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Are RSS, BJP risking their political future?

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
Published : Apr 25, 2019, 12:08 am IST
Updated : Apr 25, 2019, 12:30 am IST

While the RSS as an organisation may not have backed or conspired to launch terrorist strikes against Muslims.

Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur
 Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur

Not too long ago the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was suspicious about the Malegaon terror accused, and wanted their antecedents investigated. Today, there is an eagerness to reclaim them as members of the flock.

The main accused in the Malegaon case — Dayanand Pandey, Pragya Thakur and Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit, now dismissed — are out on bail. They were all associated with Abhinav Bharat, an extreme right-wing Hindu organisation founded by Lt. Col. Purohit, drawing its name from an organisation founded by V.D. Savarkar, the original Hindutva ideologue and RSS hero. It is also currently headed by Himani Savarkar, daughter-in-law of the RSS icon, and also a niece of Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin. The aim of this organisation, according to conversations recorded on Pandey’s laptop, is to dismantle the Indian Constitution and replace it with one based on smritis (Vedic religious texts). “In this country we want to have Hindu Dharma or Vedic Dharma based on the Principles of Vedas,” Col. Purohit is recorded as saying.

Pragya Singh Thakur was actively associated with this group. A former activist of the BJP’s student wing, she is alleged to have provided men for the Malegaon blast and attended meetings to plot the bombing. Her motorcycle was used in the Malegaon blast. She was also charged in the murder of an RSS activist, Sunil Joshi, who the National Investigation Agency (NIA) claims was involved in the Samjhauta Express blasts.

The RSS reportedly persuaded the BJP to field Pragya Thakur as its Lok Sabha candidate from Bhopal. Her “homecoming” is also being celebrated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in their election speeches as a validation of Hindu nationalism and the strange assertion that “a Hindu can never be a terrorist”.

On February 9, 2011, Suresh Joshi, aka Bhaiyyaji Joshi, general secretary of the RSS, wrote an unusual letter to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, distancing the RSS from “saffron” terror and those accused in the Malegaon blast of 2008.  Mr Joshi claimed that the main accused in the case — Lt. Col Purohit and Dayanand Pandey — were planning to assassinate Mohan Bhagwat (then general secretary and now the chief of the RSS) through a “chemical attack” and that a 9mm pistol had been “given to a named, specific person” to shoot another senior RSS leader, Indresh Kumar. He demanded an inquiry into the assassination plot and the identification of the forces behind the accused.

However, the charges of conspiracy to murder top RSS leaders against Purohit and Pandey, which had been dropped by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), were never reinstated despite the fact the the BJP was in power in both Maharashtra and in New Delhi. Others tainted with terrorist charges are also now being brought inside the tent. This includes a self-confessed conspirator in the Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif and Samjhauta Express blasts, Swami Aseemanand. He backtracked on a confession recorded before a magistrate and was released by the NIA special court. The judge reprimanded the NIA for shoddy investigation and withholding key evidence against the accused.

Even as the BJP and RSS continue to deny the possibility of “Hindu terror”, it is worth recalling that two “former” RSS activists — Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel — have been convicted in the Ajmer Sharif bomb blasts and are serving life sentences. While the RSS as an organisation may not have backed or conspired to launch terrorist strikes against Muslims, its ideological interface with those accused of these terrorist acts remains undefined and perhaps permeable.

Today they are being reclaimed to give the BJP an electoral edge over secular (read anti-Hindu) rivals.  But in the long run, the consequences may be dire for the RSS and the BJP. Their relatively moderate leadership could well be shown the door at the end of the night of the long knives.  We may in fact be witnessing the formation of RSS 2.0 — one that does not believe in maintaining an arm’s length distance from its extremist ideological progeny.

The radicalisation of the RSS would also necessarily reinvent the BJP. The process may be under way. The BJP of Atal Bihari Vajpayee evolved into one that had hardliners like Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi doing the direct ideological bidding of the RSS. They gave way in 2014 to an even more extreme party which did not shy away from intimidation and fear with the duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at the helm —one shaped governance in his image and the other the party. Now, they could be making space for more extreme nominees of the RSS. First, a hate-spewing saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath was foisted as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most populous and politically significant states of India. And now, Pragya Singh Thakur, a Malegaon terror undertrial, has been fielded for Parliament.

For sure, it will not be saffron-clad Pragya Thakur or an incompetent Yogi Adityanath who will replace the Modi-Shah leadership. But they will only pave the way for the long-term transformation of the party. Future leaders of the party henceforth might well come from the extreme fringe — the cow vigilantes, arsonists and extremists who are the sword arm of communalism. They will have a precedent for claiming their place in the sun. When the present leadership is exhausted and weak, the RSS will replace it from a pool that will also contain these elements. The danger, however, is that the revolution might devour its own children.

By embracing extremists for tactical gains, the RSS and the BJP are going in the same direction as the Congress had by encouraging Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to counter the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka to leverage a settlement for the Tamils in the island nation. Both turned out to be Frankenstein’s monsters costing India the life of two Prime Ministers.

The Old Testament saying — “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind” — may yet come to haunt both the RSS and the BJP.

Tags: pragya singh thakur, rashtriya swayamsevak sangh, manmohan singh