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Is a Confused Bhagwat Becoming ‘Pseudo-Secular’? Or Is There a Method Behind His Musings?

Perhaps the most charitable interpretation of his Sunday ramblings is that the RSS is coming to terms with the limits of its Hindutva project.

Since the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) fancies itself as the sole custodian of “the Hindus” and of “Hindu interests”, the pronouncements of its senior functionaries demand attention, contestation and refutation. And, since its, frontal-organisation, the Bharatiya Janata Party happens to be the dominant ruling party at the national level, the RSS chief’s occasional ‘stray thoughts’ require close scrutiny.

Mohan Bhagwat’s observations last Sunday betray a man confused. Though he chose to foreground himself in the legacy of the “last 40,000 years,” his confusion is entirely consistent with the realities of ruling and governing Modern India. The very fact that he chose to grace a function on the theme of “Hindustani First, Hindustan First,” that too facilitated by a traditional power-broker from the Muslim community, bespeaks of some of the old compulsions in the so-called new “Naya Bharat.”

Curiously enough Bhagwat insisted on asserting that his organisation was “not in politics”. It is a bogus claim. This assertion flies in the face of hard facts. Commissars from Nagpur occupy key organisational positions in the BJP. Only the other day, the media was reporting that RSS functionaries were in prolonged confabulations over how to save a government in Uttar Pradesh that has done so poorly by the people of that state.

Moreover, the BJP is the only party whose interests and activities, however partisan and dishonourable, the RSS promotes and protects. And, like any other political party, the BJP has, quite naturally and entirely normally, flirted with criminals, corrupt individuals and the rapacious corporate crowd. As its political coach and mentor, the RSS has not remained untouched by the BJP’s dirty politics. Nor does the Sangh brass any longer have the luxury of being indifferent to the BJP’s electoral fortunes.

One stark lesson from the recent West Bengal outcome is that strategies devised around the “Jai Sri Ram slogan” will drive the minorities away from the BJP. And, given the right battleground and right local commanders, the Muslims may not allow themselves to be divided, whatever stratagem the BJP’s over-rated Chankayas may wish to put in place.

Hence, it is not too difficult to decode the political calculus behind Bhagwat’s advice to the Muslim community not to get caught in the “Islam in danger” cycle. The Nagpur boss cannot possibly be unaware of the pernicious hate-industry in social media (and on television) working overtime to poison Hindu-Muslim relations. Islam may not be in danger in India or anywhere else but who can deny the fact that being blatantly anti-Muslim has become cost-free, even rewarding, in these past seven years.

Also read: Will RSS Be Able to Defuse Brewing Modi vs Yogi Tensions in Uttar Pradesh?

More interesting and meaningful is Bhagwat’s formulation that there cannot be dominance of either Hindus or Muslims; given the fact that the Muslims have neither sought political or cultural dominance nor demanded even parity, the RSS chief remarks are at odds with the rough and tough politics practiced by the “Hindu rashtra” forces. Read with his observation on lynching, the RSS boss was either trying to obviate the UP Muslims’ palpable and warranted sense of unease or advising his rank and file to hide their claws, for now.

Bhagwat’s basic contention that all Indians – Hindus and Muslims and others – share the same DNA may at first glance looks like harking back to M.S. Golwalkar. It is unfair to burden the present RSS boss with the requirement of consistency. What the ‘Guruji’ said or meant has been conveniently revised or jettisoned, as per the political calculations of the day; and, we do know that all BJP and RSS leaders have turned out to be closet practitioners of realpolitik. Bhagwat may be a prisoner of a certain dogma but is certainly no prisoner of the past.

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

Perhaps the most charitable interpretation of his Sunday ramblings is that the RSS hierarchy is coming to terms with the limits of its Hindutva project. Having achieved the satisfaction of helping the BJP acquire power nationally, and enjoying the gratifications that such power has within it to bestow on the Nagpur apparatchiks, the RSS finds itself in a dead-end. Its idealism, its ideology and its dogma are of no help in resolving real national problems.

The ongoing pandemic has ingloriously exposed the ‘Hindu rate’ of misgovernance. The total hash that the Modi regime has made of coping with the pandemic just cannot be attributed to the “others”. Simply put, the self-proclaimed representatives of the ‘Hindus’ have short-changed the Hindus; India’s non-Hindus cannot be blamed because they have been edged out of the higher echelons of the government, the armed forces, the police, the bureaucracy, business and politics.

More fundamentally, these seven years of unhindered national power have exposed the assumption of  a harmoniousness among Hindu interests that would override the divisions and cleavages of class, caste and community. It is absurd to assume that 800 million Hindus have no differences among them on what kind of society and government India ought to have. Divisions and conflicts have been endemic all through “the last 40,000 years.” The Sangh’s insistent invocation of “Hindu interests” has turned out to be an unhelpful instrument of effective and cogent governance these past seven years.

Hopefully, Bhagwat and his colleagues have finally realised that an unrelenting insistence on equating “Hindu interests” with national well-being has only ended up locking the RSS on the side of injustice, inequity and inequality, against the poor and the marginalised.

Also read: After Seven Years of Modi and Shah, the RSS’s Fall from Grace is Total and Complete

As long as it was away from power, the RSS could afford to present itself as a morally superior outfit; it has squandered away that edge because in these past seven years there has been no issue or occasion when Nagpur has felt any reason to be critical of the Modi government. Consequently, the RSS can no longer escape the cost of its association with a soiled regime and its sordid political calculations.

On Sunday, Bhagwat appears to be conceding that the BJP’s Hindu vote-bank politics has produced division and strife in the body-politic. Someone should remind Bhagwat of his Sunday sermon the next time Narendra Modi talks of shamshanghats (cemetery) and kabristans. As self-proclaimed nationalists, the RSS bosses should remember that no divided society has ever achieved national greatness or glory.

Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi.