In a shocking yet somewhat expected move, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has announced that it will conduct an ‘escalated’ campaign against ‘love jihad’ and religious conversions that involved ‘enticements’.
The Hindu right-wing organisation is also hoping that it will be able to convince Dalit, Other Backward Classes (OBC) citizens and women to become torchbearers of its ‘samajik sadbhav’ (social harmony) campaign. This is being done with a view to furthering the Sangh’s larger design of the concept of ‘Hindu unity’.
The decision to this end was announced by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat — arrived at after much deliberation — during his Awadh Prant visit in Lucknow, which is still ongoing.
The RSS has divided Uttar Pradesh into six areas for its organisational purposes. These areas are Awadh, Gorakhpur and Kashi (Varanasi), Braj, Meerut (both western UP), Kanpur–Bundelkhand. It is expected to speed up efforts to recruit more ‘ideologically inclined’ youth in each of these areas.
‘Love jihad’ is a term coined by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an affiliate of the Sangh, to describe the idea of Muslim men luring Hindu women to first enter into a relationship with them and then pressure them into converting to Islam.
It has resulted in a spate of public lynchings and mob ‘justice’ in which Muslim men or youth found with any Hindu girl or woman are trounced solely on the basis of suspicion. In recent years, ‘love jihad’ is one of the most frequently trotted out bogeys among the popular Hindutva dog whistles.
The latest announcement (or threat, depending on who you might speak to) by the RSS that it will step up operations in the coming weeks and months has special significance for two reasons. One is that the RSS’ centenary celebrations are approaching — in September 2025 — and that has invited this intensified and expanded campaigning. The second, more immediate impact is that the Lok Sabha elections are scheduled for summer 2024.
Workshops and training camps to introduce youngsters to the ideology and functioning of the Sangh are already a key course of action, and have been, for decades.
An RSS leader said, on condition of anonymity that a decision has been taken to step up the outreach campaign of the Sangh in rural areas. Opposing ‘love jihad’, anti-national activities and religious conversion through enticements is also on the agenda. However, what defines ‘anti-national’ remains a little opaque here.
‘Love ijhad’ and ‘matantaran’ (religious conversion using enticements) have long been on the agenda of attacks of the Sangh. However, they have gained a considerably greater momentum in Uttar Pradesh since 2017.
The RSS leader ‘explained’ that the campaign aimed at ‘misguided youths’ and was not directed against Muslims per se. To buttress his point, the leader said that in order to connect with ‘nationalist Muslims’, the Sangh has floated a Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM).
Politically-important, numerically-dominant but marginalised communities are also in the sights of the Sangh. This explains the increasing focus on bringing along Dalits, OBCs and women as standard bearers of the ‘sanatan dharma’.
According to the RSS leadership, Dalit and OBC votes have been the mainstay of the BJP’s success in Uttar Pradesh since 2014. This was when the party had done away with the perception that is is largely a party of the upper castes and trading community.
An RSS functionary said that this change is facilitated within the Sangh as a step towards its larger blueprint of ‘Hindu unity’ and grooming cadres with a heavy focus on nationalism. The RSS now allows cadres to not use their surnames in order to conceal their caste identity.
However, some people, like I Could Not Be a Hindu fame Bhanvar Meghwanshi would disagree with the claims of success on these grounds, as made by the RSS.