The RSS Chief Has Taken the Lead in Critiquing Sanatan Dharma. Why Can't Opposition Follow?

Instead of being at sixes and sevens at the Sanatan Dharma polemics unleashed by the ruling BJP, the opposition has only to go to the words of Mohan Bhagwat to find all the support they need for their critique of majoritarianism.

While ideologues down South, whose position with respect to the social content of Sanatan Dharma is ancient knowledge, are currently being lambasted for saying what they have always said, it is a feature of our current loss of nerve and integrity that the most significant critique of the fault lines of this religious and cultural formation should find little space in prime time discussions.

I refer to the recent observations reportedly made by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat.

He said that “we didn’t care they lived like animals for 2,000 years.”

Bhagwat acknowledged that “we” should be willing to atone for their guilt for 200 years, if need be.

And, that Swayamsevaks should even be prepared to eat cow meat if that helps to integrate the downtrodden castes into the larger Hindu fold.

By any reckoning, this is a confession of monumental historical proportions from the person who heads an organisation wedded inseparably to the Sanatan Dharma’s archive of thought.

Yet, the silence is deathly, when in fact, the followers of this most influential Hindu organisation should be pondering deeply over the circumstance that, after all, Bhagwat has underscored: the social inequities within Sanatan Dharma with a candour that matches what any DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) spokesperson may ever have accomplished.

Especially, the trenchant willingness bearing on cow meat cannot but be viewed as path-breaking.

What is even more baffling is the fact that a flummoxed opposition floundering for a response to the foregrounding of Sanatan Dharma should be unable to evaluate and press into service the admirable, even if also political, confession embedded in what the RSS chief has said.

Also read: What Is Sanatana Dharma?

After all, if ever they needed any ideological justification or support for their current demand for a nationwide caste census, there’s no better place to look than to what Bhagwat has said publicly in an address at Nagpur, the heart of Brahminical Hinduism.

After all, while laid-back academic remarks are afloat, the question to ask directly is: who are the “we” in Bhagwat’s statement, if not the ‘upper’ caste twice born?

What could be a more simply and strongly expressed view as to how the social content of Sanatan Dharma has helped to constitute a “Brahminical Hinduism” which has through the ages alienated the majority, the “Bahujan Samaj”.

Were one to read Kancha Ilaiah’s Why I Am Not a Hindu, one would only find Bhagwat’s outburst against caste oppression laid out in greater detail, including how such “Brahminical Hinduism” has through those 2,000 years that Bhagwat has referenced excommunicated the Shudra castes and outcasts not just socially but also in terms of their culturally discrete allegiance to a pantheon of deities away from the Brahminical triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh.

As to the claim made for the eternal verity of Sanatan Dharma, the days to come may unleash another sort of debate — one that indeed should happen.

This concerns the diachrony (historical evolution and mutation) that the many deities now held eternal have actually undergone as Sanatan Dharma has proceeded. For example, the Adi Deva, Shiva, is named Rudra in the Vedas, and remains a minor figure there. Likewise, the major protagonist in Vedic texts is not Vishnu but Indra.

So, Sanatan Dharma’s theologies seem to actually have been as historically made and unmade as any other archive of religio-philosophical thought system.

Be that as it may, the point is that the current political opposition, instead of being at sixes and sevens at the Sanatan Dharma polemics unleashed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has only to go to the words of the RSS chief to find all the support they need for their critique of majoritarianism, namely, the political expression of “Brahminical Hinduism”.

That Bhagwat has found himself drawn to make the averment he has made, of course, has a sharp political logic: it does seem to express a profound insecurity about the prospects of the Modi-led BJP to out-think and defeat the INDIA alliance should the bulk of the ‘lower’ castes choose to abandon the BJP which many sects among them had come to embrace.

Far from severing ties with the DMK, therefore, Bhagwat’s words have provided reason why the position of the Dravidian party has after all been correct all along, and deserves to find larger political support.

Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.