Gurjant Singh: The RSS Have Never Been An Ally Of Sikhs

A myth, propagated mainly by author Khushwant Singh, that the RSS protected Sikhs before and after the 1984 Sikh Genocide, is still used by BJP supporters and RSS workers

Gurjant Singh
April 8, 2021 | 10 min. read

On March 30, 2021, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) passed a resolution condemning the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its mission to make India a Hindu Rashtra, perceiving it as a threat to all minorities.

This news led to the widespread criticism of the SGPC by BJP leaders and Hindu nationalists deflecting with unrelated topics - such as the overblown threat of Christian missionaries in Punjab.

The SGPC’s resolution alarmed the RSS and supporters of Hindutva as it is countered false claims their supporters often make - that the RSS has always been an ally of Sikhs, and that Sikhs are essentially Hindus.

A recent example of this mindset is Arun Anand’s The Print article from earlier this week regarding the relationship between the RSS and Sikhs - specifically discussing how the RSS has supposedly saved the Sikhs in the past. Anand is the CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra (IVSK), a company that is affiliated with the RSS, and publicly honoured members of the group ‘Clean the Nation’ whose stated aim is to “clean and weed out anti-nationals”.

Although it is true that in 1947, as Anand claims, Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab formed armed militias to protect their families in the lead up to partition, BJP leaders and RSS mouthpieces have often used such historical events to project Sikhs and Hindus as inseparable and to reinvent the Sikh identity within the larger Hindu nationalist paradigm. Any Sikh who asserts their identity as separate from Hindus is considered a traitor.

The RSS and its supporters have never been allies of Sikhs. 

During the Punjabi Suba movement, the formation of the Punjab state on a linguistic basis arose. Such movements were happening across India, for example, the Mahagujarat movement led to its split with the creation of Marathi speaking Maharashtra and a Gujarati speaking Gujarat. However, it was only in Punjab that the issue was communalized by Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS, predecessor of the BJP), which pitted Hindus against Sikhs.

BJS patriarch Deen Dayal Upadhayay wrote against Punjabi Suba in his September 5, 1965 article titled ‘This Punjabi Suba Business’:

“It need not be repeated that the Punjabi Suba is a misnomer for Master Tara Singh’s Sikh state. Whatever Sant Fateh Singh might say, the whole movement is based on communal appeal. It is carried on openly not only from the religious platforms in the gurdwaras. This Suba therefore will be a theocratic state in India. We cannot allow it.”

In Amritsar, the BJS gave their full support to organizations advocating opening stores selling cigarettes, tobacco, and tobacco products close to the Golden Temple, when Sikh organizations wanted to declare Amritsar as a holy city where tobacco products would be banned.

The Arya Samaj led a procession, which brought 10,000 Hindus into the streets, carrying lighted cigarettes on sticks and swords, shouting "bidi, cigarette piyenge; shaan se jiyenge." (we will smoke our cigarettes and tobacco with pride).

On February 14, 1984, BJP national level leader Harbans Lal Khanna, along with some members of extremist Hindu organizations committed the sacrilege of publicly destroying the model of the Golden Temple and a picture of Guru Ram Das at the Amritsar Railway Station. The destruction of the model foreshadowed the actual Indian military invasion of  Darbar Sahib during Operation Bluestar, when tanks, artillery, helicopters, and armoured vehicles bombarded the Akal Takth, destroying the symbol of Sikh political sovereignty.

The RSS and BJP were at the forefront of groups lobbying the Indira Gandhi led Congress government to take military action in the Golden Temple. 

On May 3, 1984, a few weeks before Bluestar, BJP leaders Lal Krishna Advani (first president of BJS) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee (founder and first president of BJP) sat on a strike in Delhi, demanding that the armed forces be sent into the Golden Temple. After Operation Blue Star, there were several reports stating that the RSS distributed sweets in celebration of the military action. 

Advani went on to write an autobiography, ‘My Country My Life’, released in 2008. In a chapter reflecting on his time in Punjab, he considered the BJP agitation as a major influence on Indira Gandhi’s decision to order troops to storm the Golden Temple in 1984. Even though Vajpayee later claimed that he was against military action on Harmandir Sahib during Operation Bluestar, there are photos of him and Advani heading a demonstration calling for military action in Punjab.

