What are the Ideological Projects Progressive Indians Stand for?

What progressives really need to do is spearhead political projects of our own, and thereby disrupt the status quo.

Not a day goes by without a litany of new villainies, whether it is attacks on the media, minorities, protests, or India’s institutions. Engulfing India’s religious, caste, regional, linguistic and ideological identities, these villainies systematically keep pushing political culture and public discourse even further rightward. But dire as their impact on people’s lives are, they are also manufactured diversions. They seek to distract progressive forces from the century-old war between two diagrammatically opposed political projects in India – on what was, what is and most of all, about what should be.

This war didn’t start today, nor did it start in 2014. It started with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) birth in 1925. In conjunction with the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the RSS strives to win this war in time for their centenary in 2025. Winning the 2024 Lok Sabha elections is just an essential prerequisite to actualising the RSS-BJP’s political project – which is to remodel India into a mono-faith, mono-lingual and mono-cultural nation. If they are successful, India’s national project (the constitutional idea of India) would be summarily assigned to the dustbin of history.

Understanding the Sangh’s political projects

If the champions of India’s national project are serious about mounting an effective challenge to the RSS-BJP (the Sangh parivar), they need to first understand their modus operandi. Unfortunately, progressive forces are hobbled by a stunted understanding of the Sangh. A careful analysis of the Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabhas (the RSS’s apex body that meets annually) and the Sangh’s programmes over the past decade reveals that they are consistently changing goalposts and pushing programmatic boundaries. Yes, they are misusing the governing apparatus of the state to re-engineer India’s democracy today. But equally importantly, the Sangh is deploying a vast network of non-state social, cultural and religious organisations to re-engineer society. That is where the real battle is being fought.

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Unlike progressives (who are almost exclusively focused on macro-level electoral and policy issues), the Sangh’s non-state organisations are subterraneanly pursuing an overt and covert war against the constitutional idea of India. These non-state organisations consistently strive to further the RSS-BJP’s ideological goals, hack mass emotions and cement the BJP in the process. While most of these projects are implemented by non-state actors, some are pursued through the state itself. Most importantly, even though they are headed by the Sangh’s ‘evangelicals’, each of these organisations are supported (financially and organisationally) by BJP Union and state governments, by individual legislators, as well as by businesses and organisations aligned to the Sangh. Collectively, they form a complex matrix, explained below.

Sl. No. One people, one blood

(Othering minorities)

Asserting supremacy of Hindutva Samajik Samarasta


(Undermining social justice paradigm)

Undermining establishment norms (and stakeholders supporting them)
1 Passing laws like CAA/NRC/NPR, Love Jihad laws, Uniform Civil Code that criminalise or other minorities. Spearheading films, literature and comics to assert Hindutva and correct history Publicly supporting caste-based reservations while spearheading policies that undermine them One-Nation, One-Poll; and undermining non-BJP ruled states
2 Spearheading mob lynchings, and attacks on livelihoods of minorities etc. that introduce a permanent state of insecurity Spearheading campaigns to ‘free’ temples from the control of state governments Appropriating Gods and icons of OBC & Dalit sub-castes Recalibrating all political, social and economic institutions to cement the Sangh (whilst harassing opposition parties, civil society, media etc.
3 Abrogating Article 370 to ‘fully’ integrate Muslim Kashmir into India Tangibly furthering ‘Hindutva’ symbols (Ram Setu, Ayodhya temple, Ramayan pravachans, teaching Bhagwad Gita in schools etc.) Promoting Kanwar yatra as a process of Hinduising OBCs and Dalits and conferring janeus on Dalit & OBC sub castes in lieu of them accepting Hindutva Spearheading populist schemes that showcase one leader and party


(Swacch Bharat, Ujwala, PM Awas Yojana, Jal Jeewan mission, Bharatmala programme, large infrastructure and logistics projects).

