Book Review | How a new book on RSS’ efforts towards ‘conflict resolution’ may not be an ideal peacemaker’s guide

Book Review | How a new book on RSS’ efforts towards ‘conflict resolution’ may not be an ideal peacemaker’s guide

RSS ideologue Ratan Sharda’s latest book, with Yashwant Pathak, is devoted to explaining the RSS’ approach towards resolving some of the most critical internal conflict situations India has faced since Independence

Author and columnist Ratan Sharda is so committed to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — better known as the RSS — that seven out of nine of his books happen to be on the subject. His latest work, Conflict Resolution: The RSS Way, which he has co-authored with Yashwant Pathak, is devoted to explaining the social organisation’s approach to resolving some of the most critical internal conflict situations India has faced since Independence.

The book, which came out towards the end of 2021, is an adaptation of Sharda’s PhD thesis supervised by Pathak; and hence the joint authorship. Sharda’s motivation to take this project on is the supposed lack of academic attention towards RSS’ work in India, despite their voluminous size, outreach, and scope. In this book, he pays special emphasis to RSS’ efforts towards “conflict resolution”.

Dubious record

A huge conglomeration of volunteers, RSS can be classified as paramilitary in nature, though they like to define themselves as “a unique social organisation dedicated to India’s resurgence and global peace.” RSS’s self-proclaimed goal for global peace, however, is dubious at best, given their penchant for violence. This is the same RSS that India’s erstwhile Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had listed as one of “the forces of hate and violence” and banned on 4 February 1948 after Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi.

As recently as 10th of April 2022, the country saw what seemed like orchestrated violence, with the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS) and other fringe Hindutva groups of the Sangh Parivar terrorising Muslims under the pretext of Ram Navami celebrationsThe irony is not lost on anyone, except perhaps the likes of Sharda and the string of Rightist minds such as Anand Ranganathan, R Jagannathan, Makarand Paranjape, Mohandas Pai, and Amish Tripathi, who’ve offered glowing testimonials for the book.

Then again, this book may not be so much a product of self-delusion as a building block towards RSS’ mission of bringing a “true nationalist narrative” to academia. Given Sharda’s commitment to the organisation, this is hardly surprising.

Troubled by the ‘other’

The three main themes covered by the author in this book are ‘the Kashmir issue’, ‘the Punjab issue’, and ‘the North East issue’. The Kashmir problem is rooted in the contentious instrument of accession, the Punjab problem in the Partition and then, Operation Bluestar, and the North East in the issues of conversion and migration. While each of these issues is complex and has many socio-political dimensions, the common thread of insurgency runs through them all. All non-Hindu faith communities — Muslims in Kashmir, Sikh ‘Khalistanis’ in Punjab, and Christians in the North East — wanting separate lands and identities are held up as adversaries in RSS’ nationalist narrative. Against their vision of a unified (and Hindu-ised) Bharat, anyone claiming the right to self-determination is deemed the enemy. That RSS should concern itself the most with the problem of the ‘other’ or the ‘outsider’ is telling of their mission of creating a Hindu Rashtra in which Indians of any other religious group are considered lesser citizens or downright traitors.

The RSS’ stand in each of these matters is to be found in their periodic resolutions published internally — a voluminous collection of which Sharda has presented in this book. The book follows a certain structure in which the chapter or section introduction is followed by RSS’ resolution on the matter, its follow-up actions, and Sharda’s commentary on the same. Though the extent of research is vast, its transformation from dissertation-to-book leaves much to be desired, making for a dense and laborious read. If one manages to trudge through it at all, it becomes evident how RSS’ nationalist heart bleeds selectively for Hindus, whether in Kashmir, the Punjab or the North East.

Where there is any sympathy for non-Hindus, it is limited to Sikhs, who the RSS insists are part of the Hindu faith community. The narrative of Hindu victimhood is writ large across these chapters that see only the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, compliant Sikhs, and the Hindus and Adivasis of the North East. Whatever efforts the RSS and its cadres have made towards addressing volatile situations is largely in the service of India’s Hindu citizens, making their ‘conflict resolution’ work as skewed as their political ideology.

No peace without compassion

It is hard to give RSS even the benefit of doubt, because of the utter lack of compassion and parity in their approach. The concepts of conflict resolution and peace are inextricably tied to these virtues and they are jarringly absent in the RSS universe.

Wherever the Indian government, under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership, adopted a pacifist approach such as by initiating dialogue with insurgent groups or by involving the UN, the RSS deemed it “needless”, “weak” and even “lame duck”. As with peace processes, the RSS’ opinions of human rights aren’t high either, as Sharda quotes: “Human rights organisations and their supporters and donors — both domestic and foreign — are using the benign concept of human rights to weaken the resolve of the Indian state and the people to deal effectively with terrorism.” Their idea of conflict resolution is essentially a prescription of force, whereby any dissenting voices or groups are called to be “dealt with strongly”.

In addition to a lack of compassion, the RSS’ “conflict resolution philosophy” also lacks consistency. When criticising the Church’s strategy of propagating One Race = One People = One Nation in the North East region, it conveniently forgets that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose progenitor the RSS is, propagates exactly this in its Hindi language imposition project. On the one hand, it makes an impassioned plea for the assertion and preservation of the multicultural and ethnic identities of North East India’s Adivasis, free from Christian influence or conversion, and on the other hand, it admits to having a “long-term strategy to integrate the tribals within the fold of Hindutva”. The RSS’ support of religious or linguistic identity is offered only to Indic faith groups — as in the case of Punjab — and withdrawn when it is the turn of “foreign” religions. In the RSS’ playbook, self-determination, justice, freedom, equality and peace are meant only for Hindus and allied faiths but not for the ‘others’. Despite the smoke and mirrors, Sharda’s book is just a reiteration of this fact.

With reams of facts, reports and figures, Sharda makes a valiant attempt to alter RSS’s ignominious reputation and stake a claim in the peacebuilding pie. But RSS is anything but a resolver of conflicts. At best, it is a proponent of an eye-for-an-eye. The book collates a lot of facts from the secretive organisation’s archives, but adds neither any new perspectives nor offers any new promises. Any peacebuilder or well-meaning citizen of India would do best to avoid it.

The author is an independent culture writer. Views expressed are personal.

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