When the Devil Speaks the Gospel

To take RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's speech, which called for the de-escalation of the ongoing disputes on Hindu and Muslim places of worship, at face value would be to miss the very raison d'etre of the Sangh and its violent, chequered history.

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The widespread reactions to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s speech in Nagpur on June 2, welcoming it as a call for the de-escalation of aggression against Muslims, proves one thing beyond doubt: that the RSS is perceived as the fountainhead of hatred towards Muslims, which spurs violence against them by various Hindutva organisations.

Otherwise, what explains the relief expressed in newspapers and on social media following Bhagwat’s act of gently reproving his Swayamsevaks and other members of the Sangh Parivar, that they need not find nor look for a shivling in every masjid? His attempt to rein in his followers becomes credible only when we believe that the ideological source of the communal strife in the country is the RSS itself. 

Hearing the responses of some people to Bhagwat’s remarks, it was as if those people were visualising a scenario where the sardar of a gang, slightly annoyed by the wayward ways of his men, was asking them not to cross the given limit; his disquiet itself becoming a source of solace. Is it not sufficient that it might discipline those who are moving around claiming that mosques are not mosques but their temples; that it might lead to a lessening of violence?  

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (left) with Shri Ramchandra Mission (Hyderabad) president Kamlesh Patel at the closing function of the RSS Officers Training Camp in Nagpur on June 2. Photo: PTI

It is this thought that has prompted many to laud the RSS chief’s speech. They have a suspicion that he is the ideological supremo; the man in charge, so to say, and that his words can have a sobering effect on the foot soldiers of Hindutva whose activities foment violence on the ground.

After all, the petitioners in the Gyanvapi mosque case are no ordinary devotees, whose Bhakti for their Lord has led them to the courts, seeking to turn the mosque into their mandir.

As a May 20 report by Scroll.in reveals, their leader is connected to a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Similarly, in other places too, one can find that the people agitating to turn mosques into temples are linked, in some manner, to an outfit of the RSS.

Some friends have gone ballistic in their praise of the RSS chief; they see his speech as a game-changer. As to how exactly it will change the scenario, they don’t know and can’t explain.

Is it because he is calling for a moratorium on the campaign to lay claim to non-Hindu places of worship and convert them into temples? Or, is it because he says that the RSS is neither going to launch any movement nor participate in any campaign demanding the conversion of mosques into temples? He has asked his followers to have faith in the courts and expects all to abide by their decision.

Bhagwat claims that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was an exception; when the RSS for once, contrary to its avowed nature, participated in the movement in deference to the sentiments of the Hindus involved. How could it, an organisation of Hindus, ignore their feelings? But that was a one-time exception. After achieving its aim, claims the RSS chief, the organisation went back to its main work of Vyakti Nirman (character building).

The RSS, according to Bhagwat, wants to remain focused on its mission of building of character. However, the word ‘vyakti’ does not refer to an individual, as we know the term. In the RSS’s lexicon, it has a specific connotation – that of a man who thinks and behaves like a mob. But more about that later.

What is interesting this time is the somewhat guarded response of newspapers to Bhagwat’s speech. A June 4 editorial in a leading newspaper, namely the Indian Express, after welcoming the speech, strikes a note of caution and writes, “To be sure, past experience of the playing out of Hindu-Muslim disputes over places of worship and the RSS’s own shadowy politics in them serve as a health warning against over reading what Bhagwat said and what he meant.”

There is a reason for such scepticism. In 2018, Bhagwat was hailed as a revolutionary of sorts who had seemingly read down Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts, in which Muslims are called the enemies. But “that seeming breakthrough did not translate into anything politically substantial,” says the editorial.

The enthusiasm that follows each pronouncement of the RSS and the subsequent disappointment of our well-meaning friends has become a predictable pattern. It is either their lack of understanding of the way the RSS functions or their refusal to believe that the RSS is essentially a fascist organisation.

It is also because we think episodically. One day we are responding to the heinous act of lynching of Muslims in the name of cow protection. Another day, we witness Hindu festivals being used as a pretext to forcibly enter Muslim localities and wreak violence. The attack on Christians and their churches is yet another episode, as is the toxic idea of ‘love jihad’ which has led to vigilantism against marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women.

Also read: The History of ‘Love Jihad’: How Sangh Parivar Spread a Dangerous, Imaginary Idea

We fail to see the connecting thread that weaves these episodes together. The thread that connects them is the ideology of the RSS which makes Hindus believe in Hindu – Hindu equals Indian – exceptionalism. It promotes an idea that the Hindus are the first ‘owners’ of this nation. 

In his speech, Bhagwat said, those who have come later or have adopted ways of worship practised outside India have an additional responsibility to respect the Hindu way, which is actually Manav Dharma (universal religion). The way he sees it, it is larger than other religions as what it known as Hinduism is actually Manav Dharma.

Bhagwat clearly stated that it is “woh log” (the other side) who keep creating problems. Hindus generally restrain themselves. This reinforces what the hooligans at every successive Ground Zero say: I believe that your mosque belongs to me. By disputing it, you are creating strife. I only make a statement of my faith while you create a dispute.

And all this is transparent. The RSS, by professing this idea of Hindu/Indian exceptionalism and of Muslims descending from Hindu origins, mocks them and demands from them the acceptance that their original culture is nothing but Hindu. As Bhagwat says, – and he is right – the RSS is busy cultivating Hindu minds. It is this act which is the most dangerous thing for other communities and the world at large.

This mindset is cultivated in the shakhas, Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, Durga Vahini, Bajrang Dal, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Sanskar Bharti and scores of such organisations that come under the Sangh Parivar umbrella. This, as said before, is a mindset all too ready to trigger or get involved in any act of violence in pursuit of this Hindu/Indian exceptionalism.

It is this long “rehearsal” – to use the frame proposed by Paul Brass, who studied the RSS with more integrity than any other scholar – that takes place under the direction of the RSS, leading to the acts of violence that we see episodically. Then they are explained as a reaction to the obstinacy of the Muslims, or to imagined injustices of the past, which requires these acts to right historical wrongs.

The RSS never adopts any resolution to initiate these acts of violence. It is the actors prepared by it – the vyaktis – who perform these acts. The RSS never takes credit for them either.

For instance, has the RSS taken credit for the act of Nathuram Godse? And yet the mindset of Godse the assassin was created in the shakhas and bauddhiks of the RSS. Has the RSS taken credit for the numerous acts of violence against Muslims and Christians? Could such acts have been possible without the vykatis prepared by it?

It would be naive of us to think that the man who ideologically presides over this factory of hate would wish for peace. And yet…  

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.