In an RSS publication, Matrusansthas (literally, ‘mother organisations’), on the numerous affiliates and organisations which the RSS has spawned over the decades and which form part of the Sangh Parivar, are included the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and the VHP. (See Detailed Annexures, Volume III http://www.sabrang.com/tribunal/tribunal3.pdf).
The VHP was born in 1964, when the RSS chief, Shri Golwalkar, met a select group of sanyasis and heads of religious organisations in Mumbai with the aim of launching a new organisation to unite all Hindu religious sects under a single umbrella. During the first ten years of its existence, the VHP worked largely in the north-eastern states, proselytising against the Christian missionaries. But following the mass conversion of Dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram (Tamil Nadu) in 1981, it shifted its focus and turned against Muslims. In this new phase, it sought to enlarge and formalise the institutional links between the high priests of Hinduism across the country. Two apex bodies were created for this purpose – the Marg Darshak Mandal, which meets once or twice annually, and the Dharam Sansad, which meets only when needed. The Shankaracharyas, all heads of top maths, were given a prominent role within them and most of them became closely identified with VHP (RSS) politics.
In legal terms, the VHP was conceived of as a trust, with a 100-member board of trustees and a 51-strong governing council. The latter body includes only one sanyasi at present (2002), Swami Chinmayananda. An indication, perhaps, that the ultimate controlling power rests not with traditional religious leaders, but with the RSS patriarchs. VHP activists are called hitchintaks (well-wishers).
In a relatively short span of time, the trust has developed eighteen departments. These include the Dharma Anusthan department, which organises kirtans and bhajans in temples. Another branch looks after dharma prachar (missionary work) geared towards ghar vapasi (reconversion, or literally, return to home) of Christians and Muslims. Yet another is the Acharya Vibhag, which trains pujaris (priests) for the VHP as well as for other non-VHP run temples. The Parva Samanuyaya department co-ordinates common festivals with non-VHP temple committees.
Since the early ’80s the VHP has become politically visible with its aggressive ‘Ramjanmabhoomi Andolan’. The declared aim was to ‘reclaim’ the ‘birthplace of Lord Ram’ in Ayodhya on which the Babri Masjid stood and to build a Ram temple in its place. Among other things, the campaign involved a series of national mobilisations — the Ekatma Yajna (1983), Shri Ramjanaki Janmabhoomi Yatra (1984), other rath yatras (1985-89), Shilapoojan and Shilanyas ceremonies at Ayodhya (1989), and finally, Shri Advani’s rath yatra (1990). All these, except the last one, which was organised under the BJP banner, were conceived and organised by the VHP.
While some of these yatras were for ‘consciousness-raising’, others required active contributions from everyone – a brick, a rupee, or the sale of a bottle of Ganga water in each village of the country. The mobilisations were a means to claiming and, to an extent, creating ‘Hindu unity’ under the VHP’s auspices.
Of the myriad texts that exist for the eclectic faith of Hinduism, it is curious that Manusmriti and Arthashastra are treated as central by the ideologues of Hindu Rashtra. It is interesting to remember that the Manusmriti prescribes a rigidly stratified caste and gender hierarchy, while the Arthashastra recommends a police state under a single despotic head.
In retrospect, the core concern behind the formation of the VHP was the desire to forge ‘unity’ in a society fragmented by the rigidities of caste. Beginning with the tribals of the north-east, VHP activities then extended to Delhi, Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, MP, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, UP and Bihar. The ‘Hinduisation’ of exploited social groups became urgent, particularly after the Meenakshipuram incident. In UP, the VHP has been wooing the forest-dwelling Kol tribes. The nature of the VHP’s activities among such groups reveals that their inspiration is drawn entirely from the RSS worldview. On paper, the VHP is engaged mainly in educational work: setting up of libraries, yogashramas, balwadis, student hostels and child samskar centres for the development of the knowledge of Hindu texts and Hindu national