RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat Image Credit: Supplied

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has spoken, and everyone is paying heed. On June 11, Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the influential nationalist organisation, considered among the largest and most powerful in the world, gave a speech to members on the occasion of Kartavya Vikas Varg or the Duty Progress Class.

Especially because the RSS is the parent organisation of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his remarks attracted widespread attention.

In his first address after the 2024 election results, Bhagwat clearly stated that a true sevak, or servant, works without arrogance or pride. He also emphasised that the opposition in a democratic polity is not the enemy but the other side of the same coin. Both points of view, of the treasury benches and those on the other side, must be allowed free expression before the nation can decide the best course of action.

He also deplored the irresponsible depths to which election polemics had fallen, stating it was detrimental to the nation and its social fabric. The decorum (maryada) to be maintained in the public sphere had been broken.

Finally, he gave a stern call for action in stemming the ongoing violence in Manipur, India’s border state in the North East. Were Bhagwat’s remarks a reprimand to BJP? This was the question on everyone’s mind.

In the wake of the 2024 election results, in which the BJP’s performance dipped considerably, Bhagwat’s comments have struck a poignant chord, touching the very essence of India’s democratic ethos and its societal fabric. His reflections are not just a window to what the RSS thinks but also a clarion call to the nation.

Read more by Makarand R. Paranjape

Humility in service

At the core of Bhagwat’s address is the emphasis on humility in service. “A true sevak works without arrogance or pride,” he remarked, setting a tone of selflessness that is often missing in the corridors of power. Modi often calls himself the “pradhan sevak” rather than the “pradhan mantri” — the prime worker rather than the prime minister — of the country.

Yet, Modi’s centralised style of leadership has been criticised as smacking of arrogance. Bhagwat’s contrasting idea of leadership as a form of service rather than an avenue for power projection is deeply rooted in Indian political philosophy but gains special relevance in today’s context, where political rhetoric sometimes veers towards self-aggrandisement.

Bhagwat’s stance on the opposition’s role in a democracy is particularly striking. Viewing the opposition not as an enemy but as the “other side of the same coin” signals a departure from the combative nature of politics that has come to characterise India in recent, and not so decent, times. This is a timely reminder that in the grand theatre of democracy, differing views are not just inevitable but necessary.

For a decision to be robust and reflective of the nation’s diversity, it needs to be contested, debated, and deliberated upon with respect and openness. Bhagwat’s commentary underscores the importance of free expression, encouraging a democratic polity where multiple voices coalesce to guide the nation’s trajectory.

Modi himself had to repeal the controversial farm laws during his last tenure, partly because they were thrust upon the people without adequate discussion or consultation.

Moral and ethical reckoning

The RSS chief also did not shy away from critiquing the current state of political discourse, lamenting the “irresponsible depths to which election polemics had fallen.” The deterioration of dialogue, mired in personal attacks and divisive rhetoric, is “bad for the nation and its social fabric,” Bhagwat noted.

His rebuke serves as a critical introspection of how electoral politics is increasingly breaching the “decorum” or “maryada” that must be maintained in public life. The deterioration of discourse does not merely tarnish the image of the individuals involved but erodes the foundational principles of mutual respect and harmony that bind a diverse nation like India.

In his address, Bhagwat also turned his attention to the pressing issue of violence in Manipur. By issuing a stern call for action, he not only highlighted the urgency of the situation but also the responsibility of leadership in ensuring peace and order.

The situation in Manipur is reflective of broader national security and social harmony challenges facing India. Hence, Bhagwat’s focus on stemming this violence transcends the immediate context, pointing towards the need for a cohesive national effort dedicated to securing and sustaining peace.

Bhagwat’s remarks, despite being nuanced and elliptical, were piercing in their honesty and broad in their appeal. Most commentators interpreted them as a message to India’s political leadership, notably Modi himself.

In a political environment that often orbits around Modi’s leadership style, Bhagwat’s emphasis on humility, the importance of the opposition, and the call for maintaining public decorum could be perceived as a subtle, yet significant, critique.

The interpretations of Bhagwat’s address could vary, but the undercurrent is unmistakable — a quest for a political and social ethos that reveres duty, dialogue, and decency above all. In times of political friction or dissent, his message serves as a beacon for governance marked not by the clamour for power, but by the calm of purposeful service.

Bhagwat’s articulation of these principles reflects a pressing need for introspection within the political class. As India navigates the complexities of governance, internal security, and its democratic ideals, the wisdom encapsulated in Bhagwat’s address offers a blueprint for constructive and inclusive politics.

In essence, Mohan Bhagwat’s post-election reflections do not just serve as a critique or commendation but as a pivotal moment of moral and ethical reckoning for India’s democracy.

The response to his call — to embrace the essence of duty, respect the sanctity of opposition, and contribute to a constructive political discourse — ought to shape the contours of India’s political and social fabric during Modi 3.0.