idea of the revival of the Aryan culture, the glorification of the Swastika, her patronage of Vedic learning and the ardent championship of the tradition of Indo-Germanic civilisation are welcomed by the religious and sensible Hindus of India with a jubilant hope.
“Only a few socialists headed by Pandit J. Nehru have created a bubble of resentment against the present Government of Germany, but their activities are far from having any significance in India. The vain imprecations of Mahatma Gandhi against Germany’s indispensable (sic) vigour in matters of internal policy obtain but little regard insofar as they are uttered by a man who has always betrayed and confused the country with an affected mysticism. I think that Germany’s crusade against the enemies of Aryan culture will bring all the Aryan nations of the World to their senses and awaken the Indian Hindus for the restoration of their lost glory.”
The truth is that the Sangh Parivar was not a part of the freedom movement. Savarkar met the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, on October 9, 1939 and offered an alliance with the British rulers of India: “The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s Government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support. After all, though we and the Hindus have had a good deal of difficulty with one another in the past, that was equally true of the relations between Great Britain and the French and, as recent events had shown, of relations between Russia and Germany. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together. Even though now the most moderate of men, he had himself been in the past an adherent of a revolutionary party, as possibly, I might be aware. (I confirmed that I was.) But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends, and the old antagonism was no longer necessary.”
The book is rich in documentation. Comment is spare and restrained. These remarks reflect deep insight: “The concept of ‘enemy’ made the whole difference between Indian nationalism and Hindu nationalism. The wide range of streams of the Indian nationalism, from the revolutionaries to the Muslim League and the Congress had, at least for a time, the British as their enemy. It is true that from the late 1930s the Muslim League began to develop its objectives, diverging from the Congress policy. It cultivated systematically the idea forming a Muslim state. However, these objectives never embraced the idea of fratricide. The creation of a Muslim state did not entail the opposition of the Hindus. Indian Muslims, rightly or wrongly, considered the foundation of their own state as a reparation for the inadequacy of a policy which did not properly represent the interests of the Muslim community. The aggressive anti-Muslim discourse of the Sangh Parivar and the violent climate that it contributed to create fostered the secessionist tendencies within the Muslim minority. In short, anti-Muslim smear campaigns contributed as much to Partition as the call for a separate state that gradually widespread among Indian Muslims.” The Sangh Parivar and its sympathisers within the Congress were responsible for the partition of India.
The Constitution and administration
Speaking in the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, as he moved for the adoption of the Draft Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar sharply pointed out that “the form of administration has a close connection with the form of the Constitution. The form of the administration must be appropriate to and in the same sense as the form of the Constitution. The other is that it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form by merely changing the form of the administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution” (Constituent Assembly Debates, Volume 7, page 38).
At least 19 Ministers in the Central government, including Narendra Modi himself, have a background in the RSS. They need not amend the Constitution to establish Hindu Raj. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee showed them the route to the Raj. An entry of January 6, 1946, in his diary provides a clue to the policies of his heir, the BJP. “As seventy-five percent of the population were Hindus, and if India was to adopt a democratic form of government, the Hindus would automatically play a major role in it.” This is what is called majoritarianism. By successive executive orders the secular fabric can be torn apart and a new ambience created.
A nation’s ethos is reflected in the historical narrative it adopts and in the men it lauds as its heroes. Modi has chosen two men of the Sangh Parivar for the award of Bharat Ratna. Why not Gopal Krishna Gokhale, pray? Or Dadabhai Naoroji? In this pattern fall the praise of Gita alone, the conversions, the abuse, the violence and the orchestrated praise for Godse. More sinister still is the erosion of the divide between the party and the state and the reduction of Cabinet Ministers and civil servants to mere factotums. The form of the administration is being changed. But it is the Constitution that is under attack.