Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh National Volunteers Organisation take part in a drill in Siliguri, India.
Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh National Volunteers Organisation take part in a drill in Siliguri, India.

Leading right-wing Hindu group battles 'terrorist' accusations

India's security agencies have questioned dozens of members of the influential Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over bomb blasts and other alleged acts of Hindu terrorism.

NEW DELHI // For an organisation that has always been quick to raise the spectre of Islamist terrorism in India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, the country's leading Hindu-rights body and the ideological fountainhead of the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, finds itself suddenly grappling with a case of turned tables.

A spate of arrests of its members, in connection with bomb blasts across the country, has given birth to the phrases "saffron terror" and "Hindu terror".

This negative publicity has alarmed the RSS enough to start what it calls an abhiyan, a mass-contact drive in which volunteers go door-to-door, distributing pamphlets, trying to convince their public that the RSS is not connected with terrorist activity, and thus attempting to undo the damage to its image.

The RSS's abhiyan, begun discreetly in early January, will continue until the end of February in various parts of the country.

Nearly 40 RSS swayamsevaks, as the volunteer-members call themselves, have been questioned or investigated by security agencies, over various acts of terror: the 2007 bombings inside the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, which killed nine people; the blasts in 2007 on the Samjhauta Express train heading to Pakistan, which killed 68 people; the 2007 explosions in the tomb of a Sufi saint in Ajmer, Rajasthan, which killed three people; and the bombings in 2008 in the town of Malegaon, in Maharashtra, which killed seven.

Seven RSS members or associates are said to be among the prime accused in these cases. One of these seven, Sunil Joshi, was shot and killed soon after the Ajmer blast by, his family claims, his "own men".

Radical Hindu bodies such as the RSS and its sister outfit the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have been accused of organised violence before. Rank-and-file RSS and VHP members were charged with involvement in the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992 in Ayodhya, the subsequent communal riots in Mumbai, andthe communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.

The recent arrests, however, mark the first time that so many leading RSS members have been interrogated or arrested in connection with the planning of acts of terror.

Perhaps the most vital piece of evidence that has made it into the public domain is the 42-page signed confession of Swami Aseemanand, a member of the RSS since the mid-1970s. Mr Aseemanand was arrested last November in the temple town of Haridwar; a copy of his confession was recently procured by the news weekly Tehelka.

Written in Hindi, the statement quotes Mr Aseemanand as first saying, "I told everyone we should answer bombs with bombs," and later, "I suggested that 80 per cent of the people of Malegaon were Muslims and we should explode the first bomb in Malegaon itself. I also said that during the Partition, the Nizam of Hyderabad had wanted to go with Pakistan so Hyderabad was also a fair target."

The RSS has been struggling to respond to these investigations and to Mr Aseemanand's confession. Early in January, at a rally in Maharashtra, Ram Madhav, one of the RSS' top leaders, was quoted in The Organiser, the RSS's in-house publication, as stating: "Half of the accused in cases of so-called Hindu terrorism have been falsely incriminated. The government is deceiving the people and trying to portray pious people as terrorists."

More recently, however, Mr Madhav tempered his assertion by admitting to the press that a few individuals may have "strayed".

The charges of terrorism levied upon the RSS have given the ruling Congress party,- otherwise beleaguered by a spate of corruption cases, a supply of political ammunition against the RSS and the BJP.

Last year, a diplomatic cable from the American ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, revealed the Congress Party's opinion on radical Hindu outfits such as the RSS. The cable, released by Wikileaks, indirectly quoted Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Congress's Gandhi dynasty.

"Responding to the Ambassador's query about [the Pakistan-based militant outfit] Lashkar-i-Taiba's activities in the region and immediate threat to India, Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community," the cable read. "However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community.

"The risk of a 'home-grown' extremist front, reacting to terror attacks coming from Pakistan or from Islamist groups in India," the cable continued to quote Mr Gandhi, "was a growing concern and one that demanded constant attention."


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National