The group, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), is the youth wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Founded 94 years ago by men who were besotted with Mussolini’s fascists, the RSS is the holding company of Hindu supremacism: of Hindutva, as it’s called. Given its role and its size, it is difficult to find an analogue for the RSS anywhere in the world. In nearly every faith, the source of conservative theology is its hierarchical, centrally organised clergy; that theology is recast into a project of religious statecraft elsewhere, by other parties. Hinduism, though, has no principal church, no single pontiff, nobody to ordain or rule. The RSS has appointed itself as both the arbiter of theological meaning and the architect of a Hindu nation-state. It has at least 4 million volunteers, who swear oaths of allegiance and take part in quasi-military drills.
The word often used to describe the RSS is “paramilitary”. In its near-century of existence, it has been accused of plotting assassinations, stoking riots against minorities and acts of terrorism. (Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead in 1948 by an RSS man, although the RSS claims he had left the organisation by then.) The RSS doesn’t, by itself, engage in electoral politics. But among its affiliated groups is the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the party that has governed India for the past six years, and that has, under the prime minister Narendra Modi, been remaking India into an authoritarian, Hindu nationalist state.