Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat's statement that many assertions of the second chief Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, have outlived their utility because these were made in a specific historical context, is not the first time that he and the Sangh Parivar have distanced themselves from Golwalkar's contentious positions.
But public reiteration of departure from some controversial positions of one of the two most revered leaders of the RSS in the course of the highly publicised event, is no ordinary matter. Besides possibly marking a turning point in the form and content of RSS' public engagement, Bhagwat's assertion also indicates efforts of the leadership to somewhat reposition the Sangh in efforts to retrieve middle-India which has moved away, especially from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which remains central to the Parivar's future prospects despite claims to the contrary – since 2014.
On the third and concluding day of his Future of Bharat lecture series, Bhagwat was asked if the RSS still stood by the offensive words Golwalkar used for Muslims in the anthology of his statements, Bunch of Thoughts, long considered one of the holy books within RSS circles. The question assumed significance in view of the interpretation of his assertion in the course of the second day's lecture. He said, “Agar Hindustan hindu rashtra hai, toh iska matlab isme musalman nahi chaiye, aisa bilkul nahi hota. Jis din yeh kaha jaega ki yahan muslim nahi chaiye, uss din vo Hindutva nahi rahega” (that although India is a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, it does not mean that there should be no Muslims. The day it is said that there should be no Muslims, that day will mark the end of Hindutva).
For years, the RSS has been accused of opposing the fundamentals of the Indian Republic. Besides, the organisation's stand towards religious minorities – mainly Muslims and Christians – have been flagged.
It has been put in the dock for repeated assertions of sarsanghchalaks and others questioning the Constitution.
Not just that, RSS has also been accused of not paying adequate respect to the Indian flag besides remaining critical of the freedom struggle. Golwalkar was at the epicentre of most of these critical comments because he was possibly the most vituperative of all chiefs till date, although many would consider KS Sudarshan to be in a similar mould despite the canvas of his intellectual engagement being extremely limited.
But to get a perspective of the distancing from the Golwalkar line, there is a need to recall a certain timeline. When he took over the RSS in July 1940 after the demise of founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, Golwalkar faced considerable hostility because he made a lateral entry into the RSS. He overcame this through different means, and claimed authorship of We, or Our Nationhood Defined, published in March 1939 provided him with intellectual gravitas.
It was not widely known in Sangh circles for almost two-and-a-half decades that the book was not written by Golwalkar. It was in fact, written in Marathi by GD (Babarao) Savarkar, the brother of VD Savarkar who penned Hindutva – Who Is A Hindu? – the watershed monograph that partially inspired Hedgewar into establishing the RSS. Rashtra Mimansa, as Babarao's book was titled, was published in 1934 and although senior leaders knew about this, there was no effort made in public to clarify that Golwalkar was not its author. In popular perception, he was its author.
The first edition of the book was interspersed with "intemperate language" and these were cleaned out in the second edition. The third and final reprint of the book was in 1947. Finally in 1963, Golwalkar announced that it had in fact been an abridged version of Babarao Savarkar's book but put the blame on a person he handed over the translation to for publication. No explanation was offered on not clarifying for long that he didn’t author the book.
Still, outside RSS circles the book was known as Golwalkar’s work till 2006 when a RSS publication, ‘Sri Guruji and Indian Muslims’, was released and it was formally announced that Golwalkar was not the author of ‘We,...’
The RSS said in a statement that the book did not represent "the views of the grown (sic) Guruji or of the RSS." Previously, when Golwalkar disassociated from the book in 1963, RSS circles felt the need to put some text that could be ascribed to him.
Consequently, work began on compiling his articles and speeches and these were published in 1966 as ‘Bunch of Thoughts’.
The book had a chapter on Internal Threats with sub-sections on Muslims, Christians and Communists. The sub-chapter on Muslims argued that Muslims pursued a two-fold strategy after partition – "direct aggression" and "swelling numbers".
