Rare are the occasions when the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) -- which could be said to be the biggest organisation of Hindu men -- moves beyond its founder member Dr Hedgewar to build memorials.
Whatever might be the consideration behind it, but it came as a little surprise that the RSS has decided to start a school in the memory of its first non-brahmin and non-Maharashtrian supremo Rajendra Singh alias Rajju Bhaiya (1922-2003), who was its chief from 1994-2000. This proposed 'Rajju Bhaiya Sainik Vidya Mandir', will be set up in Shikarpur tehsil of Bulandshahr district, where the former supremo was born and it will start functioning from next year.
Vidya Bharati, the education wing of the RSS, which already runs 20,000 schools across India, would be running this military school as well. It is being said that this Army School will follow the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum and will have classes running from Class 6 to Class 12.
Normally, an idea to start a school is met with jubilation, but this news has caused an opposite effect. From educationists, to social activists to political leaders, one can hear voices of concern.
Expressing her reservations about role of RSS in running a military school, a leading educationist (Prof Anita Rampal) broadly raised three points while participating in a television panel discussion:
-- How any such special school goes against our basic demand that till 10 years of age (at least) there should be common school system for all?
-- How studies show that all such 'military schools' -- which are filled with male students -- encourage a 'macho' personality among students.
-- Close on the heels of the discussions around the New Education Policy Draft presented by the Kasturirangan Committee, which even talks of role of retired teachers and retired army personnel in education, this project looks worrisome.
Questioning the whopping sum of Rs 40 crore which would be spent over it, Akhilesh Yadav, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, underlined that since we already have enough such institutions "[r]un by the government, where is the need for RSS to run its own army school," The Samajwadi Party leader did not hide his apprehensions about what will be taught there. "[R]SS apparently wanted to serve its political purpose by opening the army school where the students will "probably be taught lessons in mob lynching and disrupting social harmony".
The concern expressed by many about this project has its merits.
One cannot suddenly develop amnesia over the fact that RSS has a controversial past about which it still has to do lot of explaining.
A number of pages have been written about the fact that RSS did not participate in the freedom struggle and, in fact, when the broad masses in India united for the anti-colonial struggle, by its actions, the RSS tried to weaken this unity.
Second, its leaders had tremendous fascination for the 'final solution' offered by Hitler and yearned to implement it here as well. Third, when the newly independent nation embarked on having a new Constitution -- based on one man -- one vote -- which resolved to do away with all the age-old privileges based on caste, gender, race, ethnicity etc, it had opposed its making and had even vouched for Manusmriti as its Constitution.
Forget the feverish attempts by the present custodians of RSS to sanitise its own past and package itself in a more attractive manner, there are going to be genuine questions about what sort of worldview these future soldiers would be taught in such a RSS-run school. It would be height of innocence to think that it would not be the exclusivist worldview of the parent organisation which is premised on 'us' and 'them' thinking, and which has still not deemed it necessary to admit women in its fold, when equality between different sexes is an established idea.
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Perhaps more important thing is that RSS has always maintained that military education is important for students citing a rising threat to the nation. Of course, there is nothing unique about this fascination for arming people and providing them military education, if one compares it to other exclusivist organisations.
Like every exclusivist ideology/organisation/formation which claims to be centred around a particular religion – be it Islamism, Zionism, fanatic Buddhism -- Hindutva has always entertained a dream of preparing/arming its followers to fight the ‘others’ and slowly albeit not so silently, moving closer to usher in its ‘dreamland’ of Hindu Rashtra. Its ideologues/leaders have been candid enough to point out to the faithfuls the ‘internal enemies’’ and ways to deal with them or exterminate them. All these preparations dotted by regular drills, games and other militant exercises serves as a counter to the much publicised notion by the same people that ‘Hindus are Cowards’ or “Islam was spread through the sword” which has been an item of belief for the Hindutva fundamentalists.
The project of running a military school under RSS is worrisome also because of earlier experiences which were concretised with the intervention and involvement of Hindutva activists.
For example, over a decade ago, when exposures in the Malegaon bomb blast case were taking place and terror modules belonging to Hindutva formations were under the scanner, thanks to the painstaking work done by the then Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, an organisation called Maharashtra Military Foundation (MMF), based in Pune and run by Lt Col Jayant Chitale, a retired air defence artillery officer, had also made headlines.
