RSS’s International Wing Defeated at Californian City of Manteca

The City of Manteca, California made history on 3 August 2022 when it unanimously voted to rescind a proclamation it had issued to the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) following controversy that erupted the previous month over HSS’s ties to India’s Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh paramilitary.

The special meeting, which included an agenda item to consider passing a resolution to rescind, included a hybrid public comments section allowing citizens to express their views about the issue either in person or by calling in. Approximately 150 people on both sides of the issue packed the chambers to sit through the event in person. Perhaps 70 people spoke in public comment, an estimated 35 of whom did so online.

Most opponents of rescinding focused on the premise of the proclamation, which was to celebrate a Yogathon event, and the benign nature of yoga. Comments in favor of revocation, however, repeatedly pointed out that the controversy at hand had nothing to do with yoga but was rather because the proclamation not only contained specific language highlighting and praising the HSS but was also solicited by and presented to that organization.

“Yes, the proclamation and maybe the council’s intention was regarding yoga, but I will also say that I don’t think that’s what’s up for discussion tonight,” remarked Councillor Gary Singh before the final vote. “We are not discussing yoga. None of us are disagreeing with yoga. There is yoga that goes on in this community. We are here to discuss, unfortunately, the organization which brought the proclamation.” He added that his own research had revealed information about ties between the HSS and the RSS.

As the first member of the public to offer comment at the outset of the meeting, I highlighted the RSS’s ideological commitment to a “vision of India where all religious minorities are relegated to second-class citizenship — at best — or, in fact, actually wiped out from the country.” Explaining that “the RSS gained its current position of power with a great deal of direct assistance from its international wing here in America, the HSS,” I pointed out: “The HSS operates from America as a support base and propaganda mouthpiece for the RSS and its agenda back in India. And such applause that the HSS gathers from local city councils like this has been used to legitimize itself and gain credibility even while its leadership — away from your gaze — promotes the fascist, xenophobic, and supremacist agenda of the RSS back in India.”

Citing Dr. Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch, Imam Mohammad ElFarra of the Manteca Islamic Centre spoke in public comments about how Stanton had accurately predicted the 1995 Rwandan Genocide years before it occurred. “Today, Stanton is predicting a Muslim and other minority group genocide in India and warning the world again to take heed,” said ElFarra. “The HSS-USA is the international vanguard and protector of the Nazi-inspired RSS. According to the founding documents of the RSS, Muslims and Christians must be seen as traitors to India and hence shall have no citizenship rights equal to the Hindus even if they have been living there for centuries. By recalling and rescinding the HSS proclamation, the City of Manteca sends a very strong and loud message that Manteca spoke when it mattered most and joined the call for stopping genocide of minorities in India.”

The many other speakers in favor of revocation included various Christians and Sikhs from the local community. Among them was Sim Singh, who paraphrased Malcolm X: “If you stick a knife nine inches into my back, and pull it out three inches, that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound.”

Singh continued: “I would like to ask the City of Manteca to ponder upon this quote when thinking about the minorities of this community and the minorities of the Hindutva regime. The HSS, who previously in this meeting mentioned that they’re proud of their relation with the RSS, are a threat to the subaltern people all over the globe.” He suggested following the example of US Congressman Ro Khanna, an Indian-American Hindu who, in 2019, called it the “duty” of all American politicians of Hindu faith to reject the Hindu nationalist ideology of the RSS.

Concerns about the HSS in America, Singh explained, “is about the fact that they claim nonviolence and unity but promote the genocides of Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, and all other minorities.” He concluded: “Putting into context Malcolm X, the RSS has stabbed us in the back, and the HSS pulls the knife out three inches by talking about universal peace. Minorities do not stand for this false unity or progress. The voices of these minorities must be heard by all of America, not just Manteca.”

Following hours of remarks from the public, the council concluded their consideration with a 20-minute conversation in which most openly rejected the idea that the controversy had anything to do with yoga or religion — or any of the other issues claimed by the crowd opposed to revocation — and had, in fact, everything to do with the HSS and whether or not it is actually linked to the RSS.

