As RSS Expands Across Northeast, Tribals Fear Cultural Subversion
Image of Naga rebel used for representational purposes.
Image of Naga rebel used for representational purposes. (Photo: Reuters /Altered by The Quint)

As RSS Expands Across Northeast, Tribals Fear Cultural Subversion

While the rest of the nation celebrated 26 January as Republic Day, the people of Assam’s Dima Hasao district observed it as a ‘Black Day’. The death of two protesters in Maibang area of Dima Hasao on 25 January followed the release of a proposed draft settlement for the long-pending Naga problem by a senior RSS pracharak Jagdamba Mal.

Since the Framework Agreement signed between the Government of India and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) NSCN(IM) on 3 August 2015 remains a subject of much speculation, any document remotely connected with this exercise naturally becomes a media blitz.

But at what cost? Mal’s ‘draft agreement’ suggests “separate development authorities to be constituted for a period of ten years to execute the development programmes in seven Naga-inhabited districts of Manipur”, namely Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Chandel, Noney, Kamjong and Tengnoupal; “two Naga-inhabited districts of Arunachal Pradesh, Changlang and Tirap” and “one in Assam, the Dima Hasao (North Cachar Hills district).”

Also Read: Is Naga Peace Accord a Bridge Too Far? 

Is Jagdamba Mal Speaking from a Position of Authority?

Jagdamba Mal also proposes a union territory (UT) carved out of the five border districts of Nagaland, which he terms ‘Frontier Nagaland’ and which comprise the districts of Mon, Tuensang, Longleng, Kiphire and Noklak districts bordering Myanmar.

Since 3 August 2015, those states bordering Nagaland have been living on tenterhooks, wondering if parts of their territories would be carved out in order to give shape to the demands of the NSCN(IM) for a ‘Nagalim’ or ‘Greater Nagaland’.

Jagdamba Mal’s ‘aspiration’ to firmly plant the seeds of RSS ideology in Nagaland and the entire region can be seen through his frequent missives to the media on a host of issues and the RSS’s considered views on them – especially on the Naga conundrum.

Responsible mediapersons aware of Jagdamba Mal’s ‘intentions’, would have held back from publishing yet another of his musings without speaking to the interlocutor RN Ravi or the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

It is also important to probe deeper to understand if Jagdamba Mal is speaking from a position of authority as an appointed ‘unofficial interlocutor’ who is ‘preparing the ground’ before the final settlement – or if the document was some kind of ruse which has the sanction of the Indian government, which wants to test the waters and gauge the reactions of Nagaland’s neighbours if the final agreement were to be laid bare.

Also Read: Boost for BJP in Nagaland as more leaders join

Can State Accede to ‘Bandh’ Demands?

The protest in Dima Hasao has had a cascading effect. Over a thousand train passengers were stranded for over 48 hours at the New Haflong railway station in Dima Hasao after the tracks were damaged on Friday, 26 January. They had a harrowing time, buffeted by the cold and uncertainty.

The protesters on their part said they had wanted to submit a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of the district seeking clarification from the Prime Minister on Jagdamba Mal’s claims, but that he had refused to accept it.

Further, they said that trains should not have been allowed to pass through the district since they had called a bandh. The question is: Can the state accede to a request to disrupt normal life? Clearly, things are getting out of hand in this troubled district yet again.

On the RSS’ part, there seems to be a clear blueprint it is following in the Northeast.

On 21 January, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat addressed a conclave of about 50,000 RSS workers from the region at Guwahati ahead of the elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

Also Read: A Gandhian’s 50 Years of Peace-Building Efforts in Nagaland

RSS’ ‘Hindutva Cause’ in the Northeast

According to Bhagwat, it is Hindutva that has “united India despite diversity of language, religion, lifestyle and custom”. Bhagwat reiterated, “Hindutva accepts diversity, not divisions. That is why India is a Hindu rashtra.”

When the tribes of the Northeast hear the words ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hindu Rashtra’, they are gripped by a sense of insecurity that their indigenous cultures and eating habits which were undisturbed for decades might now be subsumed into the larger idea of a ‘Hindu rashtra’, which, at this point of time, feels like an alien culture to them.

In states like Meghalaya, the RSS, through its pracharak Sunil Deodhar who is now promoted as the BJP-in-charge of Tripura elections, has been working silently for over two decades especially in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya where a substantial chunk of people still follow the indigenous faith.

Deodhar speaks Khasi better than some locals. Through him, the RSS has facilitated the education of many youths from Khasi-Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. These youth live with families in different regions of Maharashtra. The Quint had met a few of them and they seemed happy.

The irony is that Christianity too has a similar mission of educating the youth and in many cases, offering them free education.

What the people of the Northeast fear is the unstated or understated ideology of the RSS, which is evident in their tacit support of gau rakshaks and the killing of people who are found carrying or eating beef even in the neighbouring state of Assam.

Also Read: How to Get a Hindu Rashtra? Just Follow These Easy Steps

RSS’ Deep Roots in the Northeast

Having spent decades understanding the culture and politics of the region, the RSS now feels it is ready to claim its space here. Jagdamba Mal, for instance, has worked for several decades in Nagaland and knows the inside story of every organisation, every pressure group and every church group there.

In many an article, he has exposed the inconsistencies between what these groups profess and what they actually are.

Last year, Mal had claimed that SC Jamir would be the BJP’s vice presidential candidate. This was endorsed by Ram Madhav, also an RSS pracharak. That, of course, never happened. So the relations between the BJP and the RSS are still somewhat tenuous.

Atal Behari Vajpayee never gave the RSS the kind of clout it enjoys today. As a result, the BJP lost the 2004 elections. The RSS knows what it’s like to be out in the cold, and today, it is flexing its muscles everywhere like a ‘vote-catching juggernaut’ while also planting the Hindutva ideology across the length and breadth of this region.

Subverting Cultures While Seeking ‘One India’?

The rise of the RSS and its attempts to push over the BJP post 2014 and to take centre-stage in the politics of our times is causing consternation among the minorities of this country.

In the Northeast, at the best of times, people feel alienated from the idea of India; where nationalism, as espoused by the BJP-RSS has caused much unease. The people of this region became part of India after 1947.

Some groups like the Khasis did so by signing the Instrument of Accession to India; others like the Nagas were integrated into the Indian Union through use of force. Most ethnic groups in the Northeast are still negotiating their own identities vis-a-vis India.

In this political conundrum, where demands for ethnic homelands have led to violent insurgencies, we now have the RSS spreading its wings and trying to claim the region as its own via organisations like ‘My Home India’, whose founder Sunil Deodhar says he wants to promote the idea that all Indians including the people of the Northeast are one.

This is alright, but not at the cost of subverting their cultures and traditions and by making them feel that there is only one (dominant) Indian culture.

But how likely these small tribes are to succeed in holding their own against this RSS onslaught is a question we need to grapple with.

(The writer is the Editor of The Shillong Times and former member of NSAB. She can be reached @meipat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)