A year before its protégé, the BJP, swept to power at the Centre, the RSS cadre at its annual Vijayadashami congregation heard their chief Mohan Bhagwat criticise the then UPA government for its economic and foreign policies.
Bhagwat was unsparing of the government in 2013 for its inability to retaliate to incursions by the Chinese army and attacks from Pakistan.
“It has been proved time and again that Pakistan’s policy is based on its hatred for India. Knowing this very well, why we are pursuing a weak and meek policy that encourages Pakistan’s misadventure is beyond anyone’s comprehension,” Bhagwat said at Nagpur’s Reshimbagh Ground.
He parsed the attempts to “entrust means of production to foreign hands” in a reference to the FDI policy, saying small-scale retail businessmen and others, who contribute the major portion of the national income, “are pushed into a difficult situation by our own government, in which they are compelled to compete with foreign entrants on uneven terms.”
Both issues have resurfaced in 2016 when the Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power for a little over two years.
But on Tuesday, the RSS chief skipped all reference to FDI even as he complimented the government on the surgical strikes and the robust foreign policy exemplified by the September 29 surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC). It was hailed as the hallmark of a decisive government.
Much to the annoyance of the Sangh affiliates, the BJP has been bullish on allowing FDI up to 100% in some sectors. The protest by affiliates such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh have not deterred the ruling party from pushing ahead with its FDI reforms.
Since July 2014, soon after the BJP-led NDA government was sworn in at the Centre, the tone of the speeches - now telecast live by the public broadcaster Doordarshan - has been complimentary to the government.
In 2014, the speech was all about optimism.
“We are dreaming of a Bharat where whatever diversity is there, in our ways, our lives, we will accept each others’ differences,” Bhagwat said. “In mutual goodwill and love, we have to accept one another...” he said in a message that was meant to assure the nation that the BJP-RSS combination would not attempt to divide the society on the basis of religion or caste.
At a time when the BJP was accused of imposing its choices by banning beef, Bhagwat had sought to allay fears with his words. “Different caste, creed, different visions, communities, worshipping, ways of living, food, culture are not important and they will continue to exist. We should accept everyone as one and all should be equally respected,” he said.
The optimism turned into a crucial defence of the government in 2015 when the government was under sharp attack by the opposition for fostering intolerance. While artists and academics returned state awards and protests erupted in civil society against what was dubbed as “growing intolerance” fuelled by incidents of lynching people accused of eating beef, the Sangh stepped in with support.
Bhagwat described these allegations as “small incidents” that were “blown out of proportion”.
When the opposition pushed the government to the corner for trying to pursue a Hindutva agenda, the RSS chief hit back, saying that it was the Hindu culture that helped maintain unity in diversity.
“Unity in diversity is our strength, we believe in cooperation and coordination … What is the common chord that can keep our diverse society together? Certainly, it is our eternal culture, Hindu culture,” he said.
Bhagwat, the RSS chief since 2009, was blamed for costing the BJP the 2015 Bihar assembly elections after he spoke about the need for revisiting caste-based reservation.
Cut to 2016, references to caste biases remained limited to the need for eradicating them.
The only apparent disagreement between the Sangh and its protégé that surfaced in this year’s speech was the reference to the gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes). After the PM referred to the cow vigilantes as criminals, the RSS has made a concerted attempt to delink the two.
On Tuesday, Bhagwat reiterated that gau rakshaks cannot be mistaken for those who perpetrate atrocities in the name of cow protection.