A day as a Hindutvadi

Originally posted at PP, you can follow the discussion there.

Maharashtra has always been the epicentre of reactionary politics in India since the days of the Maratha Empire. Indeed most of the modern day political movements in India have their roots in 19th century Maharashtra. Be it Hindutva or the Neo-Buddhist Dalit movement.

Founded by a group of Konkan Brahmins in 1925, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh by far is the largest organsiation in the sinister faternity of Hindutva. Highly educated but notorious for their orthodoxy and famed frugality, these unnaturally fair-skinned green/blue eyed Brahmins occupy the highest rungs of the caste ladder in Marathi society. Indeed Savarkar, the father of Hindutva was also a KoBra (as they are playfully abbreviated). In its early days, Hindutva was an entirely KoBra-run enterprise. For much of colonial period their dominance upon Marathi society was near complete. Even my very own grandfather takes excessive pride in hisKoBra mother.

In my early teens, even I’ve had my share of flirting with Hindutva during my Leicester days. But gradually as I matured, I grew out of my Hindutva-phase. In my Hindutva-sympathising days, I always picturised RSS a some sort of secretive brotherhood, fighting the evil designs of communists and jehadis. Today, I am about to find out about the organisation that I sympathised with not so long ago.

I am in Alibaug, a resort town on Maharashtra’s Konkan coast. It is a popular weekend getaway for Mumbaikars. Just as the sun is about to gloriously set into the Arabian sea, muzzenin’s amplified call for the Muslim faithful resounds throughout the town. My host for the evening, Mr.Chiplunkar looks blasphemed. “Bah’… I tried asking police to make them (the Mosque authorities) comply with the noise regulations… but in this land the princelings (Muslims) are above the law” his spits out with thinly veiled contempt for Muslims. A 54 year old KoBra, he is a History teacher at a local English school but when he is not boring his students to death teaching, he is a RSS Pracharak (lit. campaigner). And he has invited me to a RSS shaka (meaning meeting in this cointext). An honour which he reminds me, isn’t granted to every irritating NRI teenager who comes bumbling along.

As we head along to the local RSS shaka which is actually a Ram temple, i cant help but laugh at the most delicious of ironies. I’m about to go to a RSS shaka in the town whose name means “Gardens of Imam Ali“. At the entrance to the temple I’m greeted by a hulk of a bloke who is serving as a watch-out for tonight’s meet. If it wasnt for his funny Khaki short, he might have looked menacing. He makes a fuss about us being late but lets us in nevertheless. RSS is loosely based on military lines with strong emphasis on discipline. But then even RSS old hands like Mr.Chiplunkar do get afflicted by th infamous Indian Standard Time bug!

Inside a group of about 60 people, are sitting cross legged in neat rows, (quite out of character for Indians!) listening intently to a portly old man who seems to be localsangh chalak (lit. branch manager). The group assembled here seems to be of a quite diverse age group. Only thing that seems common between them is their collective lack of fashion sense (khaki shorts, white shirt and a black gandhi cap). The old man is speaking something about the Vedas and importance of Guru in Hindu culture, in a highly Sanskritised form of Marathi, purged of all its Perso-Arabic words which is find quite hard to follow. As the speech goes on, i cant help getting distracted by a few impossibly hot chicks gorgeous sisters to my right. But I mentally pinch myself, since I am a Hindutvadi for today, I must be technically immune to the temptations of well endowed females! (Only later did i learn that these girls are members of Rashtriya Swayam Sevika Sangha rather than RSS itself; They generally help around in the temple everytime there is a shaka.)

Just as i am about to doze off, the speech descends from a reminder-of-our-glorious-culture into a full blow anti-communist polemic. The speaker insinuates that communists have destroyed the nationalistic spirit amongst Indians. He goes on to suggest that they mightinfact be in connivance with the Islamist terrorists. He alleges that their deafening silence on the 7/11 bombings is a “proof” of their complicity. Rest of the speech deals with removal of casteism, hindu culture and (surprisingly) environmentalism. At the end of this two-hour salvo, prasad is distributed to the half-asleep swayamsevaks. We all getup and one-by-one walk towards the saffron flag, saluting it the RSS style. Then they all start whining singing a prarthana(again in Sanskritised Marathi) with its dubious refrences to “Hindutva” and “Hindu Rashtra” before dispersing. As I step out of the shaka, I feel a warm sense of relief. Mr.Chiplunkar asks me how it was… I find my self mumbling ‘’’twas great”… but my mind is already calculating what other picklers would say. What a story it would be… Me going into the very lairs of RSS while King Sunny goes on about mowing the lawn at his Middlesex Manor.

Though my maiden RSS shaka was such a bore inconclusive, my interactions with RSS Swayamsevaks has left me convinced that RSS serves no more purpose than to provide testing grounds for future BJP hopefuls. Even BJP is trying to cut the umbical chords that bind it with RSS. RSS in itself is an organisation full of contradictions. On the exterior it seems to embrace modernity yet is deeply resentful of it. It claims to work towards uplifting the Dalits, yet it draws most of its membership from notoriously casteist communitites. It claims to be apolitical cultural organisation, yet it has irrevocably altered the political landscape of India.

Fuelled for years with its near-schizophernic paranoia of Muslims, RSS has recently discovered patrotic side of Indian muslims. But this ideological gear-shift hasnt gone down to well with the RSS old hands. RSS today is an organisation in a search for a sense of purpose.They believe that they are the last guardians of dying Hindu culture. But Hindu culture is far from dead, it is evolving to pragmatic compulsions of modernity rather than dying. Swayamsevaks like Mr.Chiplunkar like to think that they work for a cause. But ineffect they try to find a cause in their work. For a man who devoted his entire life to RSS, Mr.Chiplunkar’s cause remains unclear and achievements vague.

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* Some names have been changed to protect privacy

** This entry was actually written on 13th of July