RSS and Sikhs

Print edition : January 23, 2015

A protest against the RSS' activities in Punjab. A file picture. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Members of families that reportedly reconverted to Sikhism during the "Ghar Wapsi" programme conducted by the Dharam Jagran Manch at Guru-ki-Wadali village in Amritsar on December 31. Photo: PTI

THE BJP may be in coalition with the Akali Dal in Punjab, but its parent, the RSS, has been stoking the fires of communal discord between Sikhs and Hindus. Chander Suta Dogra reported in The Indian Express of December 15, 2014, that RSS shakhas have sprouted in Punjab and its pracharaks boast, “Our time has come”, thanks to a pracharak-headed regime at the Centre. In the newspaper’s issue of December 22, the correspondent reported “a massive ‘ ghar wapsi’ programme” to secure the conversion of Christians to Sikhism and to Hinduism. The Akali Dal “has frowned on the Sangh’s activity”. A member of the Akali-dominated Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) told the correspondent, “The situation is so alarming that even Sikhs in Amritsar, which is the seat of Sikhism, are converting. We are a small minority, and we should be worried. Because of the politicisation of the SGPC, the religious agenda which it should be actively promoting has got diluted. The RSS does not mind people reconverting to Sikhism because it sees Hindus and Sikhs as members of the same family.”

Sikhs resent that. Not long ago, in New Delhi Akali Dal leaders burnt a page from the Constitution of India which contained Explanation II to Article 25 on the fundamental right to practise religion. It says: “In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”

There is a history behind this resentful assertion of a separate identity which Khushwant Singh set out in his book A History of the Sikhs (Vol. 2, 1839-2004, 2nd Edn, OUP, 2004). These extracts tell a lot. “The sudhi crusade launched by the Samaj was fiercely resisted by the Sikhs. The more the Samajists claimed Sikhism to be a branch of Hinduism, the more the Sikhs insisted that they were a distinct and separate community. This action and reaction broke up the close social relationship which had existed between the two sister communities. It found expression in the publication of a booklet Ham Hindu Nahin Hain—we are not Hindus—by the scholarly Kahan Singh, who was then Chief Minister of Nabha. Although the Singh Sabha movement petered out in the 1920s it left a legacy of a chronically defensive attitude towards Hinduism.” He added that later “the resurgence of Hinduism gave an impetus to the demand for a Sikh homeland”.

More to the point are these remarks: “India’s new rulers who chose to make it a secular state (which in Indian nomenclature does not mean non-religious but one which accords equal respect to all religions) nevertheless fully supported the renaissance of Hinduism. It was like the stone idol of the multi-armed goddess Durga becoming animated and wielding all the weapons she had in her many hands. There was a revival of Sanskrit and the study of ancient religious texts; prachirini sabhas (propaganda organisations) extolling the philosophy of Vedanta sprang up in towns and cities; Swamis, Sants, Avtars and other varieties of godmen emerged from their ashrams to take the spiritual message of Hinduism to the materialistic West; yoga was rediscovered as the supreme form of physical exercise as well as a means of communion with God; there was a revival of the indigenous form of medicine, Ayurveda; old dilapidated temples were renovated, new ones built. Government-controlled media, All India Radio and Doordarshan (TV), devoted a substantial part of their time to bhajans and religious discourses and re-enacting plays from Hindu mythology. These lent fresh vigour to paramilitary Hindu organisations like the RSS and the Shiv Sena. This development made the minority communities, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, apprehensive of their future.… To many it seemed that within the foreseeable future the community would be re-absorbed into Hinduism and become like the Jains or the Buddhists, a branch of Hindus believing in Sikhism” (pages 147, 319-320).

The Congress-Akali unity wore thin after Independence. A Sikh Congressman of distinction, Sardar Hukam Singh, bitterly complained in the Constituent Assembly as early as on October 14, 1949, “Sir before I proceed further, I must make an appeal to the honourable members on two points here. It is very unfortunate that the Sikhs for the present cannot persuade themselves to have implicit faith in the party in power. They have reasons for that, for they think that the past is a record of repudiated promises and broken pledges. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I am wrong, that this is incorrect, and that the present leaders can be trusted to do justice to everybody; then is there any guarantee that the present leaders will continue for all time to come? Are there not indications, even now apparent, that men with different ideals and aims might come to power very soon? This House should take a detached view and not consider the fears of the minorities as necessarily a disparagement of the present party or of its leaders. Then my second point is that the honourable members should place themselves in the position of the minorities and then try to appreciate those fears that they have expressed from time to time.

“Sir, I might be accused of communalism when I sound this discordant note. But I hold that this nationalism is an argument for vested interests. Even the aggressiveness of the majority would pass off as nationalism, while the helplessness of the minority might be dubbed as communalism. It is very easy for the majority to preach nationalism to the minorities; but it is very difficult to act up to it.” ( Constituent Assembly Debates; Vol. 10, page 233). He was complaining of the neglect of the Sikhs, including withdrawal of agreed safeguards.

Resurgence of the RSS’ conversion movement in Punjab is nothing new. In 2000, its newly elected boss, K.S. Sudarshan, opened a front there only to invite a rude riposte in Chandigarh. Elated at his elevation, Sudarshan launched on a lecture tour with great enthusiasm, to the embarrassment of the BJP government. His references to “Sindhu” must have endeared him to Advani after his excursions to Leh. On April 29, 2000, in Chandigarh, Sudarshan advocated the undoing of Partition by annexing Pakistan: “At the appropriate time, we will form Akhand Bharat [United India]. We have to regain the areas which we lost in 1947. We have to regain Lahore—the Capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa Raj. We have to reclaim Nankana Sahib and several other religious places, as also Sindhu [Indus] and Kasoor. The feeling for ‘Akhand Bharat’ has to survive because it is akin to the feeling that led to the unification of Germany, Vietnam and Poland [sic]. Partition of India was wrong.”

He added, that India was a Hindu “Rashtra”; Hindu in this context referred to the nationality. He added that there were many religions in India and the correct translation for this term in Hindi was not “dharma” but “panth” or “sampradaya”. This was the classic RSS double talk of old practised by Deoras and Golwalkar. All those who live in India are “Hindus”, it claims at times; yet refuses to enrol non-Hindus as members and constantly speaks of Hindus as India’s “majority community” which has been wronged by its minorities.

Sudarshan was addressing the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat. Over a dozen Sikh organisations held a protest demonstration alleging an “RSS agenda of assimilation of Sikhs into Hinduism and demanding a ban on the RSS”, The Statesman reported.

The controversy had lain dormant. Sudarshan revived it. The Shiromani Akali Dal attacked the RSS for trying “to infiltrate into Sikh religion”. Kanwarpal Singh of Dal Khalsa was less polite. He called the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat “a bastard child of the RSS” ( Asian Age, April 30, 2000). Against this background the RSS’ adventure in Punjab is fraught with grave consequences.

A.G. Noorani

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