RSS Public Diplomacy …
Aftermath of Ram Madhav visits to Johns Hopkins and
SCROLL DOWN … the saga continues.
As you might have expected, Outlook is flooded with letters sympathetic to the RSS after the story came out.
Here is my letter, emailed 13 Oct 04
I would like to respond to some vitriolic statements made in letters to Outlook and in hate-filled email to me [see below], concerning my comments about the visit by Ram Madhav of the RSS to the
Repressing RSS efforts to convert people to their beliefs would be like banning public appeals that endeavor to convert people from one set of religious beliefs to another, a ban which the RSS supports as part of its effort to repress Christianity and Islam in
Mr. Madhav, for instance, said several times, "Hindus are by nature secular." This indicates how the RSS defines "secular" to include religious partisans who attack other religious communities. To support his idea of Hindu secularism, Mr.Madhav said that RSS research has not turned up a single example of a Hindu ruler who mixed religion and politics. He should consider the many medieval kings who set themselves up alongside deities for public adoration and sometimes deified themselves in the process; countless medieval Vaishnava and Shivite warriors who fought one another under sectarian banners; the rise of the Ram cult itself as part of a war mobilization in Rajasthan; the massacre of Buddhists by Shivite kings in medieval Tamil Nadu; the policies of the Dogra rajas of Kashmir; and many other examples of Hindu religious politics in the ages before the RSS made attacking Islam and Christianity appear to be respectable defensive activity by members of an aggrieved Hindu majority suffering under governments that supposedly favor other religions.
The truth is, of course, that religious slogans and emotional appeals have long animated efforts to mobilize popular political support in
Mr.Madhav is now airing RSS views among non-believers and non-Indians who can talk back. The RSS has solicited invitations to universities in the
2. “Hindu speaker creates
controversy on campus, By Sarah Breger
October 5, 2004Daily Pennsylvanian. http://www.dailypennsylvanian.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/10/05/4162419408784
Despite numerous attempts by the Penn community to rescind his invitation, Ram
Madhav, spokesman for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, addressed a select
audience yesterday on the state of Indian politics.
The speaking engagement was limited to 25 and closed to the press.
Controversy surrounding the event stemmed from the history of the RSS in
The RSS, a Hindu nationalist movement, is considered by many to be an extremist
group. Its followers believe that Hinduism is the region's dominant cultural
feature and thus advocate a Hindi state.
An ex-member of the RSS was responsible for the assassination of independence
leader Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. The group has been banned several times in
There were strong objections to Madhav -- who was invited to speak by Penn's
Center for the Advanced Study of India -- from professors as well as students.
Five Penn professors signed a letter addressed to the CASI Director Francine
Frankel protesting Madhav's invitation.
"We write to register our astonishment, and our protest, at your decision to
invite Ram Madhav, the official spokesman for the RSS of India, to speak on our
campus," the letter stated.
Calling the the history of RSS one of "orchestrated violence against non-Hindu
communities," the professors went on to write that "the founders of the RSS
modeled themselves on Nazi practices, particularly their genocidal violence
A separate protest occurred on the student level. A petition was circulated
calling on students to "unequivocally denounce the invitation."
Doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature Thangam Ravindranathan, who handed
out protest flyers at the event, criticized the University for allowing Madhav
"It shows a gap between discourse and the reality on the ground," she said. "One
has to draw some sort of line and think of what kind of message you send out
when you ask someone like this to speak."
Event organizers defended their decision to bring Madhav.
In a press release given out at the event, Frankel acknowledged that "some
members of the Penn community, and colleagues on other campuses, understandably
have expressed concern about the appropriateness of hosting Mr. Madhav."
But she went on to explain that it is not possible to understand Indian politics
without understanding the RSS, adding, "Today's discussion, therefore, is in
support of our mission to advance the study and understanding of such trends."
Organizers of the program refused to comment before or after the event.
Some attendees leaving the lecture were surprised to find Madhav "inarticulate"
and "very vague."
However, Political Science doctoral candidate Sreya Sarkar disagreed, saying,
"Most of the questions were just reactions to his views, but the way he
responded was fabulous. It was a good give and take."
A transcript of the event will be made available on the CASI Web site.
