AS 2019 draws nearer, the Sangh-BJP establishment has launched a massive outreach drive. Sometime ago we were being treated to a daily dose of Amit Shah knocking on the doors of eminent citizens to seek their support for 2019. We also had the spectacle of former President Pranab Mukherjee addressing a valedictory session of the RSS pracharaks in Nagpur. And now we have a three-day RSS conclave at Vigyan Bhavan, the premier convention centre owned by the Government of India which was so far known as the venue for international conferences or major official events hosted by some ministry of the central government or involving the presence of the President, Vice President or Prime Minister. The conclave has been projected as an interaction between the RSS chief and eminent representatives of the civil society about the RSS and the future of India.
A few remarks made by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat are being widely publicised in the media as reassuring signs of RSS becoming an inclusive and democratic organisation in contrast to its sectarian and fascist image. The claim revolves particularly around the following four takeaways from Bhagwat’s Vigyan Bhawan discourse: (i) the Congress has played a key role in India’s freedom movement and given the country many great personalities, (ii) the RSS has nothing against the Constitution and the national flag, (iii) the RSS does not want to exclude Muslims, in fact it has no problem accepting Muslims, (iv) the RSS has nothing to do with the government let alone controlling it, it just shares some ideas and coordinates with certain initiatives of the government. Some commentators are seeing these remarks as even a subtle refutation or correction of the BJP’s shrill rhetoric of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ or Congress-free India or Modi’s relentless and obsessive assault on Nehru.
Bhagwat has clearly tried to conveniently twist the history of the RSS and couch the core vision and objectives of the RSS in terms that appear compatible with the Constitutional framework of parliamentary democracy. But luckily to decode Bhagwat we do not have to go back to the writings of Hedgewar and Golwalkar, it will be enough and quite instructive to just read Bhagwat with another speech he delivered just ten days ago at the World Hindu Conference in Chicago. The Chicago event was meant to mark the 125th anniversary of the historic Chicago address delivdered by Swami Vivekananda. And the contrast perhaps could not be any starker. Vivekananda presented an account of Hinduism before an international interfaith gathering and here was Bhagwat addressing mostly a closed group of supporters where a voice of dissent raised by members of the Indian diaspora who thought the RSS was a liability for Hinduism and India was brutally silenced.
Vivekananda in 1893 represented a nation under colonial subjugation but he reached out to the world with a message of inclusive humanism and an image of a confident and welcoming India. “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth”, affirmed Vivekananda in his historic address. He elevated tolerance to the level of respect: “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.” And on this basis of mutual respect he made a fervent appeal against bigotry and fanaticism: “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth.... They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair... and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism”.
Fast forward to 2018 and we have Bhagwat talking of a Hinduism at war. The metaphor he invokes for Hinduism is that of a lonely lion – one wonders if the friendly cow is invoked only at home for the benefit of the terrorists masquerading as cow protectors – surrounded by a pack of wild dogs. The conference presents interfaith marriages as a silent holocaust of Hindus. Another metaphor used by the Conference for Hindus is that of the saffron laddoo, but the Sangh feels the laddoo in its present state is too small and soft and so the call goes out for making it bigger and harder. What about the minorities? The answer comes with another thinly veiled metaphor lifted straight from the classic texts of fascism: traditional Hindu agriculture does not need pesticides for it does not kill pests but knows how to control and use them.
Let us now come back to the so-called inclusiveness and liberalism of the Vigyan Bhawan discourse. Bhagwat calls the entire Indian society Hindu and then says the RSS celebrates diversity and has no problem in accepting Muslims. He thinks he is giving us a great concession by claiming to accept the Constitution when the real issue is the daily open violation of the Constitution by the RSS-inspired thug squads and the literal burning of the Constitution on the Parliament Street by Manuwadi forces opposed to reservations and social justice. Likewise acknowledging the historical role of the Congress or other major streams of the freedom movement means little when the Sangh is presiding over a veritable industry that specialises in continuous falsification, misinterpretation and misappropriation of history and historical icons. Indeed, among the many posters and banners hung around the Vigyan Bhavan conclave was a statement attributed to Rabindranath Tagore about India being all along a Hindu Rashtra which was just another fake quotation from the Sangh factory of lies.
The most audacious statement from Bhagwat was his assertion that the RSS had no organic relation with the Modi government and plays no role in policy-making or execution when the whole world is aware of the meticulous RSS blueprint that defines the Modi scheme of governance. Was it just an another attempt at deceiving the people about the RSS-BJP relationship or a clever RSS ploy to distance itself from the disaster called the Modi government and the defeat that now looms large? In that sense, Bhagwat has echoed the same line that India’s latest business baron Baba Ramdev took the other day by saying he wouldn’t campaign for the BJP in 2019. An organisation which has been banned as many as three times since Gandhi’s assassination is today issuing its gospel from the government’s premier convention centre in Lutyen’s Delhi. That is the distance RSS has covered and it is trying to make as much hay as possible for as long as the sun continues to shine.