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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 11:23 GMT
Hindu group's mass rally
RSS screen grab
The RSS aims to promote Hindu culture
By Jill McGivering in Delhi

Leaders of India's influential Hindu nationalist group, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), are preparing to hold a mass three-day rally to celebrate the organisation's 75th anniversary.

Organisers say they expect more than 70,000 supporters to attend which would make this the biggest RSS rally to date.


Biharsharif attack
Communal violence in Bihar: Some say the RSS incites tensions
The gathering comes at a time of increased tensions between the RSS and Christian groups in India following a recent call by the RSS leader for an Indian national church to be set up.

The RSS was set up in the 1920s with a stated aim of promoting Hindu culture.

Seventy-five years later, it is seen as one of India's most influential nationalist groups, accused by its critics of promoting militant extremism.

It has been banned three times since India's independence, and its close relationship with the BJP, the party leading the present coalition government, is itself politically controversial.

Threats

This weekend's three-day rally in the city of Agra is expected to be a huge event, drawing tens of thousands of supporters.


RSS facts
Set up by Keshan Baliram Hedgewar in 1925
National HQ in Nagpur, Maharashtra
Estimated 4.5m active members
Describes itself as a social and cultural organisation
Temporarily banned three times - 1948, 1975 and 1992
A vast infrastructure has been built to cater for the influx of visitors, from temporary accommodation and kitchens, to hospitals.

Organisers say one of the main themes will be internal security.

They say they want to teach followers how to identify and counter threats to India's security and to Hindu culture.

Pakistan is seen as a main target of RSS attack.

Religious minorities in India, including Muslims and Christians, also accuse the RSS of inciting hatred against them.

Tensions

Some Christian groups have blamed the RSS for a recent series of violent attacks on Christians and churches.

The RSS leadership has denied involvement.

Tensions have worsened in recent days, after the new leader of the RSS in a recent speech called for an Indian national church to be set up, and referred to China's establishment of a national church and banning of foreign churches.

The comments provoked an angry reaction from many Christian leaders.

One said such a move would be a violation of the constitution, and destroy the concept of a secular India.

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See also:

18 Jan 00 | South Asia
Congress steps up RSS row
24 Feb 00 | South Asia
Analysis: RSS aims for a Hindu nation
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