Is RSS Heading for a Revolutionary Change?

Published : Oct 19, 2018 07:28 am | By: M D Sridharan

Though the RSS conclave titled 'Future of Bharat: An RSS Perspective', was sought to explain the raison d'être of Sangh, the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat did express his strong intention for a revolutionary change in the organisation aimed at connecting with

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) , the world's largest Hindu organization and also widely regarded as the parent organisation of the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, recently organised a conclave “Bharat of Future” – an RSS Perspective in New Delhi.

RSS was primarily started during the British era to invoke patriotism and unite people under one banner and over the decades has emerged as a powerful Hindu organisation. Over the decades certain strong views on the society  by the RSS has  paved the way for the birth of some fringe  groups who often act as a custodian of Hindu cultures and traditions. The RSS has always been accused of patronising such groups and in the process promoting hatred over the minorities across the country.

The aim of the three-day conclave was to engage with a cross section of people and present its perspective on future of the country. Besides, the outreach program was being organised in a bid to allay apprehensions about its ideology so that people could understand the organisation better.

During the event, the RSS chief  Mohan Bhagwat elaborated on the evolution of the RSS, which he said cannot be compared to any other organisation. Notably, in a rare recognition, Bhagwat, also acknowledged the big role played by the Congress in the freedom movement and said that the grand old party has given the country many great personalities.

The conclave attained much significance given the fact that the Congress-led opposition has been accusing the RSS of promoting divisive ideology and attacking minorities.

Affiliates not remote controlled

Bhagwat said that RSS is "most democratic organisation” and not dictatorial and does not aspire for “domination”. He asserted that it neither imposes its ideology nor remote-controls its various affiliates,

Bhagwat said that its affiliates are independent and the coordination committee meetings of its fronts are basically to discuss and debate issues in the public domain. In essence the organisation aims to unite all Hindus by bringing about all possible changes in the society

He added that RSS is indifferent to who comes to power, "Who will be in power, 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.

The RSS chief said that the organisation believes in “engagement” and not alienation of any political thought. In essence the RSS has attempted to shed its “image and reputation “as being divisive and highly communal. It is a welcome attempt by the sangh pariwar to make its intention clear that it does not treat the Opposition as a pariah; and functions as a democratic set up that allows its affiliates room to take decision, but within the prescribed disciplinary configuration.

Bhagwat said India's diversity must be respected, celebrated and it should not be a reason for any discord in society and RSS’ vision has always been for an inclusive India.

RSS and Hindutva

The main aim of the RSS is to unite the society and the RSS claims that Hindutva unites them all. But how does the RSS define Hindus that too in a country as diverse as India?  According to Bhagwat, despite India’s diversity, Hindus are defined by a certain set of values imbibed by its people, which are sacrifice, patience, corporation and gratitude. Bhagwat clarified that while Hindutva binds RSS together and the vision of Hindutva is not to oppose or demean anyone.

But, in the wake of attacks against minorities, the opposition parties as well as the international media have been accusing the RSS for backing its affiliates such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal in   subjecting the religious minorities to violent attacks using various campaigns such as “Cow Vigilante”. They claimed that the Hindu fringe groups had the backing of the RSS and accused the RSS of fostering an anti-Muslim /Christianity sentiment in the country. 

But the RSS and VHP leaders  pointed out that while the international media were talking about religious tolerance, they failed to mention the attacks on Hindu temples and Gurudwaras.  They also pointed out that the fact that  since the Indian  government has started acting against non-government organizations (NGOs), the international media  want to hit back at India by maligning the image of the country internationally,

On the other hand, the religious minority communities frequently accuse the RSS, VHP and other Hindu-nationalist groups and individuals of intolerance, discrimination, and violence against them.  The opposition has been ramping up the issue stating that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, the religious minority communities have been subjected to numerous violent attacks and incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have increased.

In such a back drop, Bhagwat asserted that the RSS firmly believes in Indian Constitution and does not take part in politics. He explained the RSS’ adherence to the concept of Hindutva and said unity in diversity, sacrifice, self-control and a spirit of gratitude are the defining characteristics of Hindutva.  A “Hindu Rashtra” does not envision the exclusion of Muslims and the RSS has not gone against the Constitution and the law of the land. We think everyone must abide by the Constitution. The RSS has never gone against the Constitution.  The concept of a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu nation does not rest on segregation or rejection of any community or faith. “Hindu Rashtra doesn’t mean there’s no place for Muslims. The day it becomes so, it won’t be Hindutva. Hindutva talks about one world family,” Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat assured that he will “respect” the sentiments of the minorities and said, “If you don’t like the word Hindu use Bharatiya instead.”   Bhagwat recalled the words of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College which became the Aligarh Muslim University, who said during a speech at a function organised by the Arya Samaj community to felicitate him for becoming “the first Muslim barrister”. He said Khan told the gathering Mujhe bada dukh hua ki aapne humko apne me nahin shumaar kiya… kya hum Bharat Mata ke putra nahin hain?… arre itihaas mein badal gayi hamari puja ki padyati, aur kya badla hai? (I am very upset that you did not consider me one of your own. Am I not a son of Mother India? Nothing has changed except our ways of worship).”