On November 8, 1984, Nanaji Deshmukh, a BJS leader from Uttar Pradesh published an essay, “Moment of Soul Searching” in which he praised Indira Gandhi for Operation Bluestar and justified the 1984 Sikh Genocide by saying that it was the fault of Sikh leaders. In 2019, Nanaji Deshmukh was awarded the Bharat Ratna award, by fellow RSS member Narendra Modi.

In 2014, Jarnail Singh, senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, pointed out that several BJP and RSS workers were involved in the Genocide. He demanded that action should be taken against these prominent individuals after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh dubbed the events of 1984 as a genocide.

The Caravan Magazine reports that many BJP and RSS leaders were involved in the 1984 Sikh Genocide. The 14 FIRs lodged at the Delhi city police station include the names of 49 persons belonging to the BJP and the RSS. According to those FIRs, these leaders were booked on charges of murder, arson, and rioting in the various areas populated by Sikhs. One of the people named is Ram Kumar Jain, president of the Jain Mahasabha Ashram and a poll agent for Vajpayee during the 1980 Lok Sabha elections.

A myth, propagated mainly by author Khushwant Singh, that the RSS protected Sikhs before and after the 1984 Sikh Genocide, is still used by BJP supporters and RSS workers to put the blame squarely on the Congress party. The veracity of these claims is false. 

It should be noted that Khushwant Singh, who vehemently declared himself as secular was labeled an anti-national, Hindu hating, Khalistani by “secular” Hindus and media after he condemned Operation Bluestar and expressed his intention to return the Padma Bhushan award as a protest.

Khushwant Singh wrote in his autobiography titled ‘Truth, Love and a Little Malice’ in 2002:

“What followed was a painful discovery to me. Overnight I became a kind of folk hero of the Sikhs: the first to openly denounce the government. And a villain for Hindus. I, who had always preached secular ideals and condemned Bhindranwale, had come out in my ‘true colours’ they said,”

He would go on to add:

“Every pressman who came to interview me asked why I had not resigned from the Rajya Sabha as well. I told them that I was not going to deprive myself of the one forum from which I could tell the government and the people what grievous wrong it had done to the Sikhs and the country.”

During the 1984 Sikh Genocide, Khushwant Singh was not helped by his esteemed "connections" in the Indian government, nor was he helped by the BJP and the RSS. Instead, he had to seek refuge in the Swedish Embassy as government-sponsored mobs slaughtered Sikhs in the streets of Delhi.

In 1994, he wrote about his experiences in his book, ‘My Bleeding Punjab’.

“I awaited my turn. I felt like a partridge in a partridge shoot waiting to be flushed out of cover and shot on the wing… For the first time 1 understood what words like pogrom, holocaust and genocide really meant. I was no longer a member of an over-privileged community but of one which was the object of dire hate,” he wrote. “All day long my telephone rang. ‘They are burning our gurdwara, can't you do anything? They have looted our shops; can't you do anything?... There are scores of Sikh corpses lying along the rail track, can't you do anything?’” 

He adds:

“In my turn I rang up everyone I knew from the Commissioner of Police, the Lt. Governor, the Home Minister, right up to Rashtrapati Bhavan. The only help I received was in the form of advice: ‘Get out of your place and hide with your Hindu friends. At least you will be able to save your life.’”

In Khushwant Singh's book, "The End of India" published a year after the 2002 Godhra riots and Narendra Modi's landslide victory, he strongly criticizes BJP, RSS, and the fascist Hindutva movement.

According to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who formulated the Hindu nationalist philosophy of Hindutva:

“a Hindu is one who acknowledges Hindustan as his pitrubhumi (fatherland) as well as his punyabhumi (holy land). Whether he or she is a devotee of sanatan dharma (Hinduism) is unimportant. Anyone who is or whose ancestor was Hindu in undivided India, including someone who was originally a Hindu but converted to Islam or Christianity, is also welcome back into the Hindu fold provided he accepts India as his fatherland and land of worship. However, love for Bharat Mata (Mother India), following the Hindu faith and belief in the Hindu caste system are not enough. A Hindu has to love, embrace and own Hindu sanskriti (culture) as a whole.”

