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A Job For RSS: Build, Not Destroy, Nation.

India, Nov. 23 -- Indresh Kumar is a prominent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader. He is the one who has been trying to take the RSS closer to the minorities. So he is often surrounded by people wearing skull caps and beards.

I have some Muslim friends who do not wear skull caps or sport a beard. True, they wear it when they go to the mosque for prayers. That is the custom.

Those who go to gurdwaras have to cover their heads with a piece of cloth. I have done it myself. Recently, Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala visited the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram. For the first time, I saw him without a shirt. President Zail Singh visited the temple once. He was asked to remove his shirt and turban. He preferred to go back to Raj Bhavan. Customs vary from place to place.

Once, on a visit to Pakistan, I was gifted a skull cap which is identified with Sindhis. I did not have any use for it. So I gifted it to a Muslim colleague who wore it the next time he went to the mosque. Someone noticed the cap and asked him whether he had gone to Pakistan. That person knew the peculiarities of the Sindhi skull cap.

There are tens of millions of Muslim men who do not sport a beard in a particular style or wear a skull cap as there are an equal number of Muslim women who do not wear a veil. That does not mean that they do not have faith in the Prophet or the teachings of the Quran.

But Indresh Kumar's Muslim friends must have beards and skull caps. I am not in a position to answer how many of them are fake Muslims. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt that they are all Muslims who follow all the Islamic injunctions regarding their personal conduct. At the same time, we must not forget that some people use the Muslim attire for dubious purposes.

Early this week, a Mayor in Andhra Pradesh was killed along with her husband. They were at that time in the Mayor's chamber at the corporation office. Four people, three of them wearing full-body veil, stormed the office and killed the couple and sped away. The three were not women.

The point is that the veil was used for criminal purposes. They might not have even been Muslims. To come back to Indresh Kumar, his name was linked to some activities like the Malegaon blast, which would not give credit to any organisation, least of all the RSS, which claims to uphold the best traditions of Sanatana Dharma, also called Hinduism.

While addressing a function in Chhattisgarh, where the BJP is in power, he wondered aloud why the Maoists did not attack Christians or Christian establishments. I have never heard about the ultra-leftists attacking an RSS shakha anywhere in the country. I wondered why he did not think aloud on this subject.

In fact, the Maoists have never attacked any temple, mosque or gurdwara. What Kumar said could be interpreted in two ways. He wanted to give the Maoists new ideas. He also wanted to portray the Maoists as those who are hand in glove with the Christians.

Chhattisgarh has one of the toughest anti-Maoist laws in the country. Anyone can be accused of being a Maoist supporter and put behind bars. It will take years for the person concerned to come out of the jail. By then his life would have been ruined and his family pauperised. By implying that Christians are supporters of Maoism, he, perhaps, wants to invoke the draconian law against Christians preaching the word of God.

The RSS has never been able to reconcile itself to the Christian idea of seeing Christ in the poorest of the poor and attending to his needs. The members of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa fame are able to pick up beggars who are dying on the streets, give them a nice bath, clean clothes and nice food only because they see God in them.

Alas, Manav Seva Madhav Seva (service to man is service to God) is a concept alien to the RSS, which wants all Hindu young men to join the organisation, learn to wield the lathi against anyone they see as opposed to their ideals and perpetuate belief systems which are at variance with syncretic Hinduism.

Recently, the RSS was at the receiving end of the Hindu Mahasabha. What angered the Mahasabha, which admitted that it was its cadres which planted an idol of Lord Ram in the Babri Masjid in 1949, is the RSS criticism of its conduct vis-a-vis perpetuating the memory of Nathuram Vinayak Godse, who shot Mahatma Gandhi with a German revolver, by setting up temples in his honour.

The Mahasabha leader reminded the RSS of how it has been creating tension for Muslims and other minorities. Be that as it may, I used the search engine Google to check whether there had been any cases of Maoists attacking Christians. I have come across several instances of Maoists attacking Christian pastors.

Yet, I must admit that Maoists are not against Christians or, for that matter, against Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs. Nor are they against the RSS. It is now 48 years since the peasants of Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal, rose up in rebellion against the landlords, liberated the area and resisted the police for as long as they could.

The poor peasants would not have known anything about Chairman Mao, the Chinese leader who used the peasants to capture power. Few other events in post-Independence history had such a profound impact as the uprising in Naxalbari. Its reverberations were felt all over the country.

Few people would remember that one of the first places where the Naxalites struck was a village in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. They attacked a landlord's house at night and killed him. Years later, I visited the family and did a column on the incident in the Hindustan Times.

What is most memorable is the impact the incident made on Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan. He was startled by the killing. He realised that if the Naxalites were not challenged, they had the potential to grow and pose a threat to the democratic system. No, he did not ask for deployment of the Army to eliminate the Naxalites.

