Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
Controversy and polarization as RSS man speaks at Johns Hopkins

Controversy and polarization as RSS man speaks at Johns Hopkins

Author: Aziz Haniffa
Publication: India Abroad
Date: October 8, 2004

Even before he had uttered a single word, the September 29 appearance of Ram Madhav, spokesman of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced Inter-national Studies generated much contro-versy. A petition was circulated protesting the South Asia Studies Department's invi-tation, and asking that it be rescinded. The controversy ended up generating additional interest; the event was oversub-scribed to the extent that it had to be moved to a larger conference room to accommodate more people. Even so, it was standing room only at the highly charged conference filled with RSS supporters, stu-dent activists and secular Hindus.

The question and answer session that fol-lowed Madhav's opening remarks proved contentious, with allegations and counter-allegations that had moderator Professor Sunil Khilnani, Director of the South Asia Studies Department at SAIS, struggling to maintain control.

Khilnani introduced Madhav, who was flanked by Professor Walter Andersen, Associate Director of the South Asia Program and author of The Brotherhood of Saffron, a book on the RSS. The moderator began with a caveat that "there are people here who would not like this event to be taking place. "I would like therefore to make it absolutely clear, before I introduce today's speaker, that by hosting this event, I and my colleagues in no way endorse the views that he and his organization, the RSS, stand for."

Invited to speak on 'How the RSS Views India's Relations With Its Neighbors', Madhav started out by thanking Khilnani and Andersen for the "great honor" of being afforded a forum for "sharing the views of such a secret organization in such a public manner."

Almost immediately, he moved into an attack on Pakistan and Bangladesh, which he described as two "theocratic states" that discriminate against minorities. Madhav characterized Pakistan as "the first reli-gion-based nation created in the modern history" till "East Timor and a few such nations that have [since] come into exis-tence based purely on religion as the core driving force."

Underlining what he said was Pakistan's intolerance of minorities, Madhav Said, "Pakistan started off with a minority popu-lation of 11 percent Hindus and Sikhs, today it is only about i percent. It is the same with Bangladesh, with started off with 29 percent minority population - mostly Bengali Hindus - and today stands between 8 and 9 percent." "But in the case of India," the RSS spokesman said, "we started off in 1947 with about 10.43 percent minority popula-tion, including Muslims and Christians, and today the minority population of India is about 14 percent. What this suggests to people like us is that clearly, there has been an utter discrimination against minorities in our neighborhood, whether it is Pakistan or Bangladesh. All of us, many of you, more than we, tend to stress the point that India is secular, pluralistic and democratic. [But] Hinduism is nothing but pluralism."

He said the RSS in particular, and Hindus in general, believed India should be secular, but pointed out that India has suf-fered greatly "for practicing secularism, for practicing democracy and the rule of law, and the entire world tries to teach us to be more secular and we have neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who are pro-claimed theocracies. We are the only sur-viving democracy [in the region] not only because democracy is great in itself but because Hindus believe in democracy." He refuted the contention that the RSS would, if it became politically more power-ful, convert India into a theocracy. "If the RSS becomes stronger, democracy in India will become stronger because the RSS believes in Hindu values. It is the Hindu values that stand for democracy and plural-ism. If the RSS comes to power in India, secularism will not be removed, but it will become stronger. And if the RSS tries to change it, the RSS cannot remain Hindu."

Asked if the RSS saw Indian Muslims as a potential fifth column, to be exploited by Pakistan and Bangladesh, Madhav said, "We do not doubt the credentials of the Indian Muslims. Indian Muslims are as patriotic as other Indians are. "We have no doubt about that. Fifth columnists are there even in Hindus, even in Muslims, even in Christians. They are there in India. They belong to all communi-ties."

On Kashmir Madhav said the RSS was not opposed to compromise per se, but added that any negotiations should be predicated on Islamabad halting its sup-port to and financing of cross-border ter-rorism. "Let's have meaningful dialogue. Let Pakistan stop exporting terrorism into India. India has always been in favor of dia-logue. The problem is that we go in a bus [to Pakistan, a reference to then prime minister A B Vajpayee bus ride to Lahore in 1999] and they come in a military tank. We send cricketers, and they send suicide bombers. This can't take us anywhere." Defending the RSS from the criticism that it was non-democratic, as manifest in its refusal to admit women into its cadre, Madhav suggested it was just as natural as sex-specific schools. The RSS, he said, mandates attendance at its daily one-hour meetings. "For a woman to meet daily for one hour it is very difficult in an Indian setting."

When Professor Stephen Cohen, director of the South Asia Studies Program at Brookings Institution, noted that even the Jamaat has women in its cadres, Madhav said, "The Jamaat does not have daily meetings."

Shrugging off the protests and petitions that greeted his arrival, Madhav said he was used to such situations. "And it is fun, as long as it is dignified. As long as you don't invent new theories, it is fun. You argue, you counter-argue, you call us com-munal, we call it anti-national, as long as it is dignified."

Madhav said in a similar vein, allegations that the RSS is communal helped the organization, "in the sense that we are made more popular by our adversaries These who write against us, they make peo-ple aware that okay, these are guys who are working for Hindus, Hinduism and all that. It goes on, it's an interesting battle."

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements