Why Muslims join the Muslim wing of the RSS

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Abstract

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)–the paramilitary corps that animates the contemporary Indian Hindu nationalist movement–increasingly relies on its Muslim wing to bolster its denials of extremism. The RSS claims hold that crowds of Muslims join its Muslim wing, the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, through organic nationalist awakenings that imply tacit acceptance of the RSS’ Hindu nationalist agenda. Based on a year of interview-based research in North and West India with more than 80 Manch members, defectors, critics and leaders, I provide empirical evidence that challenges the claim that the RSS is winning over Muslim minds. Instead, I suggest that Muslims join for largely instrumental reasons; for material reward and security, but also to rebuke traditional Muslim centres of power and to draw close to the charismatic leadership of Manch leader Indresh Kumar. While discussions of motivations are famously fraught, I rely on interviews not to conclusively list membership motivations, but to assess the claims made by the RSS. As Hindu nationalists consolidate and intensify their activities after the 2019 general election, understanding how the RSS does or does not ‘win over’ India’s Muslim communities is necessary groundwork to address the position of minorities in a Hindu nationalist future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-287
Number of pages13
JournalContemporary South Asia
Volume28
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes

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