In This Review

The RSS: A View to the Inside
The RSS: A View to the Inside
By Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle
400 pp, Penguin India, 2018

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a Hindu nationalist organization that provides crucial electoral support for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a former RSS cadre. The two organizations coordinate policy, but neither calls the shots for the other. Andersen and Damle take an exceptionally well-informed look at the RSS, including its relations with affiliate organizations, such as India’s largest trade union and student association, and its policies on the slaughter of cows, foreign direct investment, relations with China, and other issues. As the RSS has grown, its leadership has moderated the group’s fundamentalist ideology, denounced caste discrimination, and tried, without much success, to bring women and non-Hindus into the ranks. The group’s core concept of Hindutva, or “Hinduness,” is now glossed as loyalty to a vaguely defined Indian civilization rather than adherence to specific religious practices, a revision made easier by the unsystematic character of Hindu beliefs. But religious nationalism remains the RSS’ chief mobilizing tool, and many of the organization’s local branches and affiliates still espouse aggressive anti-Muslim and socially conservative positions.