'RSS Used Digital Tech to Adapt': Jaffrelot at Dismantling Global Hindutva Event
According to French Political Scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, the RSS used digital techniques to their advantage.
'Dismantling Global Hindutva: Multidisciplinary Perspectives' (DGH), a three-day virtual academic conference that aims to examine the ethno-nationalist ideology’s reverberations in India and the rest of the world, began on Friday, 10 September.
Christophe Jaffrelot, a French political scientist and Indologist specialising in South Asia, was one of the speakers on the first panel at the event and opined that the notion of 'global Hindutva' is in a sense paradoxical.
“The first criterion of Hindutva was the sacred territory, the Punya Bhoomi or the sacred land. RSS chiefs had not gone abroad until the 1990s... So how such a territorialised ideology can be globalised?” he said.
“For this transition to take place, you need to factor in the second criterion of Hindutva, according to [Vinayak Damodar] Savarkar, what he calls ‘Race or Jaati’. The Hindus, for him, are the descendants of the Vedic fathers. The same blood runs in their veins, and Hindus are therefore defined primarily not by their religion, not by their beliefs, but as a people. The way Savarkar defines the Hindu people transforms them into an ethnic nation that is not defined by their territory but by their race, what he calls ‘Race or Jaati’.”
RSS & Digital Technology, PM Modi's US Travels: Highlights of Jaffrelot's Address
Jaffrelot said the RSS adopted digital techniques early on and used them to their advantage.
“RSS turned to digital techniques and created cyber-shakhas, which was a way to adapt to the needs of the diaspora," he argued. "The first one was conducted in 1999 and [later] developed via YouTube, Skype and other platforms. What these digital techniques introduced as a major change was that it’s not necessarily from India that the signals came."
"Most of the websites of the Sangh Parivar that have been developed are not located in India" Jaffrelot added, alleging that more than half of them are located in the US, UK, Netherland, Belgium, Canada and Europe.
He said, “there was a clear intensification of the investment of the RSS and Sangh Parivar at large” at the turn of the 21st century.
“The visit of the RSS chief to Africa, Europe, US after 1995 is probably the turning point," Jaffrelot suggested, adding that their leaders realised they could easily raise funds since the Hindus in the West were very affluent.
“When Narendra Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat, he continued to raise funds but also attracted investments from non-resident Gujaratis.”
Jaffrelot said Hindu nationalists had cultivated a love-hate relationship with the US and the West:
“Hindu nationalism is directly deriving from ethnic nationalism that Germans have invented. There is this thought that the West has invented a form of modernity that has to be emulated."
Further, he noted that PM Modi was supposed to have travelled to study in the US in his time as an RSS man. "Back in the day, he travelled in the US, far and wide. He was interested in governance, infrastructure, roads, rivers. As CM of Gujarat, he tried hard to replicate the urbanisation model of the US,” he pointed out.
Jaffrelot argued that the BJP tried to use the Hindu diaspora as an ethnic lobby, and it worked as “Migrants wanted to familiarise children with Hinduism. It worked because of the ambivalence of Western society and governance.”
More About the Conference
Indian documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and poet Meena Kandasamy were the other panel participants on Friday.
The three-day virtual conference is sponsored by over 49 universities and more than 60 departments worldwide and cosponsored by departments from a host of major North American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton and will feature 25 academicians, activists, and journalists as speakers.
According to the event's website, the conference will “bring together scholars of South Asia specialising in gender, economics, political science, caste, religion, healthcare, and media in order to try to understand the complex and multi-faceted phenomenon of Hindutva”.
'Prepared to Face Intimidation': DGH Organisers
The organisers and speakers of DGH have been subject to targeted harassment and trolling by right-wingers and Hindu groups.
Before starting his speech on Friday, Jaffrelot said, “We are prepared to face intimidation, and this is the message that our presence today conveys and the fact that we agree to disagree and that we will disagree in the course of this conference. This is what a democracy is about.”
“Academics are realising that if they become prisoners of fear and indulge in self-censorship, they will commit intellectual suicide, become irrelevant and lose their self-esteem. On the other hand, those who are in a safe place are realising this difference of freedom of expression is part of their responsibility now. It means if they have to do their job and something more,” he added.
Speaking to The Print, an organiser had earlier stated, “The legwork to get all these cosponsors on board was done by a small volunteer team of professors, students, and activists who would like to stay anonymous due to threats against their safety. Therefore, they would like to go by the moniker ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference Team’.”
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