Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Sep 24, 2018
Bhagwat’s outreach: Genuine change of heart?    

The three-day long elaborate outreach exercise by the 93-year-old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has triggered a major national debate. The reactions to the efforts of the sixth RSS Sarsangchalak (head) Mohan Bhagwat range from appreciation to suspicion. Questions that being asked are about its timing and the need to open the doors of the organisation to questioning and inspection.

“Hindu Rashtra does not mean there is no place for Muslims. The day it is said so, it won’t be Hindutva anymore. Hindutva talks of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam”, Bhagwat said giving a clarification on an issue that has made the RSS suspect among its adversaries and opponents.

The RSS chief’s words evoked disbelief as they were spoken at a time when Hindutva has grown strident and aggressive.

First, facts need to be looked at closely for arriving at a dispassionate conclusion. For the outreach, Bhagwat invited selected guests like foreign diplomats, academics, political leaders, businessmen, industrialists and leaders of other walks of life and society in the national capital’s prestigious Vigyan Bhavan from September 17-19.

The RSS chief’s lecture series touched wide range of issues confronting Indian society, politics, religion and economy. Bhagwat exposed himself to questions from the audience on a variety of issues related to the RSS and its stand on national issues.

The first day of the lecture series focused on the RSS’ perspective on the “Future of Bharat”.  Bhagwat gave a detailed account of the Sangh’s position on key issues for which its adversaries have confronted it.

Quoting extensively from RSS founder Dr Keshav Balram Hedgewar, Bhagwat underlined the Sangh’s national moorings. Informing those present that Hedgewar was in the Congress Party and went to jail for a year, the RSS chief praised the Indian National Congress for its “big role” in the freedom movement. “In the form of the Congress, a big freedom movement had started in the country which gave many personalities”, he pointed out remaining firm on the Sangh’s stand that many, including the Congress, contributed to the freedom of the country from the British rule.

Whether Bhagwat was striking a note of warning to the present day BJP that was trying to polarise the society and polity by asserting that political opposition was welcome or not would be ascertained by follow-up actions on the part of the RSS.

In a determined effort to change RSS’s public image and popular perception, the RSS chief explained its stand on caste, reservation in jobs, national flag versus saffron flag, cow protection, language, section 377, minorities and religious conversion.

In an indirect snub to political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bhagwat said the politics of Shamsan and Kabristan, Bhagva Atankvad is done by those whose only aim is to be in power. Politics should be done for the good of the people, the RSS chief said.

In a nutshell, Bhagwat distanced the RSS from its earlier rigid stand and orthodox views on Muslims and other minorities. What was said in (second RSS Sarsanghchalak M S Golwalkar’s book) ‘Bunch of thoughts’ is not eternal; the Sangh chief said, and added that it was written in a context and (Thoughts) don’t remain static….

Objectively assessed, Bhagwat’s effort to reach out is primarily aimed at placing the RSS on a higher moral platform above the political system of the country. The BJP under former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had come to acquire a slightly higher position in hierarchy of the Sangh parivar. Bhagwat seems to be trying to restore the original status of the RSS that had been somewhat relegated in the times of his predecessors Rajendra Singh and K Sudarshan.

Conscious of the fact that the RSS would not be acceptable to majority of Hindus as its brand of ‘Hindutva’ runs counter to the Sanatan Dharma that is popularly adhered and followed by the majority, Bhagwat seems to have subtly discarded semitising zeal of his organisation in his effort to open up to make the Sangh more acceptable.

Sanatan Dharma, practiced for thousands of years by the inhabitants of the subcontinent, has been adapting, adopting, changing, evolving and innovating in accordance with the changing times. Many protest movements albeit reform movements rose from the ranks of Sanatan Dharma. Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Arya Samaj, many sects and different streams broke out from Sanatan Dharm but their spread remained restricted to a region or became gradually extinct. Few rose and then fell while others shrunk. The RSS too was set up to give a new direction to Sanatan Dharma and it adopted Hindutva as its weapon for expansion.

In its 93 years of existence, the RSS has through one of its progenies come to wield power. Sangh’s Pracharaks (activists) in the words of Bhagwat are today occupying all the constitutional posts like that of the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker. Many of them are the chief ministers also.

The RSS was launched with the “express mission to organise the Hindus on nationalistic lines” and making them strong. Sangh had adopted the concept of Hindutva of V D Savarkar whose message was ‘Hinduise all politics and militarise Hindudom”.

Bhagwat seems to have realised the need to shed some of the rigidities and Catholicism that has become so integral to the RSS if it has to spread and increase its appeal. The RSS needs to be more inclusive if it has to survive and does not want to remain restricted.

The Sangh’s outreach initiative, in fact, is the result of a well-planned strategy. The first move was to invite former President Pranab Mukherjee to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur in June this year. This had created lot of buzz.

Bhagwat’s timing of outreach is opportune particularly when one of its child is at the commanding heights. He has spoken with a position of strength.

Whether Bhagwat is going to succeed in changing the Sangh’s image or not is going to largely depend upon its actions and behaviour. His claim of charting a new path markedly different from that followed by his predecessors need to be matched by actions on the ground. The RSS workers, including the BJP leaders, would have to prove by their actions. Words and deeds need to match.

Incidents of mob lynching, cow vigilantism and religious hate need to be controlled and effectively punished allowing the law of the land to take its course. The RSS that wields considerable influence would need to have a mechanism in place so that social peace and communal amity can prevail.

If Bhagwat’s words remain confined to cerebral domain and are not translated into action, then the RSS’s outreach would be seen as an exercise in deception. There has to be a genuine change of heart.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

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