Among the reactions to RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat's lecture series were three typically 'Delhi' ones. A furious reading of tea-leaves, literally “forcing” tea leaves into the cup to fit preconceived interpretations. Then, there were the arrogant suggestions that the RSS gained some affirmation by speaking in Lutyens’s Delhi – when perhaps by giving the lecture in Delhi, Bhagwat as a representative of many RSS workers lent credibility to Delhi. Finally, there was the noise about the lecture being a sign of Gorbachev-ish weakness and that the RSS cadre was not listening.
Perhaps the easier and fairer path would have been to take Bhagwat’s comments at face value and give his key messages the weightage they deserve.
The foundation of Bhagwat’s message is that the RSS' work is subsumed in the task of nation-building. There is no claim to being exclusive contributors but merely to being a part of the multifarious efforts. Within that task, the RSS process has individuals – acting voluntarily and according to their own belief systems as the core. Individuals change, improve and this gets reflected in community and society. As the society improves, the nation is strengthened. Sensible, albeit not in line with the automatons envisaged under Marxism.
Bhagwat also made important points that challenge conventional narratives and portrayal of RSS.
Consensus versus diktat
A consistent refrain in his speech was “man banana” – building consensus. Whether it was the issue of Hindi language, protecting cows or impact of festivals on the environment, the approach was to educate and build accord amongst stakeholders based on informed choices. This extended into RSS’ own decision-making. It is perhaps the rare mass organisation that holds regular elections.
Diversity and Inclusiveness
“Celebrate diversity” was another theme. Not unanimity – Bhagwat accepted that there will be differences sometimes irreconcilable ones – but in his view if the objective i.e. nation building was the same, then diversity only strengthens the efforts. Shocking for some perhaps, but totally in line with the approach Bhagwat took, was the unambiguous acceptance of LGBTs as equal members of society, as equal stakeholders.
Contradicting the accounts of no role in the freedom struggle and animosity to Gandhiji, Bhagwat provided specific instances of RSS contributions. Instead of the oft quoted hatred for Gandhiji, there was the example of Dr. Hedgewar exhorting his followers to use the monthly anniversary of Gandhiji’s incarceration at Yerawada to follow his example of sacrifice for country. There was abundant credit for the INC’s leadership in the freedom struggle. Left unsaid was that the INC of Gandhiji was as different from the present version as Lincoln’s Republican party is from Trump’s.
RSS' approach to nation-building starts with social reform. So, the stress placed on removing casteism, empowering women was natural. Bhagwat also mentioned that there are likely to be more inter-caste marriages within RSS workers than other organisations.
Context is important when judging positions of the RSS in the past. More important though is the present — RSS was not caught in a time warp. It has adapted – in views, positions and its working – even dropping positions of its founding leaders if they did not have utility in the present, changed contexts.
The author is an investment banker and views are personal
Updated Date: Oct 08, 2018 12:55 PM