Savarkar sought to fuse the idea of a nation as a political entity with Hindu religious and geographical identity. However, this idea appropriates all religions that originated in the Indian sub-continent as Hindu, thus robbing them of their right of self-assertion, independence, and distinctness, while excluding religions like Christianity and Islam. 

Savarkar praised the growth of Italy and Germany during Fascist and Nazi rule respectively. Inspired by the Nazi’s racial doctrine, he similarly denied Muslims and Christians their civil rights, as their loyalties lay with their holy lands outside the Indian subcontinent.

The RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jan Sangh, the Shiv Sena, and the Bajrang Dal are fuelled by this concept of exclusion stated by Savarkar. Khushwant Singh writes:

“Drawing inspiration from Savarkar’s concept of Hindutva, which they considered as an article of faith, they indulged in falsifying history, mosque-breaking, church-burning and attacking missionaries, and they went on to perpetrate pogroms. They are the foot soldiers of today’s rulers.”

In November 1972, Khushwant Singh met with Madhavrao Sadasivrao Golwalkar, the then head of the RSS. At the time, Khushwant Singh naively thought that he could persuade Golwalkar to make Hindu-Muslim unity as the main aim of the RSS. However, it was only some thirty-odd years later that Khushwant Singh realized that this was an act of futility and understood the true vitriolic nature of the RSS.

“The mission of the RSS is to ‘unite and rejuvenate our nation on the sound foundation of Dharma’, a mission that can be achieved by ‘a strong and united Hindu society’. It has therefore undertaken the task of uniting the Hindus because it believes that ‘rejuvenation of the Hindu nation is in the interest of the whole humanity (sic)’. Clearly, there is no room here for anyone who does not pray to Hindu gods. The RSS is blatantly and fiercely anti-Muslim and anti-Christian.”

BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin. 

Neither care for Sikhs or any other minority. Every time both parties have raised the issue of the 1984 Sikh Genocide and formation of investigation committees, it is during voting season. Khushwant Singh wrote:

“Every fascist regime needs communities and groups it can demonize in order to thrive. It starts with one group or two. But it never ends there. A movement built on hate can only sustain itself by continually creating fear and strife…No one is safe. We must realize this if we hope to keep India alive.”

Hindutva has always tried to reduce Sikhs to foot soldiers of Hindus in an eternal struggle against Islam by distorting history to appropriate them into the Hindu fold. This was also seen during the Ram Mandir of Ayodhya verdict, where Sikhs were labeled as a cult in the Supreme Court judgment. Sikhs have refused to accept that role or false reading of history.

This has always been a reason for Hindutva’s irritation with Sikhs. Whenever a Sikh speaks for constitutional-democratic rights of Muslims, hordes of Hindutva nationalists will descend on them, reminding Sikhs of ‘who’ killed our martyrs. 

Sikhs do not get provoked by this, because we understand when our Gurus and martyrs were being tortured and killed there were hundreds of thousands of people, who silently watched, and even supported the regime that perpetrated those crimes, regardless of religion. 

For Sikhs, our historic struggles were not against Islam or Muslims, but an oppressive regime of the Mughal Empire. Similarly, Sikhs are averse not to Hindus, but to the oppressive regime of Hindutva that decrees non-Hindus as second-class citizens.

And, that is the crux of the matter - Hindutva can only accept a minority in a subservient role. 

The reaction of Hindu nationalists and the BJP IT cell to the events at Red Fort on January 26, 2021, is telling. They vilified Sikhs, their history, their beliefs, their practices, and more. However, the Sikh psyche has been stated succinctly by Rattan Singh Bhangoo, in Prachin Panth Prakash:

"The Khalsa is never a satellite to another power.

They are either fully sovereign or in a state of war and rebellion. 

A subservient coexistence they never accept.

To be fully sovereign and autonomous is their first and last demand”

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Gurjant Singh was born and raised in India. He is currently residing in the US, working as an IT professional. He has an avid interest as a hobbyist in Sikh theology, history, and politics. You can find him on Twitter at @GurjantSM.


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