Their (Christians') activities are not merely irreligious, they are also anti-national.... So long as the Christians here indulge in such activities and consider themselves as agents of the international movement for the spread of Christianity, and refuse to offer their first loyalty to the land of their birth..., they will remain here as hostiles (sic) and will have to be treated as such.
- M.S. Golwalkar in Bunch of Thoughts
What was a piece of polemical indulgence on Sangh ideological honcho Golwalkar's part is the RSS' gospel today. When he had spelt it out, in an atmosphere thick with the Nehruvian gung-ho, his views were largely ignored. But when the fifth RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, expounded, at the 75th anniversary meet at Agra last fortnight, on the need for "swadeshikaran" (indigenisation) of the Church and "Indianisation of Islam" it, predictably enough, stirred a hornet's nest.
Sudarshan's suggestion to both Christians and Muslims to "Indianise" their respective faiths was roundly criticised. But it was not read with his rather loaded definition of non-violence. Addressing the mahashivir, Sudarshan called upon the swayamsevaks to possess the "power of violence" if they wanted to be truly non-violent. "If we don't have himsa ki shakti (power of violence), we can't be non-violent. If we have violent power and we don't use it, then it's non-violence".
This accent on violence within a non-violent framework has sent jitters, particularly through the Christians, who take the RSS' statements seriously. Says All India United Christian Forum leader John Dayal: "I take the RSS seriously for two reasons. First, these statements come from a political group which controls the political party which controls the government. Secondly, it's got to do with the RSS' dubious track record-hate and violence against all minorities and a declared distrust of the Constitution."
To push the Indianisation point, Sudarshan quoted extensively from an article purportedly written in 1968 by Mar Athanasius Joel S. Williams, archbishop of the relatively less-known Indian National Church. The article reads: "...it is extremely necessary today to put an immediate end to the affairs of the foreign-controlled, foreign-financed churches and endowments in India."
But Christian leaders view Sudarshan's thesis with suspicion. Father Donald de Souza, deputy secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), sees a larger political motive behind the idea of the swadeshi church. Says he: "The idea of swadeshi church is aimed at hitting at the very roots of democracy and the Constitution. Nobody can regulate faith. The Pope is the guarantor of the unity of faith, he does not tell me about my political choices. The thing is that an enemy is being created (by the RSS) where there is none." Bishop Karam Masih, Church of North India, seems to agree: "When such sentiments are aroused, there is, clearly, some political motive."
ARCHBISHOP Oswald Gracias of the Catholic Bishops Conference also questions Sudarshan's charge that Indian Christians are not patriotic.
The reaction of Northeast church leaders has been equally sharp. George Plathottam of Don Bosco Communications in Guwahati has rejected the RSS chief's accusation that Christian missionaries in India indulge not only in conversions but also foment secessionist movements. Says Plathottam: "The army chief has said that Christian missionaries are not involved in militancy. Was he lying?"
But by reviving Golwalkar, Sudarshan is trying to energise his disillusioned cadre. However, almost every negative comment made by him was followed by a seemingly benevolent advice to both communities. The stakes, therefore, are clearly electoral-try to give the BJP's sagging fortunes a boost vis-a-vis the impending UP assembly polls.
Many feel that the soft words were to save the BJP-led government, wooing the minorities, from embarrassment. The RSS chief distinguished common Christians and Muslims "who feel for the country" from their "anti-national" clergy. Said Sudarshan: "Christians and Muslims changed their method of worship but they've links with our ancestors. Even our Indian Muslim brothers didn't come from outside....so why can't we create a new form of Islam?" He also said how the Baptist Church had described Diwali as the festival of darkness.
Richard Howell, general secretary of Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), admits that "some of the churches have borrowed offensive worldly terms". Indeed, the National Consultation of the Theological Commissions of the EFI on mission language and biblical metaphor met recently in Bangalore to decide on doing away with offending terminology. Words like "darkness", "heathen" and "pagan" are, in Howell's view, "unloving and counter-productive".
Church leaders, however, say that they have no illusion that such changes in their vocabulary will be convincing enough for the saffron brigade to roll back their campaign against the Christians. Going by the parameters set by the founder-fathers of the RSS, whose ultimate dream was to establish Hinduism's superiority over other faiths, they feel there will be no end to the RSS crusade.