Bhagwat’s Speech Shows How His Tenure’s Heralded RSS’ ‘Coming Out’

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
·8-min read

The tenure of Mohan Bhagwat as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief would be termed by future historians of Hindu nationalistic politics as the period of the organisation's 'coming out'.

Not only has Bhagwat commented on subjects that are unambiguously political, but he has not couched his vocabulary in ambiguity.

Unlike several of his predecessors, he has not limited himself to a phraseology that was comprehensible solely to the faithful.

Much of his confidence stemmed from greater acceptability in the society of the Sangh's Hindutva ideology as represented by the electoral supremacy of the Bharatiya Janata Party – in not one parliamentary poll, but successive ones.

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The importance of the annual Dussehra lecture of the RSS chief is now known to all and it is a major media event.

"This year, the speech was delivered on the same day as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat,’ which ignited further interest, to see possible synergies and divergences in the two addresses. In the event, Modi chose to play a complementary role."

Bhagwat's last seven speeches, including the one on 25 October, have acted as a barometer on several matters.

First of course has been the inter-organisational relationship between the ideological fountainhead of the Sangh parivar and the BJP-government twin engine. The second set of indicators, provided by Bhagwat's speeches, have been issues that the RSS wishes to either highlight or prioritise.

On the first, the RSS chief accorded complete endorsement of every action or initiative of the government since returning to the office.

While the decision on Jammu and Kashmir was appreciated in his speech last year, Bhagwat noted with satisfaction the "historic judgement" allowing construction of the Ram temple and people's "festive fervour" during the Bhoomi Pujan in Ayodhya.

He also commended the government for the "lawfully passed" Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

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The RSS chief found no faults in the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic although he made a suggestion regarding the economic initiatives that could be taken.

On the crucial issue of China’s military offensive, Bhagwat claimed that the determined and brave response of the government, administration, defence forces and Indian people has “stunned China.”

The sarsanghchalak also stressed on developing closer ties with our neighbouring countries, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Brahmadesh), and Nepal, with whom we share "common values and ethical code."

He accepted that at times difference crop up but advised to set clear differences in opinion, resolve conflicts and settle old grouses. Clearly, the RSS wants its viewpoint to be reflected in diplomacy.

While this is easier said than done for a variety of reasons, the advice for countering China is what is certainly over-simplistic.

The Bhagwat formulation is well-intentioned: “Rising above China economically, strategically, in securing cooperative ties with our neighbours and at international relations is the only way to neutralise those demonic aspirations.”

One can visualise heads nodding as the faithful heard these words. But how can these wishes be converted into ground reality? The RSS has traditional been hamstrung by an inadequate understanding of global diplomacy and international economy and this is evident once again in the assertion.

Two sections in Bhagwat's speech, both on the internal situation on which the RSS has a well-developed viewpoint, merit special attention.

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One is the link between "external threats" to national safety and sovereignty and the "internal events" which according to the RSS chief "demand alertness". The long-articulated Sangh viewpoint that has been reiterated ad nauseam by the RSS, BJP and government since 2014 is that its opponents are also those who are weakening the nation.

Bhagwat drew on a watershed speech of Dr BR Ambedkar, of late appropriated by the Sangh Parivar. While citing "organised violence (Delhi riots) and causing social unrest in the name of (anti-CAA) protests," Bhagwat referred to Ambedkar's use of "grammar of anarchy" in his speech delivered on 25 November 1949.

This is a typical example of selective usage of past, utterances or events. Ambedkar had, in fact, sounded out three warnings in his celebrated closing speech and the call for abandoning the path of violence for safeguarding democracy was just the first.

His second warning was against hero-worshipping because "in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship."

Since 2014, we have witnessed enthusiastic ushering in of personality cult within the BJP and hastened presidentialisation of the Indian parliamentary system. Initially, Bhagwat had warned against personalisation of politics but it appears that he has come to terms with it, at least for the moment.

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The third danger, according to Ambedkar, was not to remain “content with mere political democracy.” Instead the objective he spelt out was “social democracy.” According to him, in Indian society there was complete absence of social equality and the principle of fraternity.

Bhagwat, like Modi has on several occasions, emphasises on constitutionalism and makes it a point to stress that actions are being taken within the ambit of the Constitution.

This abandons the Sangh Parivar's previous views on what the prime minister calls, the country's only Holy Book. Yet, when it comes to the actual practice of politics, the saffron fraternity is short on the commitment to social equality as well as fraternity.

Much was made out of Bhagwat's statements in September 2018 when he lectured the nation from New Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan. His comments were seen as a reach out to Muslims: "The day it is said that Muslims are unwanted here, the concept of Hindutva will cease to exist".

Bhagwat acknowledged in his Dussehra speech that Hindutva is one term over which there is 'confusion'. He tried to clarify matters but sent out contradictory messages.

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Bhagwat's primary definition is that Hindutva is "the word expressing our identity along with the continuity of its spirituality-based traditions and its entire wealth of value system...it is the word applicable to all the 1.3 billion people who call themselves the sons and daughters of Bharatvarsh."

The objective of people calling themselves the children of this land is to strive "toward an alignment with its moral and ethical code and who are proud of the heritage of their ancestors who successfully traversed the same spiritual landscape since time immemorial."

The Hindu for Bhagwat is "not the name of some sect or denomination, not a provincial conceptualisation, neither a single caste’s..." and he elaborates on what all it does not mean.

Instead, the word Hindu acts as "psychological common denominator whose vast courtyard cradled human civilisation, that which honours and encompasses innumerable distinct identities."

Since Bhagwat is aware that the contention is that not everyone would like to be termed a Hindu, he added that there "maybe some who have an objection in accepting this term. We do not object their using other words if the content in their mind is the same."

But this concession (sic) come with a rider: “In the interest of the country’s integrity and security, Sangh has over the years humbly assimilated the colloquial and the global interpretations of the term Hindu.

“When Sangh says Hindusthan is Hindu Rashtra, it does not have any political or power-centred concept in its mind. Hindutva is the essence of this Rashtra’s ‘Swa’(self-hood).”

A common belief in this self-hood for Bhagwat is akin to sharing a common spiritual tradition. There is no alteration in the perspective of cultural nationalism in Bhagwat's propositions.

India, in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar, remains a 'people nation' where its people have a common culture, synonymous to their spiritual heritage and religion.

People uncomfortable with the Hindu label may use another identity tag, but in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar, everyone who resides in this nation is nothing but a Hindu.

There is no preventing anyone from practicing their religion, region, language etc. It only mandates an abandonment of the quest for supremacy and accepting the principality of the larger identity. This is indeed a clear coming out.

(The writer is an author and senior journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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