Time to reinvent RSS: What Mohan Bhagwat meant by 'no Hindutva without Muslims' and praising the Congress
These are certainly not the best of times for the BJP government, besieged by crisis after crisis every day.
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Vigyan Bhawan, established in 1956, is allotted for holding departmental, national and international conferences/seminars by the government of India, state governments, PSUs and autonomous bodies, in that order of priority.
The RSS-BJP chemistry: Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The central government used its discretionary powers and allowed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) the space to hold a series of lectures from September 17-19, during an outreach event in which its sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat spoke at length about the Sangh, its philosophy and guiding principles to make it better understood among the people, in a sense, to clear the air.
It was a benign, reasonable speech that touched upon the inception of the RSS — how the drills began, how they decided on their uniforms, their anthem, their flag, the bhagwa, how their idea of Hindutva as an all-encompassing panoply under which all faiths and cultures thrived and how the Sangh was dedicated to the constant search for perfection of the ideal “Indianness” of spirit.
“I'm placing before you some facts about this organisation,” he said.
"I am not here to convince or convert you. I invite you to study and verify. Come to us, inspect us, see how we work and then form an informed opinion," he added.
Bhagwat even praised the Congress, saying: "In the form of the Congress, a huge freedom movement fledged in the nation. It too gave birth to a number of all-sacrificing great personalities who continue to inspire us today. That movement managed to inspire ordinary people to join the freedom struggle.
Future of Bharat: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat speaking at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi. (Credit: Twitter/RSS)
"It had a huge hand in getting us Independence."
He said the Constitution is the "consensus of the country". And that “the day it is said that Muslims are unwanted here, the concept of Hindutva will cease to be".
In the three days of the conclave and his speeches, Bhagwat strangely made no mention of arguably the most colourful personality in the RSS, the second and longest-serving chief of the RSS, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (popularly known as Guruji).
Golwalkar, who is to be credited with spreading the base of the RSS the most in post-independence India, was not among the 32 personalities frequently referred to by the RSS chief. It was not until a question from the audience brought up his name that Bhagwat acknowledged him.
The question was on Golwalkar’s infamous book, Bunch of Thoughts, where Muslims were referred to as "hostile elements". This naturally went against all the claims of inclusiveness and pluralism, and was a moot point to be raised.
Golwalkar had written:
“It has been the tragic lesson of the history of many a country in the world that the hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside.”
1939: KB Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar at an RSS meeting. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
While treating Muslims as enemy number one, he goes on to elaborate:
“Even to this day there are so many who say, ‘Now there is no Muslim problem at all. All those riotous elements who supported Pakistan have gone away once for all. The remaining Muslims are devoted to our country. After all, they have no other place to go and they are bound to remain loyal'...
"It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan.
On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundredfold by the creation of Pakistan which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.”
He goes on to spit venom against common Muslims in the following words:
“…within the country there are so many Muslim pockets, that is, so many ‘miniature Pakistans’… The conclusion is that, in practically every place, there are Muslims who are in constant touch with Pakistan over the transmitter…”
While deliberating on "internal threat" number two — Christians — he says:
“Such is the role of the Christian gentlemen residing in our land today, out to demolish not only the religious and social fabric of our life but also to establish political domination in various pockets and if possible all over the land.”
Golwalkar, in his body of work that includes this and We Our Nationhood Defined, identifies the Hindus alone as the privileged community of India.
It pours scorn over democracy as alien to the Hindu ethos and glorifies the code of Manu, whom Golwalkar salutes as "the first, the greatest, and the wisest lawgiver of mankind".
His editorial (‘Glorious Hindu Nation’) in the maiden issue of the English mouthpiece of the RSS, Organiser, dated July 3, 1947, strongly rejected any talk of an Indian nation where Hindus and Muslims would stay as equal partners. It branded the concept of a composite Indian nation as a British conspiracy and went on to decry AO Hume (one of the founders of the Indian National Congress) for advancing the theory that:
“Muslims were equal partners in this land of the Hindus — Hindusthan — and propagated the theory that Hindus and Muslims combined could only make a nation.
"Unfortunately, neither the Hindu masses nor the leaders could see the trap and they began to honestly believe that India’s salvation lay in Hindu-Muslim unity, for which they strove with all their might. Things proceeded according to British plan and the Muslims began to claim equal partnership in the country.”