The sub-chapter on Muslims also said that the problem was a “time-bomb” for they neither forgot anything nor learnt anything and were working towards “miniature Pakistans.”
Golwalkar claimed that not all "pro-Pakistan elements" had gone away and instead the "Muslim menace has increased a hundred-fold."
By the time RSS formally put out the statement, distancing themselves from 'We,...', the organisation had also published the twelve-volume Sri Guruiji Samagra or Collected Works.
Within few months, the RSS felt the need for a much slimmer compendium which eliminated the more contentious subjects which could be embarrassing to the RSS if it was constantly referred in public by its critics, analysts and scholars.
Core Principles Detrimental to Growth?
The book which Bhagwat referred in his Q&A session on Wednesday, 19 September – ‘Sri Guruji: Drishti aur Darshan’ (‘Sri Guruji: Vision and Mission’) – was published in 2005 when Bhagwat was sarkaryavah or general secretary, the top executive position in RSS while Sudarshan was the chief.
In the Prastavana or prologue that Bhagwat penned, he used almost the same words as he did on Wednesday that "time is progressive and situations change" as a result of which, there is need to separate the contemporaneous comments from the eternal.
The condensed book was a result of this realisation in the RSS leaders, Bhagwat wrote.
In fact, even before Bhagwat, Sudarshan laid the ground to intellectually distance the RSS from several of Golwalkar's accusatory comments and observations. By 2005-06 when the Collected Works were published and the RSS distanced itself from 'We,...' the Sangh Parivar had been confronted with the demands of the coalition era and realised growth would be hindered by sticking to moribund concepts.
Sudarshan in his Upodghat or Preface wrote that Golwalkar's views could be classified into two categories: "first which are eternal or timeless and the other which reflect the state of nation and the period."
He went on to say that while the first type of views could be applied universally, super-imposing the second category of views on the current situation carried the risk of creating an ‘ism’ or ‘vad’.
It cannot be said that these views will be "applicable as it is" to contemporary situations. While neither Sudharshan's comments nor Bhagwat's words denounced Golwalkar, the observations clearly conveyed that the RSS top brass realised that their iconic sarsanghchalak had to be eased out of the picture, or at least some of his comments which could impede further growth of the RSS had to be foregone.
But evidently, Bhagwat realised – and he would have secular clearance certainly from a larger body of RSS leaders before airing his thoughts – that it was necessary to restate this opinion of the RSS. From a close reading of several of nuanced statements made by Bhagwat and other RSS leaders, resolutions and deliberations of various representatives in recent years – especially over the past few months – indicate that there has been realisation of the need to reaffirm its past position.
This, in a bid to regain the support of middle-India which broadly accepts the principles of Hindutva and the RSS definition of the nation, but get put off by rabid views towards minorities and other accepted symbols of Indian nationalism.
It also appears that the RSS has accepted that there would be limits to its growth if it continued to have the image of being opposed to minorities, Dalits and the Constitution.
Consequently, Bhagwat clarified RSS’ stance on all the three issues. In fact, he put an end for the time being to the narrative that the Sangh Parivar would adopt a new Constitution if the BJP secures absolute legislative majority.
It, however, is premature to say that the RSS is turning a corner because there is considerable gap between theory and practice. Between what Bhagwat professed from Vigyan Bhawan and what is carried out in the name of Hindutva on the streets of India. Yet, there is no denying that future assertions of the RSS leadership will have to be watched in new light. It has obviously realised the present road has certain limits which are close at hand.
But there are many contradictions in the present formulations too: for instance, if Muslims are Hindus too, then what happens to the major campaign pitch of the RSS that the numbers of Hindus are shrinking?
The call for tracking RSS and developments within in new light may appear slightly contradictory in the backdrop of past analysis of developments within RSS, and even Bhagwat's statements, but if there is never a dull moment in India, how can RSS-watching remain an unvarying exercise?
(The writer is an author and 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 the same.)
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