RSS & BJP have already caused enough damage: In conversation with path-breaking novelist Devanur Mahadevan

A Dalit writer, he became an important figure in the Bandaya literary movement of the 1970s. This movement, led by emerging Dalit writers, employed prose and poetry to voice and confront social injustices. Amidst a growing right-wing influence in recent years, Mahadeva stands out as a steadfast critic, consistently opposing acts of oppression.
Image: Siasat

1. In your student days you worked as an activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In 2022 you wrote a book on the ‘RSS A long and a short’ which was well received. Apart from your academic pursuits how did your first-hand experiences as an RSS cadre help you to understand the inner mechanisms of the RSS when you approached the subject later in your life? Could you explain?

When I was a student in high school and Pre-University College, I was a member RSS for a few years. Perhaps because I was influenced by their ideas of “Hindu Unity” which espoused equality – but only superficially. I will share with you a couple of examples from my time there. There was a kind Brahmin boy named Mohan in the RSS. His whole family was like RSS. If I had a meal at this house or at the RSS office, he would wash my plates himself. For someone who had been experiencing discrimination in a divided society like ours, an act like this may appear like consolation. However, within RSS discourse, there was an intolerant attitude towards inter-caste, interreligious marriage. When Muslims and Christians were relatively lenient about this, why were they uptight about this? Especially when you claim all Hindus as One? Even though I was nowhere close to marriageable age, I was bothered by it. Anyway, let’s keep that aside.

When we see these two instances together, one can clearly see that even though Mohan’s situation may appear to be progressing, the status quo of casteism is deeply entrenched within RSS thought process. To be clearer, look at the history of the central leadership of the RSS. It has always been led by a Brahmin. To be precise, a Brahmin belonging to a particular subcaste. RSS is trying to replicate the same across the country. BJP has joined hands with RSS. In short, this is the Ashwamedha Yag for the victory of Brahminism.

There is an incident that continues to haunt me today. Often, many prominent leaders of RSS used to visit us. Once, a heavy man who looked like a pehlwan came. He gathered 6-7 kids around him and started talking about history, mythology, patriotism etc. In between, as if remembering something he whispered: “My life’s desire was to spill the blood of a Muslim as a sacrifice to this land, which was decimated by them. One day I did get that opportunity. I saw a destitute man walking towards me in a desolate street. I stabbed him and killed him in a single stroke. I felt my life had become worthwhile.”

The atmosphere was hypnotic. Suddenly, I felt disassociated from my own body. As if I was looking at myself from afar as a third person. I thought to myself: He doesn’t look like a murderer. Maybe he is lying. But why would he lie about something like this? Is this to sow the seeds of hatred against Muslims? To encourage us to kill them?

I never found an answer to these questions. I still haven’t. Maybe this is the teaching method of organisations with ulterior motives?

Thankfully, I failed PUC and was back home. Our village used to receive a single Prajavani newspaper. One day, I came across the news of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia’s death. It had been covered prominently in the newspaper. There were many special features about him. I came under his spell. On the day of Dr. Lohia’s demise, I declared myself a Socialist. At the same time, I also gained friends in the guise of Su. Ramakantham and Srikrishna Alanahalli. Today I am what I am because of all these incidents and meetings.

2. Your short but significant oeuvre of three books of fiction deals immensely with the intricate Dalit life experiences. In ‘ Kusumabale’ the novel in which an untouchable young man, Channa, who was murdered following an affair with Kusuma, an upper caste girl reflects the pervasive Indian reality of honour killing by upper caste people. ‘ Kusumabale’ was written in 1988. How do you reflect on the scenario from 1988 to 2024? Is there a palpable change in the life of Dalits in India? 

You should ask this question to my readers and not to me. Every writer and artist who belongs to a particular time tries to express all that he has sensed and witnessed while fighting for his life in the flood of life that comes at you from all directions.

Take Madara Dhoolaiah as an example. He is a 12th Century Vachana poet. He is a cobbler. When mending footwear, God manifests on the tip of the sewing awl and smiles at him. Madara Dhoolaiah responds: “Why are you grinning at me? There are many who worship you and chant in your name. Go to them. Don’t disrupt my work”. This is a summary of one of his vachanas. Now, if you ask me what is the difference between the 12th century and the 21st century, what do I even say? Isn’t that vachana, the present? An artwork should be seen- not for its depiction of the time period or the sequence of events – but for its sensibilities.

3.  Were the murders of Gauri Lankesh, NM Kalburgi, Dabholkar a sign of the radicalisation of Hindus? If yes, how do you analyse this? 

The murders of Dabholkar, Kalburgi, Gauri and Pansare are not murders committed by human beings. Rather, they are ideological murders. Committed by someone at the behest of someone else by transforming human beings into weapons, by misusing their devotion to God and the nation. When the man who killed Gauri was asked for his reason behind the killer, he said,” I am a man of God. One day, someone I see as a Guru, showed me the news of a woman named Gauri insulting my Gods. I felt an anti-God like her shouldn’t be alive.”

That ideological Guru reads the news to his devotees. Shows them the photos of those who should be killed. That’s all. The Bhakt loses cool and things happen. I think this is what is happening. Dabholkar, Gauri, Kalburgi, and Pansare lost their lives like this. The one who killed was a sacrificial lamb for the conspiracy of someone else. The ideological guru who is the source of this has killed his own conscience and soul to orchestrate something as inhumane as murder. That’s why I said in the beginning, that these murders are not committed by human beings. This reminds me of actor Prakash Raj’s words: ‘We did not bury Gauri, but sowed’.

