The unmissable mainstreaming of the Hindu Right’s hate for Muslims

Parvesh Verma addressing a public meeting for an election campaign in Rajokari, Delhi, on 29 November 2013. Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times
22 October, 2022

Just about a fortnight before Bharatiya Janata Party MP Parvesh Verma’s call for a “total boycott” of “these people,” a sinister anti-Muslim message emerged from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Nagpur headquarters. Together, these messages show that the communal rot has gone deeper and developed more formidable roots than many would like to believe—open calls to target the minority community have long moved beyond the so-called fringe to the Hindutva’s mainstream.

Verma’s call came on 9 October in a public meeting in Delhi, organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and several organisations of the Hindu Right. The media reported that the meeting was to protest the killing of a man, identified as Manish, in which the six accused were Muslim. The police said the killing was the fallout of an old rivalry.

In videos that emerged from the event, Verma can be heard saying from the dais, “Mai kehta hoon agar inka dimag theek karna hai, inki tabiyat theek karni hai, toh ek hee ilaaj hai. Aur wo hai sampurna bahishkaar”—I say that if you want to set their minds straight, if you want to treat them, there is only one remedy. And that is a total boycott. He asked all attendees to “repeat with me that we will totally boycott these people. We will not buy anything from them. We will not pay them any wages.” While Verma’s message was clear, after some outrage about his remarks, he told the media he did not name any religious community, but was referring to families of those who carry out such killings.

Though largely unnoticed, a message on the same lines had emanated from the RSS headquarters at Reshimbagh in Nagpur during a three-day conclave of the Bharat Raksha Manch from 23 to 25 September. Among many issues raised in the conclave was a call to form a Hindu army. The call was given by the BRM’s Kerala incharge, Purushottam Bharti. “They only understand the language of killing and should be finished off,” he said. “If they have AK-47s, the Hindu army can be armed with AK-56s. The army can be raised with the approval of Prime Minister, home minister and defence minister.”  

A little known organisation, the Bharat Raksha Manch was formed in 2010 with the stated aim of focusing on the threat posed by “Bangladeshi ghuspet,” or infiltration, one speaker said during the conclave. The RSS pracharak—full-time worker—Suryakant Kelkar was instrumental in the formation of this outfit and is its convenor.

On 23 September, the first day of the three-day conclave, the inaugural session was attended by two senior BJP leaders—the union minister Nitin Gadkari and the Maharashtra assembly speaker Rahul Narvekar. Speaking in their presence, the BRM vice president Ranjeet Sangle practically asked Muslims to give up their religion, as if indicating that this was the only way for them to live peacefully. “We ask all Indian Muslims that if you want—since your roots are Hindu, your blood is Hindu, your DNA is Hindu, if you want to do ghar wapsi, you accept Hindu religion with all sincerity again, we welcome you with open hands. Let this message go throughout the country,” he said, just before handing over the dais to Gadkari.

Interestingly, the conclave began merely a day after the RSS’s head, Mohan Bhagwat, visited a mosque in Delhi, trying to send out a message that he wanted to expand his outreach to the Muslim community. The media wrote about an hour-long “closed door meeting” he had with the cleric of the mosque, Umer Ahmed Ilyasi—who is also the chief of the All India Imam Organisation—as a breakthrough moment for establishing communal harmony. Later, Ilyasi was quoted as calling Bhagwat “rashtra pita,” father of the nation, and saying, “Our DNA is same, only our method of worshipping god is different.”

Bhagwat’s visit to the Delhi mosque was preceded by his meeting with a group of Muslim leaders and intellectuals on 22 August. The attendees were SY Qureshi, a former chief election commissioner; Najeeb Jung, a former lieutenant governor of Delhi; Zameer Uddin Shah, a former vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and retired lieutenant general; Shahid Siddiqui, a former MP; and Saeed Shervani, a businessman and politician. Bhagwat reportedly shared his concerns about the “atmosphere of disharmony” in the country with them and “both sides agreed to dial down divisive rhetoric.”

Yet, Bhagwat has not said a word so far on the comments delivered in the Nagpur conclave or those delivered in a public speech by a leader of the RSS’s electoral wing in Delhi. Bhagwat’s silence is troubling, especially since it comes in the wake of his much-hyped outreach exercises. It prompts two questions. Is he genuinely concerned about the “atmosphere of disharmony?” Or is his outreach effort merely a diversionary tactic meant for the world at large, when the RSS and the BJP have opted to do openly what they used to earlier do quietly? The questions threaten to expose the truth of all his reported efforts to bring down disharmony.

In December last year, when a group of pro-RSS sadhus organised a “dharma sansad,” where they promoted Hindutva politics by stoking communal tensions, the Sangh and the BJP stayed away from the show. In the three-day event, which was held at Haridwar from 17 to 19 December, pro-RSS sadhus gave incendiary speeches, and many of them called for a genocide against Muslims in the name of protecting Hinduism. Though the sadhus who organised the event were deeply connected to the RSS, no Sangh outfit’s name was displayed on the banners at the venue, not even the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s. Prabodhanand Giri, who heads several Hindu religious organisations—such as the Sanatan Dharma 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.

Even a mere nine months ago the Hindutva mainstream appeared exercising caution. Weeks after the Haridwar event, the RSS denied its role in it. The senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar even said, “Any kind of hate speech is condemnable. All hate speeches must be condemned and punished as per law. Nobody should be treated as an exception.”

But the situation seems to have changed now. About a year ago it was sadhus, now it is the BJP and the RSS. Clearly, the mainstream of Hindutva—the RSS and the BJP—have now shed all inhibitions and come forward to tap into the pool of hatred they helped foment over decades. No doubt, they would still need their fringe outfits to do some of the dirty jobs required for polarisation of Hindu votes, but they would no longer be solely dependent on them. The hatred which has been drilled into the minds of the members and supporters of the Sangh Parivar has erased the distinction between the fringe and the mainstream, trapping the entire political space of Hindutva in a spiral of open aggression against Muslims.