Row over Mohan Bhagwat's 'two-child' policy remarks rooted in Opposition's strategy of demonising RSS for political gain
It matters little whether the RSS is indeed running a Hindu majoritarian project or wishes to strip Muslims of their religious identity or plans to deport them out of India — what matters is the perception built around it
There are no surprises in the way some political parties have reacted to RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s reported comments
For parties such as AIMIM, Congress or NCP, whose chief plank is identity politics, RSS serves an important purpose
The organisation is painted by the Asaduddin Owaisis, Rahul Gandhis or Nawab Maliks as the significant other, and this otherisation paves way for demonisation of RSS
If someone suggests that your ear has been snatched away by a crow, it is better to first check the status of your anatomy before running after the bird. Except, perhaps, when it makes more political sense to run than check.
There are no surprises in the way some political parties in India have reacted to RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s recent reported comments on ‘two-child’ policy. For parties such as AIMIM, Congress or NCP, whose chief plank is identity politics, RSS serves an important purpose.
The organisation is painted by the Asaduddin Owaisis, Rahul Gandhis or Nawab Maliks as the “significant other”, and this ‘otherisation’ paves way for demonisation of RSS, spewing venom against it, fear-mongering over it by ascribing to the RSS sinister motives and accuse it of running a ‘Hindu majoritarian project’ where Muslims would be relegated to ‘second-class citizens’.
It matters little whether the RSS is indeed running a Hindu majoritarian project or wishes to strip Muslims of their religious identity or plans to deport them out of India — what matters is the perception (mahaul) built around it. This perception helps these parties build their case for Muslim identity politics. Some such as Owaisi’s AIMIM do it openly, other such as NCP or Congress do it under the garb of “secularism”.
Therefore, we find Owaisi slamming Bhagwat over the latter’s comments on “two-child” policy and accuse him of trying to restrict Muslim population in India. “Shame on you! I am having more than two children and several BJP leaders have more than two children. RSS has always maintained that the Muslim population has to be controlled. This country’s real problem is unemployment, not the population,” Owaisi reportedly said, addressing a public meeting in Nizamabad ahead of Telangana Municipal elections.
He then went on to ascribe another motive behind ‘two-child’ policy — lack of jobs. According to Owaisi, Modi government is planning to implement such a step because it is unable to create jobs.
NCP leader Malik went a step further. He invoked the Emergency and claimed that the RSS wants to force men into having a vasectomy — a practice Congress under Sanjay Gandhi tried to implement during the Emergency and courted a fierce backlash.
Nawab Malik,NCP: Mohan Bhagwat ji wants a two child law.He maybe doesn't know that Maharashtra already has several laws on this and many other states also.Still if Bhagwat ji wants to forcefully do vasectomies then let Modiji make such a law.We saw in past what happened with this pic.twitter.com/essbHYnyCj
— ANI (@ANI) January 18, 2020
What were the RSS sarsanghchalak’s comments on ‘two-child’ policy? Did he give any indication on vasectomy as a possible step? A report in Hindustan Times, quoting an anonymous source, claimed that during a meeting with the organisation’s volunteers in Moradabad on Saturday, Bhagwat apparently said: “We have been advocating this for quite some time now and want that the country should have a policy on the number of children a couple can have. But then it is for the Centre to take a call and decide whether it wants to enact a law on the issue.” The session was closed to media.
On Sunday, during a lecture in Rohilkhand University in Bareilly, UP, the RSS chief commented on his “reported remarks” in Moradabad. “Due to a misunderstanding, some are saying that the Sangh wants to restrict families to two children. We are of the view that the government should make a policy on it after deliberation. The policy should be made after getting consent from all sections of the society.”
India and China jointly account for around 37 percent of the global population, which stands roughly at 7.7 billion. India’s population stands at 1.3 billion and China is slightly ahead at 1.4 billion. By 2027, however, India is projected to have more population than China, according to a 2019 United Nations report, and that will be immeasurably bigger by 2050.
It is not a criminal idea to have some sort of a policy in place to tackle the population explosion, given India’s resources and distribution of it. The important thing, however, that whatever policy is implemented, that should first be discussed threadbare in public domain and implemented only when society and communities have no objection to it. This is a reasonable suggestion and there is no reason why it should invite such apoplectic rhetoric from the Opposition.
But the fact that it has, points to two home truths. The first, already discussed, is related to the Opposition’s existential need to paint the RSS as a demonic force and create fear-psychosis around it, so that consolidation of minority votes becomes easier. Parties that indulge in identity politics do it all the time. Consider how AIMIM has reacted, what NCP has said, or what Congress has alleged many times in the past about RSS trying to create a “Hindu Pakistan”.
The second, deeper cause lies in the influence wielded by RSS in India’s body politic that these parties find threatening and unsettling. This influence has not been built in a day. RSS volunteers and karyakartas have spent decades building the institution, spreading its influence, aligning with the cause of people and toiling hard to make its ideology acceptable to wider public.
As JNU professor Makarand R Paranjape writes on the ‘triumph of RSS ideology’, “No matter how much the RSS is misunderstood and demonised, whether by left liberals in India and abroad, or even by frustrated heads of state across the border, its contribution to the making of modern India is indubitable… Today, it is force to reckon with in almost every area of Indian life and society. The real secret of its success, to my mind, are the thousands of fully dedicated workers… who have given their lives for to make India a strong, stable, and resurgent nation.”
This ideological hegemony and acceptance among wider public have given RSS unprecedented political capital. The Sangh has repeatedly stressed that it is concerned with the moral, cultural and value-based upliftment of the individual and through it, the society and the nation. It has denied accusations of being a political force and puppeteering BJP. It has rejected allegations of interfering with elections or government. Even on Saturday, Bhagwat, addressing the workers, is quoted to have said: “Elections mean nothing to us. We are working to maintain the values of the country for the last 60 years,” he said.
But political forces opposed to the BJP are deeply skeptical of RSS’s claims, and finds in its ideological hegemony and wider social acceptance an existential threat that cannot be mitigated. This has also informed countless commentaries in media that is shaped by such fears.
The RSS understands, as Bhagwat said on Sunday that “Sangh follows the Constitution of India. It does not have any agenda and it does not want to become another power centre. A number of misconceptions about the RSS are being spread, and they can be cleared only when it is understood from close quarters.”
Some of the misconception is caused by the fear of ‘unknown’, while other is merely political, as Opposition reactions make it evident. It is, however, counterproductive to make RSS the subject of mindless fear-mongering instead of trying to understand it, and engage it in a critical debate. This is because RSS draws its strength from the people, and demonising it as a political strategy will only backfire. That, however, is not RSS’s problem.
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