Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has claimed that his organisation can raise a combat force in three days whereas it’ll take the Indian army about six to seven months to prepare for a war. What can be better than this? The country will save on defence expenditure. The disciplined, patriotic RSS volunteers will defend the country with great commitment. Given that it is his government at the Centre, one wonders why Bhagwat has taken so long to make a formal proposal.
Of course, before RSS volunteers are asked to defend the country, we must verify their credentials of bravery. As of now, there is no proof from the freedom struggle as the RSS chose not to participate in it. V.D. Savarkar, the only prominent person associated with Hindutva to have been jailed by the British because of his patriotic zeal, was released when he tendered an apology to the crown. Another person inspired by Hindutva ideology was Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, a man with whom India’s identity is associated nationally and globally.
In 1992, when the political wing of RSS – the Bharatiya Janata Party – was in power in Uttar Pradesh, its volunteers demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya which they had failed to do during the Samajwadi Party’s rule three years earlier. People inspired by Hindu chauvinism have been behind five bomb blasts in the country; the alleged involvement of Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit and retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay suggests this poisonous ideology has already infiltrated the army.
Now when the BJP is in power at the Centre, various vigilante groups inspired by the Sangh parivar attack and sometimes kill isolated people who are suspected to have participated in cow slaughter, consumed beef, indulged in ‘love jihad’ or simply believe in an ideology which is critical of Hindutva. The victims have mostly been Muslims and Dalits, while some intellectuals have also been targeted. People inspired by RSS ideology see bravery in these acts and sometimes they think they are serving the cause of nationalism when committing these crimes. When one of the accused in the case of murder by the mass lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri died, his body was wrapped in the national flag. These incidents do not inspire confidence that the security of the country can be handed over to the RSS.
On the other side, there was an occasion when Pakistani terrorists held the country hostage for three days in Mumbai in November 2008 but RSS workers were conspicuous by their absence. Had all the RSS volunteers along with Shiv Sena workers – who demonstrate ample aggression against people from north Indian states and non-Marathi speaking individuals – come out in large numbers to storm the Taj Hotel, the entire episode would have been over on the first day itself. However, the RSS-Shiv Sena lost their only chance to exhibit real valour. Considering that the RSS headquarters is in Maharashtra, it is inexplicable why its workers were mere spectators when the enemy invaded their home. The army, which Bhagwat says will require six to seven months to prepare for combat, actually wound up the operation in three days, including capturing one of the terrorists alive.
The politics of the RSS produces unnecessary tension and violence, which is harmful to us. After Narendra Modi took over as prime minister, India’s relations with Pakistan have deteriorated. There are more incursions from across the border. We were made to believe that India carried out some kind of decisive ‘surgical strike’ but Indian soldiers continue to be killed in attacks by militants or the Pakistani security forces even after that. All we can do in response is kill some Pakistani soldiers or terrorists. Who benefits from these skirmishes except for the countries which sell arms to both India and Pakistan?
India’s relations with China are also not very cordial. But at the border, both sides take care to ensure that no soldier or civilian is killed on either side. This almost seems to be an unspoken, unwritten understanding. Instead of exhibiting and advocating aggressiveness, the RSS-BJP combine ought to have tried to achieve a similar understanding with Pakistan.
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Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s statement calling for the need to talk to Pakistan, is commonsensical. Had the Modi government not made it a prestige issue and talked to the Pakistani government, the valuable lives of soldiers and civilians on both sides could have been saved.
When Modi decided to land in Lahore en route from Afghanistan, there didn’t appear to be any adversarial relationship between him and Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. He participated in a private event in Sharif’s family and even gifted a shawl to his mother. So if Modi desires to have a friendly relationship with Sharif, why shouldn’t our soldiers be given a similar opportunity? It would be better to exchange gifts rather than fire across the border. And it entirely depends on the leadership of the two countries as to what kind of relationship they want to have. If such a choice exists, why not prefer friendship over enmity?
During his recent visit to Ramallah, Modi publicly and commendably expressed his hope that an independent Palestine would come into being through peaceful means. Through his remarks, he clearly sent out a message to Tel Aviv that India may be the largest buyer of Israeli arms but that doesn’t mean it will give up its commitment towards the idea of a free Palestine. He highlighted the need for a peaceful resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
The India-Pakistan conflict is of a very similar nature to that of Palestine-Israel. Incidentally, the history of both the problems goes back to 1947-48 and both are the creation of the British. If Modi thinks that resolution of the Palestine-Israel tangle is possible through dialogue, why is it not possible to adopt a similar approach to the India-Pakistan imbroglio?
Sandeep Pandey is a Magsaysay Award-winning activist and scholar who co-founded Asha for Education.