On 27 January this year, the Hindu reformist organisation Arya Samaj held its regional Arya mahasammelan, or conference, at the Dayanand Math in Haryana’s Rohtak district. Ministers from the BJP-led state government, the Haryana governor Satyadev Narayan Aryaandthe Himachal Pradesh governor Acharya Dev Vrat, attended the annual convention. Dev Vrat Arya, a leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Manish Grover, the BJP’s member of legislative assembly from Rohtak, also shared the dais with them. The stage had a huge flex board of the Hindu deity Ram—a stark contradiction to the Arya Samaj’s opposition to idol and avatar worship.
The RSS has tried to ally with the Arya Samaj for decades now, but the two organisations have different visions for the country. The RSS aims to establish a Hindu Rashtra and the Arya Samaj’s objective is to convert all citizens of the country into Arya Samajis and propagate the Vedas through its mission, Aryavrat. Despite these differences, it has now become common for members of RSS and Arya Samaj to share a stage. According to Agnivesh, a senior Arya Samaji swami who was formerly a minister in the Haryana state government, “The RSS wants to hijack the Arya Samaj and its institutions.”
In sharp contrast to the Sangh, the Arya Samaj has emphasised the importance of spirituality rather than rituals since its inception. It reposed faith in the concept of Om, a scared mantra. The Arya Samaj has protested against certain ills of Hinduism such as the ritual of sati and supported progressive ideas such as widow remarriage. In 1987, Agnivesh, along with 101 sanyasis, mostly from the Arya Samaj, had conducted an 18-day padayatra, against sati. For the Sangh, the practice of sati and the proscription against widow remarriage are essential parts of Hinduism. In 1999, Giriraj Kishore, then the international vice president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the RSS, had defended the practice of sati saying, “If any woman wants to burn to death on the pyre of her dead husband, there is no problem with that.”
The RSS has been trying to attract Arya Samajis in north India since before independence. In 1937, Devdutt Khullar Batala, an Arya Samaji, was the first to establish an RSS shakha in a temple of the Arya Samaj in Punjab. Satish Tyagi, and a senior journalist based in Haryana, said, “The Arya Samajis in rural areas were mainly engaged in farming-cultivation activities. Because of this, problems related to farming and labourers”—the RSS did not fight for these issues at the time—“and their opposition to idol worship, they could not ally with the RSS.”
The RSS failed in its initial attempts to attract Arya Samajis. To forge an alliance with the Arya Samajis in rural areas, shortly after independence, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak, or supreme leader, of the RSS, conducted a meeting with leading Arya Samajis based in rural areas at a gurukul, a residential school, in Haryana’s Jhajjar district, which teaches the values of the Arya Samaj. Manoj Kumar, a Haryana-based journalist, told me that, later, Bhagwan Dev, a teacher in the gurukul, revealed in an interview to him that the meeting was conducted to discuss partition and the massacre of Muslims. But Dev said that this meeting did not yield any results. He also told Kumar that Golwalkar had promised to send weapons to the Arya Samajis in the meeting but did not deliver. At the time, the Sangh could not bring the Arya Samaj into its fold.