Will RSS Chief’s Words on Communal Peace Really Make a Difference?

Mohan Bhagwat’s “don’t blame the community for the faults of a few” – a reference to Tablighis – drew attention.

Updated28 Apr 2020, 04:26 AM IST
6 min read

Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi got top billing in the media for the Mann Ki Baat talk on 26 April, RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat's first-ever online ‘Baudhik Varg'’ (intellectual class) on the same day, was of no less significance, especially while indicating the organisation’s emphasis on the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

Certainly, Bhagwat’s “don’t blame the entire community for the faults of a few” attracted attention.

This was interpreted as a veiled reference against the stigmatisation of Muslims in the times of pandemic. But is this gentle sermon enough to ensure that those who fanned the vituperative Islamophobic campaign after the Tablighi Jamaat incident will not again embark on the path of whipping up hatred? Or, will those who heard the sarsangchalak speak, venture into ‘Muslim colonies’ and spread the message of love and inclusion? Does Bhagwat’s assertion that 1.3 billion Indians are ALL Bharat ma ke putr or apna bandhu (sons of Mother India and our friends) – that the attitude of Hindus towards them shall no longer be constructed on the platform of khunnas and dushmani (animosity and enmity) – hold?

Bhagwat’s Homilies on the Need to Embrace Muslims

This is not the first time that Bhagwat has dropped homilies on the need to be more embracing of Muslims. In September 2018, when he partially opened up the RSS for controlled-scrutiny by the intelligentsia with the lecture series in New Delhi, he remarked: “Hindu Rashtra doesn’t mean there’s no place for Muslims. If we don’t accept Muslims, it’s not Hindutva.”

Yet, a year later, at his annual Dussehra speech, he had to issue another clarification – that lynching was a criminal practice, and ‘alien’ to India and its culture.

Despite such utterances, the RSS and its affiliates within the Sangh Parivar are unable to rein in sections of society from targeting religious minorities, especially Muslims, at the slightest opportunity.

The principal reason is that for years, RSS-BJP leaders have been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

This has even resulted in a diplomatic backlash, as has beenwitnessed in West Asia, especially from the civil society and intelligentsia of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Such embarrassments are not new.

Then American President, Barack Obama, in January 2015, sounded a word of caution while in India, and expressed concern at the increasing hostility towards religious minorities. More closer, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in June 2019, wound up an official visit to India with a flutter. In a speech he said, it was necessary to speak strongly in favour of freedom of religion, maintain the rule of law, and recognise th importance of civil society. Only then, he said, would Indians “flourish”.

What Bhagwat Should Do to Ensure Dignity to Religious Minorities

It cannot be ignored that Bhagwat’s speech and Modi’s reference to Ramzan was made on the same day, almost as if in response to social hostility in the Arab nations. But Bhagwat's speech suffers from the same handicap that Modi’s blogpost did a few days ago: It was targeted at those who are in no position to change the situation on the ground. Modi's article was aimed at professionals using platforms like LinkedIn to network and build contacts. Likewise, Bhagwat's speech would have little impact on those who suo moto go into ‘othering’ overdrive.

If Bhagwat, or any other leaders of the saffron brigade actually wish to modify majoritarian perspective on religious minorities and wish them to lead a dignified life, the alteration has to be fundamental – and not by mouthing platitudes with almost zero resonance in theatres of communal violence.

Bhagwat's lecture was not limited to earning goodwill by calling for smoking the peace pipe with targeted minorities. More significant was his envisioning the post COVID-19 India, and the Sangh's role in future. The RSS chief, like his predecessors, does not use the standard vocabulary of politics, but his words push listeners to think along those lines.

For instance, the constant refrain on maintaining discipline and remaining obedient while following orders (of government and administration), even in ‘normal’ times, simultaneously sends the message that dissent is nothing but the voice of those committed to Balkanise India – the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang.

