Dear Mr Bhagwat,
I am sure you followed the results of the recent Assembly elections, especially in the Hindi heartland. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation you head, needs to share responsibility and partake in the blame, as it often claims credit when the BJP does well. It is often claimed, including in many of your statements, that it is due to the tireless work of RSS pracharakson the ground that the BJP reaps electoral benefits.
The RSS’s share of the responsibility in the Assembly elections that just concluded, and in the upcoming general elections next year, is even more than before since you have lent Ram Madhav to work as a full-time general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and many of your organisational members, perhaps for the first time in the history of the RSS, have appeared openly as `RSS sympathisers` and political analysts on various news channels, including names such as Desh Ratan, Raghav Awasthi and Sandeep Mahapatra, to name a few.
You would agree that the RSS cannot claim to be a non-political `cultural organisation` and distance itself from the BJP when it loses its popular mandate, and claim to be an active grassroots organisation when the BJP wins an election. The question is what and how is the RSS responsible for the way BJP has been rejected in the Hindi heartland and is staring at a possible loss in the upcoming general elections?
The point most analysts have missed in analysing the recent elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is not that the Congress won, but how closely the BJP lost, in spite of being in power for three terms in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. However, the repeated victories in these two states, unlike Gujarat, were a result of the welfare orientation of the BJP governments in these states, rather than a muscular Hindutva agenda. This should give you a clear signal as to what the people want and what the brand of politics that your organisation stands for is offering instead.
RSS has never been pro-active in working or propagating either social or economic equality, instead it has come to stand for, more so in the last five years, for a predatory politics of subjugating all those individuals and social groups that continue to disagree with the core vision of your organisation. While you have, in course of your lectures in Vigyan Bhavan, and later that of the Vice President of India Venkaiah Naidu’s at a programme for presenting the Best Parliamentarian Award, have said in different ways that in politics one has `rivals not enemies`.
However, in reality, all those who disagree with your politics, whether it is politicians or university teachers, have been treated as enemies that need to be vanquished, disciplined and subjugated to the will of the ruling majority. The Prime Minster went to the extent of giving an open call for a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat,’ and national security adviser, Ajit Doval, in a recent talk argued that it is more important to be powerful than just. He added that history remembered those who ruled and were powerful, not those who stood for the truth.
This kind of thought, perhaps, flows from a reading of Chankyaniti that you often quote, and a portrait of his hangs behind in the interviews that Amit Shah (BJP president) gives to news channels. I am sure you agree that words have to, at some point match deeds. But, throughout the last five years of the current government that you and your organisation has been close to, there has been an atmosphere of fear, intimidation with all those you disagree with and unprecedented street violence in order to settle social differences between castes, gender, not to mention religious groups.
India is a society with not only entrenched social hierarchies but that which are unevenly placed around the social, political and economic axis. Those who are politically well-placed, like some backward castes, are socially backward; those who are socially advanced, like the Brahmins, are politically less relevant; and those who are economically powerful, like the intermediary castes, could be socially declining. Such unevenness creates anxiety, a sense of vulnerability and insecurity. The last few years under the current regime, as I see it, have brazenly `exploited` these instincts to politicise them into mob violence and an unprecedented burst of mob lynching and wanton criminalisation of social and public life.
Societies such as ours, with such unevenness, require elaborate political mechanisms to both accommodate their legitimate demands and transform their stubborn social prejudices, not push them into a pyre of street violence, making the latent and dormant differences deeper and permanent. What could be the possible reason for RSS, if it has the consent and popular following, for not abating such violence which, in a way, has contributed to the electoral downfall of the BJP? It is even more intriguing that Chief Ministers such as Shivraj Chouhan, who projected himself as a welfare-jan kalyan-oriented public representative, remain neglected, and instead your organisation prefers someone like Yogi Adityanath, who has not only failed miserably even in his short run in office but has displayed wanton insensitivity in public matters, such as the death of a police officer in Uttar Pradesh, due to mob lynching. Propensity for violence seems to be the de facto rule of who should emerge as aHindu Samrat.
I am pretty sure, given your long experience in public life, that you would agree with me that incidents of mob lynching and street violence involving common people, criminalise the society at large and beyond a point cannot remain under any kind of organisational control. What could possibly explain your silence on such incidents? Even assuming your overt concern and love for Hindus, many who got killed, from Gauri Lankesh to the UP police officer, were Hindus. At least, this should have invited your active intervention, given the clout you enjoy with the current government.
Many of these mob lynchings began against the Muslims by the cow vigilantes but did not stop there, these were followed by unprecedented violence in Kashmir ending in the unpardonable rape of an eight-year-old Bakharwal girl, to be followed by street violence against the Dalits in Gujarat and other places, which clearly got reflected in the number of reserved seats the BJP lost in Rajasthan.