“Controversy and polarization as RSS man speaks at Johns Hopkins”
Author: Aziz Haniffa
Publication: India Abroad
Date: October 8, 2004
Even before he had uttered a single word, the September 29 appearance of Ram
Madhav, spokesman of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, at the Johns Hopkins
University's School of Advanced Inter-national Studies generated much
controversy. A petition was circulated protesting the South Asia Studies
Department's invitation, and asking that it be rescinded. The controversy
ended up generating additional interest; the event was oversubscribed to
the extent that it had to be moved to a larger conference room to
accommodate more people. Even so, it was standing room only at the highly
charged conference filled with RSS supporters, student activists and
The question and answer session that followed Madhav's opening remarks
proved contentious, with allegations and counter-allegations that had
moderator Professor Sunil Khilnani, Director of the South Asia Studies
Khilnani introduced Madhav, who was flanked by Professor Walter Andersen,
Associate Director of the South Asia Program and author of The Brotherhood
of Saffron, a book on the RSS. The moderator began with a caveat that "there
are people here who would not like this event to be taking place. "I would
like therefore to make it absolutely clear, before I introduce today's
speaker, that by hosting this event, I and my colleagues in no way endorse
the views that he and his organization, the RSS, stand for."
Invited to speak on 'How the RSS Views India's Relations With Its
Neighbors', Madhav started out by thanking Khilnani and Andersen for the
"great honor" of being afforded a forum for "sharing the views of such a
secret organization in such a public manner."
Almost immediately, he moved into an attack on
which he described as two "theocratic states" that discriminate against
minorities. Madhav characterized
nation created in the modern history" till "
nations that have [since] come into existence based purely on religion as
the core driving force."
Underlining what he said was
and Sikhs, today it is only about 1 percent. It is the same with
with started off with 29 percent minority population - mostly Bengali Hindus
- and today stands between 8 and 9 percent." "But in the case of
RSS spokesman said, "we started off in 1947 with about 10.43 percent
minority population, including Muslims and Christians, and today the
minority population of
people like us is that clearly, there has been an utter discrimination
against minorities in our neighborhood, whether it is
He said the RSS in particular, and Hindus in general, believed India should
be secular, but pointed out that India has suffered greatly "for practicing
secularism, for practicing democracy and the rule of law, and the entire
world tries to teach us to be more secular and we have neighbors, Pakistan
and Bangladesh, who are pro-claimed theocracies. We are the only surviving
democracy [in the region] not only because democracy is great in itself but
because Hindus believe in democracy." He refuted the contention that the RSS
would, if it became politically more powerful, convert
theocracy. "If the RSS becomes stronger, democracy in
stronger because the RSS believes in Hindu values. It is the Hindu values
that stand for democracy and pluralism. If the RSS comes to power in
secularism will not be removed, but it will become stronger. And if the RSS
tries to change it, the RSS cannot remain Hindu."
Asked if the RSS saw Indian Muslims as a potential fifth column, to be
credentials of the Indian Muslims. Indian Muslims are as patriotic as other
Indians are. "We have no doubt about that. Fifth columnists are there even
in Hindus, even in Muslims, even in Christians. They are there in
They belong to all communities."
On Kashmir Madhav said the RSS was not opposed to compromise per se, but
added that any negotiations should be predicated on
support to and financing of cross-border terrorism. "Let's have meaningful
been in favor of dialogue. The problem is that we go in a bus [to
a reference to then prime minister A B Vajpayee bus ride to
and they come in a military tank. We send cricketers, and they send suicide
bombers. This can't take us anywhere." Defending the RSS from the criticism
that it was non-democratic, as manifest in its refusal to admit women into
its cadre, Madhav suggested it was just as natural as sex-specific schools.
The RSS, he said, mandates attendance at its daily one-hour meetings. "For a
woman to meet daily for one hour it is very difficult in an Indian setting."
When Professor Stephen Cohen, director of the South Asia Studies Program at
Brookings Institution, noted that even the Jamaat has women in its cadres,
Madhav said, "The Jamaat does not have daily meetings."
Shrugging off the protests and petitions that greeted his arrival, Madhav
said he was used to such situations. "And it is fun, as long as it is
dignified. As long as you don't invent new theories, it is fun. You argue,
you counter-argue, you call us communal, we call it anti-national, as long
as it is dignified."
Madhav said in a similar vein, allegations that the RSS is communal helped
the organization, "in the sense that we are made more popular by our
adversaries These who write against us, they make people aware that okay,
these are guys who are working for Hindus, Hinduism and all that. It goes
on, it's an interesting battle."
4. email to D.Ludden
Your piece on Ram Madhav