Mohan Bhagwat's Speech: Have the Tables Turned on RSS?

That he spent a majority of the speech defending the Modi government may signal a change in the Sangh's power structure.

New Delhi: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sarsanghchalak’s speech on Dussehra – the organisation’s foundation day – is considered significant because his address is seen as a political roadmap for Sangh parivar cadres, including those in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to follow across India.

However, Mohan Bhagwat’s 2019 speech was hardly that. Far from elaborating on a vision – any vision – he spent nearly an hour defending the Modi government in areas where it has performed poorly.

The RSS does not associate itself with the BJP openly. Bhagwat himself has said multiple times that the Sangh can help any political party which conforms to its ideals and that it does not have any connection with the BJP. Yet, in his speech, Bhagwat presented his organisation as not only an associate of the saffron party but also appeared to be content playing second fiddle.

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (left) and home minister Amit Shah. Credit: PTI

Bhagwat’s previous Vijayadashami speeches

Remember, how in his 2016 Vijayadashami speech, Bhagwat congratulated the Union government for its successful surgical strikes along the LoC but also spoke about multiple administrative issues it should pursue. Among them were the rehabilitation of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, and persecuted Hindu minorities from Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. He had also urged the Modi government to review the former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian’s New Education Policy (NEP) and urged it to differentiate between “gau rakshaks” and “anti-social elements”.

The Modi government is now campaigning for a Citizenship Bill which will allow refugees of all religions except Muslims to take shelter in India. At the same time, it has dropped the Subramanian committee’s NEP and brought in K. Kasturirangan’s draft to be implemented.

Similarly, in 2017, the RSS sarsanghchalak had laid emphasis on the need for a “strong and determined” stand in response to any hostile move by Pakistan and China’s along the border. He had also said that any decision regarding granting shelter to Rohingya Muslims should be taken keeping in mind that they are are a “threat to national security and integrity”.

He had also raised a veiled alarm against the government’s decision to demonetise higher denomination currency notes and implement GST, which was hurting the parivar’s core constituency of small and medium businesses. He had hit out at the NITI Aayog for adhering to old “economic principles” and argued that any economic planning should draw from the “ground reality of the nation”.

In 2018, Bhagwat focussed on the government’s efforts to tackle external threats but added that internal security also needs to be strengthened while slamming those who question the RSS brand of Hindutva nationalism aka “urban Naxals” or the “neo-Left”. While speaking about how governments in independent India needs to be people-centric, he said, “The Union and state governments and police and paramilitary forces are successfully undertaking operations in this regard. They will have to continue it with the incessant vigil.”

Also Read: Mohan Bhagwat Says No Hindus Will Have to Leave India, Even if Excluded From NRC

In his criticism of the government, Bhagwat had said, “The administrative sensitivity, alacrity, transparency and totality in the implementation of good policies of the government are still not up to expectations. Resultantly, the outcome of those policies is not percolating down to the last man standing in the society.”

Over the past five years, the sarsanghchalak has reminded the government to fulfil its key promises, some of which have been long-standing demands of the RSS – abrogating Article 370, constructing a Ram temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya and framing a Uniform Civil Code.

This year’s speech

In contrast, Bhagwat’s address to the cadres at Nagpur on Wednesday strayed between praising the Modi government for diluting Article 370 to urging the people not to dwell too much upon the economic troubles that have plagued India’s growth in the last few years. He did touch upon his usual topics – nationalism, Hindutva, Pakistan and China as external threats – but did not have a single complaint, however cosmetic it may have been, against the government. Instead, he mounted a defence.

From being one of the critics of demonetisation and GST to defending the declining  GDP growth rate, Bhagwat has come a long way.

A large part of his speech at the event, in which the founder of HCL Shiv Nadar was the chief guest, focussed on the economy.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat with HCL founder and chairman Shiv Nadar (2nd from left) in Nagpur on October 8, 2019. Photo: PTI

“The country is growing. But the world economy goes through a cycle, and at times it faces some hurdles that slow down growth. Then it is called a slowdown,” Bhagwat said, adding “An economist told me that you call it recession only when you report a growth rate of below zero. But we are having a growth rate of around 5%. One can show concern towards it, but there is no need to discuss it.”

“Discussion over it leads to the creation of an atmosphere, which affects (people’s) conduct. Too much discussion about the so-called slowdown would make the people in business and trade believe that the economy is really slowing down and they would become more conservative in their actions. It will eventually slow the growth of our economy further,” he said.

Deviating from his usual critical posturing, he said, “The government has shown sensitivity towards the issue and has taken some steps…We need to trust our government. We have taken so many steps, there will be some positive impact in the coming days.” He went on to defend the government by saying that its job was made difficult because of external factors such as the trade war between America and China.

Comments on lynching

After this, when he spoke about “lynching” being a “Western construct”, it appeared it was nothing but a diversionary tactic. He blamed the phenomenon as a negative campaign by some who wanted to “defame India”, entirely giving a miss to multiple cases of Muslims and Dalits having been killed in broad daylight by Hindutva supporters.

Instead, he sought to see those killings as an import from Christianity and Islam, conveniently shifting the blame to Abrahamic religions – something clearly arising out of traditional Hindutva bias.

“There are reports of incidents happening from both sides and allegations and counter-allegations. It has also come to light that some incidents have been deliberately fabricated while some others have been published in a distorted manner. However, it must be accepted that these tendencies of violence have somehow or the other crossed the limits of law and order and wreaked havoc by eroding the mutual relations in the society,” he said.

The reason these proclamations appear diversionary is because the rest of Bhagwat’s speech projected the RSS as being a dynamic organisation, always willing to change according to the need of the times. He invoked Balasaheb Deoras, a former sarsanghchalak, to say that the only aspect constant about the RSS is that India is a Hindu Rashtra and everything else about it could adapt to the need of the time.

File photo from 2009 of Narendra Modi and BJP leader Keshubhai Patel giving the RSS salute. Credit: PTI

For instance, he welcomed the Modi government’s efforts to attract foreign direct investments and encourage privatisation – a significant departure from the organisation’s emphasis on swadeshi. He also put forward a new definition of swadeshi.  He claimed, “Swadeshi is someone who lives in a globalised economy but only on conditions that favour India. If something can be produced in my country, why will I buy it from any other place and thus ruin my domestic trade?”

“We should walk on the path of swadeshi…try to buy from the other countries but on our own terms,” he added.

At the end, he drew up a long list of Modi government’s successes, including the reading down of Article 370. Crucially, unlike his previous speeches, Bhagwat did not have a single prescription to offer to the government. If compared to his other speeches, the RSS chief’s speech had nothing new to offer; far from being a political roadmap for the Sangh’s cadres. He simply reiterated what Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, in various stage-managed events, have repeated multiple times.

Have the tables turned within the Sangh parivar? It is believed that the RSS pulls the government’s strings whenever the NDA has come to power. But with the Modi-Shah duo on top of affairs, has Bhagwat been pushed to the second spot in the Sangh hierarchy?

Speculation is rife but Bhagwat’s Vijayadashami speech on Tuesday definitely hinted at the possibility of the sarsanghchalak being reduced to a cog in the wheel in Modi and Shah’s larger scheme of things.