Why did you or your organisation, since it works essentially on cultural issues, not organise a mass demonstration or express mass resentment against such open incidents of violence? Soon after the killing of Gauri Lankesh, you did in an interview saying that RSS does not believe in violence, but what followed in the next two years raises serious doubts and, I wonder, if you would see it as a failure and falling cultural standards in public life. In fact, Ram Madhav, in the course of an interview, nonchalantly condoned the tying of a Muslim youth to a jeep by an army official in Kashmir by saying `everything is fair in love and war`. Do you agree or condone such public sanction of violence? Is not your silence and the impact of street violence not one of the reasons for the way BJP is today struggling to keep up its popularity?
Further, even on the economic front, your organisation was once famously known for giving a call for swadeshi over the lure for Western goods. Today, when in most of India we are witnessing a literal calamity of agrarian crisis leading up to scores of farmer suicides, why did your organisation not work for a more sustained campaign to revive its agenda of swadeshi and give priority to the rural economy? I am sure you would agree with me that a call for cultural nationalism cannot go with the nation being subjugated economically to global multinational companies. As far as I know, RSS is not active in any of the struggles of either tribals or farmers where land acquisition is happening in parts of central India, against Korean Steel major Posco in Odisha, among others. Instead your associated organisations are only active against a `western culture`, and yet again, in intimidating youth from celebrating Valentine ’s Day or organising Anti-Romeo Squads in Uttar Pradesh. If at all there is a problem with Western invasion, it is in the realm of the economy that is compromising the nation`s sovereignty.
Today, we have opened up even the defence sector to more than 50% foreign direct investments; does this not constitute threat to nationalist sensibilities? While some of farmer`s organisatons close to your organisation were active in mobilising the recent farmers’ protests, there seems to be no clarity on how you wish to contribute to overcoming the endemic agrarian crisis facing the nation.
This is where, perhaps, RSS needs to engage and learn from activists, academics and scholars of various ideological persuasions. However, contrary to any such inclusive process, we witnessed yet again an unprecedented assault on the autonomy of universities, on individual academics, including a globally acknowledged intellectual like Amartya Sen was not spared. If you and your organisation cannot engage and learn from such scholarship, how will India ever emerge at the forefront of global science, technology and philosophy? Your organisation could have played a meaningful role in galvanising the intellectual resources India has had, instead not just institutions, such as JNU that you once declared to be the hub of `anti-national activities` but the entire system of higher education has been undermined. Given the fact that the intellectual resources of your own organisation are so minimalist in nature, why did you not think it is in the fit of things to begin a larger consultative process with different scholars and public activists?
Again, much to the contrast, the current government booked many public activists, like Sudha Bhardwaj as `Urban Naxals`, on the one hand, and appointed mostly mediocre talent, may be close to your associated organisations, as academics in various universities, on the other. It is not perhaps a coincidence that most Vice Chancellors appointed under the current government to various central universities are either Brahmins or Baniyas. In an age of `knowledge society` how do you think this mode of governance and such decisions would contribute to the nations` development? Perhaps, the restlessness and resentment of youth, too, has contributed to the loss of BJP in the three Assembly elections.
It should worry you that an organisation with 100-year-old history has no globally or nationally or even locally acknowledged scholars and intellectuals. Your own student body, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, has rarely ever contributed to the academic life on campuses. Have you ever taken interest in suggesting to them that they, along with being political activists, are also students and prospective intellectuals in the future and that they should engage with academic activities in universities? Would you not agree that Dalits in India, who have suffered from deep-seated social disadvantages, are today experiencing social mobility because they took Ambedkar`s call for education seriously? Why couldn`t you do the same invoking Vikvekanand and asking your student body to organise serious workshops on Indian philosophy?
Finally, I do feel, differing with many of my Left-Liberal colleagues, that nationalism can be a positive social force that can strengthen democracy. But may I humbly submit that the brand of nationalism that your organisation has come to represent is becoming increasingly shallow and out of touch with changing social reality. Today, your organisation neither carries social reform nor establishes universities. Instead, under the current government, if anything, the universities have taken a beating. This is perhaps because your organisation has come to reflect and has institutionalised the anxiety of a declining Brahamanical superiority, beginning with the writings and ideas of Golwalkar. Further, it has completely misread the strengths of Hinduism in its bid to imitate other organised and revealed religions. Far worse, the reading of history was misplaced in finding Hindus as easy fodder who came to be ruled first by Muslim rulers and then by the Britishers. These were part of global historical events and have nothing to do in particular with Hindus or the way Hinduism has been practiced. Because of this belief that Hindus could easily be fooled, many of your sister organisations and various other Right-wing groups continue to plant fake news, rumours as legitimate modes of mobilisation. But again, the recent elections should sufficiently convince that the electorate can actively think for themselves, and cultural organisations such as yours should possibly play a positive role in making our society more open and deliberative, and not run by fear and intimidation.
(Ajay Gudavarthy is Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed are personal.)