If you have time on your hands and want to hone your special interests, why not join a club or a society? There are plenty of choices these days. If you are interested in community service, there is the Rotary Club or the Lions Club. Looking to mix fitness with pleasure? Try the Laughter Yoga Club. Want to expand your mind? There are plenty of book clubs cropping up in the cities.
Or you could just join the Hindu Ecosystem. Becoming a member is very simple. You fill in a form and join, no application fee. On November 16, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra, best known for making inflammatory speeches on the eve of communal violence in North East Delhi this year, tweeted out a link to the membership form.
By the next day, he was claiming 18,000 members had been added.
It is not yet clear what the activities of the Ecosystem team are. Mishra tweeted that it would “work on ground and on social media and in courts for the Dharma and for each other”.
The membership form asks you to specify whether you would be joining the team “online” or “on the ground” or both. It also asks you to name a “special area of interest”. Applicants may choose from a range of options. Some of these options are historic preoccupations of the Hindu Right, especially the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
There is “gauraksha”, cow protection, which promises to be a less bucolic activity than “gausewa”, cow care. There is also ghar Wapasi”, the Hindutva project of converting minorities so that they might return to the Hindu fold from which they had apparently strayed. Other options are building temples, “sewa in general” and “Hindu ekta”, the original RSS project of establishing the unity of Hindu society.
But over the decades, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has moved in mysterious ways, choosing to keep its vast network of organisations and membership low key as it worked on long-term civilisational projects. Mishra’s new venture has the exuberance of a startup, with all its talk of teams and numbers, its embrace of social media publicity.
There are two other options that prospective members of the Hindu Ecosystem can choose as “special interests”: “halal”, referring to Islamic dietary laws, and “fight love jihad”, referring to a conspiracy theory invented by Hindutva groups claiming a campaign by Muslim men to marry women from other religions so that they can convert them to Islam. Neither has anything to do with Hinduism or what has come to stand for the practice of it.
The idea of Hindu ekta, hardwired into the RSS, was always implicitly about Hindu society closing ranks against so-called external threats, most often characterised as Islamic invaders but also Christian missionaries. The Hindu Ecosystem makes this explicit. Without a so-called Islamic threat to ward off, it seems, the system cannot hold.
The new formation takes shape at a time when various states ruled by the BJP plan to pass laws militating against “love jihad”, which has no legal definition till date. But rightwing groups have used the canard to rail against inter-faith marriages in general, infantilise women and pull down jewellery ads. Increasingly, the ideology of Hindutva is pared down to an agenda of anti-Muslim hate and the Hindu Ecosystem appears to fashion itself as an executive arm. This might not be the kind of community service that you had in mind.