“What I’m not happy with is the fact that one of the groups that the group [HSS] is associated with was founded under unfavorable conditions,” commented Councillor David Breitenbucher during the final council discussion. “That’s what I’m having an issue with.” Speaking directly to self-identified members of the HSS sitting in the audience, he concluded: “The group that you’re associated with, everything that I’ve read, there’s nothing about genocide but they are attached to violence, and that is not something that I can support.”

“Well, I would agree that the proclamation was focused on yoga, but unfortunately, the organization, there’s at least the perception that HSS is linked with RSS,” noted Vice-Mayor Charlie Halford. “The reality of it is, in life, perception is reality.”

The council considered simply revising the original January 2022 proclamation to remove mention of the HSS. However, they ultimately conceded that still left the problem that the proclamation was solicited by and presented to the HSS. Instead, they agreed to move forward with a complete revocation on the promise of returning to — as a city and without tying it to any organization — issue a proclamation recognizing International Yoga Day.

All those gathered to support rescinding the proclamation found the proposed solution entirely satisfactory and strongly expressed their support for a new city proclamation solely in recognition of yoga.

As soon as the idea was proposed, however, a clear wave of dismay passed through all those gathered to oppose revocation. Several became clearly agitated and repeatedly attempted to interrupt the council. Their reaction suggested that — although most speakers opposed had attempted to portray support for revocation as being motivated by “anti-yoga” or “anti-Hindu” sentiment — the true purpose for passing the original proclamation had nothing to do with recognizing yoga but rather with using it as an excuse to secure a platform for and praise of the HSS itself.

The proclamation was finally rescinded in a five to zero vote. The resolution revoking it included the statement: “The City wishes to issue an apology to all individuals and/or entities who were hurt, offended, and/or negatively impacted by the decision of the City to issue the above noted proclamation.”

Not only will the City of Manteca now go down on the right side of history, but it will also go down as having actually made history by being the first city in America to recognize and correct its mistake of platforming and praising the HSS.

It was a defeat for the HSS-RSS — an embarrassing one considering the huge level of resources they mobilized to stop this from happening. By my own observation (as well as that of others), it seemed that almost the entire opposition camp had traveled from far outside the city, while various speakers who dialed-in openly identified themselves as non-residents, and some of the local Indian-Americans attending in support of revocation speculated that many of the callers may have been based in India (a possibility concerning the city did not screen online callers according to location).

Moreover, a certain US-based nonprofit, whose latest financial reports show nearly $4 million in assets, had two of its boardmembers call in from out of town to express protest by making potentially slanderous and certainly salacious allegations against myself. Indeed, countless speakers, operating off what appeared to be pre-planned scripts, constantly attempted to divert attention from the 75+ local community members who had assembled to support revocation by attacking me personally. The council, however, refused to be fooled by ad hominem attacks and, at one point, even noted that the controversy before them was clearly not about a single individual.

Rather, the issue was about a coalition of humanitarian minded peoples from different races, religions, and national origins rallying together to stand in solidarity with the victims of the RSS’s nightmarish schemes and against the part it appears that paramilitary’s international wing, the HSS, has attempted to play in whitewashing the RSS’s atrocities by getting a foot in the door of American halls of political power so it can bend the ears of elected officials to hear (and embrace) their skewed perspective on the situation in India. The issue was about diverse peoples standing up against the RSS-HSS’s attempts to deny and divert attention from the human rights crisis in India.

When I spoke in public comments hours before the council finally voted, I told them that they had a chance to make a move that would place the city on the right side of history.

“When the City of Manteca rescinds the proclamation that it issued to the HSS, it will send a message,” I said. “It will send a message to the RSS that its fascist vision for India is being rejected here, in Manteca, in favor of a desire that freedom, equality, diversity, democracy, and pluralism will universally prevail. It will also send a message to the beleaguered and bleeding, persecuted and oppressed, downtrodden and abused minorities of India that their suffering is seen, their cries are heard, and they are not abandoned in their struggle even by us.”

The revocation was a defeat which one hopes may help to invigorate indigenous resistance against the monolithic Hindu nationalist movement which is bulldozing its way across India. Hopefully, many more American cities will soon walk in Manteca’s trend-setting footsteps by walking back the association with the RSS’s international wing which so many have, in innocent ignorance, engaged in up until now.

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Pieter Friedrich

Pieter Friedrich

Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.