India's Hindu hardliners see 'one of their own' as PM

India's Hindu hardliners see 'one of their own' as PM
Hundreds of flag-waving supporters mobbed Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi (above) as he arrived in New Delhi, smiling and flashing victory signs after his party's crushing poll victory.

NAGPUR, India - Young men gaze reverently at the flame-shaped memorial to a Hindu supremacist in the grounds of India's biggest grassroots religious organisation, which prime minister-elect Narendra Modi joined as a boy.

In the city of Nagpur, opposite a black-painted statue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder Keshav Hedgewar, the solemn tribute to his successor Madhav Golwalkar is a reminder of what critics say is the group's deep-rooted religious prejudice.

Back in 1938, Golwalkar said India's non-Hindus must adopt Hindu culture, language and religion - "they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment".

Across India, thousands of RSS followers campaigned for Modi ahead of his victory last week, which saw his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win the first parliamentary majority in 30 years.

That effort, as well as longstanding ties with the BJP, raises questions about how much the group will influence its most famous alumnus.

"Since a person from RSS is going to be prime minister, we expect he will work not only for the nation, but also for RSS," said Rajeev Varma, a 23-year-old engineering student who campaigned for Modi. "Obviously we feel proud."

But experts say Modi could disappoint the group and its four and a half million members, aware that his prospects depend first and foremost on meeting pledges of growth and development.

"He has to win on the economy, and that's the thing on which he will be judged," Christophe Jaffrelot, a long-time expert on the Hindu nationalism movement, told AFP.

"What if he fails to relaunch the economy? The Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) plank is the plan B," added Jaffrelot, a professor from Sciences Po university in Paris and King's College London.

Cultural champions or pseudo-fascists?

The RSS, whose members wear a uniform of khaki shorts and black hats, describes itself as a cultural outfit devoted to the betterment of the nation and upholding Hindu values.

Critics decry it as a pseudo-fascist organisation that has fuelled religious tensions.

After helping out as a boy, Modi became a full-time volunteer as a young adult - taking the requisite vow of celibacy - for more than 15 years before he joined the BJP.

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