India Hindus See Post-Election Awakening

IndiaHindus-See-Post-Election-AwakeningCAIRO — As the India five-week elections come to a final leg, supporters of a Hindu nationalist group, which has ebbed and flawed for decades, are anticipating an expected win of Narendra Modi to push for a pro-Hindu religious and cultural agenda.

“We can all see it now, that it is happening — that the awakening is happening,” said Praveen Rai, 38, who leads morning drills of the local branch of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Varanasi, one of India’s spiritual capitals, told the New York Times on Sunday, May 11.

“Political churning is not very important for us,” he added.

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“What we believe is that we are the most advanced race in the entire world. We will convert the whole world into the Aryan race: So we have decided. We believe that Indian culture has been the best civilization in the world.”

Over the past month, hundreds of millions of Indians have voted in the world’s biggest-ever elections which have been running from April 7 to May 12.

In the final stage of the elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Modi, who has been active in RSS group since childhood, is the front-runner to the prime minister’s office in New Delhi.

Offering Modi unprecedented support, RSS volunteers have gone from door to door to convince people to support their colleague in the biggest mobilization since 1977 when RSS workers went door to door encouraging people to vote against Indira Gandhi.

RSS has been founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, an independence campaigner who had split from the Indian National Congress party over what he considered “undue pampering of the Muslims.

Launched in 1925, the group has been banned thrice by the Indian government in 1948 and 1970s and 1990s.

Surrounded by ambiguity, the group faces accusations of fueling religious conflicts by their opposition to the Indian constitution’s article No 370 which grants Kashmir its special position.

Moreover, they have campaigned for years to support Ram temple in Ayodhya, on a spot where 16th-century Babri mosque once stood.

Religious Marriage

Cooperating for years, analysts see the relation between RSS and BJP as a relation of marriage where RSS is considered BJP’s “ideological fountainhead.”

“The BJP and the RSS are married to each other,” said Dilip Deodhar, an analyst whose family has been active in the RSS for generations.

“The power is there, but it is like that of a mother over her children. The mother does not use it for anything but the child’s welfare. There is no abusing it.”

The close relation was apparent in Varanasi where RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat ordered the group and its affiliates to press for 100 percent voter turnout.

“It was a very good feeling — that we were going backwards; the country’s religion, integrity and culture was on the back foot; and that we are going to set it straight,” Pramod Kumar, an RSS propagandist, based in Varanasi, said praising Bhagwat’s order.

“Ever since I was born, I have been waiting for good things to happen in this country. Most definitely, that moment is here.”

Kumar expects this support to pay out after elections in the shape of several amendments in government textbooks which, according to him, include insulting language about Hindu gods and excessive praise of the Muslim emperor Akbar.

He also said he expected the reconstruction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the issue which helped BJP to rise to prominence for the first time in 1999 following a Hindu campaign to construct a Ram temple on the site of a 16th century mosque demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992.

“It’s deep inside of our hearts, the Ram temple, and it’s on — 75 percent of the work is done,” Kumar said, adding that he did not mind the BJP’s decision to soft-pedal the issue in its election manifesto.

“I can just fold my hands and quietly say the temple must be built, or someone can make a big hue and cry about it. It makes no difference. The temple must be built. It’s normal. It will happen after the election.”

Others RSS supporters were irritated.

“It is with a lot of slyness that the BJP has included this only on the last page,” said Praveen Kumar Chaubey, 24, a volunteer with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a student group affiliated with the RSS.

“I feel it has been pushed down because they don’t want to hurt the sentiments of certain groups. Our sentiment is that it should be a magnificent reconstruction of the temple, and we are there.”

Yet, BJP officials have dismissed the notion that RSS group would have a place in a postelection government.

“People who do have a lot of ideological affinity to us have been extremely active and helpful in this campaign, not so much as organizations but as individuals,” said Arun Jaitley, a top official in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

“As far as governance is concerned, we have been in power as a political party, and I can assure you we take our own decisions.”