Unholy Orders

The Haridwar dharma sansad is a reflection of the RSS’s new strategy with sadhus

A banner announces the dharma sansad held in Haridwar, in the state of Uttarakhand, from 17 to 19 December 2021. This was the first time since the sansads first began in the mid 1980s, that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Sangh Parivar outfit, was not mentioned in the posters for the event.
01 March, 2022

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s decades-long efforts to politicise sadhus in the pursuit of its grand project appear to be coming to fruition. Until now, it was the RSS, through the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, that organised dharma sansads and lured sadhus into attendance. Now, sadhus, especially those who enjoy the backing of the RSS, are themselves doing what their mentor wants them to do—organising dharma sansads not to discuss religious issues or spread the message of the Hindu monastic class, but to promote Hindutva politics to the masses by stoking communal disharmony. The Haridwar dharma sansad demonstrated this shift.

The event in Haridwar was held over three days in mid December. Several sadhus gave incendiary speeches that, among other things, called for the massacre of Muslims and extolled Nathuram Godse for his assassination of MK Gandhi. This was the first dharma sansad since the VHP started organising these political jamborees of sadhus in the mid 1980s where the RSS outfit’s name was not displayed on the banners at the venue. This was despite the fact that the sadhus who organised the Haridwar dharma sansad are deeply connected to the RSS. Prabodhanand Giri, who heads several Hindu religious organisations, such as the Sanatan Dharm Mahasangh and the Hindu Raksha Sena, and Yatindranand Giri, one of the most senior monks of the Juna Akhara, were both RSS pracharaks before they became sadhus. Others, including Yati Narsinghanand, another senior monk of the Juna Akhara, now notorious for his hate speech at Haridwar, are part and parcel of the Hindutva politics of the Sangh Parivar.

In practical terms, this means the RSS has now acquired the ability to deny its role in these events and their message. The success of this tactical manoeuvre has not come out of nowhere. It has taken decades of quiet effort by the Sangh to infiltrate the monastic class and make its Hindutva discourse acceptable to it.

The interference started around the middle of the 1960s, when the RSS sought to draw upon the dense network of sadhus and their ashrams and maths—monasteries—to trigger Hindu religious mobilisation in order to capture political power. It was with this objective in mind that MS Golwalkar—then the sarsanghachalak, or chief, of the RSS—formed the VHP. Since then, the VHP has been organising sadhus of various sects to formulate a Hindu perspective not just on social but also political issues.