Rough Edges: Bhagwat is Not Insulting the Army, He is Boosting the Cult of Militarisation

RSS. Credit: Reuters

The public has largely missed the most sinister thing that Bhagwat’s comments alluded to – the increasing militarisation of society where conformists drive dissenters into the shadows.

The Sangh parivar has always been a militarised organisation, ready at the heels to spring into combat. Credit: Reuters

Dystopic worlds consistently fire the imaginations of artists and writers. Worlds fraught and frayed by continued wars, major and minor, where a dominant elite hunts down or represses minorities and ‘others’ who don’t fit in. It is the marginalised who then emerge as the ideological dissenters of the day – challenging the order. In the grey and grainy universes of science fiction, the endless game between the establishment and those banished from it creates a world that embraces and nurtures war. A world that lauds and advocates militarisation of life.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent remarks conjure images of just such a society. A gateway to future dystopia, nourished by civil war between communities that have split society down the middle, stoking differences of religion, caste, ideology. A universe where – puffed up by supremacist zeal – conformists chase dissenters, driving them into the shadows.

If accused of indulging a wild imagination, I could point people to the RSS’s ideological roots, its political crucible. The Sangh parivar has always been a militarised organisation, ready at the heels to spring into combat. But never since 1947 perhaps has it found itself so close to achieving this state of continued low-intensity conflict as it does in India today. There is now a greater ambition to magnify this conflict, to turn it into a cultural war.

Over the last four years, Bhagwat and his colleagues have discovered a new-found sense of freedom that eluded them in the past. The RSS chief today finds himself at complete liberty to speak a militant language. No longer is he shackled by restraint to tone down the Sangh’s core language of militancy. Present times have granted to the RSS the liberty of speaking aloud what the organisation has always held to be true.

In his recent comments, by pitting the RSS – supposedly a socio-cultural organisation (if you believe its pracharaks and well wishers) – against the army, Bhagwat has reiterated in public one of the Sangh’s core strategies: to militarise Indian society. For any formation that prides itself on valour and aggression, the army – embodying the epitome of these values – is an organisation worth emulating.

My use of the word ‘militarise’ is deliberate in this context. The RSS, as we all know – notwithstanding its claims to being a ‘cultural’ organisation – is a militarised network. Armed with Hindu supremacist ideology in shakhas across the country, RSS volunteers are readied for combat – if not for real wars, then for social conflicts that are as good as real wars. Fed on a deep suspicion of, and hostility towards, non-Hindus – particularly Muslims – conflict is the natural state of affairs for the society the Sangh Parivar sees itself inhabiting.

Bhagwat wants his organisation to share the lofty status of the army. This is the reason he boasts about the Sangh’s military capabilities, which he claims, are superior to those of the Indian Army. “The Sangh will prepare military personnel within three days, something the Army would do in six-seven months,” Bhagwat said last Sunday.

“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,” he added.

Bhagwat’s statement is not meant to offend the army, as the opposition is alleging. In fact, his aim is the very opposite. By comparing the RSS to the army, Bhagwat has revealed his aspiration to give his organisation a status of supremacy comparable to the army. The RSS chief aspires for his organisation to be held in the same esteem as the army. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders are entirely correct in saying that insulting the army was far from Bhagwat’s mind when he made the remark.

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But the response of the opposition is not surprising. Across the political spectrum, parties have accused Bhagwat of “insulting” the army. Their likely calculation is that such an allegation could hurt the Sangh and its electoral wing, the BJP. Anti-BJP parties hope to sway public sentiment by singing peans to the army and calling out the RSS for denigrating the organisation. Some media columnists have even gone to the extent of advising the Sangh to learn some lessons from the army. For instance, it is argued that the Sangh should imbibe the army’s secular culture which flows largely from the fact that the institution comprises of people from all walks of life.

As is so often the case, public discussion has largely missed the most sinister thing about Bhagwat’s comment. In the rush to criticise him by scoring political points, we have ended up singing praises of the army and remaining completely silent about the increasing militarisation of society – from cultures of everyday violence inflicted by trained cadres to our inability to have honest debates about national histories of violence.

Bhagwat didn’t insult the military. He exposed how incapable we are of recognising militarisation as a threat to our collective well-being.