What is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)? The response to this question often draws sharp, contrasting answers. The Left and Congress have always accused it of pursuing hardline Hindutva. More recently, the tirade by Opposition parties against the RSS, particularly by the Congress and its new president Rahul Gandhi, have given the opposition a bit of confidence. The three-day lecture series by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, thus, came as an exercise that saw the Hindutva outfit spelling out its stand on many pressing issues of the day. More importantly, with just months to go for the crucial Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the event also provided the RSS an apt platform to counter the criticism that has been lobbed against it.
A look at the statements by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in the course of these three days have hogged headlines, and for more reasons than one. His remark on Muslims, for instance, countered the purported perception of RSS propagating complete Hindu domination, and caught the eye of many. “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,” Bhagwat said.
While there are opinions that RSS may be changing its stance, Opposition parties like the CPI(M) claimed that Bhagwat was “merely reiterating RSS’ long-held position that asserts India to be a Hindu Rastra and not a Secular Nation as stated by the Constitution and envisioned by our Freedom Movement.”
Bhagwat’s remarks on an array of issues, including the role of the Congress during the freedom movement, communal politics, uniform civil code, reservations and lynchings have sent a message about its “inclusive” intent. And while there has been no compromise on the RSS’ underlying message of India being a Hindu Rashtra, there have been signals that it was looking to posture itself as a more inclusive and liberal organisation.
Praise for Congress
RSS and Congress are two sides of a pole. Congress has been a long-standing critic of the Sangh. However, Bhagwat’s remarks on Congress has left many stunned. “A huge movement began in the form of the Congress. There were many great souls who sacrificed a lot and continue to inspire us today. That ideology placed the nation on the road to freedom,” Bhagwat said. The statement counters the Congress’ oft-repeated allegations that the BJP and the RSS have done little to recognise the Congress’ contribution in India’s freedom struggle.
Muslims in India
Asserting that ‘Hindutva’ means inclusiveness, Bhagwat said, “Everyone who lives in India is Hindu by identity, nationality.” While this has been RSS” stated line for long, what Bhagwat said next is of significance. “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. All people are our own. Our tradition is unity. Hindutva believes that the world is a family,” said Bhagwat who claimed that this was the sentiment among people of undivided India until 1881. “Usko wapas lana padega… usko aap, hum jaisa kehte hain usko, Hindu mat kaho… aap usko Bharatiya kaho… hum aap ke kehne ka samman karte hain (We need to return that. If you do not want to call that Hindu, as we do, call it Bharatiya. We will respect what you say),” he said. Bhagwat also said that he would ‘respect’ the sentiments of those who wish to be called ‘Bharatiya’ and not Hindu.
The pitch for inclusiveness
Countering allegations that the RSS was a divisive force that was out to divide the nation on the basis of religion, Bhagwat said that the Sangh was all for inclusiveness. “Hum log to sarvlok-yukt Bharat waale log hain, mukt waale nahin hain.” “RSS keeps away from politics but has views on issues of national interest. We do not want to dominate the society. The Sangh wants the common man to lead the society in the right direction. We believe in an India which includes everyone and does not exclude anybody. That is why we try to approach everyone. For the sake of uniting the society, no one is stranger to us, not even those who are opposed to us.”
“Jo aaj hamara virodh karte hain, woh bhi hamare hain, yeh pucca hai. Unke virodh se hamari kshati na ho, itni chinta hum zaroor karenge Those who oppose us today are also ours. That’s certain. We will be concerned if their opposition is going to harm us),”
SC verdict on Article 377
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also welcomed the top court verdict on the Section 377 saying that LGBTQ community should not be isolated in the society and they needed tackled with ‘sensitivity’. Bhagwat also said that Sangh has always supported inter-caste marriages.
Pragmatic approach for uniform civil code
RSS Chief Bhagwat talked about taking cognisance of the fact that the society has many groups and it should be kept in mind while implementing the code. “When it is discussed, it is framed as a Hindu-Muslim issue. But it is not limited to that. (A uniform code) will alter practices of everyone, including of Hindus. Tribals have their own laws. Keeping in mind this diversity, the Constitution allows this…Keeping all these factors, there should be efforts towards a consensus in society for any code…but in its implementation, there cannot be different groups in society,” Bhagwat said.
RSS on reservation in India
Back in 2015, days before the Bihar Assembly polls, Bhagwat in an interview to Panchjanya said that there was a need for ‘social review’ of the country’s reservation system. Cut to 2018, Bhagwat said “Reservation is not the problem. But the problem is politics on reservation.” He also said that it should be left to beneficiaries to decide on giving it up.
Politics of shamshaan, kabristan, bhagwa aatankwad
Bhagwat’s pitch for shunning communal politics was as much a jibe at the Congress as it was a message to the BJP’s top leadership of Modi and Shah, many believe. “The politics of shamshaan, kabristan, bhagwa aatankwad is done by those whose only aim is to be in power. They need to re-think this,” said Bhagwat.
Stance on Lynchings
Bhagwat has strongly condemned lynchings in the name of saving cows. He said that violence can not be tolerated and there should be strict action against any such acts. Bhagwat, however, said that ‘Gau raksha’ can also be done in a constitutional way by keeping cows first. Bhagwat also pitches that many muslims in the country run cow shelters.
This came as a direct contradiction to the remarks of RSS leader Indresh Kumar who had said earlier that “Mob lynching can’t be welcomed…if the practice of eating cow meat is stopped, many such crimes of the ‘Satan’ could be stopped.”