Importantly, Organiser, in an editorial (titled ‘Whither’) on the very eve of Independence, August 14, 1947, while rejecting the whole concept of a composite nation, wrote:
“Let us no longer allow ourselves to be influenced by false notions of nationhood. Much of the mental confusion and the present and future troubles can be removed by the ready recognition of the simple fact that in Hindustan only the Hindus form the nation and the national structure must be built on that safe and sound foundation…
"The nation itself must be built up of Hindus, on Hindu traditions, culture, ideas and aspirations.”
Even after Independence when the tricolour became the national flag, it was the RSS that refused to accept it as the national flag. Golwalkar opposed this choice of the national flag, saying:
“…Our leaders have set up a new flag for our country. Why did they do so? It is just a case of drifting and imitating. How did this flag come into being? During the French Revolution, the French put up three stripes on their flag to express the triple ideas of ‘equality’, ‘fraternity’ and ‘liberty’. The American Revolution inspired by similar principles took it up with some changes. Three stripes, therefore, held a sort of fascination for our freedom fighters also. "So, it was taken up by the Congress. Then it was interpreted as depicting the unity of the various communities-the saffron colour standing for the Hindu, the green for the Muslim and the white for all the other communities. Out of the non-Hindu communities the Muslim was specially named because in the minds of most of those eminent leaders the Muslim was dominant and without naming him they did not think that our nationality could be complete! When some persons pointed out that this smacked of a communal approach, a fresh, explanation was brought forward that he ‘saffron’ stood for sacrifice, the ‘white’ for purity and the ‘green’ for peace and so on… Who can say that this is a pure and healthy national outlook?"
Until recently, the RSS headquarters in Nagpur did not hoist the national flag, even on Independence Day and Republic Day. It was on January 26, 2001, that three young men belonging to Rashtra Premi Yuva Dal forcibly hoisted the national flag in Nagpur.
When the Constituent Assembly decided to name the country India, it was the RSS which vehemently demanded it to be named ‘Hindusthan’ — the land of and for the Hindus (a refinement of “stan” to the more Hindu “sthan”).
In an editorial (‘Hindusthan’) in Organiser, dated July 31, 1947, the RSS demanded that whether it was the issue of naming it or finalising the character of its polity, the exclusive Hindu character must be guaranteed. It read:
“Great responsibility rests on the shoulders of the men now sitting and discussing details about the constitutional structure of free Hindusthan.”
At the conclave, responding to the question on Golwalkar, Bhagwat replied: “Rahi baat Bunch of Thoughts ki, batein jo boli jaati hain woh paristithi vishesh, prasang vishesh ke sandarbh mein boli jaati hain. Woh shashwat nahin rehti hai. Ek baat toh yeh hai ki, Guruji ke jo shashwat vichar hain unka ek sankalan prasiddh hua hai, Sri Guruji: Vision and Mission. Usme tatkalik sandarbh se aane waali saari batein humne hatakar usme jo sada kaal ke liye upyukt vichar hain woh rakhe hain. Usko aap padhiye. Usme aapko aisi baatein nahin milengi.
(As far as the Bunch of Thoughts goes, every statement carries a context of time and circumstance … his enduring thoughts are in a popular edition in which we have removed all remarks that have a temporary context and retained those that will endure for ages. You won’t find the Muslim-is-an-enemy remark there)."
If the RSS has discarded chunks of Bunch of Thoughts, as Bhagwat claims, then it has essentially carried out a severe lobotomy, not only on Golwalkar, but also on itself and its guiding principles all these years.
Not only will Golwalkar’s books be reduced to a few pages, but also the brand RSS, as we know it.
This self-correction and conciliatory position that is secular, pluralist, feminist, LGBT-friendly, Constitution-affirming, and even upholds reservations — as evinced from the sarsanghchalak's gentle speech that touched upon all these topics with remarkable maturity and wisdom as opposed to past pronouncements — practically makes the RSS redundant and a reinvention of this drastic nature is tantamount to oblivion.
Indeed, if one reads the Preamble to the Indian Constitution and listens to a transcript of Bhagwat’s speech, in which he put in a great deal of effort and sincerity, one would see no difference at all.
So, why does the RSS still exist?
Golwalkar died in 1973.
His thoughts did not die with him.
