The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as usual has taken up the responsibility of dusting off the all the dirt sticking on the current government led by its political arm -- the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In an attempt to distance themselves from the growing communal hatred in the country and to free the BJP from the criticism of its political and economic failures and the socio-cultural chaos, the Hindu fundamentalist organisation, the RSS, organised a three-day lecture series in Delhi from September 17-19, 2018.
In the lecture series -- Future of Bharat -- held in Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi, which was telecast live, the RSS Sarsanghchalak Bhagwat was seen explaining what Hindutva means for the RSS. Explaining RSS’s Hindutva as “all encompassing” and egalitarian, Bhagwat declared that the RSS has got nothing to do with politics and it was just a “cultural organisation”. Even though this has been the old mantra of the RSS, it was important for Bhagwat to reiterate it, as one of the aims of the lectures was an attempt to change the perception of the organisation.
Bhagwat in his lectures stated that once a person becomes a member of RSS, he cannot involve himself in electoral politics and the minute he gets into politics, would no longer be the member of the organisation. In the same event, contradicting himself, he also said once a member of RSS, he will be of the RSS and espouses the ideology of the Sangh.
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However, the RSS that claims to be just a cultural organisation and claims it has got nothing to do with politics, has been fully invested in both campaigning for the BJP and also is seen to be involved in decision-making. Out of 75 ministers, 28 have been RSS members; out of 29 governors, 15 were RSS members; 10 out of 16 Chief Ministers of the BJP-ruled states were part of the RSS and five out of 8 Deputy Chief Ministers have been RSS members. So, according to Bhagwat, these men were all members of RSS who now espouse the Sangh’s ideology.
The numbers are too large for this to be just a coincidence. As author Shamsul Islam in his essay ‘Undoing India: The RSS Way’, notes, “It is no more a fringe organization.” With its members in the chair of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and his cabinet, state assemblies, courtrooms, police departments, the RSS has emerged as a dominant organisation. Many present BJP leaders have declared their open allegiance to the RSS. Thus this lecture series should be seen as an election tactic designed by the RSS for the BJP by creating a false narrative of the party not related to the Hindu Rashtra project. Author Subhash Gatade, speaking to NewsClick, pointed out that Bhagwat very carefully in his lectures chose to share the story of its making and its founders. As Gatade rightly said, Bhagwat was strategic in his speech by talking of Dr. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, and staying away from Golwalkar, Savarkar and Moonje.
One also wonders if the RSS has forgotten that it was banned thrice. First in 1948 for collaborating in the murder of M. K. Gandhi, during the Emergency in 1975 and in 1992 for demolishing the Babri mosque at Ayodhya. Or does the RSS want the country to forget this part of its history? There is no doubt that the coming to power of the BJP has strengthened this Hindu majoritarian and communal organisation.
A strategic lecture
Why is the recent speech delivered by Bhagwat nothing but an election tactic of BJP? The answer for this lies in another speech delivered by Bhagwat on September 27, 2017. The RSS, was founded on September 27, 1925 which then happened to be Vijayadashami, the last day of Navratri festivities. Thereafter, every year, the organisation celebrates its founding day on Vijayadashami, when the Sarsanghchalak addresses the cadre. Until 2017, this used to be a private affair. Last year, Bhagwat’s speech was telecast live from its headquarters at Nagpur. However, that speech was way too different from what was said in Delhi this week.
While Bhagwat said the RSS was not interested in politics and policies in his 2017 speech, he was seen defending demonetisation as a ‘masterstroke’ of Narendra Modi against terrorism. He also justified the Modi’s government stand on Rohingyas. Stating that Rohingyas are anti-social and anti-national, he went on to explaining the importance of building a strong army and the police. Also calling the states of Kerala and Bengal the abode of “jihadi” and “anti-national” elements, he had defended the fund cuts of the current government in agriculture saying it was important that the farmers were made to adopt ‘puranic’ and ‘traditional’ agricultural practices which according to him is not expensive. His Vijayadashami speech contained suggestions for the government about governance, economy, and business and also the definition of “Hindu” and Hindutva.
According to a report by Indiaspend, as many of 97% of the cow-related violence was reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, and half the cow-related violence–30 of 60 cases–were from states governed by BJP. When asked to comment on the cow vigilantism, Bhagwat said “taking law in one's own hand, violence, destructing property for any reason are totally unacceptable.” However, when Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched in 2015 in Dadri Bhagwat had a different take on it. Calling it a” small episode” and had went on to say it cannot damage “Hindu Culture.”
Investigations into the political assassinations of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, M.M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, all opponents of the Hindutva ideology, have hinted at the existence of Hindutva terrorist organisations like Sanatan Sanstha (SS) and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS). The RSS, as it does with other radical organisations part of the Sangh Parivar has claimed that they are not related to SS and HJS. However, on various occasions RSS members have been seen attending meetings and events organised by these organisations. Bhagwat had nothing to comment on this.
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Also, RSS has always been opposing the Constitution. In 2017, one of its “former” members, Anant Kumar Hegde, currently a minister in the Union cabinet, had said the aim of the BJP was to change the Constitution. This hatred towards the Constitution arises from their love for Manusmriti. As Shamsul Islam noted, the RSS “does not hate minorities only, it publicly wants to build an India of Manu’s dehumanizing ideas and establish a theocracy in which the Dalits/Untouchables, lower castes, downtrodden and women amongst the Hindus will have no humane or respectable existence.”
If Bhagwat’s recent speech was not scripted with the upcoming elections in mind, one wonders if the organisation, whose ideology and its approach has not changed ever since its inception, has transformed into something else in one year? Did it re-define Hindutva and Hindu in one year? Sounding extremely inclusive, Bhagwat said in his speech on the first day, “if we don't accept Muslims, it's not Hindutva. Hindutva is Indianness and inclusion” and unlike his Vijayadashami speech, this one had no words such as “Jihadi”; the Constitution has became an ultimate authority for the RSS and reservations crucial. In his speech on the second day, speaking of Hindutva, he said, “there are three tenets of Hindutva: patriotism, pride in one's ancestry and culture. People may belong to different religions or sects. But the respect for this diversity that does not lead to any discrimination is Hindutva.”
Incidentally, none of his earlier speeches define Hindutva this way. One of the criticisms of the current BJP government is that it’s a puppet in the hands of the RSS, a HIndu fundamentalist organisation, and thus is silent about the increasing communal tensions in the country. This criticism had to be dealt with, and RSS seems to have clearly taken up this responsibility. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the RSS is an exclusive, fundamentalist organisation with BJP as its face, and is not ready to let go of any chance for realising its dream of Hindu Rashtra.