Many people inside or close to the BJP, and inside or close to the broader Sangh Parivar, have become dissatisfied with what they perceive as the increasing distance between the BJP's actual policies and the Hindu expectations among the public on which the party capitalizes.  To some extent, the problem lies with the BJP itself, distinguishing it from other Hindutva organizations, who then tend to blame the increasing non-Sangh element inside the BJP for this "degeneration", especially the opportunists who jumped onto the promising BJP bandwagon after the 1989 and 1991 electoral breakthroughs.  To a large extent, however, the BJP problem is the RSS problem.  In the BJP, the RSS approach is put to the test of day-to-day political practice, in confrontation with the enemies of Hindutva, without the benefit of the secretiveness which characterizes the functioning of other Sangh-affiliated organizations.  Except for the recent defection and corruption scandals, the major failures of the BJP can be traced to RSS policies and RSS ideological conditioning.


         At any rate, the problem is serious enough, even in the eyes of many BJP or RSS members, to warrant a frank debate.  It is to this debate that the present paper wants to contribute.  The prime focus of our attention will be the BJP's performance, but with constant reference to the RSS background.  Most examples will be drawn from the one aspect of Hindutva politics which is by far the most conspicuous and the most common target of secularist criticism: the relation with Islam.  Historically, the RSS was created in a context of Hindu-Muslim tension, and till today, its activists have frequently been in conflict with the Muslim community politically or even physically.  An organization which has had to deal with India's Islam problem for more than 70 years may be expected to have developed a clear analysis of this problem, and an effective strategy to counter it.


         Many Sangh Parivar activists are not going to like this paper.  They have a childlike affection for the organization which has given them togetherness and solidarity, a feeling of purpose and of home.  Often self-effacing idealists, they don't mind criticism of their own person, and they can listen to insults to India and Hinduism without being moved, but they are very touchy when it comes to criticism of the Sangh.  I apologize to them for any hurt caused by this text, but I am convinced of its urgent necessity.  The Sangh is benumbed by the decades-long crossfire of criticism by its enemies, but is not used to listen to criticism from friendly quarters.


         On the other hand, a lot of Sangh people are going to agree with my remarks.  It is partly because of complaints from Sangh activists themselves that I have resolved to formulate this critique.  Little does the Sangh leadership realize that numerous idealistic volunteers have joined one of the many Sangh-affiliated organizations because they want to do something for Hinduism, not because they care about the specific Sangh outlook.  The Sangh Parivar just happens to be around, just happens to be the largest organization reputed to be working for Hinduism, so Hindu-minded people join one of its fronts rather than go through the wasteful trouble of setting up their own rivalling shop; but that doesn't mean they are enthusiastic about certain Sangh fads which will come up for scrutiny in this paper.  


         The present text is a much-enlarged version of a two-part guest column published in the Observer of Business and Politics (Delhi) of 6 and 7 December 1996, and contributed at the suggestion of Mr. R.K. Mishra and Mr. Balbir Poonj.  I thank them for their interest and for the courage of publishing that column, but of course they bear no responsibility whatsoever for its contents.  Among all the Sangh people whom I should thank for giving me access to information, I want to mention Mr. K.R. Malkani and Mr. Devendra Swarup in particular.  I hope they can appreciate the spirit in which I offer the comments which follow.


Koenraad Elst

Leuven, 17 January 1997










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