KB Hegdewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925, on the day of Vijay Dashami, with the aim of “organising the Hindu society.” While this fundamental idea remains its guiding principle what it entails has been defined, refined, and revised several times over in the last nine decades.
Similarly, while the idea of regular meetings organised to mould the character of participants in accordance with Hindutvawaadi virtues remains at the heart of daily shakhas, the organisation has also expanded its ambit through its affiliates. These affiliates are working with many different groups, such as labourers, farmers, traders, tribals, Dalits, religious leaders, students, teachers, and in any number of different fields such as, education, history, policy, and of course politics through the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The affiliates enjoy a fair degree of autonomy without losing sight of the core values of the RSS. These core values are the glue that has kept this mammoth and inordinately complex juggernaut together over the years.
Every year on Vijaya Dashami, the day the RSS was founded, the Sarsanghchalak, who is the supreme leader of the RSS and its affiliates, gives a speech that provides guidance to the various facets of the organisation on how to set their priorities and agenda for the coming year so that they may work in different ways towards a common aim.
In keeping with tradition, this year, the Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat delivered the speech in Nagpur, and as is custom, it was long and layered. In the context of issues that are in the news, here are some of the key takeaways.
Bhagwat reiterated that “border security” is an “issue of foremost consideration” for the RSS. A powerful army is an essential component of the RSS’s imagination of a strong nation and therefore central to its idea of nationalism. More interestingly, he unequivocally stood up for the government in this regard, praising the efforts “being initiated and accelerated to enhance the morale of our armed and security forces, making them well-equipped and to provide them with latest technologies”, adding that, “this is one of the reasons that the prestige of Bharat is rising in the world.”
This endorsement is particularly significant because it comes at a time when questions are being raised about the acquisition of Rafale jets.
Given that the RSS keenly participated in the anti-corruption movement against the UPA government, and Bhagwat has gone as far as to say that Anna Hazare started the movement at the behest of the RSS, either they have inside information that exonerates the government of wrongdoing, or have decided to support the party and its leaders irrespective, in the wider interest of the RSS’s goals.
Perhaps Bhagwat’s strongest statements were made on the subject of internal security. He lashed out against those who “sow and grow the seeds of doubt, detachment, imprudence, rebellion, hatred and violence in the weaker sections of the society that are severely affected due to the deprivation, injustice and negligence” in order to use them as “cannon fodder for anti-national activities”.
Critics might argue that this is exactly what the RSS’s propaganda is aimed at, but Bhagwat’s barbs were directed at “the selfish power hungry politics with sheer disrespect for the social harmony, legal and Constitutional discipline and with an eye on votes in the upcoming elections” that has been making “continuous efforts for the last four years” to destabilize the government and the country. He described these forces as the “neo-left”.
He also endorsed the term “urban naxals” that originated in the netherverse of social media, describing them as thought leaders who stay “within the social order and civic discipline”, are “established in social and other media, intellectual circles and other institutions”, and defend ‘anti-national’ activities “through intellectual and other methods, through delusory public campaigns related to agitations, while keeping a safe distance and maintaining their so-called eminent positions.”
Bhagwat made it very clear that he does not view these “thought leaders” as legitimate political or ideological opposition but purveyors of “psychological warfare”. He urged the government to clamp down on their activities and keep “constant vigil on such incendiary elements.”
While he did not name any of these thought leaders in particular, it is possibly reasonable to assume that the five prominent activists who were recently arrested from across the country would fit the bill. As might any number of journalists, intellectuals, activists, artists, and historians who are routinely called “anti-national” and “urban naxals” on social media for speaking against the government.
If there was any ambiguity on the RSS’s position on the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala, Bhagwat made it very clear that they believe it to be misguided.
As per its mandate, the Supreme Court analysed the matter through the prism of Constitutional rights. The judgment delivered was based on the interpretation of Rule 3(b), framed by the Government under the authority of the 1965 Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorisation of Entry Act), as juxtaposed against constitutional provisions such as Article 25(1) (freedom of worship), Article 26 (freedom of religious denominations to regulate their own practices), and Articles 14 and 15(1) (equality and non-discrimination).
However, according to Bhagwat, the court should also have taken into consideration the “nature and premise of the tradition that has been accepted by society and continuously followed for years together” and “the version of heads of religious denominations and faith of crores of devotees.”
Other RSS ideologues have been saying that ‘real women devotees’ do not want to challenge the ‘sanctity of the temple’, implying that the women who petitioned the court for their right to enter the temple, may have vested interests. Bhagwat subtly endorsed this view by adding that, “the plea by a large section of women, who follows this tradition, was not heard.”
He seemed to suggest that the current “unrest, turmoil and divisiveness” is an organic outcome of the legal verdict and that “only the Hindu society experiences such repeated and brazen onslaughts on its symbols of faith.”
This assertion is not entirely comprehensible given that the Supreme Court has earlier ruled against the Haji Ali Dargah Trust to allow the entry of women into the Dargah. But it is line with the RSS’s larger belief that secularism, as practiced by the Indian state before the 2014, has ‘appeased’ certain minority groups at the expense of Hindus
Going by Bhagwat’s speech the RSS’s measured tone of consensus building has given way to an assertive demand for the Ram temple. He put the onus of building it as soon as possible squarely on the government. He also criticised the plea made to the Supreme Court by some minority groups to defer the judgment until after the 2019 elections, warning that, “it is in nobody’s interest to test the patience of the society without any reason.”
He explained this urgency by saying that the construction of the temple “is necessary from the self-esteem point of view” and a necessary precondition for “an atmosphere of goodwill and oneness in the country.”
These are unambiguous words that the government will probably find difficult to ignore.
Three things stood out when Bhagwat spoke of the upcoming elections. Firstly, that he addressed them at all given that the RSS continues to insist it is detached from party politics. Secondly, that he had two very specific messages for swayamsevaks to follow and spread – no one should vote NOTA and voting should be for “national interest” rather than “parochial feelings, petty egos of caste, language and provincial affiliations”. And thirdly, that all swayamsevaks are to “put their strength behind the overall national good.”
There have been rumours about the RSS and Bhagwat’s growing disenchantment with Prime Minister Modi and his government. This speech should put those rumours to rest.
The RSS clearly believes that it is the BJP that stands to gain if voting is not done on parochial lines because as of now the RSS and BJP firmly lead the discourse and influence the common perception on what is in the “national interest.”
It is also evident that like in 2014 the RSS intends to back the BJP in the 2019 general elections through its cadres, because despite small differences, the current government is the RSS’s best ally when it comes to the organisation’s long-term goals.
The speech ended with Bhagwat saying that “Bharat is the Hindu Rashtra” and that any “sections of the society who consider themselves ‘separate’ because of their religion, tradition and lifestyle or apprehensive of the word ‘Hindu’ need to understand that Hindutva is the eternal ethos of this country.”
He added that it is his wish that “all Bharatiyas should immerse themselves in the hue of Bharat’s culture ingrained in its ethos.”
As per the RSS this ethos harks back to a golden period of Hindu civilization, unadulterated by the assimilated cultures of Muslim and British rulers from outside the country.
The average reader might question how these words fit in with Bhagwat pledging allegiance to the Constitution and speaking of unity and harmony in society.
But this speech, for all the attention it gets, is primarily the Sarsanghchalak’s declamation of his vision for the RSS and its affiliates. And its intended audience knows how to read between the lines and reconcile what might seem like contradictions to those on the outside.
(Pragya Tiwari is a Delhi-based senior journalist, who was formerly with Vice India. She tweets at @PragyaTiwari. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)