Vol. XLI No. 04 January 22, 2017

RSS-Corporate Interface in Adivasi India

Archana Prasad

There has been a long standing nexus between the RSS and big capital. Funding of Hate, a report published in 2002 clearly pointed to the nexus between the RSS, its affiliate organisations and foreign funding. The India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) and Sewa Bharti International are the two main channels through which Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams, Ekal Vidyalayas get their funding. In fact the facebook page of the Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram based in Jashpur says that all cheques and donations to it should be routed through Sewa Bharti or Sewa Bharti International. Interestingly the websites of both these organisations are opaque on their sources of funding and have no information on the projects that they have granted in the last three years or even before this period. However the data provided by their US counterpart IDRF gives us some scale of funding of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. For example the IDRF granted about Rs 3.56 crore for the education, hostels and scholarships to adivasi students, largely through the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams. Of this about Rs 3.16 crore was granted after the Modi government took office.

Similar information is available after scanning several websites for corporate social responsibility. For example, the president of the Dr Ambedkar Vanvasi Kalyan Trust in the Dangs, Gujarat, is a financier, Tulsibhai Mavani, who owns big investment companies. Subhash Chandra, the owner of Zee news and Essel Group of Companies is the head of Ekal Vidyalaya Global. Gujarati businessman Ramesh Mehta is the head of the Rashtriya Sewa Bharati trust which funds about 70,000 projects for tribals and dalits. Essel also records ongoing corporate social responsibility for running Ekal schools through the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. In adivasi areas, Ekal Vidyalayas are also funded through Friends of Tribals Society, another RSS front organisation which has several corporates on their board of trustees. The Ekal Vidyalayas also get some of their basic funding from Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (USA). The foundation got USD 2.7 crore in the period between 2001 and 2012. But it has already raised USD 1.4 crore in the two years since Modi came to power. Another web of schools associated with the RSS, Saraswati Sishu Mandirs are also funded through the same process. The IDRF is one of the main funders of these schools through transfer of money to state level branches of Vidya Bharti Shiksha Sansthan in the name of several NGOs.



One of the main claims made by Rakesh Sinha, an RSS ideologue who has written an article ‘The Saffron Rainbow’ in the Indian Express dated January 13, 2017 is that the Sangh Parivar organisations promote diversity and creativity. But a look at the aims of both the Ekal Vidyalayas and schools run by the Saraswati Shiksha Sansthan, shows that their primary goal is to instil a feeling of nationalism, which is based on the Hindutva notion of a nation. The spirit of sacrifice, discipline and patriotism are the core values to be taught apart from regular school syllabus especially in Shishu Mandirs which are now fully integrated into main stream education. But it is the additional syllabus of moral science and nationalism that give away the main aims – ie, to instill a sense of Hindutva in the children. As the objectives of the parent organisation Vidya Bharti state the organisation is committed to: 1)  develop a national system of education which would help to build a generation of young men and women that is committed to Hindutva and infused with patriotic fervor; 2) fully developed physically, vitally, mentally and spiritually, capable of successfully facing challenges of day-to-day life-situations; 3) dedicated to the service of our those brothers and sisters who live in villages, forests, caves and slums and are deprived and destitute, so that they are liberated from the shackles of social evils and injustice, and 4) thus devoted, may contribute to building up a harmonious, prosperous and culturally rich nation.

The long term impact of this education is seen in the changing character of adivasi identity and its impact on religious polarisation. The earliest impact was seen in Madhya Pradesh just after independence when the Sangh and its front organisations ensured that no Christian missionaries would be able to operate in the fifth schedule adivasi regions. Thereafter a spate of anti-conversion laws was enacted in order to set up the foundations of the ‘Ghar Vapsi’ campaign and also create conflict situations where a section of the adivasis refused to accept converted adivasis as ‘adivasis’. This created an increasing trend of communal polarisation, especially in the era of post neo-liberal era reforms. That nationhood is defined in terms of a uniform identity which is both submissive and respectful towards the ruling classes. In this sense, the aim of Hindu nationalism has always been to incorporate the ruling classes and community elders within their fold so that they can build a consensus against all dissent.

The building of this consensus is also essential to paving the way for corporate interests in adivasi areas. For example if we look at the case of Bastar alone, it is well known that the Sangh has created divisions within the adivasis and is actively supporting the penetration of corporate houses in the state. In fact this is payback time for the investment that these corporates have made in these organisations. In Bastar alone, there are at least 14 big projects by companies like Tata Steel, Adani and Prakash Industries who have under taken CSR activities and are being supported to make big investments in the region. The CSR activities are tied to successful investments; for example Tata Steel has recently backed out of its plan for a sports academy in Bastar as it is considering the withdrawal of its investment in Lohandiguda. Similarly the Adani CSR in Mundra (Gujarat) is tied with its investments in the ports in this conflict ridden region. In both cases a section of the adivasis, who are fully integrated into the government plans, are demanding that investors be protected in order that their CSR commitments are kept.

The resistance and conflicts on corporate investments is managed through the sharpening of communal contradiction within the adivasi society. Instead of organising united resistance against corporate oppression, Sangh parivar network in fact shifts the focus away from such oppression. This is evident in the growing violence against ‘anti-national’ elements by Sangh supported organisations and increasing attacks on Christian missions and those who support them or have converted. The Kandhamal riots of 2008 were a fair example of this, as also the Bodo crisis in Assam which was targeted at ‘refugee Muslims’. This politics is ultimately aimed at breaking a united resistance in order to let in corporate interests. As the case of Bastar shows, the targeting of adivasi unity through Salwa judum type organisations and the protection of these Sangh supported outfits by security forces forms the background to corporate land acquisition in the region. But the counter to this cannot be ‘naxal’ politics whose politics of the barrel only strengthens these forces. It is thus essential to strengthen the democratic processes within adivasi areas and build a common class-based understanding. Only this will counter the efforts of the Sangh to build a ‘Hindu vanvasi’ identity that weakens resistance against corporate capitalism.