‘We should do so much for the protection of Hindu Dharma as to ensure that even after we are no more this awakening of Hindus remain intact. This great heritage of ours must not fall into the hands of the unworthy. We should carry on protecting it with extreme care.’ Can you tell me who said this? I guess you will say Mohan Bhagwat, the sarsangchalak of the RSS. They are the words of Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS and it would seem that Bhagwat has proved a worthy disciple. In recent days, he has been rabbiting on about how all Indians are Hindus and how Hindutva is the glue that holds the nation together.
But, I wonder if he realises how much more difficult he is making the work of the BJP government, which has got a stab at power after 10 long years. The new party chief, Amit Shah, and the head of government, Narendra Modi, seem in perfect sync with each other. Obviously, mindful of the RSS’s concerns, Shah has brought in some of its leading luminaries into the new dispensation that he has framed. But, both Shah and Modi seem to have a different vision for India, which does not jell with that of Bhagwat.
Modi has been trying to talk of the nuts and bolts of development. He did not shy away from talking about the need for toilets from the regal ramparts of Red Fort, once the venue of Nehruvian oratory. And the people responded positively. He has tried to be inclusive both at home and in the neighbourhood and won praise for this even from the regular Cassandras. He has acquitted himself well as the leader of modern, inclusive, liberalising India on the world stage. But, nowhere in the picture is there any vision of an India that is to be dominated by the Hindus. That the Hindus are in a majority is a given. And a strong vibrant India does not need to assert the supremacy of the majority community. It is strong and resilient enough to accommodate all religions and strands of thought. So, Bhagwat is way off the mark if he thinks that those who voted Modi into power want some sort of cookie cutter culture or an India driven by a single dominating religion. Every time Bhagwat makes these extreme statements about Hindu society and Indian culture, the natural assumption on the part of many people is that they have the tacit approval of Modi. This is clearly not the case.
Given Modi’s unfettered power over the government and Shah’s iron grip on the party, it is quite possible that the RSS feels that the ground is slipping away from under its feet. As Modi invites foreign investment and Shah works out the electoral politics of how to usher in a ‘Congress-free’ India, the RSS probably feels that no one is turning up in Nagpur seeking advice. Bhagwat’s salvos are probably his way of saying that it would not be in the interest of the BJP to overlook the RSS. But, if the RSS dream has been that of a strong BJP government at the Centre, then it should help and not hinder it. And this could be done by the RSS conveying its thoughts to the government quietly instead of jumping on the pulpit every now and again and airing outdated shibboleths to all who care to listen.
The BJP needs the RSS rank and file, the RSS chief is given a lot of importance by the party. But it should know when its well-meaning advice breaches a red line. Bhagwat has breached it several times recently. Hedgewar’s great dream of a Hindu nation is not going to be realised. India has moved far ahead of this. Modi understands this, which is why despite being a dyed-in-the-wool pracharak, he has not espoused this vision. He knows it is no longer feasible in today’s India where jobs and opportunity speak louder than misplaced notions of nationalism.
If I were Bhagwat, I would be looking to modernise and revitalise the RSS as the Modi-Shah duo are doing in the party and government. I would be trying to attract younger people by offering them the chance to be part of nation-building, not to join some Alice in Wonderland dream of being part of a Hindu rashtra. An ageing cohort of men, and men only, dressed in ludicrous shorts and wielding lathis does not strike a chord among Indians any more. The RSS has to follow the BJP’s lead and reinvent itself. Bhagwat’s statements have emboldened the likes of Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath to come up with incendiary Hindu-oriented speeches in Parliament. So far, Modi has been patient and not openly contradicted Bhagwat. The RSS chief has clearly not studied the words of another great Hindutva icon Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, who said, “The word Hindu State is unnecessarily misinterpreted as a theocratic one which would wipe out all other sects. Our present state is in a way a Hindu State. When the vast majority of people are Hindus, the State is democratically Hindu. It is also a secular state and all those who are now non-Hindus have also equal rights to live here. The State does not exclude anyone who lives here from occupying any position of honor in the State. It is unnecessary to call ours a Hindu state or a secular state.” Confusing, yes, but certainly an improvement on Bhagwat’s unidimensional view. So far the prime minister has chosen to keep quiet on the RSS’s aggressive attempts to occupy centre stage. But I see a time coming very soon, when his hand will be forced. If that happens, Bhagwat will be the embarrassing uncle that you are forced to hide in the attic when guests drop by. Not a pleasant thought for a man who fancies himself as the kingmaker today.