New PM Modi’s nationalist foot soldiers take center-stage in India
Standing with Narendra Modi as he was sworn in as prime minister on the majestic forecourt of India’s presidential palace was a cabinet made up almost entirely of ministers whose careers started in a hardline Hindu nationalist movement.
After the stunning majority won by Modi’s party in the general election, the movement that believes multi-faith India should be recognized first and foremost as a Hindu nation feels closer than ever before to achieving its goals.
Hundreds of thousands of volunteers from the movement led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) actively campaigned in the election, using technology and sheer manpower to mobilize voters in regions where Modi’s party has traditionally been weak.
Many are recruited into the RSS as children and stay in the movement through their lives. In the election, these volunteers carried voter lists on tablet computers or mobile phones, the biggest operation by the organization since 1977 when disparate opposition groups merged to beat former prime minister Indira Gandhi and her Congress party.
“It is thrilling,” said RSS campaigner Prabhu Narain Srivastava, wearing the group’s uniform of baggy khaki shorts and a white shirt as children under his tutelage exercised and played school-yard games in Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.
“We have been working for years for an absolute majority and now support is overflowing.”
The defeat dealt this time to the Congress party and its secular politics that have dominated independent India has given some nationalists hope that the world’s biggest democracy is shifting permanently to a Hindu-first majoritarianism.
Of the 23 cabinet ministers sworn in on Monday, 17 have their roots in the RSS and affiliates. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is effectively the political wing of the RSS. Many of the 22 junior ministers are also linked to the movement.
Modi, who joined the RSS as a child and spent his formative years working full-time for the organization, shares its belief in a strong, proud India.