Is RSS heading for a revolutionary change?

In many ways the conclave was indeed an appropriate move by the RSS. First it did attempt to shed its “communal” image - an aphorism that continues to undermine its original policy and national interest - by reaching out to people and second it candidly tried to shed its traditional reticence.

Political analysts consider the conclave as the “Glasnost” moment for the Sangh.   In the mid-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a concept called  Glasnost in USSR which, brought in new “openness” in the thinking and actions of the USSR. He insisted that there was a need for more openness and accommodation.

Similarly, Bhagwat candidly admitted certain policies of the RSS. He univocally dismissed certain barbs and attacks on the sangh, but at the same time candidly expressed his views on various issues that indeed changed the perception of the RSS in the minds of the sceptics. With honesty and open mindedness, he countered several issues that worked against the reputation of the organisation. 

Is Bhagwat attempting to bring in a revolutionary change in RSS? It looks like so. Indeed, through the conclave Bhagwat brought in freshness about the understanding of the organisation.  The open mindedness with which Bhagwat expressed his views on several issues of national interest was not only refreshing but also emphatic. Be it, his stand on the constitution, secularism, socialism, the status of women were all and likely to bring in a perspective of RSS.

In today’s context, considering the overall reputation of the RSS and its image across the country,  Bhagwat’s resolute views on certain critical  issues stand significant.  When it comes to secularism, many believed that RSS insisted that “all religions deserve equal respect (sarva panth samaadar) and not, “all religions are equal” (sarva panth samabhav). But, Bhagwat candidly said that the RSS is ready to accept the proposition that “All religions are equal”. Similarly on the constitution Bhagwat said,  “We respect the Indian Constitution. A lot of thought has gone into making it. It was done through consensus. The Sangh has never gone against the Constitution.” 

‘Bhagwat also clarified  on  Golwalkar’s famous ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ in which Golwalkar advised India to deal with Muslims the way Hitler dealt with the Nazis. Bhagwat said that the comment was not to be taken seriously today. He made it clear that those thoughts pertained to a particular context and need not be considered as eternally valid. He categorically stated that times change and, accordingly, our thoughts, too, must change.

On Hindutva,  Bhagwat  explained that the RSS meaning of Hindutva was being Indian.  Savarkar, who had coined the word Hindutva, was clear that Hindu Rashtra should be peopled by only those who descended from Hindu culture. But, Bhagwat turned that theory and emphasised, “Hindu Rashtra does not mean that there is no place for Muslims. If it is said that Muslims cannot stay in India, it won’t be Hindutva any more.”

When it comes to gender equality the RSS has been often criticised in the past for being an organisation exclusively for men. Several RSS leaders have been known for their controversial remarks on women. In an attempt to clarify on allegations that the Sangh is a misogynistic organisation, Bhagwat  pointed out that the   Rashtriya Sevika Samiti was set up before Independence. The RSS Chief said  “samaan aur swatantra” (equality and independence)  and added that Rashtriya Sewika Samiti and RSS support each other though they do not overlap each other.

Even on education the RSS vociferously declared   that the Indian system of education needs change.  The RSS chief said that the Indian children must learn to speak English well but they must also learn their mother tongue and at least one other Indian language. Besides, today the RSS today has no problem accepting from the West and using it to improve India. Even the RSS supported the .inter-caste marriage or westernisation as long as this means taking what is good

Bhagwat also countered BJP President  Amit Shah, Shah’s call for a “Congress-mukt Bharat” and said: “We are for all-inclusive Bharat, we are not about mukt”. He even complimented the Congress, which had “many great personalities who sacrificed their lives and who still inspire us”.

What is going on? While the political analysts acknowledge that Bhagwat has attempted to discard old orthodoxies and move so far away from the positions his predecessors had taken, some sceptics  still point their fingers at RSS . Questions such as how can they change? What about the activities of their affiliates  Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad?  Besisdes, they also point out the leadesr  who  routinely utter  hateful speeches about minorities. what about the lynchings in the name of  “Cow protection” or the frequent communal tension  carried out by RSS supporters or even members?

Can the RSS now admonish such acts?            But still critics continue to blame the RSS and say that the new found the efforts to give the RSS a makeover are duplicitous

Clearly, RSS outreach programme is  a significant shift away from its past and an attempt to demonstrate its  commitment to secularism and socialism.   Indeed Bhagwat  has taken a stand and embark on a course that looks reasonable  and progressive. Political analysts also points out that for the first time in its history, the RSS Sarsanghchalak has spoken in a more liberal vein than its political wing.  Of course, it goes without saying that these are clear indications that RSS wants a change.

There is no doubt that Bhagwat has made his intentions clear and is simply keen to establish that the RSS has evolved and marching ahead in tune with times. But,  the fact remains that it is not a simple restructuring process but a  transition that is aimed at connecting the youth.

Undoubtedly it is a Himalayan task and challenge lies in  driving home the new thinking within the rank and file of the organisation and It requires a great the effort streamlining  entire resources. But, Mohan Bhagwat commands enormous respect within the rank and file. Under his leadership, with his clarity, candidness and determination he has the ability to steer the RSS  that results in complete resurgence and march ahead .



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