RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat speaks on the 2nd day at the event titled 'Future of Bharat: An RSS perspective', in New Delhi, Tuesday, Sept 18, 2018 Image Credit: PTI

India’s RSS and it’s changing perspectives

By Malavika Kamaraju, Features Editor

The three-day conclave by one of India’s leading ideological entities, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organisation or RSS) that was held from Sep 17-19 in New Delhi has sent a wave of mixed emotions across the country as the RSS’s chief Mohan Bhagwat espoused values and viewpoints that took a surprisingly different turn from what is an entrenched belief system of the RSS for the nine decades of its existence.

Rooted in an ideology that leans to the extreme right, the RSS has always been unapologetic about its inflexible desire to redefine India’s nationhood, its religious identity and its Constitutional complexion of secularism to suit its idea of what India’s history should be.

Addressing a large audience comprising people from many walks of life, Bhagwat spoke on the many issues the RSS is intricately linked with, with the aim of re-educating people on what the organisation stands for.

In this context, it is worth juxtapositioning some of the opinions expressed by Bhagwat at the event and the overall stance of the RSS that has prevailed down the nine decades of its existence. Bhagwat’s freshly minted opinions come at a time when the national polls are due in May 2019 and the ruling party, BJP, is under attack for its lacklustre performance on the crucial indicators of national wellness since it assumed power in 2014.

Some of the most divisive issues confronting India today include its communal divide, state of economy, threat to freedom of expression, RSS’s concept of Hindutva (that is entirely divergent from the Constitution-defined role of religion in an individual’s life) and the nexus between RSS and the BJP and its combined agenda for Indian democracy.


Volunteers of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) take part in Path-Sanchalan, or Route March, during a day-long camp in Ahmedabad, India March 4, 2018. (Reuters)

ON MUSLIMS OF INDIA

Mohan Bhagwat: 
“Hindu Rashtra doesn’t mean there’s no place for Muslims. If we don’t accept Muslims, it’s not Hindutva. Hindutva is Indianness and inclusivity.”

“The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture.”

“We say ours is a Hindu Rashtra. Hindu Rashtra does not mean it has no place for Muslims. The day it is said that Muslims are unwanted here, the concept of Hindutva will cease to exist.

RSS 
One of the leading lights of the RSS, the fomer Sangh chief M.S Golwalkar referred in his book to Muslims, along with Christians and Communists, [as] enemies of the Hindu Rashtra.

 Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar 

According to archival material available online, in its mouthpiece Organizer, an editorial (titled ‘Whither’) that is dated August 14, 1947 (a day before India declared its independence from British rule) said:

“Let us no longer allow ourselves to be influenced by false notions of nationhood. Much of the mental confusion and the present and future troubles can be removed by the ready recognition of the simple fact that in Hindusthan only the Hindus form the nation and the national structure must be built on that safe and sound foundation…The nation itself must be built up of Hindus, on Hindu traditions, culture, ideas and aspirations.”


Indian Muslim women rest inside Jama Masjid in New Delhi. (AP)

ON THE LGBT COMMUNITY

Mohan Bhagwat: 
“One must accept them (homosexuals) so that they are not isolated in the society simply because their or orientation is different from ours. Everyone is a part of this society, times have changed and these issues should not have been blown out of proportion.”

RSS: 
“Same-sex relations and same-sex marriages are not natural. This is why we do not support them. The Indian tradition has never approved of these relationships.”

ON THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION

Mohan Bhagwat: 
“Constitution is the consensus of the country... We respect all symbols of freedom, and the Constitution is also one such symbol.”

RSS:
The RSS has historically viewed the Indian Constitution with deep reservations. According to many reports, the RSS rejected the Constitution when it was formally passed on November, 26, 1949, and referred to the Manusmriti, a canonical ancient Indian text that outlines an individual’s and state’s duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues, etc. According to the RSS, Manusmriti “had the admiration of the world” and thus should have been adopted as the Constitution of India.


A file photo of RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat (C) during the RSS function.

ON COW VIGILANTISM

Mohan Bhagwat at the conclave: “It’s a crime to take law into one’s own hands.” “We have to reject the double-speak as there is no talk of violence by cow smugglers.”

