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23 September, 2018 10:34:20 AM

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RSS and the future of pluralism in Indian politics

Many who came out were somewhat transformed into giving a second thought to the opinions they had about the RSS
Kumkum Chadha

It was with open arms that the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh, popularly known as RSS in English and Sangh in Hindi, that BJP’s parent organisation welcomed its critics into its fold. The erstwhile closed door organisation suddenly decided to reach out to those who frowned upon it and viewed it as dogmatic, regressive and autocratic.  In its three-day mega event 'Bharat of Future - An RSS perspective'  the organisation's chief Mohan Bhagwat addressed various issues.

and on the last day even answered questions on over two dozen  subjects including homosexuality, mob lynching, Hindutva and   Article 35 A.
There were interesting takeaways from these three days. Equally important was at view the God like status that the Sarsanghachalak, the head, enjoys. Mohan Bhagwat, though physically short-statured is for the Sanghis, as the RSS followers are known, and BJP too, the tallest amongst all and every word he speaks is gospel truth and cast in stone for his followers.
In the three days series that the RSS held in India’s capital city and that too in a high profile and politically significant auditorium was for everyone to see.
New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan is an auditorium that rarely throws open its doors to commoners and is usually reserved for high profile government events and international conferences. For a political organisation like the RSS to have it for a conclave and that too for three days speaks volumes about the Government backing that the lecture series had. That the Opposition despite being invited stayed away and the BJP was sparse in its numbers is another matter.

 For those who expected to rub shoulders with BJP’s top brass both in the Government and the organisation were however disappointed. If their absence was a strategy to keep the focus on Bhagwat, then it was one that definitely succeeded. For undoubtedly, it was Bhagwat who occupied centre-stage and in the three days spoke for over 5 hours to a jam-packed hall and somewhat spell bound audience which included faces from Bollywood, the dance and art world, Delhi’ s elite, monks and a section of the intelligentsia and opinion makers. It was to them that Bhagwat spoke, quite sure that it would have a spiralling effect. He was right. Many who came out were somewhat transformed into giving a second thought to the opinions they had about the RSS; newspaper front-paged what he said and many left the Vigyan Bhawan quite mesmerized by Bhagwat’s assertions. It was a Sikh youngman who spontaneously said about Bhagwat: “What a forward looking man”. There were his own gang of cheerleaders who applauded every word he uttered. Therefore, apart from what Bhagwat said were loud claps at regular intervals from among the audience. It was not only to cheer him but more because he did not mince words and made clear what RSS stood for and the direction it was taking. Bhagwat spoke without fear and far from being apologetic about the unsavoury controversies, took them head on and articulated what the Sangh stood for. While doing so he put things in perspective and dispelled ambiguity.

 This is what Bhagwat said:

 “Homosexuals exist in the society and the society needs to change with time….Making an issue out of it will not help;

 “It is wrong to associate criminals with those who truly protect and care for cows…Killing in the name of cow is not acceptable…Violence is completely unacceptable and strict action should be taken. Gau raksha should be done in a constitutional way, but gau rakshaks should keep cows first. There are many Muslims who run cow gaushalas with complete dedication. Don't link all such people to lynching. Don't link gau rakshaks to criminals;  

"In the form of Congress, a big freedom movement had started in the country which gave many great personalities";   

"... As a Sangh worker, head of the sangh and as a part of Ram janambhoomi andolan, I want that a grand Ram temple should be constructed at the earliest at the birth place (Ayodhya) of Lord Ram…

It should have happened by now. The construction of a grand Ram temple will help in ending a major reason for tension between Hindus and Muslims, and if the temple is built in a harmonious way, then there will be no more pointing of fingers at Muslims";

 "RSS has decided to keep itself away from politics and political competition...the organisation has no political ambition and will not contest any election…We want to unite the whole society. Politics has different views on societal issues which leads to different political parties. From its inception, the RSS has decided to keep itself away from politics and political competition. Swayamsevaks will not accept any political post in any political party.

  "We are against article 370 and article 35A should go. This is the stated position. Whether the state should be divided into three parts (Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh) that should be taken by administration and situation. If it helps, they can think about the division."

 For record, Article 35A gives special privileges to permanent residents the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370 gives the state autonomous status.

 Some of the other takeaways are as follows:

 "Reservation is not a problem but the politics over it is a problem;

  “RSS believes in Hindu rashtra, but it does not mean that we are against Muslims. We believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakam (world is a family) and every panth (sect) has its space in it."

 "It is a myth that Nagpur runs the government. We do not have any impact on government policies. Today, several former swayamsevaks are in politics. They have become prime ministers and presidents and have ample political experience. Sometimes they ask for a suggestion, which we give if it is possible for us;  

 "The Sangh is the most democratic organisation. We run by consensus. Here, every worker can express his views. There are no restrictions... We have started our work to make a certain kind of people and society and we do not want anything else," he said.

"People often believe that the RSS is a dictatorial organisation and that one man decides everything... If you want to see the most open organisation, then you should come to the Sangh. There is no restriction. An RSS worker conducts himself in line with the values given to him by organisation."

 "Who will be in power and what policy the country will accept is something to be decided by the society and people. There are mechanisms in place for that... We are not concerned about that. What we are concerned about is the conduct of the society," he said, adding that the RSS does not believe in publicising an individual's work and wants to remain faceless.

 "We do not want RSS's domination. We believe that if history writes that something good happened in the country because of the Sangh's domination, then it will be a big defeat for us. We want the country to rise due to the efforts of the common man and its history and present is decided by him,"

There were various interpretations to the why and how of the lecture series, the key being whether it is a sign of nervousness and the outreach an attempt to send a message that the RSS has been misunderstood and it is time to set the record straight.

 More importantly the exercise is also to correct the “imbalance” that has occurred since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed power. With the BJP’s impressive victory in 2014, there was a general impression that it was the Modi magic that had worked. Even as BJP looks at 2019, there is a  perception that its winnability is solely dependent on Modi.  

In the last four years, Modi has assumed centre stage and dwarfed all others including the RSS. That RSS is against any single person becoming larger than life is a given. Modi is riding the crest and despite the flak his government has received, he still remains a hot favourite among the people. While the RSS is happy reaping advantage from this, it in no way wants to be pushed into the background.

Therefore, three days of Bhagwat and only Bhagwat were necessary to drive home the point that RSS is the dominant partner and cannot be taken lightly. That the focus should not shift from Bhagwat, the three-day meet had no BJP leader of substance and the government and the party left the stage free for Bhagwat to occupy and dominate. That Bhagwat did rather well and through his three days monologue made it known that it is the tree from which the BJP plucks its fruits.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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