Mission Kashmir of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s latest remarks followed by BJP union minister Uma Bharti’s claim of RSS’s role in capturing Kashmir on close heels of Partition has once again put the Sangh’s vision and mission in the polarised state of Jammu and Kashmir on the anvil.
The wiry, bespectacled Indian sporting salt and pepper hair over his brooding bony face says it like no other when it comes to oppose the rising tide of fundamentalism in India. Ram Puniyani, an Indian Professor and author, takes a dig at RSS’s legacy at a time when its chief Mohan Bhagwat is openly boasting to raise Swayamsewak Sena in wake of war in three days than six months taken by Indian army to buckle up for battle.
But the last time Sangh Sewaks participated in the war at the historic junction of the Great Partition of the Indian Sub-Continent, they helped New Delhi to ‘contain’ Kashmir, which, till date, remains a ‘thorn in their flesh’ as per the Sangh’s Vision and Mission statement on its website.
“When Pakistan suddenly attacked [in the fall of 1947] and its soldiers advanced upto Udhampur,” Uma Bharti, BJP minister and an RSS ideologue recently remarked. “At that time, Nehru-Ji wrote a letter to Guru Golwalkar (then RSS chief MS Golwalkar) seeking RSS volunteers’ help. RSS volunteers went to Jammu and Kashmir to help.”
Soon the likes of Ved Bhasin—the late Jammu-based renowned editor—would see Jammu becoming a slaughter house for Muslims. The Sangh rioters armed with swords and tridents had descended from the northern riot-infested belt. Some of them would be regularly seen coming out of the RSS ideologue Prem Nath Dogra’s Jammu house before going around in the city in jeeps during the 1947 Jammu Massacre — the event which changed the demographic composition of the now polarised region forever.
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The Sangh’s J&K chipping in might have changed its dynamics, but according to Puniyani, when India needed them the most, the RSS was nowhere to be seen.
“RSS did not participate in India’s Freedom Struggle,” says Puniyani, exposing and analysing the genesis of RSS in a video. “During 1920s, with Gandhi’s launch of Non-Cooperation Movement, the upper caste had felt that something was going wrong with their social status. To save that status, RSS was formed in Nagpur region of Urban Maharashtra in 1925. It was founded by Dr Hedgewar ‘to unite the fragmented Hindu society which had been writhed by the imperial imposition of Islam on Hindus and their Vedic culture for about 800 years.’ ”
RSS claims that India, and even Kashmir, has a Hindu origin and does not recognize its gradual acceptance of Islam after 13th century AD.
After 1947, the RSS had started accusing MK Gandhi of appeasing Muslims. It launched hate propaganda against Muslims and Gandhi, which culminated with the latter’s assassination by a trained RSS volunteer, Nathuram Godse on Jan 30, 1948. It’s said that before Gandhi’s assassination, word was spread in the Vidarbha region’s RSS branches that a ‘happy news was going to come on the evening of January 30’.
“RSS has spread the communal poison in the society,” Sardar Patel, then Indian home minister almost screamed after the ‘Mahatma’ fell in his own pool of blood. Interestingly, the RSS-BJP today is appropriating the same Sardar Patel’s idea of India — notwithstanding the fact, how the same man once dismissed them as the rabid communal pack that killed the father of the nation.
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In Kashmir, the Sangh had become one of the vocal reasons for its lingering conflict.
“Before 1947, the breeding ground for RSS in Jammu and Kashmir was in Jammu,” says Muhammad Sayeed Malik, a veteran Kashmiri journalist. “As the atmosphere in the subcontinent started vitiating towards 1947, RSS became stronger in rural areas of Jammu particularly.”
As the emergency leader Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah scrapped feudalism through his historic Land to Tiller reforms, the Jammu feudal lords ganged up against the Abdullah government by launching the Praja Parishad agitation—demanding complete unification of J&K with India—led by the former Delhi University’s history professor, Balraj Madhok.
Madhok had earlier established RSS’s state wing in Jammu during the 1940s. He would deliver extensive talks on RSS’s ideology. Even in Srinagar, he would regularly make his public appearances to attract young minds. But Kashmir never made it easy for RSS, Malik says.
“After 1947, there was a dual authority in Kashmir—Maharaja Hari Singh and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah,” he says. “It’s said that Maharaja was helped by the RSS ideologues leading to the coup of the popular Abdullah government.” The powerful Kashmir Prime Minister—then called the “lion of Kashmir”—having sway over the masses was arrested by a simple coup during his family vacation in Gulmarg on August 9, 1953 in Kashmir Conspiracy Case. Many did trace Sangh’s invisible hands behind his arrest.
Early that year, Dr. Shayma Prasad Mukherjee, a Hindu Mahasabha leader and Nehru’s cabinet Minister, tried to violate the J&K’s permit system—according to which, a non-state subject had to have a permit before entering Kashmir. Mukherjee was jailed for the violation by the Abdullah government.
