There was considerable interest in this year's Vijayadashami or Dussehra speech of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat. For it was the first after the stupendous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victory in this year's parliamentary polls.
It was also the first foundation day celebrations of the organisation after the Centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and strip Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and special status.
The political backdrop of the speech on 8 October was in sharp contrast to last year's speech. Last October, there was no certainty of BJP winning the elections and it was being pulled back by strong anti-incumbent sentiment.
With all this in the past, and the BJP currently being an undisputed political hegemon, Bhagwat's speech became key to decode what possible tasks he was setting for the government and the Sangh Parivar.
Dussehra is possibly the only political anniversary which is not celebrated in India as per the Gregorian calendar. Instead, the observance is on basis of tithi or the Hindu calendar.
The RSS was formed on 27 September 1925 but its founder Dr KB Hedgewar ordained that the anniversary would be observed as per the Hindu calendar.
Tracing Growth of RSS’ Corporate Ties With Time
There was also considerable buzz surrounding Bhagwat's speech as HCL founder-chairman Shiv Nadar had been invited as chief guest. He is the first person from the corporate world who has been bestowed the honour of being chief guest at this significant RSS function.
His presence was preceded by business tycoon Azim Premji’s visit to Nagpur, the Hedgewar memorial and the RSS headquarters in the city of its birth for a tete-a-tete with Bhagwat.
Previously, in September, Rahul Bajaj – who besides being a leading member of the corporate world, is also grandson of Jamnalal Bajaj, a freedom fighter who in 1930’s was deputed by Congress leaders to seek clarifications from RSS and Hindu Mahasabha regarding its anti-colonial posture and political orientation – visited Nagpur, where he paid obeisance at the Hedgewar memorial.
These visits by leading industrialists are indicative of the mutual embrace between the corporate word and the RSS. Already this year, Ratan Tata has visited Nagpur twice and met with Bhagwat, with the first meeting between the two being held as early as December 2016.
Besides the well-known names, many other local businesses and their leaders are also engaged with the RSS, either socially or in aiding their projects.
There are reports of several corporates channelising CSR funds to philanthropic and other programme-based affiliates of the RSS.
Nagpur city itself has two major medical initiatives linked to the Sangh: the National Cancer Institute under the aegis of Dr Aabaji Thatte Seva Aur Anusandhan Sanstha and the Madhav Netralaya Eye Institute and Research Centre.
It was reported that Rs 100 crore was donated to the institutes by various trusts linked to the Tatas.
These developments, coupled with Nadar's presence and his long speech endorsing the Sangh Parivar, reaffirmed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stance – that the citizens must not expect government to do everything for them, that it is on them to, individually as well as through citizens' groups and NGOs, step in when there is need.
RSS’ growing proximity to corporates is indicative of the new status of the organisation. It demonstrates that businesses have accepted the emergence of the Sangh as a major influencer and that they wish to open channels with it and its affiliates.
BJP’s Win ‘Not a Fluke’
As far as Bhagwat's speech is concerned, it began with a significant political reading, especially of the recent Lok Sabha polls. The sarsanghchalak reflected on the jubilation of the Sangh Parivar post the election results and argued that it proved that the 2014 verdict was not an one-off or a fluke but rather highlighted the desire among people for all-round change.
He termed the will of the people as sahasi and takatwar (brave and forceful) and contended that after “a long time there is a sense that something positive is happening in society.”
Significantly, while praising the government for steps taken since the elections, Bhagwat hailed both Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for the decision to abrogate Article 370.
The New RSS-BJP Equation
He recalled that the demand for Kashmir's 'full integration' was the Jana Sangh's first agitation in 1953 and recalled Syama Prasad Mookerjee's slogan:
Ek desh mein do vidhan
Ek desh mein do nishan
Ek desh mein do pradhan
Nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge
(In a nation which is one entity, there can be no room for two constitutions, two heads, nor two flags).
Bhagwat's praise of the BJP ‘power duo’ is indicative of the altered equations within the Parivar.
Certainly, the RSS now sees the BJP as its most important affiliate and at par with itself. This is in sharp contrast to relations between the RSS and BJP when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister.
RSS’ Interpretation of ‘Unity in Diversity’
Over the past several months, Bhagwat has never wasted an opportunity to invert the imagery of the slogan 'Unity in Diversity', consensually considered an expression of Indian pluralism.
Bhagwat contended that in the Sangh‘s viewpoint the current state is one of unity, while for adversaries, the present is diversified thereby not yet united.
Bhagwat's coinage has been 'Diversity in Unity', a simple reversal in the word order but altering the imagery significantly.
In his speech, the sarsanghchalak dwelt at length on this theme. In his imagination, India is like a river that has water from various tributaries flowing into it. He argued, once again, that the RSS' ideological adversaries emphasise on diversity of the rivers that will eventually flow into one.
For opponents, he argued, India is a ‘project’ in the making while for the Sangh it is one which has been accomplished. His assertion, that India is a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, stems from this contention.
Certainly, Bhagwat is worried about the damage done from within by fringe forces. It is due to this reason that he said the term 'lynching' is of foreign origin. Although, he did not clarify if kangaroo courts in the name of religious beliefs and practices too is un-Indian and whether there should be a systemic campaign against such practices.
But the worry is certainly there, thus so is the reiteration that the law must take its course. He even said that if the raja or king considered it necessary, new laws maybe contemplated.
The RSS is certainly concerned about potential opposition and was harsh on critics repeatedly. He spoke at times like not just a sarsanghchalak but as the head of the entire Parivar, as a result of which the pressure to balance and moderate views meant the RSS 'voice' had to be tempered.
The sarsanghchalak displayed awareness about societal fault lines but showed little interest in addressing these as the Sangh Parivar gains by the deepening of cleavages. He even said that “party politics creates distrust and tension.” This in a way calls for greater adherence to the party or conglomerate in power.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent book is ‘The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right’. He can be reached at @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.)