There are two prisms through which one can view the RSS’ most concerted bid at public relations.
The sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, let the cat out of the bag at the end of his first-ever lecture series on the “Bharat of Future”, in which there was little futuristic vision and more of the past and present. Like always, cliché was the entry point for the organisation which has picked up a leaf from its most successful pupil on how to plan and conduct an event. In his summation speech, Bhagwat thanked the audience for having listened to him over three days. But he added that if they, and others watching on their televisions, computers and mobiles, disagreed with the RSS, they must come closer and engage with the organisation instead of forming opinions based on the comments of its adversaries. The best way to understand the RSS, he said, would be by attending shakhas and becoming its karyakartas. Effectively, Bhagwat’s programme was a membership drive in another name and open only to men because women cannot become members of the RSS.
There are two prisms through which one can view the RSS’ most concerted bid at public relations. The first way is by exploring the question of the purpose or the objective behind holding the programme, and that too in the centre of the Indian capital at a venue where the tallest of global leaders have rubbed shoulders. The other framework for analysing the lecture series would be to peruse what has been said. From the limited perspective of the objective behind the programme, it has been somewhat fulfilled because the sarsanghchalak provided an argumentative framework to the already half-committed to the Sangh but who did not have the gumption to go the whole hog. This was the first time that the RSS did not shy away from meeting criticism in all civility, but on a platform where Bhagwat was carefully shielded from any awkwardness. This was a programme where there was no scope for scrutiny, much less cross-examination. Although the Q&A session would be cited as evidence of the RSS being democratic and not scared of uncomfortable questions, the world knows how written questions submitted in advance are selectively taken up. And it will be a while before, if ever it does, reports of people submitting tough queries which were not taken up start surfacing.
Bhagwat has taken a leaf out of the BJP book and resorted to slogan-speak to ensure that his Q&A session was met with applause. He also used phraseology in complete contrast to what is practised by swayamsevaks on the ground. Importantly, the Sangh has a humongous army of unaccountables, those who like Nathuram Godse, serve the purpose of the organisation without burdening it with any responsibility. Bhagwat may have said all the nice things about the good Muslim who is willing to embrace Bhartiyata or Indianness, and this may provide the fig leaf to those wanting to cosy up with the saffron brotherhood. But Bhagwat’s certificate of good conduct will not prevent rampaging fringe forces who move through the stealth of the night and in open daylight, with no fear of any sarkari tantra or official machinery preventing attacks on Muslims on meagre suspicion of acing like bad Muslims who indulge in anti-Hindu practices and habits. Yet, Bhagwat has chosen his words carefully, camouflaging them in niceties to make it palatable to people in the middle who always wanted to side with the Sangh Parivar but were short of political courage. Bhagwat’s depiction of Muslims as being an integral part of Hindu society because “their ancestors were the same as ours” is what lays ground for reverse conversion programmes like ghar wapasi. It has been argued previously that the Sangh Parivar and its leaders have “no problems” with Muslims following their own faith. But, it has been added that they must accept the ideas and ideals of Hindus as their own because it was not religion but the culture of the nation. The RSS has always tried to present Hinduism as being more than a religion. It is presented as way of life and the RSS argues contentiously that one can be a Hindu while remaining a follower of Islam and Christianity. To buttress their point, they cite Article 25(2b) of the Constitution, which specifies that the “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly”. The Sangh Parivar has contended for long that if Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists can be called Hindus, then why not Muslims and Christians too? In 1993, a while after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Organiser, the RSS’ weekly official organ, published an article pleading for renaming India. After discussing several possibilities like Hindustan and Bharat, these were rejected — the first for “too many stans” being “around us” and the second because if Bharat was the nation’s name and Bharatiya the nationality, it would “resemble a surname”. The “best option” was to rename India as Hindudesh because “our nationality will be Hindu”, and whether Muslims like it or not, when they go for Haj, they will go as Hindus, stamped on their passports!
In 2014, the BJP won the Lok Sabha election primarily because Middle India rooted for the party after concluding that it had shed the communal prejudice towards minorities of the past. After four years of none too impressive governance, and with victory not a certainty at this point of time, the Sangh Parivar once again feels the need to regain Middle India, which has somewhat drifted away. Bhagwat’s lectures should be seen as a part of this attempt and proves that once against the parivar remains united and committed to try securing another spectacular victory for the BJP.