Instead, he went to Muzaffarpur, camped there for a whole year educating the masses against taking the law into their own hands, however strong their grievances might have been. That is how he was able to wean the poor peasants away from Naxalism. It is worth recalling that while the Maoists grew elsewhere in the state, the area where JP stayed and preached peace remained free from Naxalite incidents.

As I mentioned, Naxalism appealed not just to illiterate peasants. The teachings of Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal had a profound impact on the young. Hundreds of them left institutions like St. Stephen's Collage, Delhi, and Presidency College, Kolkata, to join the struggle. One of them was my friend, the late Aravind N Das, who authored the eminently readable book, The Republic of Bihar.

The period also saw the state unleashing terror against those students. The police under West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray had the freedom to pick up any student they thought was a radical and bump him off. That is how extra-judicial killings began in India. It found its apogee when KPS Gill was the police chief in Punjab during the days of Punjab militancy.

Bihar and West Bengal were not the only states to be affected by Naxalism. In southernmost Kerala, the Naxalites created sensation when they attacked the Pulpally police station under the leadership of Kunnickal Narayanan, his Marathi-speaking wife Mandakini, trouser-wearing daughter Ajitha, student leader Philip M Prasad and Varghese who became the first to be killed in a fake encounter.

Around the same time, my friend Balachandran Sooranad created some sort of history when he grabbed the ballot box in his college and burnt it, much to the shock of the principal, staff and students. The Kerala police under Home Minister K Karunakaran was equally ruthless as could be inferred from the treatment meted out to Rajan, an engineering student and Naxalite sympathiser during the Emergency.

There was a much larger uprising in Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh. The Indian state has been treating Naxalism as a law and order issue. Has it yielded any result? Today the Naxalites are a force to reckon with, according to the government's own admission, in at least 83 districts.

Earlier estimates had shown that the Maoists had a presence in 180 districts, which was almost half of India. A contiguous area comprising Chhattisgsrh, Odisha, Andhra, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal is called the Red Corridor. Here it is the writ of the Naxalites, not the government's, which runs.

In the ancient period, this area was known as Dandkaranya. It was in this area that Ram, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman spent 14 years of vanvas. Why does Naxalism appeal to the people? While everybody has commented on the spectacular victory of the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav combine in Bihar, few have noticed that the Maoists have won a few seats in the state.

The Central and state governments have been spending thousands of crores of rupees to fight Naxalites. Roads are built not to facilitate the movement of people but to let the paramilitary forces reach everywhere. In other words, the priorities of the government are all wrong.

This area is the most backward in India. There are government schools where teachers are not posted. There are government hospitals where medicines are not stocked and doctors and paramedical staff are not posted. A study by Pratichi Trust of Nobel-laureate Amartya Sen found that people in the area depend on quacks for treatment.

It is also one of the richest areas in terms of mineral wealth. Minerals are extracted and exported to countries like China and Japan from where we import finished goods. The condition of the adivasis or aborigines, whom the RSS calls vanvasis (forest-dwellers) has been going from bad to worse. They are being deprived of their land and resources. Is it any wonder that the Naxalites are able to win their confidence?

What has the government done for the adivasis? Some of them have found jobs in the government thanks to reservation but there are moves afoot to deprive them of even that. Remember RSS chief's statement on reservation that cost the BJP quite a few votes in Bihar!

Instead of setting up schools with qualified staff and infrastructure, hospitals and dispensaries where doctors can dispense free medicines, and providing public transport linking all villages with the district headquarters, the government has been posting more and more CRPF battalions in the area.

This strategy is unlikely to pay dividends as increasing incidents of violence suggest. Indresh Kumar is one of the most influential leaders. He can use his influence on the government to have a rethinking on the strategy adopted to tackle Naxalism.

A few months ago, I visited Ottapalam in northern Kerala. There, I passed by the Kongad police station. Kongad is notorious in Kerala as it was there that a rich landlord was brutally killed by the Naxalites in the seventies. He was beheaded and his penis was kept in his mouth. It was a horrible incident.

Even decades after the attack, not one spoke a good word about the man. Instead, the people still recalled him as the one who deflowered young nubile girls from poor families in the area. Nobody saw the attack as an attack on a Hindu or a Nair.

When Swami Lakshmanananda of Kandhamal was killed by the Naxalites, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders like the late Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia instigated their cadres to attack poor Christians, their churches and establishments in the district.

It was like killing and looting the Sikhs because the assassins of Indira Gandhi were Sikhs. Incidentally, not a single Hindu was attacked or killed when Godse assassinated Gandhi.

Instead of wasting time on probing why the Naxalites do not attack Christians or, for that matter, the RSS or the Muslims or the Sikhs or the Jains or the Buddhists, he should try to wean the tribals away from extremist influence. That makes it obligatory for him to provide quality education, quality medical care and quality living conditions to the people.

With Central and state governments under the control of the RSS, it is not an impossible task. All that is needed is a concern for the poor and the ability to think of India as a nation that belongs to everyone who lives in this land, irrespective of his colour, caste and creed. Is Indresh Kumar listening?

The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Nov 23, 2015
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