4 Engineering attacks on mosques at Mathura and Kashi (as also 3000 other mosques in India) and churches to undermine freedom of religion Prioritising Hindi over all other Indian languages Symbolically accommodating OBC-Dalits-Adivasis in political organisation and cabinets Aggressively promoting alternative narratives through RSS aligned books and publishing houses
5 Harassing Muslims or perceptively pro-Muslim sympathisers in the media & on social media (including communalising the pandemic). Advocating for Akhand Bharat- both as a cultural and territorial concept Refusing to conduct caste census and refusing to fill up quotas for OBC-SC-STs Organising and leveraging the diaspora to amplify, and financially support the Sangh
6 Propagating the concept of uniformity in diversity as a counter to unity in diversity. And coupling them with Ghar Wapasi and Pasmanda outreach campaigns Spearheading anti-cow slaughter laws and characterising them as pro-Hindu Promoting RSS-minded persons into the bureaucracy through support at the entrance and interview stages Celebrating Nathuram Godse , criminalising legitimate dissent, rewriting history etc.

Need for course-correction for progressive forces

In stark contrast, progressive forces are calcified in time, clinging to dogmatic tactics that address only the symbolic: a token protest, a petition/open letter, a conference/seminar in familiar haunts, posts on social media, a walkout in legislatures or sporadic rallies. These undoubtedly keep the flock together, but the effect of such “spectacle politics” is limited to PLU (People-Like-Us). None of these interventions save the next victim of state-sponsored terrorism, or convert the silent majority. Nor do they matter to the ruling dispensation, who are secure in the knowledge that the Sangh’s political projects will continue to do the heavy lifting for them, no matter what their governance or developmental track record is like. The bitter reality is that even though these calibrated events are cathartic for progressives (humne kuch kiya), they do nothing to structurally check the machine uprooting India’s constitutional edifice.

What progressives really need to do is spearhead political projects of our own, and thereby disrupt the status quo. The Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) was the first step in this endeavour. Apart from the sheer grit and dedication it displayed, it also served as a clarion call to likeminded forces. Even though some of the momentum generated by the BJY has been frittered, there is still a window of opportunity. Progressive parties need to prod aligned stakeholders to re-invent their operational methodologies, and collaboratively champion diverse ideological projects.

These progressive projects will need to re-engineer India’s software (culture, values and attitudes) and hardware (economy, institutions and systems). Reengineering India’s software would mean reshaping social consciousness by disseminating our shared values creatively through films/serials, books, news, social media, educational systems and by engaging with spiritual organisations (like the Congress movement once did during the freedom struggle). It would mean escalating the normative battle we find ourselves in to convince the silent majority. Without hectoring or lecturing those who are swayed by the Sangh, we will have to re-understand people’s needs, aspirations and fears before we begin to counter the ideas propagated by the BJP-RSS through its panna pramukhs, social media platforms, a pliant media and political discourse.

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On the other hand, reengineering India’s hardware would mean creating a visionary blueprint of where India should be when she turns a hundred (in 2047) by substantively rethinking socio-economic and political paradigms. It would also mean redressing structural flaws in India’s existing institutions, creating new institutions equipped to address fresh challenges and re-engaging all of India’s systems (its political parties, its bureaucracy, community stakeholders, civil society, interest groups, the diaspora etc.) in furthering India’s constitutional promise.

Championing political projects

Each of these normative agendas needs champions, who will need to spearhead innovative programmes at the grassroots (such as mass contact programmes, institutionalised mohalla/panchayat sabhas, forging fresh coalitions with diverse stakeholders, making films/serials, writing books/comics/articles, conducting shows/podcasts on new age media etc.). These will need the active support and stewardship of progressive parties, individual stakeholders (including legislators) and private philanthropies. Both for strategic and tactical reasons, this normative work has to co-exist with efforts to win elections. While most parties boast of effective election machineries, they won’t be enough to combat the Leviathan we face today. We can only regain a dominant political and psychological position if we invest time, effort and resources in normative political projects. These projects transcend electoral exigencies and like our national movement did, can enthuse every patriotic Indian to collaborate with us (directly and indirectly).

Empowering a hundred flowers to bloom would mean re-conscripting all allied progressive parties, civil society, the media, the film and television industries, academia, publishing houses, businesses and other progressives in the service of the nation. Only then can we reshape hearts and minds, overwhelm regressive forces and reclaim India’s soul.

Pushparaj Deshpande is the Director of the Samruddha Bharat Foundation and the series editor of the Rethinking India series (Penguin).