Mohan Bhagwat in 2017: “Nothing should be done while protecting cows that hurts the belief of some people. Nothing should be done that is violent. It only defames the efforts of cow protectors... The work of cow conservation should be carried out while obeying laws and the Constitution.”

Mohan Bhagwat in 2016: “Cow is our mother and Gau Rakshaks (cow protectors) are good; they work within the constitutional framework.”


Police inspect the site of a mob attack in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, in which a man transporting cows was beaten to death. (Archive)

NEXUS BETWEEN RSS and BJP

Mohan Bhagwat: 
“From its inception, the RSS has decided to keep itself away from politics and political competition.”

“It is a myth that Nagpur (RSS headquarters) runs the government. We do not have any impact on government policies.

Mohan Bhagwat in 2016: “We have faith in swayamsevaks (volunteers) in government. Have patience ..

(It is a well-documented and historically established truth that the BJP is regarded as mentee of the RSS and is a conduit for its political agenda.)


DIVIDED THEY STAND: Are the RSS and BJP truly at policy cross-roads?

By Chiranjib Sengupta, Hub Editor

Mohan Bhagwat just concluded a quick crash course on how to win friends and influence people.

Or so it would seem from the very public display of its so-called liberal and progressive credentials by the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or the National Volunteer Organization – the ideological mentor of India’s ruling BJP.

Over a three-day conclave titled “Future of Bharat: An RSS perspective” that ended on Wednesday, Bhagwat sought to couch the RSS in a liberal and forward-looking avatar. From projecting the RSS as a devout defender of the Indian Constitution to welcoming a plurality of vision by accommodating minorities, speaking out against lynch mobs and fighting for gay rights, Bhagwat struck a discordantly futuristic note for an organization that in 2015 espoused for Ghar Wapsi or a mass conversion of minority community members to Hinduism.

Here is a quick glance at the professed polices of the RSS as explained by Bhagwat, compared to the position of the BJP on the same policies:

MINORITIES

Bhagwat battled hard during the conclave to portray a liberal RSS, commenting on the first day that the aim of the organization was to bring together the entire society. “Hindutva [Hinduness] means inclusivity and accepting Muslims is a part of it. Hindu Rashtra [Hindu Nation] doesn’t mean there’s no place for Muslims. If we don’t accept Muslims, it’s not Hindutva,” he said, adding that the RSS does not approve the word “minorities” as it considers all to be equal citizens.

How the BJP sees it: With increasing cases of violence against minorities and often public denunciation of them by a section of BJP leaders, the RSS position is in marked contrast to the BJP.


Policemen accompany the Dalits protestors as they stage a protest against the violence in Bhima Koregaon area of Pune, in Mumbai  (File photo)

COW VIGILANTES

While pitching for the protection of cows, Bhagwat criticized those who break the law in the name of cow vigilantism, asserting that there should be stringent punishment in such cases. The issue cropped up in the conclave in the backdrop of lynching by cow vigilantes in several states across India, that have killed dozens of people.

How the BJP sees it: Most senior leaders of the BJP have been eerily silent on the issue, while some have even appeared to felicitate vigilantes accused of lynching.


 BJP National President Amit Shah greets his supporters as the party begins its campaign in the poll-bound state, in Hyderabad, Saturday, Sept 15, 2018. (PTI)

POLITICS OF POLARIZATION

The RSS chief clarified at great length that politics should be aimed for the welfare of people - and power was the mere medium for it, not the other way round. “If this happens then what JP (Jayaprakash Narayan), (Mahatma) Gandhi had expected… then this question will not arise. Shamshan [Hindu crematorium], Kabristan [Muslim graveyard], saffron terror all these issues will not come up. These crop up when politics is practised for power and not for welfare of people,” he said, in an oblique critic of the BJP’s model of governance – which has been accused of exploiting its massive mandate across Indian states to wield enormous power.

How the BJP sees it: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used the words “Shamshan, Kabristan” during his election campaign for the Uttar Pradesh last year. The critique from Bhagwat is seen to underscore the accusations of politics of power by the BJP.