In an interview to Outlook magazine in 2008, Chitale told the reporter that he had “[o]ver 1,000 of my boys serving in the three services today. Each one has been brainwashed by me. They are motivated, determined and will do anything for the nation.” The visitor's book which Chitale has carefully preserved, lists the names of all the young men who were trained under him. The entry on February 20, 1993 tells us that Shrikant Prasad Purohit, Law College, Pune, was also enrolled here. The same Purohit, who later became Lt Col in the Army and is still an accused in the Malegaon bomb blast case under various sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Indian Penal Code with others.
Coming back to the 'Rajju Bhaiya Sainik School', a section of the media is claiming that this is going to be the 'first Sainik School' being conceived and run by RSS. This claim is not based on facts.
The Bhonsala Military School (BMS) founded by Munje, leader of the Hindu Mahasabha and one of the founders of RSS, is a living example that since the past 60 years, the RSS or its activists are effectively running the school, which has run into controversy one after the other.
It was the mid-1930s when a proper military school was established by Dr B S Munje, mentor of Dr Hedgewar and one of the founders of RSS, which was aimed "..to bring about military regeneration of the Hindus” Apart from Hedgewar, and Munje, L V Paranjpe, B B Thalkar and Baburao Savarkar -- V.D. Savarkar’s brother -- were present at the inaugural meeting of RSS on Vijaya Dashmi (Page 16, Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags, Tapan Basu, Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar, Sambuddha Sen). This military school was to be built much on the lines of The Balilla institutions, an idea conceived by Mussolini for the ‘military regeneration of Italy’. Anyone can see that from day one its doors were closed for non-Hindus.
In one of the first exhaustive write-ups “”Hindutva’s foreign tie-up in the 1930s: Archival evidence” in Economic & Political Weekly, January 22, 2000, Marzia Casolari had provided details of Munje’s tour of Italy, his meeting with Mussolini and his impressions of The Balilla institutions, an idea conceived by Mussolini for the ‘military regeneration of Italy’ and his resolve to develop a similar institution with ‘our institution Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh”
India and particularly Hindu India need some such institution for the military regeneration of the Hindus: so that the artificial distinction so much emphasised by the British of martial and non-martial classes amongst the Hindus may disappear. Our institution of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh of Nagpur under Dr Hedgewar is of this kind, though quite independently conceived. I will spend the rest of my life in developing and extending this Institution of Dr Hedgewar all throughout the Maharashtra and other province
(From Munje Diary)
In fact, Shadow Armies, a book by veteran political journalist Dhirendra K Jha, which has devoted a full chapter to the Bhonsla Military School, takes a close look at the burgeoning of fringe organisations such as the Sri Ram Sene, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Aikya Vedi, apart from a few affiliated organisations of the RSS itself which, according to the author, “stir up trouble, polarize communities, incite violence in the name of Hindutva.” It is common knowledge that there is a very symbiotic relationship between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and these ‘Shadow Armies’. They have accompanied BJP’s steady advance over the last three decades from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 282 in 2014.
It describes how after the death of its founder, Munje, merely six weeks after Gandhi's assassination, it faced tremendous crisis and it was the role of the RSS activists there which helped it revive.
The Bhonsala Military School was thus revived. But the revival came at a price. With Ghatate acting as Nagpur’s key aide in the whole exercise, the management of Moonje’s school was silently taken over by men belonging to the RSS. “The shift took place during the period between 1953 and 1956,” says Major (Retd.) Prabhakar Balwant Kulkarni—who witnessed the shift and who had been attached to the school in different capacities from 1956 to 2003—in a detailed interview that took place in Nashik.
The school remained under scanner of security agencies during first decade of the 21st century.
The school, ..has been linked to various attacks by Hindu extremists in the recent past. The Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad, for instance, found during its investigation of the 2008 Malegaon blasts that several of the accused had been trained at BMS. Witnesses and co-accused told the ATS that they had participated in meetings with senior RSS leaders and their affiliates to plan the bombings, and that these had taken place on BMS premises.
Not only Malegaon blasts, the ATS investigating the Nanded Bomb Blast Case (April 6, 2006), which had witnessed the deaths of two Hindutva activists while making bombs, had discovered that Himanshu, one of the deceased, had organised a training camp at the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur, apart from other camps. The charge sheet and narco analysis of accused in the Nanded blast case made it very clear that a training camp was held in the Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur attended by 100 to 115 people in May 2000 from all over the country.