Hindutva politics has been on the rise ever since the Narendra Modi government was voted into power in May 2014. Although the BJP is a political party borne out of the RSS, it is not the only organization that pushes for Hindutva politics. Rather, it is supported by several shadow organizations, each tracing its origins back to Savarkar’s ideals; the shadow organizations assist the BJP tactically during elections, and there is a tacit support to their activities once the BJP comes in power.
Senior journalist Dhirendra Jha, who has long followed saffron politics in India, traces the roots of eight of these organizations in his new book Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva. We asked him how the BJP benefits from these fringe Hindutva groups, and whether they have come into the mainstream with Adityanath’s appointment:
Have the shadow armies become more active after Narendra Modi’s appointment as PM?
Every time the BJP comes to power, its shadow armies become highly active. The government’s patronage to these forces makes it extremely difficult for police to deal with them. Even during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, Hindutva outfits like Bajrang Dal, Hindu Yuva Vahini and others had become hyperactive. After Narendra Modi became PM, these groups have been running amok. Hate speeches, attack on minorities and Dalits in the name of cow protection, regular attempts to create fear psychosis through emphasis on ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar-vapasi’, resorting to roadside patriotism in the name of Hindu nationalism are all being done by these groups with impunity. The Modi government always tries to pretend as if it has nothing to do with these incidents, but it’s tacit – and sometimes even open – support to them is too glaring to be ignored.
Would it be correct to say these fringe groups are led by upper-caste Hindu men? Why do you think that is so?
All outfits of Hindutva are defined and led by upper caste – or Brahminical — vision of authority, tradition and rituals. Even if sometime a man from a lower caste is allowed to assume the leadership role, the vision remains unaltered. Though none of these groups would accept this in public, this vision by all means remains the heart of the matter. Despite their play of words with regard to their ideology, these organizations have succeeded in interlocking Hindutva with Hinduism and Hinduism with Brahminism. The Brahminical agenda underpinning the Hindu nationalist project is visible in everything that they do and practice. People belonging to lower castes active in these organizations remain so blinded by their Hindu religiosity and hatred for minorities that they are mostly unable to see that the ideology they are supporting seeks to revive nothing but upper caste hegemony. Thus, for instance, even while the Sangh Parivar tries to accommodate Ambedkar, a fierce critic of Brahminisim, absolutely no attempt is made to dilute the heritage of Manusmriti, the text legitimizing the caste hierarchies. Again, it is this vision that secures for upper caste men most of the key positions in the RSS and other Hindutva outfits. The vision, however, is hardly ever discussed in the public because of the BJP’s electoral compulsions to demonstrate its standing among Dalits and OBCs.
Do all the eight groups trace their origins back to the RSS or its philosophy? Or are there different threads of Hindutva that each group practises?
Technically, half of the total organizations I took up for study – Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, Bhonsala Military School and Hindu Aikya Vedi – are affiliates of the RSS, and the remaining ones – Sanatan Sanstha, Hindu Yuva Vahini, Sri Ram Sene and Abhinav Bharat – are independent entities. But practically, all these groups work under the same ideological umbrella and are driven by the same motive – to ensure that only Hindus can retain the exclusive right to lay down terms of national identity that privilege them over others. The organizations, which are not part of the Sangh Parivar, do follow their own rules and regulations, but in terms of functioning all of them act as virtually disparate strands of the hydra-like politics of Hindutva.
With the BJP now consolidating its power across India, do you think Hindutva groups will continue their vigilantism? Do you see the shadow armies’ activities hurting the BJP’s electoral prospects in any way?
The BJP’s electoral fortunes have remained largely dependent on reaping votes that grow out of seeds of communal propaganda and campaign sown by the entire range of Hindutva groups. It is, therefore, not in the interest of the BJP to crackdown on their vigilantism. Even for future elections, religious symbolism and sustained power of communal antagonism are important for the BJP. In the long run, however, the shadow armies’ activities also threaten to tarnish the image of the BJP government. It is, after all, not in the interest of any government to be seen as incapable of fixing things.
Is Yogi Adityanath’s elevation a sign that the BJP’s Hindutva fringe is now the new mainstream?
Despite being the BJP’s MP for five consecutive terms, Adityanath no doubt represents the Hindutva’s fringe. His elevation is bound to make fringe organizations feel empowered. But in parliamentary politics, mainstreaming of the fringe might not be in the overall interest of Hindutva politics. The division of labour practised so far has worked tremendously for the BJP. The end of this division might give way to rather unforeseen challenges for the party, which is constrained to work under the constitutional scheme of things. Creating communal antagonism in shadows is one thing, but leading a duly registered political party from the front, fulfilling all the constitutional obligations, is quite another. I, therefore, think that fringe as the new mainstream may still not be on the agenda of the RSS despite the elevation of Adityanath.
Tell us about the writing of the book. How long did it take to write, and were you, at any moment, wary of the questions you were asking?
The suggestion that I should tackle a book about these ‘shadow armies’ came from Juggernaut. The idea was compelling and I immediately got down to frame this project. It took me approximately 10 months to complete the research and writing of the book. An examination of what it is like to be on the fringe of Hindutva politics often required investigating issues having both licit as well as illicit dimensions. In most of the cases, therefore, considerable preparation was required not only to make the interviewee share his knowledge and experience, but also help in reaching other key players in the shadow world that would otherwise have been impossible. Most people, when approached with proper planning and preparation, appeared keen to discuss the world they lived in. I followed the road that they kept opening for me and made my way – organisation after organisation – inside this bizarre world, hardly ever getting wary of questions I was asking.
Dhirendra Jha’s series of profiles of the 8 Hindutva groups are available on Juggernaut here: https://goo.gl/bThz9w