The Big Story: Violent politics

On Sunday, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, created a controversy by seeming to compare this organisation with the Indian Army. While the Indian Army would take six months to mobilise, the RSS, claimed Bhagwat, would take only three days.

This set of a storm, with Opposition politicians claiming that the statement insulted the Indian Army. In its defence, the RSS claimed that Bhagwat’s statement had been misinterpreted. The comparison was not with the Indian Army but other civilians. The point Bhagwat was trying to make, said the RSS’s communication team, was that while the, “Indian army would take six months to prepare the society whereas Sangh swayamsevaks can be trained in three days, as Swayamsevaks practise discipline regularly”.

For anyone concerned about the health of Indian democracy, this was cold comfort. The point was not whether the RSS would mobilise side-by-side with the Indian Army or as a part of it. It was why the RSS was thinking of mobilising at all. In a democracy, a cultural organisation, which is what the RSS claimed to be, does not make imaginary battle plans for its members. Waging war is strictly the job of the armed forces, which operate under the command of a democratically elected government.

While there is little danger of a local RSS branch marching off to the border, Bhagwat’s comment – as well as the clarification – is a pointer to the violence that has soaked through a strand of Indian politics. Rather than expressing horror at Bhagwat’s flight of fantasy, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party deployed two ministers to defend the RSS chief, underscoring yet again the intertwined nature of the two organisations.

Already, the belligerent rhetoric of the sort contained in Bhagwat’s speech is being reflected in action on the ground. Armed vigilante groups are now common across many parts of north and west India. They are not shy of advertising their acceptance of violence – their very names often carry words like “army”. This includes the Shiv Sena, Army of Shivaji, a party that has ruled Maharashtra, and the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Hindu Youth Army, founded by Adityanath, now chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The Karni Sena, with silent support from both the BJP and the Congress, recently restorted to violence to protest against the release of the Hindi-language film, Padmavat, which they claimed insulted their Rajput caste.

Other members of the Sangh Parivar, the group of Hindutva organisations that orbit around the RSS, also have a documented predilection towards violent direct action. The Bajrang Dal, for instance, openly organises military-style arms training camps. Adding to this is the gangs of violent gau rakshaks who have spread terror among cattle traders and shut down entire supply lines.

The spread of violent far-right groups with a direct link to state power is a troubling sign for India. Indians don’t have to look far to see how destructive this kind of politican can be: the havoc wreaked by armed religious fundamentalists on Pakistan is an everyday reminder where this could lead.

The Big Scroll

RSS and the Army: Why are ministers defending Bhagwat’s remarks – and is that really a defence, asks Rohan Venkataramakrishnan.

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