RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made a sensational statement that while the Army would take six-seven months to get ready for war, his organisation would take only three days for the same. He also mentioned that, the Constitution-permitting, the RSS could help in the defence of the nation. In a way, his statement is a pointer to the character of the extra-constitutional authority to which persons like Prime Minister Narendra Modi owe their loyalty.
It is an admission that the RSS is a military-like outfit which should have no place in a democratic nation. It also proves the point that whatever happens in the “shakhas” of the RSS were militaristic in nature. When Bhagwat ridiculed the Army, he would have had in mind the Operation Parakram it resorted to following the attack on Indian Parliament. Yes, it took the Army those many months to ready itself for a war because war is not like throwing a piece of pork or beef into a mosque or a temple to instigate riots.
War is also not as easy as taking around the bodies of human beings who were killed in a case of arson in a moving train to arouse the people’s base instincts against innocent fellow human beings, as in Gujarat. Yes, it took only a couple of days for some criminal gangs, who masquerade as nationalists, to attack the docile Christian community in Kandhamal to take revenge for the killing of a person, admittedly the handiwork of the Maoists.
Students of war know that in 1971 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went on tour of many Western and other nations to build public opinion against the genocide being perpetrated by the Pakistani forces in the eastern wing of their nation, she was actually allowing Indian Army Chief SHFJ Mankeshaw to make arrangements to face a war Pakistan was sure to start. The preparedness allowed India to inflict a crushing defeat on the Pakistani Army, whose 90,000-plus personnel surrendered in one of the most humiliating incidents in war history.
No, war was not what India wanted. Had Pakistan been more sensible, it would have allowed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to rule East Pakistan on the basis of the electoral victory his party achieved. But the military dictator in Pakistan did not want a democratic government in Dhaka and thought that the democratic aspirations of the people could be smothered with the might of the Pakistani Army. That is where the calculations went wrong, leading to the vivisection of Pakistan, “the land of the pure”.
Today Bangladesh, though a poor country, has better social indices than Pakistan. In fact, in the education, women empowerment and child welfare sectors, it has better credentials than even India. In terms of literacy and mother’s and infant mortality rates, Bangladesh is ahead of Assam. The Bangladeshis have, therefore, no reason to move into Assam as illegal immigrants, a fact which the pseudo-nationalists know but refuse to accept like the Nazis who purposefully saw the microscopic Jews as the fountainhead of evil.
Only a person like Bhagwat could have compared the RSS with the Indian Army. As the son of a soldier, I have always prided in the fact that it is one of the few professional armies in the world. Around the time India attained Independence in 1947, many countries in Asian, African and Latin American countries were experiencing coup d’etat. There were many who feared that India might also go the Pakistani way where democratically elected governments were removed by those in uniform.
In India, the Indian armed forces never questioned the democratically elected governments. They implemented to a T whatever orders the civilian authorities gave them. That is why in 2013 when the Indian Express reported that an attempt was made to send the armed forces to New Delhi, public scorn was heaped on the newspaper and even today its former editor Shekhar Gupta is ridiculed for the story.
The report actually had three bylines, that of Gupta, Ritu Sarin and Pranab Dhal Samanta. “ This is a story you would tell with extreme care and caution. But it so starkly characterises the current state of top-level politico-military relations that it is a folly to keep it under wraps, as the entire establishment has tried to do for a full 11 weeks now. “ It has also taken this team of The Indian Express reporters that long to establish the story and the dramatic developments during, say, about 18 very difficult hours on January 16-17 earlier this year.
“While many, including the spokesmen for the defence establishment, say it was much ado about nothing, it is a story of a most unusual night when Raisina Hill was spooked as never before in peace time”. Whatever be the truth about the coup attempt, the then Army chief who should have been sacked for his shameful attempt to continue in his post by manipulating his date of birth was given a ticket in the Lok Sabha elections a year later and was made a minister. What’s more, he won with the second largest margin after Modi.
The Express story fell flat because the people have abiding faith in the professionalism of the Army. They have the implicit faith that the Armed forces would never do a thing which is against the Constitution and the ethos of the nation. When an Army officer was asked about his religion, his answer was that his religion was the religion of the people he commanded. If his soldiers were Christian, he was a Christian. If they were Muslim, he was a Muslim.
What the officer sought to convey was that the Army was above all religion. In the nineties I was the Secretary of a church in New Delhi for a few years. During that period, we used to hold a Holy Qurbana service at a church in the Cantonment Area once a month. Why were we allowed to do so? It was not a favour done to us. At that time there were not enough Christians in the Cantonment Area for whom the Army could depute a pastor. By allowing us to hold the worship service, the Army was facilitating prayers for the few Christians who lived in the Cantonment.
Yes, that is the ethos of the Army. I visited a temple at Siachen, maintained by the Army. There are many stories about its origin. For want of space, I do not want to narrate them here. The puja conducted there is Hindu in character but the temple belongs to all. I found pictures of non-Hindu religious icons like Jesus and Mother Mary and religious centres like Mecca in that make-shift temple.
