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For Whom The Bell Tolls

For Whom The Bell Tolls

RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat held a three-day lecture on his organisation’s perspective about India’s future recently. Media reports interpreted it as Bhagwat giving a ‘new direction’ to his organisation. I don’t think Bhagwat was trying to say something different. This is not a RSS Perestroika! Before I get to why he said what he said, I would like to give my perspective on the RSS.

Irrespective of what its spokespersons say at different times, the RSS was formed for protecting the Varna system, which was under attack when Mahatma Gandhi united Indians across the nation belonging to different class, creed and castes.

Some upper caste Indians saw Gandhi’s definition of Hinduism as a challenge to their privileged existence in a society where caste was the equivalent to class and where they benefitted from exploitation of those categorised as ‘lower’ or ‘untouchable’ castes. Theirs was a fate similar to Africans captured and transported to the West to live as slaves.

The RSS did not directly question Gandhi’s teachings of equality, but tried to give a different definition to nationhood. To the RSS, India is and will be a Hindu nation, notwithstanding the semantic games its leaders play, time and again, on ‘who is a Hindu’. The system of caste was very much part of the RSS belief and philosophy till political compulsions of ‘Mandal’ made it to undertake social engineering in its ranks to some extent.

The Congress of yore, on the other hand, believed that Indians comprised people of different religions, castes, cultures and languages, who despite different hues and backgrounds stood for a united nation called India to be administered by a democratically-elected government. The Congress philosophy triumphed over the RSS’, despite the British attempts to divide India on religious grounds. However, the two-nation theory, and later Partition, gave the RSS renewed vigour and life and to redefine the nation based not just on the varna but also on ‘religion-linked nationalism’.

It’s propaganda for several decades after freedom finally paid dividends when the political wing of the RSS, the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by L K Advani succeeded in convincing a critical mass of Indians that they were Hindus first, who were treated as ‘second-class citizens’. This angst-driven agenda, fake sense of being wronged and misplaced zeal for religion reached its peak when Narendra Modi won an absolute majority for the BJP, with the unprecedented help and support of the RSS in 2014.

Before ‘Bhagwat Sandesh’ could begin, Rakesh Sinha, a representative of the RSS and Rajya Sabha MP, argued in an opinion piece in a national daily on the need for one to tolerate a view different from one’s own. He also reiterated the RSS’ angst for being ‘branded’ and ‘defamed’ over the decades by a section of ‘pseudo secularists’.

“The invitation extended by the RSS to all shades of political opinion and intellectuals to engage with its vision is an attempt to revive the healthy tradition of debate. Two extreme views can coexist if they do not challenge each other’s existence,” argued Sinha in his opinion column. In my view, even one extreme outlook is enough to cause trouble in society. Two would be a recipe for disaster. Be what that may, Bhagwat’s lecture was elaboration on these points meant to ‘reach out’.

Bhagwat said that RSS workers are not under compulsion to work for a single party. He said that Hindutva that excludes Muslims was not ‘real Hindutva’ and the RSS does not believe in ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. He also disapproved of those who engaged in narratives such as ‘smashan-kabaristan’ (crematorium-graveyard) and ‘bhagwa antankwad’ (saffron terror).

Does that mean RSS workers can work for other parties, or, they are not compelled to work for BJP? The people who keep harping on Congress-mukt Bharat are Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, while saffron terror has been a coinage of Congress’ Chidambaram. ‘Crematorium-graveyard’ was Modi’s way of polarising UP voters. Is this political censure?

Despite having a government best suited to transform India into ‘Hindu Rashtra’, a dominant section in the RSS seems uncomfortable with some aspects of the Modi Government and the way the BJP is run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s confidant Amit Shah. For one, this section knows there is suppression of leadership in the BJP: A decisive leadership at the top is one thing, but having the whole party to quietly accept and follow everything without criticism, or else risk the consequence of being side-lined, is something else.

The ‘uncomfortable wise men’ of the RSS have noticed that there is no opinion in the BJP other than what is espoused by the Modi-Shah leadership. MPs like Shatrughan Sinha and Kirti Azad, along with party members Yashwant Sinha and a one-time intellectual of the party, Arun Shourie, have been very critical of the Modi government on several occasions, but these are people who have no future in BJP and cannot even cause a ripple in the party.

Veteran L K Advani, who once formed the opposite pole has lost his clout, with age and after Modi defeated him in the race for the 2014 leadership. Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari have been providing critical inputs to people they are close to in the RSS but know that there is no point in trying to question unilateralism that could only ruin their future.

The RSS’ lecture series has been dubbed as an attempt to change ‘ignorant’ people’s perception about it. However, the subtle message is not for mere mortals but the current leadership of the BJP: It seems to be, ‘though we are very happy with what you have achieved and we have no doubts about your intentions of achieving the ultimate RSS goal,’ you need to encourage inner democracy in your party and government.

There is another angle too: The RSS has been trying to convince leaders of several political parties, including the Congress, that it is not ‘anti-anybody’ and BJP is not exactly its progeny but one among the parties which is ideologically close to it. It has been asking through intermediaries to tell leaders of the parties to criticise the BJP, while leaving the RSS out, as the RSS is a ‘nationalist organisation’ with a ‘lofty outlook’.

Such requests gained urgency after Congress President Rahul Gandhi made the RSS the target of his criticism regularly. He had recently equated the RSS to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. While remaining the power house for the BJP, the RSS is not comfortable with criticism. After its defamation case against Gandhi failed to have any effect on his pronouncements, Bhagwat’s reach out also seems to be an attempt to enjoy power without facing flak.