To emphasise the importance of discipline, Bhagwat quoted Sister Nivedita, that she had spoken on the necessity of social discipline (samajik anushasan) for the preservation of independence, that expression of patriotism in daily life meant following civil discipline (nagrikta ka anushasan). He also quoted another iconic Indian to buttress his argument on civic discipline: BR Ambedkar.

Bhagwat’s Silence On Delhi Riots Arrests, Emphasis On ‘Traditional Heritage of Ours’

Bhagwat did not criticise any state action, and was silent on the recent targeted arrests of people for their alleged role in the Delhi riots. But he questioned police absence during the Palghar incident in which two Hindu sadhus were lynched. Additionally, he mentioned that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha have called for a day of protest on 28 April, as a mark of remembrance, and that he too shall pay homage to the deceased.

Significantly, Bhagwat left the matter of how and why they were killed by a matter-of-fact phrase: ‘bayan-baji hui’ (statements and counter-statements were made), leaving people to form their opinions, although by implicitly asking viewers to follow suit on 28 April, Bhagwat virtually escorted them to conclusion.

Once the pandemic is in the past, Bhagwat said, India’s future must be shaped on the twin principles of self-reliance (also voiced by Modi a couple of days previously) and ‘swadeshi’.

He talked about the need for a new economic and development model in which primacy would be given to indigenous products, organic farming, and cow-husbandry. “We must reduce dependence on fertilisers and pesticides, and eliminate plastics completely,” Bhagwat added.

Self-based solutions, that generate employment, is the need of the times, and the government must look at production models that requires less water, electricity, and do not degrade the environment. For Bhagwat, it is essential to design a new model of development with modern science and this “traditional heritage of ours”.

Throwback to RSS’s Imagination of India

Echoing Modi, Bhagwat called for the adoption of Ayurveda and yoga in one’s daily routine, even though doctors combating diseases from the frontiers remain sceptical about these methods boosting immunity. These imaginations of the future model resembles the idyllic, although questions of practicality and feasibility remain.

This is also a throwback to the old RSS imagination of India with a golden past, which was ‘destroyed’ by invading ‘marauders’. Although the sarsangchalak talked about the ‘sadhachar, sadbhav, shanti and shayog’ virtues of harmony, peace and cooperation, will it be possible with a skewed view of history?

Most importantly, the RSS chief talked about the need for a ‘new education policy’ that is based on value system (sanskaar).

It needs to be mentioned that besides sewa or service, education has been one of the thrust areas of the Sangh Parivar from the time it expanded as an umbrella organisation in the 1950s. Value system in a pluralistic country like India is mostly visible as a fusion of religio-cultural practices of various faiths, and universal values.

Mention of a new value-based educational policy drawn up by the government (which shouldn't be opposed) can be a matter of worry for minorities who may perceive this as threat to their identity and liberty to practise their faith.

But these are issues for the future, and swayamsevaks who are out in the field providing succour were directed that such sewa or service must continue selflessly till the end without question.

Did Modi & Bhagwat Go to the Same Library?

On a lighter note, we know that both Bhagwat and Modi have been rubbing shoulders in the RSS fraternity since the early 1970s, and were also born within days of each other in September 1950. We now learn that they also share an inspiring text!

In his speech, Bhagwat mentioned an article in Reader's Digest about an American engineer on the verge of committing suicide who decided to make a last splurge. He bought an abandoned mine and struck gold by digging merely three feet. The message: in times of desolation, no one should give up – there is no knowing how far success is.

Despite finding it odd that the RSS chief cited a Reader’s Digest article to buttress his point, I searched and found reference to it.

Not in the magazine archives, but in a book on Modi, and in the chapter with his interview which narrates the same article from the same magazine. The two possibly went to the same library, or even better, we can guess what lies tucked in the bookshelves of the RSS headquarters in Nagpur!

(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 them.)

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Published: 27 Apr 2020, 09:01 PM IST
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