It is probably India’s most influential organization with a following of millions and great clout with the government. It is also among the most controversial with opponents accusing it of muzzling free speech and fanning rabid anti-minority sentiments. But if you heard Dattatreya Hosabale and Manmohan Vaidya at the Jaipur literature festival, you’d mistake the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for a small group that shunned the limelight and worked on spiritualism.
Speaking to a packed house, Vaidya praised Hindutva as a “way of life” that is based on spirituality and diversity in the ways one approaches truth. “Parsis, Jews, Christians, many others came to India and were treated with dignity without persecution. Everyone could practice their religion. This is Hindutva,” he said, to loud applause from the packed audience.
His colleague, Dattatreya Hosabale said the RSS had no influence on the BJP – including in ticket selection process for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. “The day gender, caste and other discrimination end in society, the RSS will also end. We aren’t an organization, we are a movement.
Vaidya, a student of nuclear chemistry, said the imagination of the Hindu rashtra wasn’t a theocratic state but a spiritual democracy that celebrated diversity while working for social progress.
Hosabale agreed, blaming a growing distance from Hindutva for modern-day problems such as corruption. He said the RSS was against the caste system and came out strongly in favour of caste quotas. But both appeared uneasy when asked about extending reservations to Muslims. He said BR Ambedkar didn’t favour permanent reservations. “It may increase separatism,” Vaidya said, to cheers.
The RSS leaders attacked “Left liberals” for distorting education and history and said the word “secular” was un-Indian and not favoured by BR Ambedkar. “It was forcibly inserted in 1976 without demand, debate or discussion.”
“The roots of this word are western where secular state was created in opposition to theocratic state. The Indian state has always been secular with no religious discrimination,” Vaidya said. “It is used to create communal rift.”
The question of the upliftment of Muslims proved thorny. When asked to explain the poor socio-economic condition of Muslims as explained in the Sachar committee report, Hosabale said most Muslims lived in UP, Bihar and West Bengal, and the backwardness of the states hurt the community.
“We must also see if there is something in the community that hinders development,” he said again to loud applause. Minutes later, a man got up and blamed Muslims for wanting to remain backward. “No one can help them,” he said to more cheers and hooting.
Hosabale denounced any form of violence but alleged that 20 RSS workers had been burnt alive in Kerala with little media coverage or state government action. “It is human to have some retaliation,” he said.
Both strongly defended the RSS from allegations that it was pushing for a saffron agenda in education and blamed the Left for distorting history. “People aren’t happy with education, which should be based on national ethos. “Our 5000 years of achievement is not taught. We think all knowledge came from the British and teach disproved theories like the Aryan Invasion,” Hosabale said.
They lauded the Rajasthan government for their work in revising textbooks, which have come under fire for inaccuracies and peddling gender and caste stereotypes. “Religious values cannot be kept out of the classroom.”
But the most fire was reserved for the Left, which was accused of painting the wrong history. “They have blocked people in media and academia. Many have boycotted JLF because we were coming. This is social and intellectual untouchability.”
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