Shridhar Damle: Modi gave idea for RSS book; Promotions deliberately focused on white-skinned Andersen

07 September 2018

A recent book on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is receiving significant media attention these days, was borne out of a desire expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon after he ascended to the post in 2014. This revelation comes from Shridhar D Damle, the sanghchalak of the Chicago branch of the RSS’s overseas equivalent, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, who has co-authored the book—The RSS: A View to the Inside—with the American academic Walter K Andersen. The book was published last month.

“The idea for this book on the RSS came from Narendra Modi,” said Damle in a recorded conversation just before he left India for the US, on 2 September. He lives in Chicago.

“It was Narendra Modi who expressed the desire for this book,” Damle said. In September 2014, four months after becoming the Prime Minister, Modi visited New York, where he addressed a massive crowd of Indian-American supporters in a packed Madison Square Garden. Thousands of his supporters, chanting “Modi, Modi, Modi” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” were seen lining up excitedly outside the iconic venue to listen to his speech. “I was present there,” Damle said.

Following the speech, the Indian embassy invited Andersen for a discussion with Modi. “During the discussion, Narendra Modi enquired about me and said why don’t you guys write something? So Andersen called me. Then we decided about the format for this book.”

That Modi used his first US visit as prime minister to put Andersen and Damle, who had already written a much debated book on the RSS during late 1980s, on the task of writing another book—focusing primarily on the political aspect of the Sangh Parivar in last three decades—was hitherto unknown.

According to Damle, once the book’s format was finalised, the two authors began their research. “Thereafter, I came to India five times,” Damle said. He added that part of the research was conducted by Andersen, a professor in Johns Hopkins University, has worked in the past as the chief analyst for the South Asia and the Near East in the US State Department’s South Asia division.

Anyone who has read View to the Inside—I reviewed the title for the news website Scroll—will have found it to be extremely sympathetic to Modi and the RSS, helping the organisation perpetuate convenient myths instead of offering an objective analysis of the Sangh Parivar.

While talking to me over phone, Damle suggested that in the course of the promotion of the book, his contribution to it was played down. He spoke in particular about an interview that Andersen gave to the Indian Express, which was published in the newspaper in mid August. After reading it, Damle told me, “I called up and said, ‘Walter, you presented yourself as if everything was done by you. What is my contribution?’ He said, ‘No, no, I mentioned your name but you know Prof Ashutosh’”—referring to Ashutosh Varshney, who conducted the interview. “‘He must have forgotten it.’ I said, ‘Walter, that’s your American State Department bullshit.’”

In particular, Damle was enraged by the fact that in this interview, Andersen did not give Damle credit while talking of a meeting with MS Golwalkar. The meeting took place during the academic’s four-year stay in India as a PhD student beginning in the late 1960s, when Golwalkar was the chief of the RSS. Andersen told the Indian Express that Eknath Ranade, a senior pracharak who served as Golwalkar’s secretary, and is as revered as he is despised within in the Sangh, “asked me if I would like to meet the head of his organization, MS Golwalkar. I said yes.” He continued, “A month later, I was informed that I would be escorted to Nagpur. A student of Delhi University, an RSS activist, took me to Mumbai by train. We travelled third class. We reached Mumbai and I spent the night in a Chitpavan Brahmin area of Mumbai. Next day, another person came and took me to Nagpur, again in third class. I was put up in the house of the head of the Mazdoor Sangh, who was away. Then I was taken to the RSS headquarters, where I met Golwalkar.”

Damle claimed that Andersen lied in the interview, that it was he, Damle—and not an unknown RSS activist—who took the academic to Golwalkar. He said that they travelled in the first class of the train, not in the third class, as Andersen had claimed.

Referring to his conversation with Andersen following the publication of his interview, Damle said he told his co-author: “You mentioned somebody took [you] from Delhi to Mumbai by third class and somebody took you from Mumbai to Nagpur again by third class. I said. ‘Walter, no. I took you there by first class and you lost your ticket and the TC caught you without ticket.’”

According to Damle, the ticket checker made Andersen buy a new ticket with a fine. “When we came to Mumbai, I took him to RSS karyalaya and he had to write a letter to the RSS sanghchalak of Maharashtra. Maharashtra sanghchalak asked him to write a letter to Golwalkar. Golwalkar replied and invited him. I still have Golwalkar’s letter with me. It is addressed to Mr. Andersen, care of Shridhar Damle. So we went together.”

Damle said that he was so upset with the Indian Express interview that he almost shouted at Andersen. “I told Walter, since you opened yourself, I am now free to wash any dirty linen in public.”

He further charged Andersen with having deviated from original format of the book they had planned in the beginning. Speaking to the Times of India in December 2015, Damle had said that the book would chronicle, among other things, Ranade’s role in the RSS and his supposed interactions with the prime minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. But View to the Inside is completely silent on Ranade. Asked why the book dropped the controversial RSS leader altogether, Damle said: “That’s because Walter was obsessed with Modi and the BJP.”

Damle was also livid that the publishers of the book appeared to have organised interviews solely for Andersen, completely overlooking his contribution. “Penguin organised 12 interviews for Walter Andersen ... I don’t blame them. I do understand that if I write something nobody would pay attention. I have given two–three interviews, but in all these cases the journalists contacted me on their own. They did not come through the publishers.”

I asked Damle why he may have been discriminated against. “Because Andersen is white-skinned,” he said.

Keywords: Modi Narendra Modi RSS MS Golwalkar Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Walter K Andersen Shridhar D Damle Eknath Ranade