The future RSS

By: Editorial | Updated: September 20, 2018 12:30:13 am

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Bhagwat’s exposition of the RSS vision will be tested on the ground since the RSS is a cadre-outfit deeply embedded in grass roots politics.

The RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s unprecedented outreach in the national capital seems to suggest that the 92-year-old organisation is seeking an image makeover. Addressing an invited audience at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi, Bhagwat seemed keen to steer the RSS towards a centrist political space and pitch it above the divisive realm of power politics. Coming ahead of the general election, his elaborations on the RSS’s vision of India hold new possibilities for right-wing politics, which in recent times has become strident in tone and polarising in action. While aggressive Hindutva politics has been electorally rewarding, it forecloses the possibility of becoming an ideology acceptable to different sections of the society, a matter Bhagwat seems concerned about.

The invitation to life-long Congressman and former President, Pranab Mukherjee, to address RSS cadres at the Sangh headquarters in Nagpur in July was a clear signal that the Sangh wished to be seen as an outfit willing to engage with ideological opponents. On the inaugural day of the lecture, Bhagwat said the RSS stands for a “yukt” (inclusive) Bharat and not a “mukt” (exclusive) Bharat and acknowledged the leadership of the Congress in the freedom movement. His remarks are a stark contrast to the BJP’s campaign for a Congress-mukt Bharat. On Tuesday, Bhagwat went a step further to announce that the RSS endorsed the Indian Constitution: The RSS, he said, believes that “the Indian Constitution is the consensus of the country”. This is a departure from the widely-held view that the RSS has issues with the founding document of the Republic, particularly its emphasis on secularism. Bhagwat’s clarification that Hindu Rashtra does not deny space to Muslims — “The day it is said that Muslims are unwanted here, the concept of Hindutva will cease to exist,” he said — seems to be an attempt to interpret the Sangh’s ideological tenets as harmonious with the idea of the Republic outlined in the Constitution. Bhagwat also said that the RSS will “respect” the sentiments of those who wish to be called “Bharatiya” and not Hindu.

Bhagwat’s exposition of the RSS vision will be tested on the ground since the RSS is a cadre-outfit deeply embedded in grass roots politics. What would his message be to the radical activists, who target innocent Muslims in the name of cow protection and other such agendas? A religious minority is not an abstraction but people with clear preferences of faith, diet, dress, social relations and so on. The Constitution recognises it as such and has provided for special rights to protect the minorities from being subdued by the cultural preferences of the majority; a nationalism founded on the Constitution will be different from the toxic potion currently served by the Hindu right. The sarsanghachalak is deemed the final word in the RSS. Bhagwat will now have to ensure that swayamsevaks walk his talk.

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