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Sunday, August 23, 1998

RSS neither nationalist nor fascist, says Christian priest after research

P Venugopal  
KOCHI, August 22: The name of the research institution is Sorbonne University, Paris, France. The researcher is Dr (Father) Vincent Kundukulam of St Joseph Pontifical Seminary, Aluva, Kerala. The thesis for the doctoral research is: Le RSS Et L'Eglise En Inde (RSS and Church in India).

To Fr Kundukulam goes the credit for being the first Christian priest to do a doctoral thesis on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, that too in a foreign university. He is also the first clergyman to author a book on the RSS titled RSS: Enthu? Engott? (What is RSS and Where is it headed for).

In fact, a former clergyman, Anthony Elenjimittam, had published a book titled RSS: Bharathiya Samskruthiyude Kavalsena (RSS: Watchdog of Indian Culture) way back in 1951, but he had ceased to be a priest and had taken to social service when the book was published.

What motivated Fr Kundukulam to conduct a research on the RSS was his conviction that the Catholic church should closely study the philosophy, organisational structure andworking of all the socio-politico-cultural movements in the society in which it operates, imbibe the best in them, and invite a dialogue on their negative aspects.

The phenomenal growth of the RSS in post-Independent India, with its tentacles firmly rooted in all walks of life, all nooks and corners of the country, kindled his curiosity. In Madhya Pradesh, he came across a European who had been doing a doctoral thesis on `Hindu nationalism' in the Sorbonne University.

``When I broached the idea of writing a book on my research findings on the RSS, some of my co-religionists cautioned me that the RSS men would beat me up if I wrote something against them. I have in my assessment of the RSS tried to be as objective as possible. It is of immense satisfaction to me that my book is well-received in the church and RSS circles,'' said Fr Kundukulam in an interview with The Indian Express at the Pontifical Seminary.

The conclusion drawn by Fr Kundukulam is that RSS cannot be considered as a nationalistorganisation in the sense in which the term `nationalism' is generally interpreted in India. Nationalism represents the collective consciousness of the people transcending all barriers of caste, religion, etc. A nationalist is one who is primarily indebted to the nation. Religion has no place in nationalism. In this sense, Fr Kundukulam argues, RSS whose primary loyalty is to the Hindus can hardly be called a nationalist organisation. In his view, RSS is a multi-faceted organisation which is political, cultural, religious and voluntary in nature and approach. Different facets gain upperhand at different times depending on social and political exigencies.

At the same time, Fr Kundukulam argues against branding the RSS ideology as fascism, Nazism, fundamentalism and communalism. He said the terms fascism, Nazism, and fundamentalism are much abused terms in India. They have a distinct connotation in the European context that can hardly apply to the Indian milieu.

The term fundamentalism was first coined inthe context of the emergence of the Protestant movement in the Christian church in America in the twenties. The ideology of the RSS and the way in which it is interpreted by the Sangh leaders borrowing modern terminology have no camparison to the sense in which the term fundamentalism was used in America. So also, fascism and Nazism do have distinct meanings in the socio-political contexts that prevailed in Italy and Germany which have no bearing in the Indian context.

Fr Kundukulam felt that communalism is not at all a part of religion. Communalism is nothing but mobilisation of people on communal lines to serve a specific cause. RSS can, therefore, be said to be communal only in a limited sense. BJP, the political arm of the RSS, during its rule at the Centre has not committed any acts that could truly be described as fundamentalist, fascist, or communal. In fact, one of the first acts of A B Vajpayee after taking over as Prime Minister last time was to call on Mother Teresa and Delhi Archbishop, hesaid.

Fr Kundukulam felt that the socio-political milieu of India offers a fertile ground for the RSS to grow. One admirable aspect of the RSS, Fr Kundukulam says, is its flexibility to move with the times and to adopt the best from other socio-cultural-religious movements. It learnt the rudiments of social work from the missionary organisations of the church and mass mobilisation techniques from the communists.

He admires the RSS for the dedication and discipline of its cadres, the simple life style of its pracharaks, the moral teaching it imparts to the younger generation in its daily sakhas, and the voluntary labour put in by its cadres at critical times such as natural calamities.

Indian society, Fr Kundukulam feels, is in a ``vicious circle'' with the majority Hindu community suffering from a ``psychological inferiority complex'' on account of its failure to have a proportionate say in the governance of the country in spite of its numerical superiority and the minorities always suspicious of themajority community. The growth of minority fundamentalism would only strengthen the RSS.

``India can prosper only by strengthening the forces of democracy and secularism and ensuring economic justice to the people,'' concludes Fr Kundukulam who is now busy working on the second edition of his book.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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