“There were already issues in the relationship between Abdullah and the central government,” Malik says. “After Mukherjee’s natural death inside his Nishat prison, there was an outcry, likely to be created by the RSS, that he was deliberately killed. Within two months, Abdullah was dismissed.”
Then RSS-backed Praja Parishad was intensifying its campaign of J&K’s complete merger with India in Jammu. In the clashes that ensued, six of their men fell to bullets at Akhnoor. Since then, the day is annually being celebrated by BJP and its allies as ‘Martyrs Day’ in Jammu in parallel to July 13—the day RSS and its affiliated wings observe as Black Day, while Kashmir celebrates it as ‘Martyrs Day’.
BJP, the ruling PDP’s alliance partner, has been snubbing the July 13 functions in Kashmir ever since the two floated the “unholy alliance” in 2015. The Change which PDP promised during the 2014 poll campaign did come, argue the PDP detractors and commoners, but at the cost of Sangh’s dominance in the alliance.
Today as RSS is slowly entering and influencing J&K’s political system, many of its pracharakhs-turned-politicians are working on the ground to breed its belief system. “Even Congress has been influenced by the ideologies of RSS, but the party somehow conceals it for its political convenience,” Malik says.
Till Kavindra Gupta, as the J&K assembly speaker, called himself a “proud RSS” man, “we did not know RSS was in Jammu as well,” says Mustafa Kamal, a senior National Conference leader.
“As a speaker he was supposed to be neutral. But it’s unfortunate how a party [PDP] swearing against BJP and grabbing votes in the process ended up joining the same party.”
Back in the day when RSS would raise the Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Vidhan slogan, says veteran congressman Mohammad Sultan Mandoo, “Kashmiris opposed the Sangh rant in their own style: Apna Pradhan, Apna Nishan, Apna Vidhan.”
And by the time Kashmir erupted in an armed uprising against the Indian State in the 90s, the brutal state backlash always found its backer in the form of RSS.
“RSS of other Hindu rightwing groups always back the actions, and provide the moral legitimacy, to the Indian Army in Kashmir by running a negative hatred campaign against Kashmiris,” says Khurram Parvez, a Srinagar-based human rights defender. “The legal impunity and lawful accountability of the Indian Armed Forces in Kashmir that comes because of the Indian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) actually stems from the moral impunity created in India by the RSS or other right-wing organisations.”
Earlier the fringe, but now the majority, and in power, outfits like the RSS, he says, have always supported the accused, and harassed the victim. Citing the recent instance of rape and murder of a minor girl from Kathua, where a Hindu group Hindu Ekta Manch protested against the arrest of the accused paedophile-killer cop, Khurram says, “Such campaigns remind one of Jagmohan’s tenure as J&K governor.”
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After presiding over multiple massacres in Kashmir, when Jagmohan was finally removed in May 1990, “RSS protested in Delhi, saying that the man who was teaching Kashmiris a lesson, the hard way, is being weakened.” This moral legitimacy, the rights activist argues, is far more dangerous than a written law because it directly affects peoples’ mindset.
Otherwise not all Indians hate Kashmiris, Khurram continues. “But to curb the sympathy some Indians have for Kashmiris, a hate campaign has to be there and that’s what the RSS is doing. Why do you think, our boys are being attacked outside the state and why media is getting more involved in inciting the violence against Kashmiri Muslims? It’s simply happening on clear Sangh dictations. Even the Kashmiri Pandits—some of whom are toeing their line—are no dear to them. They’re just being used by them.”
RSS, he says, has already infiltrated in Indian bureaucracy, army or armed forces “but continues to trains its cadres to build the capacity to be involved in riots whenever required to so”.
By one way or the other, directly or indirectly, RSS continues to frame an opinion about Kashmiri Muslims. The right-winger is even reportedly fiddling with textbooks and school curriculum.
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In the run-up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the RSS’s rank and file would address their supporters to devise methods to mount judicial attacks on Kashmir’s State Subject Law, or Article 35A. The RSS even backed some petitions filed against Article 35A, the abolition of which, according to Khurram, won’t have any impact on the demography of Kashmir.
“There’ve been reports about scams in Jammu that its demography is changing,” he says. “People from states like Punjab have gotten the fake Permanent Resident Certificates and are now the state subjects of Jammu. Legally, no one can stop a Jammu resident from buying property in Kashmir. But, for all these years, due to the political uncertainty, no Hindu came here. Why would they come now? This is done to just create fear in minds of people.”
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Apart from the issue of Kashmir, cow slaughter or Ramjanmabhoomi, RSS has always supported the unexpected.
When America attacked Vietnam and drew global flak, RSS congratulated the United States President, writing, “You are the forces of Dharma religion in the world, we congratulate you and we fully stand with you.” Later when Iraq was attacked for its oil, RSS came up with a statement that “attacking Iraq is a full right of America and this is a very desirable thing.”
Speaking about what kind of thinking inspires RSS, Ram Puniyani says, “RSS was inspired by values including Nazism of Hitler, who was putting out the concept of nationalism based on race. Hitler was launching campaigns against minorities of his country.”
No wonder then, why minorities in India today decry a sense of insecurity.
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