New Delhi: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat stoked a political controversy on Sunday when he claimed that his organisation could assemble its cadres to fight much faster than the Indian army could in a situation of war.
“The Sangh will prepare military personnel within three days, something the Army would do in 6-7 months. This is our capability. Swayamsewaks will be ready to take on the front if the country faces such a situation and constitution permits us to do so,” the Times of India quoted the RSS sarsanghchalak as saying.
Bhagwat, who is currently on a 10-day tour of Bihar, was addressing a gathering of RSS workers in Muzaffarpur, Bihar on Sunday.
His trumpeting of the military might of the influential RSS, which often describes itself as only a socio-cultural organisation, immediately raised eyebrows in political circles, partly because of the disparaging comparison he made with the army, and also because the military exercises imparted in RSS shakhas have been widely documented.
However, soon after he made this claim in his speech, Bhagwat clarified that the RSS wasn’t a military outfit. “We are a parivarik organisation (family organisation), but we have discipline and preparedness like in the military. RSS workers are ready to happily sacrifice their lives for the nation in times of crisis,” he added.
“The day India becomes a powerful Hindu nation, there will be no need for RSS. Members of the RSS would then keep meeting one another as friends do as usual…Every Indian should attend the RSS shakhas everyday. If not daily, then at least once every month. If time is too scarce, then they should follow the six basic tenets of RSS,” the 67-year-old leader said, urging the youth to join the RSS.
While RSS leaders frequently resort to war-like rhetoric against “enemy states”, Bhagwat went a step further and compared his organisation’s skills with the Indian army.
Bihar’s primary opposition party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, was quick to raise objections. The party spokesperson Mrityunjay Tiwari said Bhagwat’s claim was a insult to the Indian Army and demanded an apology from him. “The Indian Army is a highly respected organisation with countless sacrifices for the nation. Bhagwat has denigrated the Army by saying the RSS is more capable than it. He must apologise for his words immediately,” he said.
The RSS Chief’s speech is an insult to every Indian, because it disrespects those who have died for our nation. It is an insult to our flag because it insults every soldier who ever saluted it. Shame on you Mr Bhagwat, for disrespecting our martyrs and our Army.
On Monday, in the face of the mounting backlash against Bhagwat’s perceived “insult” to the army – the hashtag #RSSInsultsArmy trended on Twitter for several hours – the RSS issued a “clarification” saying what the sarsanghchalak had meant to compare was not the RSS and the army but the RSS and “general society”, which did not have the benefit of the Sangh’s “discipline”.
The clarification issued in the name of Manmohan Vaidya, head of the RSS’s publicity cell, claimed that Bhagwat had said that “if [the] situation arises and the constitution permits, [the] Indian army would take 6 months to prepare the society whereas Sangh swayamsevaks can be trained in three days as swayamsevaks practice discipline regularly.” Vaidya said that “this was no way a comparison between the Indian army and the Sangh swayamsevaks but it was a comparison between the general society and swayamsevaks. Both are to be trained by the Indian army only”.
Vaidya’s ‘clarification’ has not found many takers. Srinath Raghavan, a former Indian army officer who now teaches international affairs and military history at Ashoka University had this advice for the RSS: “When in a hole, stop digging.”