If we are to find the fountainhead of all this, it lies in the RSS’s realization of God. The second sarasanghachalak of RSS MS Golwalkar said, “The establishment of a society based on the Chaturvarna system – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra – is the realization of God. RSS and its puppet BJP government want to establish this gospel truth. The murders, hate, and intolerance are part of this attempt.

When you see all this, you realise that maybe these RSS people are not actual devotees of Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Shakti, etc. I feel it’s their plan to capture the minds of those who believe in them and then establish the Gods of the Chaturvarna society.

4.  What are the strategies through which the RSS and the BJP appropriates the marginalized groups such as tribal population, women, Dalits and minorities? Since the Sangh is keen on appropriating these segments what will be the impact that these segments will experience over time? 

RSS and BJP change colours as per their needs and requirements. They turn Adivasis into Vanvasis and then conceal the truth that they are our ancestors to deprive them of their rights. They chant women empowerment only to ensure that they sit at home. Calling Dalits as one of their own, they snatch the opportunities given to them. They use them and discard them. They never become partners with equal footing. This applies to middle castes (former shudras) too. Aren’t they unemployed too? They don’t seem to even glance at the unemployment issue that’s heating up every day. They are not demanding their rights. They are succumbing to the elaborate deceptions of BJP. They are once again marching as the Shudra servants of the Chaturvarna system to the tune of sloganeering.

At the same time, the think tank of RSS is portraying the Christian and Muslim minorities as terrorists. It is sowing the seeds of hatred by propagating the false narrative that they are the reason for all our misfortune and misery. This hatred is their capital. This hatred is their energy tonic. The day when the hate is replaced by love, tolerance and coexistence, is when these men of the past will vanish. That’s when we come face to face with the present. Once we realise this, we will also know the work that needs to be done.

RSS and BJP have already caused enough damage as it is. It has reached the summit and now is on a descent. Everyone has woken up from a deep slumber. Naturally, this is manifesting as resistance. A lot of resistance.

5.  Do you think the apparent use of the Hindu religion and its symbols by the Sangh Parivar needs to be countered vociferously to displace their political constituency? Whether the practice of conventional politics in using caste and religious elements for electioneering by opposition parties help displace Sangh’s political constituency based on religion? 

Chaturvarna Hindutva’s RSS is a petty organisation which has appropriated vastly diverse Hinduism, its symbols and values while acting as if it is the representative of all Hindus, fooling everyone in the process. It uses this to further its own political ambitions. They are experts at deceitful politics. Many in their ranks are experts at deviousness. They are well-trained. When others try to copy this, they are mocked. What we need to say is this: Let our Gods and religion remain within the confines of our homes. On public streets, they may end up becoming demons. We need to be cautious of this. Another caution: Constitution, Participative Democracy, Federalism, preserving the autonomy of autonomous institutions, safeguarding public resources, encouragement to agroforestry, implementation of Swaminathan report on support price, prioritising health and education, job creation, controlling inflation – these are the things we need to focus on.

6.  How do you perceive the 2024 general elections? What is the historical importance of the general elections according to you?

In early April, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari was asked what is his agenda for the elections. In his reply he said “Personally, I don’t have any agenda. The agenda is set by the RSS. Our responsibility is to fulfil that.” It was understandable if he said his party BJP would set the agenda. But he said he is going to follow the agenda set by RSS! The gist of this is that BJP which is a puppet of RSS is unfit for democracy and unqualified to govern.

RSS is an organisation that is outside the purview of the constitution and is not accountable to us. Its main agenda is to build a society based on Chaturvana system. Chaturvarna system is their God. They need to destroy the Indian Constitution which is in the way to achieve their agenda. But the feet of RSS are reversed. These are the feet that only move towards the past. How can the BJP which is the puppet of RSS and is bound to its agenda, can ever become people’s representatives? The challenge in front of us is to stop BJP’s politics of the past which only makes the wheels of history move backwards.

7.  What is your experience of ‘Eddelu Karnataka’ in which you were also an active stakeholder?

I’m a member of the Bharat Jodo Abhiyaan. This is not a single organisation, but a wave. Hence, we work with numerous social-oriented organisations. In the 2023 Assembly elections, I joined hands with Dalita Sangharsha Samiti (DSS), Eddelu Karnataka, and Raita Sangha. Eddelu Karnataka did effective campaigning at the ground level. Samyuktha Horata – Karnataka and Janandolana’s grand alliance were active. Everyone has worked together. Along with them, the contributions of organisations that work for the oppressed communities and minority communities are immense. The list goes on.

All these organisations and more have been active in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Many new faces and organisations have joined forces. They are united in their goal: BJP, the puppet government of RSS which advocates for Chaturvarna Hindutva, should not come to power again; a democratic government adherent to the constitution should be elected.

Translated from Original Kannada by Amulya B


(A journalist with fifteen of years of experience Abhish K Bose was a staffer at The Times of India and The Deccan Chronicle – Asian Age. As a contributor, his interviews or articles have been published in Frontline magazine, The Wire, The Print, The Telegraph, The Federal, The News Minute, Scroll, The Kochi Post, Madhyamam Weekly, Andolana, and the Asian Lite international published out of Manchester. ) 



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