Creation of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS:
The emergence of Hindu consciousness and identity is rooted in the late 19th century. Its origins can be traced to the Hindu revivalism of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement founded in 1875, and the 'extremism' of the Congress leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The growth of Hindu nationalism, in contrast, is a product of the early 20th century. Politically, the concept of Hindu nationalism (or communalism as it was then called) was first articulated by the Hindu Mahasabha, a movement that was founded in 1914 at Hardwar by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya in reaction to the creation of the Muslim League in 1906. In its early years the organization was obscured by the Congress party with which most of its members were associated. The Lucknow Pact of 1916 and the ascendency of the Moderates within the Congress alienated many of the Hindu extremists, however, and under the leadership of V.D. Savarkar, an admirer of Tilak and, like him, a Chitpavan Brahmin from Maharashtra, the Mahasabha parted with the Congress in a call to 'Hinduize all politics and militarize Hinduism.' (source: Hargrove and Kochanek)
I didn't know that the members of the Mahasabha were in the Congress early on. It's also interesting to hear that they came into existence initially as a reaction to the forming of the Muslim League.
The RSS was briefly banned after the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi in January 1948 (Godse was associated with the RSS). It was also banned during 1975-1977, when Indira Gandhi had assumed dictatorial powers. It was banned yet again for a short while after the razing of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.
Organizations like the BJP and the VHP were actually formed rather recently:
Over the past 50 years, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) has emerged as an increasingly powerful force in India and has become the head of what is now known as the Sangh Parivar, or family of Hindu nationalist organizations, with a spread across all sectors of Hindu society. These organizations include the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, founded in 1948 and now the largest student organization in India; the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), founded in 1955 and today the largest trade union in the country; the Jana Sangh (1951) and its successor, the BJP, representing the political arm of the RSS; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), founded in 1964, and its thuggish offshoot the Bajrang Dal (1984), which represent the more explicitly religious wing; and the newly formed Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, founded in 1991 to protect Indian economic self-reliance from the threat of foreign capital.
The last is interesting -- I hadn't heard of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (they have a website -- note the iconic use of Gandhi's image!). It seems confusing, since the BJP government was pro-foreign investment and privatization. On the other hand, the nativist slant communalism makes "self-reliance" an obvious ideological endpoint. I'm curious to find out more about how the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch is thought of by the mainstream Hindu nationalist groups.
Finally, the RSS today. It is important to note that they are not just thugs. Indeed, I suspect that much of their mass-support comes from their social programs, which build credibility in local communities:
From 1977, the RSS undertook a major effort to expand membership, and it met with resounding success. It is estimated that there are today more than 2.5 million members who attend meetings of the shakha, or unit, every day of the year. Here, for about one hour at either dawn or dusk, RSS volunteers uniformed in khaki shorts engage in an intensive program of ideological discussion, physical exercise, and military discipline. There are some 40,000 shakhas throughout India, each having 50-100 active members with a neighborhood base. RSS support is predominantly urban and lower middle class. From its traditional geographic core in North India, the movement has spread into the Northeast and into South India. It has also begun to make inroads into the countryside and has won support among Dalits (untouchables) and tribals. The RSS places increasing emphasis on social work and has been active in flood relief and in literacy campaigns.
I don't know if the number given (2.5 million) is still accurate. Does anyone know if that has changed in recent years? Has the support for the RSS changed following the BJP defeat? (Probably not, I'm guessing)
Also, does anyone disagree with Hargrave and Kochanek's factual data or interpretations? They give extensive footnotes, but I'm curious to know if people have other interpretations of the history.