On December 31, 2015 a seven-day RSS training camp in Tamil Nadu concluded with 150 swayamsevaks cleaning the temple of saint-philosopher Sri Ramanuja. The underlying message of this gesture, ostensibly in line with the 1,000th birth anniversary celebration of the Hindu theologian was not lost on anyone.
It served the twin purpose of paying homage to a renowned Hindu philosopher and to woo the followers of Ramanuja in the state that will go to polls soon.
In the RSS’ pantheon of anti-castesim heroes, Sri Ramanuja, a celebrated exponent of Vaishnavism is the newest addition.
Sri Ramanuja is being presented as a champion of equality and a guiding light in the Sangh’s fight against discrimination, placing him at par with Dr. BR Ambedkar, Deen Dayal Upadhyay and its former chief Balasaheb Deoras, who the RSS asserts was also a crusader against caste-based discrimination.
RSS’s attempts to include Ramanuja into its fold, however, will not be easy. Earlier this RSS fought a high decibel battle with the Congress, which accused the former of appropriating the legacy of Sardar Patel and Ambedkar. Now the RSS is pitted against the DMK, whose chief M. Karunanidhi is writing the script for a TV series on Ramanuja . Karunanidhi has said the Vaishnavite theologian’s acceptance by the Dravidian movement is because he transcended barriers of religion and caste, and wanted all communities to be treated equally.
The RSS’ validation of the need to eradicate casteism coincides with accusations of caste-based discrimination leveled against it. The Sangh has been accused of perpetrating anti-Dalit sentiments, particularly in the wake of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in the Hyderabad University, its periodic call for revision of caste-based reservation and its dismissal of Jat and Patidar quota stirs as challenges that will “weaken social harmony and trust”.
At the ongoing RSS Pratinidhi Sabha, joint general secretary Krishna Gopal reiterated the Sangh’s anti-discrimination stance and said: “We believe casteism should end and social harmony should come. Discussions are underway to pass a resolution against casteism.”
The Sangh had passed a similar resolution in the past and admitted that its call for “samajik samarasta” (social harmony through eradication of caste system) has failed to show results.
Statements made by the Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat on the need to review caste-based reservations just ahead of the Bihar assembly polls stoked a controversy and was perceived to have cost the BJP electorally.
Bhagwat’s subsequent statement that caste-based reservation should continue till the beneficiaries ask for it to be stopped and the more recent affirmation that reservation is backed by the Constitution are apparent attempts not to upset voters ahead of the crucial assembly polls in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and later in Uttar Pradesh where caste is an important factor.