How the RSS footprint has grown in Haryana

The BJP administration’s backing for the use of state-run gyms as RSS shakhas is one more step towards the expansion of the organisation already said to have overwhelming presence in the government

In the last four years since Haryana has been governed by Manohar Lal Khattar, a former pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the footprint of the organisation has grown in a big way across the state.

The latest announcement by the state’s agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankar that government owned gymnasiums will be used as RSS shakhas is one more step towards the expansion of the organisation which is already said to have an overwhelming presence in wings of the government.

Dhankar declared recently that gymnasiums will be set up on two acres of panchayati land in every village so that the youth can practice wrestling, yoga and play games or do weight training. Sports and youth affairs minister Anil Vij followed up by declaring that out of a target of 1000 gymnasiums, 300 have already been opened and the government was in the process of hiring yoga trainers for them. Several Haryana ministers joined in to say that there was nothing wrong in holding RSS shakhas in these gyms. It’s not clear if Haryana’s women, who have attained international fame in wrestling, kabaddi and weight lifting, will get entry to these spaces as the shakha is an all male preserve.

These statements came days after pro-Hindutva elements led by the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti disrupted Friday namaaz at 10 places in Gurugram. The Samiti which is an umbrella organisation of 12 Hindutva groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Hindu Jagran Manch and Bajrang Dal among others had controversially declared that Muslims had to take permission from the administration to pray in open spaces.

CM Khattar contributed to ensuing furore with his remark that “namaaz should be read in a masjid or an idgah and if short of space, they (Muslims) should read it in their private spaces.” He further added: “There is no problem if there is no objection from the public, but if a group or a person objects, one has to take note. We’ll keep and eye on the issue.”

The CM’s statement has led many to wonder if the same rules would apply if someone objects to noisy all night ‘jagratas’ and ‘gita paths’ or Durga puja celebrations, the frequency of which have steeply risen in small towns and villages in the last three years. Or indeed about the month long yatras undertaken by ‘kanwariyas’ who disrupt traffic and set up makeshift encampments on government land unchecked.

Among the other statements made contributing to the controversy were that of a Haryana minister who said that “land grabbing in the name of namaaz will not be allowed” and other Hindu groups alleging that Bangladeshis and Rohingyas had expanded their presence in Gurugram .

Last Friday (May 11), even as terms like the newly concocted ‘land jihad’ began doing the rounds, a tense namaaz was held at several places in Gurugram under heavy police security. As groups of Muslims were boxed into little spaces designated by the administration, the mere act of praying became a furtive, fearful pursuit, to be done in hurry before someone came along to disrupt it.

The unease generated by the attacks prompted eleven retired IAS officers including former Union health secretary Sujatha Rao to write to the chief secretary of Haryana. According to a report in the Scroll.in the letter said that Hindutva organisations were misleading people and inciting hatred against Muslims. It held that the organisations claimed that Muslims were trying to occupy and build mosques on empty plots and intimidate Hindus with a show of strength on Fridays. “We have also seen a gradual intensification of hate-mongering and allegations against the Muslim community in supposedly upmarket colonies,” the letter said as per the report.

The very same government had in August 2016 had invited the Jain monk Tarun Sagar to give a lecture in the state Assembly. Sitting naked, on a seat above the Governor, the chief minister and legislators, Sagar reportedly said that while it is a husband’s duty to protect his wife, the wife should remain within the discipline imposed by her husband. In a rabidly patriarchal society where female foeticide at birth is the highest (861:1000) in India and honour are killings rampant, the supposedly Hindu construct of male supremacy which the RSS symbolises was underlined by Sagar before lawmakers.

A few months after the BJP government came to power it had roped in Dinanath Batra, an RSS ideologue as head of its Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti to revamp the syllabus so as to align it to a Hindutva perspective. This led to an outcry wherein the government was accused to trying to ‘Saffronise’ education. Eventually, Batra’s textbooks were not introduced in Haryana government schools but moral education books with shlokas from the Bhagvad Gita were developed under his guidance.

With just a year left for Assembly elections and the Khattar government finding it hard to show much by way of delivering on promises, the RSS and its affiliates have turned their attention to Haryana to ensure another victory in 2019. Though significant Muslim presence in the state is confined to the districts of Faridabad and Nuh, the endeavour will be to whip up a pro-Hindu agenda in which RSS shakhas, temples and religious organisations work in tandem.

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