The Indian Armed Forces are secular by faith while being deferential to all religions. Wherever the Army was deployed — be it riot-hit Ahmedabad or violence-ridden Haryana — a flag march by the Army was sufficient to restore law and order. Unlike the police force, which looked the other way when the Sikhs were butchered and looted in 1984 by the foot soldiers of the doctrine of hate that is preached against the minorities, the Army commands the respect of one and all. The khaki knicker-clad voted massively for the Congress in that election for letting them loot the Sikhs. Otherwise, a novice in politics like Rajiv Gandhi would not have got a massive mandate his mother never got and the BJP ended up with two seats, one from Andhra Pradesh.
The tenets that guide the Army are not the tenets that guide the RSS. BJP leader LK Advani mentions in his autobiography that the arrival of the RSS at Karachi gave the Hindu boys pride. Its parades through the heart of the city gave them courage. He did not mention that the parades antagonised the Muslim youths. Whatever be the case, the RSS could do nothing to save the Hindus when the Partition occurred and Advani himself landed in Bombay to start a new life. While tens of thousands of Indians joined the freedom struggle and some of them were exiled to the cellular jails in Andamans, where many of them died, the RSS steered clear of the freedom struggle.
In fact, it wanted the British to continue for some more time so that in its perception it could unite the Hindus as a monolithic group. Incidentally, the man who articulated the concept of Hindutva, Savarkar, and whose portrait hangs in Parliament building, was the one who sought clemency by promising the British that he would remain a good boy and would not create troubles for the alien rulers.
When the Union Jack was lowered and the tricolour was raised, following Independence, the Indian Army began considering the flag as one of the most sacred objects. What was the RSS view about the Indian flag? Even after Independence, it refused to accept it as the national flag. Its mouthpiece Organiser wrote extensively against the flag arguing that the three colours were unacceptable because they were also a bad omen. What’s more, it refused to hoist the national flag until recently.
Now take the case of the Constitution. The armed forces are a creature of the Constitution which mentions specifically that the President of India is the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces. The RSS never considered the Constitution as sacrosanct for it believes in Mansusmriti. Even in his latest statement, Bhagwant mentions his desire to have the Constitution amended to let the RSS have a greater say in the national affairs.
The RSS believes that the Constitution stands in the way of declaring India as a theocratic state. Recently I shared the dais with one of the senior-most RSS leaders, who is second only to Bhagwat. He was the last to speak at the function organised to promote organ donation. What he spoke was that by 2025, i.e., when the RSS would turn 100, India would have been declared world’s guru —whatever it meant — and there would be no place in India where the cow would be slaughtered. He did not say that by that period, unemployment would be ended, every Indian would have a roof over his head and nobody would go to sleep on an empty stomach. It was a pointer to the kind of priorities the RSS had.
The Indian Army has women in its ranks, though not in large numbers. Even in this respect, the RSS and the Army are poles apart. The RSS wants women to remain within the four walls of their houses and not take part in its daily shakhas. Of course, it has set up organisations for every section of the population like children, youth, students, women, workers, doctors, engineers etc.
As mentioned earlier, secularism is one of the cardinal faiths of the Army. The RSS has stood against secularism right from the beginning. The Bunch of Thoughts written by MS Golwalkar is full of praise for the Nazis. He argued against letting Muslims and Christians enjoy the rights of citizens. The anti-minority statements in the book are so numerous that I do not want to quote them. In a bid to cover up this aspect of the RSS philosophy, it has not been re-publishing the book.
Since everyone knows who killed Mahatma Gandhi, I do not want to mention that controversy. Suffice to say that for several decades after Gandhi was assassinated, his portraits were never used in RSS functions. It is only after the BJP came to power that leaders like Modi have started “paying respects” to the father of the nation, who died at the hands of an ideology that preached violence which is still at play when a person is lynched to death for allegedly storing beef in his refrigerator.
The RSS reminds many of the stormtroopers who came in handy to Adolf Hitler in his campaign to capture power allegedly to take revenge for the German surrender during the first world war. They were the ones who put to the torch the Reichstag, marked the houses of the Jews, the Communists and the liberals before sending them to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other places. The stormtroopers needed only two-three days to take the law into their own hands and send the Jews scurrying for cover.
The BJP which is the political arm of the RSS had been blaming the previous UPA regime, especially its Defence Minister AK Antony, for not squaring up to the Pakistani challenge. BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj even claimed that for every Indian soldier killed, 10 Pakistani soldiers would be killed. Yet, the fact remains that in 2017, there was a 40 per cent increase in the number of soldiers killed in action over the previous year.
The so-called “surgical strikes” do not seem to have any effect as it was only last fortnight that the terrorists were able to free one of their colleagues in the custody of the security forces. Boastful claims of the government are not matched by the ground reality.
I have one doubt. How did Bhagwat know about the state of the Indian Army? Was it because the Army made a power-point presentation to the RSS bosses sometime ago. It was the first time that the Army was forced to do so. We also saw how the Army was used to build a pontoon bridge across the Yamuna to facilitate the grand function of a spiritual guru. In short, the BJP government has only itself to blame for the spiteful comments made by the RSS chief about the great institution of the Indian Army, which inspired thousand to lay down their life in the service of the nation.
(Published on 19th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 08)