They powered future generations of Sanghis and the RSS shakhas grew across the length and breadth of this country. Their website claims as of 2016, 56,859 shakhas and a membership of 6 million.
The RSS was banned once during British rule and then thrice by the post-independence Indian government — first in 1948 when Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, then during Emergency (1975–77); and for a third time, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
The RSS was banned once during British rule and then thrice by the post-independence Indian government (Credit: Twitter)
Each time they have come out bigger and stronger, and it has not been on the basis of the honeyed platitudes Mohan Bhagwat has been mentioning.
While swayamsevaks like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishan Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were in power from 1998 to 2004 through the NDA, the RSS accelerated its time-honoured practice of minority-bashing and playing havoc with a democratic-secular-federal India.
Sarsanghchalak KS Sudershan, while addressing a rally on the eve of the 75th founding day of the RSS in Nagpur, called upon the Muslims and Christians of the country to prove their patriotism. Later, the RSS, at the end of its Bangalore session on March 7, 2002, shot off another warning to Muslims in the aftermath of the Godhra riots: “Let the Muslims understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority”.
But, coming back to Mohan Bhagwat’s commendable speech — how do these admirable sentiments translate on the ground?
To enumerate only a few instances of glaring disconnects:
Speaking at the second World Hindu Congress in Chicago, US, Bhagwat said: “If a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy the lion. We must not forget that."
He was comparing Hindus with other groups in India.
That is reflective of Golwalkar’s language of xenophobia when he spoke of “hostile elements” all those years ago.
When Bhagwat was roundly criticised for this, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, erstwhile member of the National Executive of the RSS, jumped to his defence and said that the RSS chief "has always spoken for the welfare of Hindu society and the country".
Meanwhile, on June 21, 2015, during the International Yoga Day Celebrations, Ram Madhav, in a clear dog whistle against the minority community, reportedly targeted Vice President Hamid Ansari for not participating and tweeted about "Yavana snakes". In Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right, T Basu notes how KB Hedgewar, the founder and first sarsanghchalak of the RSS, viewed Muslims as "Yavana snakes" when he doubted their “willingness to join in paying homage to Bharat Maa".
Making the point that Indian Muslims thought of themselves as Muslims first and Indians only later.
Here is the passage:
“As a result of the Non-Cooperation Movement of Mahatma Gandhi, the enthusiasm [for nationalism] in the country was cooling down and the evils in social life, which that movement generated, were menacingly raising their head. As the tide of national struggle came to ebb mutual ill will and jealousy came on the surface. Personal quarrels raged all round. Conflicts between various communities had started. Brahmin-non-Brahmin conflict was nakedly on view.
No organization was integrated or united. The Yavana snakes [that is, Muslims] reared on the milk of Non-Cooperation, were provoking riots in the nation with their poisonous hissing.”
The Prime Minister, who comes from the same RSS background, chose to stay silent rather than speaking up for the Vice President.
The phraseology of the RSS revolves around lions, dogs, snakes, and puppies that roll under wheels in veiled references, subtexts, and dog whistles easily picked up by their target groups — this is not easily white-washed by excising tracts from Golwalkar’s books.
Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar (a former RSS pracharak) in May this year said that namaz should be offered at mosques and not public spaces.
“We are of the view that namaz should be offered at mosques or ‘idgahs’... In case of shortage of space, it should be offered at a personal place. These are issues which should not be put for public display... It should be avoided at public places for the convenience of all.”
If the request for not using open spaces sounds like a reasonable and innocent one, then consider how communalism is fed by such 'clickbait' nods and winks and how it escalates.
On September 20, members of a panchayat in Titoli village in Rohtak, Haryana, issued a diktat asking the Muslim population in the area to keep Hindu names, not offer namaz in open spaces and remove visible identity-markers indicating their religion, including long beards and skull caps.
The diktat in Haryana: Namaz 'should be offered at mosques and not public spaces'. (Credit: AP Photo/representational)
In 2015, Khattar had said: "Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here."
When Mohammad Aqhlaq was lynched on the suspicion of possessing beef, Khattar had squarely put the fault on the victim. According to the CM, Mohammad Akhlaq had made a ‘loose comment’ that hurt the sentiments of people who were apparently hurt enough to murder him.
In 2017, one of RSS pramukh Kundan Chandravat boasted of killing 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat. Was this ever condemned by Mohan Bhagwat?