INDIA WITHOUT CONGRESS PARTY

Bhagwat lashed out at those who demand an India free of opposition parties, notably a “Congress-Mukt Bharat” or Congress-free India. Bhagwat underlined that the RSS stood for a “Yukt” (inclusive) India: "Those who oppose us are also ours," he said. Bhagwat also said that the RSS does not dictate to its workers to support any particular political party, underlining an apparent schism with the BJP. He said the RSS "only supports policies" and whoever implements them automatically gets its support. "We do not favour a political party."

How the BJP sees it: BJP president Amit Shah and Modi had famously called for a “Congress-Mukt Bharat” last year, as the BJP gained in a string of provincial state elections.

ARTICLE 377

Shortly after the Indian Supreme Court scrapped the Section 377 to decriminalize homosexuality, the RSS chief joined the bandwagon to welcome the demise of the 157-year-old law. “Times are changing and the society has to take a call on such issues,” Bhagwat said, adding that the LGBTQ community is very much part of the society and they should not be isolated. He hastened to add that gay rights weren’t the only pressing issue which needed to be debated in India.

How the BJP sees it: The party has generally maintained that gay relationships are not “compatible with nature,” while there was no official reaction from the party following the court verdict.


What is the RSS?

By Karuna Madan, Correspondent

A primer to understanding the guiding philosophy and working model of the world’s largest volunteer organisation

Q. What is the RSS? Who are its members? Who is its leader today?

A. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, volunteer organisation that is widely regarded as the parent organisation of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

According to official website of RSS, men and boys can become members by joining the nearest ‘shakha’ (branch), which is the basic unit. Although RSS claims not to keep membership records, it is estimated to have six million members. Mohan Bhagwat is current chief of RSS.

Q. Who founded it and when?

A. RSS was founded on September 27, 1925, by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a doctor in the city of Nagpur, British India. It claimed a commitment to selfless service to India. Today the organisation is the world’s largest voluntary missionary organisation.


Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of RSS (Archive)

Q. What does it do?

A. RSS was formed to provide impetus to character training through Hindu discipline and to unite the Hindu community to form a Hindu nation. The organisation promotes the ideals of upholding Indian culture and the values of a civil society and propagates the ideology of ‘Hindutva’ (essence of being a Hindu as in conforming to a religious identity), to strengthen the majority Hindu community.

Q. Why is it controversial?

A. The RSS has distinctly divergent views on India’s secularism, its Constitution and the role of the Hindu religion in the country’s polity and socio-cultural narrative.

The RSS was banned once during British rule, and then thrice by the post-independence Indian government – first in 1948 when a former RSS member Nathuram Godse assassinated Father of Indian Nation Mahatama Gandhi; then during the emergency (1975–77); and for a third time after the demolition of Babri mosque in the state of Uttar Pradesh 1992.

Following Gandhi’s assassination, many prominent RSS leaders were arrested, and RSS as an organisation was banned on February 4, 1948. A ‘Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder of Gandhi’ was set, and its report was published in 1970. Justice Kapur Commission noted that “RSS as such was not responsible for the murder of Mahatama Gandhi, meaning thereby that one could not name the organisation as such as being responsible for that most diabolical crime, the murder of the apostle of peace.”

Q. What is behind the three-day conclave held in New Delhi?

A. From September 17 -19, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat held a lecture series in an unprecedented outreach programme for the 93-year-old organisation. The programme was aimed at dispeling myths about the outfit.

During the three days, Bhagwat spoke on ‘Hindutva’ and the role of RSS in the Hindu society, the importance of social harmony, the outfit’s views on contemporary issues of national importance including nationalism, increasing intolerance to dissent and the role of women in Indian society.


RSS volunteers march to mark the Vikram Samvat’s new year in Allahabad. (File photo)

Q. What is the relationship between the RSS and the BJP?

A. Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), commonly known as Jan Sangh, was a right wing political party that existed from 1951 to 1977 and was the political arm of RSS. In 1977, it merged with several other left, centre and right parties opposed to rule of Congress and formed the Janata Party. After the Janata Party split in 1980, it was re-formed as BJP, which is currently India’s largest political party by primary membership and representation in Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament). BJP draws its ideology from RSS.