In his speech, Bhagwat says that he does not support gau rakshaks taking the law into their own hands. Yet Indresh Kumar, a prominent RSS leader, said about the lynching of Akbar Khan (July 21, 2018) who was transporting two cows, that these crimes would stop if people stopped eating beef, thereby implying that the victim was at fault.
Bhagwat, in his speech, says forced conversions are not desirable. If all religions are equal, then what is the reason for conversions, he says, adding that “God cannot be sold in markets. God cannot be forcefully worshipped”.
Cover Boy: The latest edition of Organiser.
Yet, in February 2015, in Uttar Pradesh, the RSS has claimed to have converted 57 Muslim families into Hinduism in a "Purkho ki ghar wapsi" in Agra district.
According to the Dharma Jagran Samanvay Vibhag and the Bajrang Dal, the re-converts would soon be given new names, The Times of India had reported.
In the event, the re-converts were made to wash the feet of Hindu idols as priests recited mantras. RSS regional head Rajeswar Singh said on Christmas they would re-convert around 5,000 Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism.
In Jharkhand, the RSS claimed to have converted 53 families in a “Christianity free-block campaign. With Yogi Adityanath’s apointment as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh creating a climate of uncertainty among the state’s minorities, RSS activists are apparently gaining impetus in their programme to persuade Muslims to convert to Hinduism.
In April 23, 2017, as many as 19 Muslims were converted while 24 more were converted on May 20.
Both sets of conversions took place in a temple in Faizabad, even though all the converts were from Ambedkar Nagar, said Surendra Kumar, an RSS worker who helped organise the ceremony.
Mohan Bhagwat claims that the RSS is not misogynist. It is committed to the development of “Kishore Vikas and Kishori Vikas” — development of young women and men and women’s empowerment — but in 2013 he had made a statement blaming “Western culture” for crimes against women.
"Such crimes won’t happen in Bharat or the rural areas of the country. You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes.”
According to Indresh Kumar of the RSS, the permissiveness of Valentine’s Day being celebrated was responsible for crimes against women.
Recently, an ideologue of the Sangh and an RBI board member, S Gurumurthy, tweeted that “the Supreme Court may like to see if there is any connection between the case and what is happening in Sabarimala”, linking the Kerala floods with women entering the Sabarimala temple.
Bhagwat speaks avuncularly about the LGBT being accepted by the RSS due to “changing times” even though the RSS called such relationships “unnatural” after the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377.
RSS ideologue and RBI board member S Gurumurthy recently linked the Kerala floods with the SC allowing women inside the Sabarimala temple.
One cannot change one’s reactionary and orthodox Manuvadi DNA by removing certain embarrassing tracts from a predecessor’s collection of essays and expect the world to believe that the beast has evolved in the face of so many contradictions.
The question then remains — why is the RSS taking such pains to reassure the world at large that it is a benevolent non-political organisation, only interested in “building character” at this particular time?
There are signs that all is not well between the RSS and its political arm, the BJP.
Or, at least, the present incumbents in power within the BJP.
Bhagat is clearly keeping the BJP at arm’s length — from trashing the “Congress-mukt Bharat” slogan at a Pune book launch earlier this year, criticism of the BJP’s Dalit outreach in Bihar by eating with the community members, Bhagwat's comments on reviewing the reservation system just ahead of the 2015 Bihar elections that damaged the BJP’s prospects in the caste-ridden state to the recent praising of the Congress party.
BJP president Amit Shah having lunch at a Dalit house. (Image: Twitter@AmitShah/file picture)
Needless to say, these are not the best of times for the BJP government, besieged as it is by crisis after crisis escalating every day. The Sangh believes in survival and hedging its bets with the fittest. It is thus time for the RSS to be aloof and make the next transition smelling of roses, without any dirt sticking to itself, its ancient agenda to be cloaked and protected at all costs through these turbulent times.
The RSS is well aware that their social experiment is successful to a large extent and that they have created strategic assets that have infiltrated almost all major institutions. It adapts well to changing circumstances, and knows when to de-link itself from a vessel, which has served it well this far in the journey — but is now floundering. The next stage is to appear respectable and appeal to the fence-sitters and the liberals and to draw them in, speaking the language of soothing conciliation.
The roots embedded in its foul and murky depths are embarrassing for a plant about to flower, but it is those roots nevertheless that give it sustenance.