Since 2014, the prominence of the RSS’s Dussehra discourse has been repeatedly raised and is being more closely watched for nuanced changes in the organization, once seen as the ideological source of the BJP.
The office of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the individual who occupies it, are no longer behind a veil. The current leader, Mohan Bhagwat, is not reluctant to speak in public compared to his predecessors. But the annual Dussehra speech still carries immense symbolic value as it indicates the thinking of the top brass of the organization for the coming year.
This was Bhagwat’s ninth speech at Dussehra since 2014. Almost a century ago, in 1925, KB Hedgewar, along with some of his close political associates, established the RSS. This speech marks his anniversary every year.
In these eight and a half years, the prominence of this discourse has been increased several times and is more closely watched for nuanced changes in the organization, once seen as the ideological source of the BJP.
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A paradoxical change
Paradoxically, however, as this discourse drew more attention to this period in a calibrated manner from the media, analysts and opponents, the organization’s authoritarian grip on the BJP has considerably weakened. This led Bhagwat to devote significant parts of his speech to praising the actions and programs of the government.
He also weaved his speech in such a way as to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is praised for his speech, his utterance or his decision – on this occasion, the decision to rename Rajpath as Kartavya Path.
Like Modi’s emphasis on citizens fulfilling their basic duties, Bhagwat stressed that everyone – government, administration, political parties and citizens – should “act in unison in a manner bound by the to have to”. He also said that it is enough for people to expect the government to fulfill their duties, but society too must “consciously shoulder its responsibilities.”
Preamble to the speech
Bhagwat’s speech this year was preceded by two developments. The first, more recent, was the general secretary of the RSS, Dattatreya Hosabale, who sounded the alarm on the problems of poverty, unemployment, rising inequality and economic stagnation.
Using unusually sharp words, he said on a public platform: “Poverty in the country stands like a demon before us.” The question before Bhagwat’s speech was whether he would endorse this view, circumvent it, or limit the damage.
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The second development, although the actual interaction took place in August, was Bhagwat’s intervention. meeting with five prominent Muslim members of the intelligentsia. This was followed by, after news of this meeting became public, Bhagwat’s visit to a mosque in the capital.
The five personalities he met – former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Lieutenant General (ret.) Zameer Uddin Shah, journalist and political leader Shahid Siddiqui and businessman Saeed Shervani — are in no way representative of the Muslim community. But the meeting made people talk about it. The question was whether the Sarsanghchalak would talk about this initiative or skip the topic.
Mom on China
On the first issue, Bhagwat turned around and handed out a virtual commendation certificate. He said India had made “remarkable progress in terms of strength, character and international recognition. The government pursues policies leading to self-sufficiency. The importance and stature of Bharat has increased in the community of nations. In the field of security, we are becoming more and more autonomous.
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He did not mention anything specifically about India being a target of conflict with China over several crucial border lanes in Ladakh.
On the economy however, without referencing Hosabale’s assertion, Bhagwat asserted, “After negotiating through the corona calamity (Covid-19), our economy is approaching pre-pandemic levels.”
Dialogue with Muslims
Hardliners who are part of the Sangh ecosystem had received unenthusiastic news of Bhagwat’s meeting with the five prominent Muslim figures. His reference to the meeting was to this section.
Bhagwat was unambiguous in saying there have been interactions with members of Muslim society in recent years. “They have had meetings and discussions with members of the Sangh office, and that will continue,” Bhagwat said explicitly.
Many may view this commitment to continue the dialogue as significant. But it must be placed within the framework of dialogue and issues on which the RSS will not want to reconsider its position.
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For more than a century, the RSS has pursued the notion of cultural nationalism, and it has stood in direct contrast to a more inclusive form of nationalism. On this point, there is no change. For, Bhagwat said in the speech that the people of this country “are from Bharat, came from the ancestors of Bhartiya and its eternal culture; we are one as a society; and it is the only protective shield of our nationality, the mantra for all of us.
Common ancestry is ‘problematic’ as the RSS treats mythology as history and differentiates between Hinduism as a culture and as a religion, although there is no clear demarcation between the rituals , cultural and religious acts or expressions.
Moreover, several other characteristics indicate that the RSS is more inclined to have its point of view on the nation and national identity accepted by religious minorities.
For example, Bhagwat concluded his speech by referring to a message written by Sri Aurobindo for All India Radio, Tiruchirapalli. It aired on August 14, 1947, and is listed in his work as “The Five Dreams”. Bhagwat, however, presented this text in a way that enabled him to advance the policy of the RSS.
He said that while the national leader turned spiritual seer was happy that India was becoming independent, “he feared that due to partition, instead of Hindu-Muslim unity, an eternal political divide had been created. , which might obstruct and enter the path of Bharat attaining unity, progress and peace.By all means possible, he wanted the partition of Bharat to be undone and longed for Akhand Bharat.
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Initially, this is problematic as the Sarsanghchalak once again resurrects Akhand Bharat’s divisive idea. The idea is clearly based on Hindu supremacist theory, but the RSS leader twists Sri Aurobindo’s words and sentiment.
The original text read: “It is to be hoped that this established fact will not be accepted as established forever or as anything but a temporary expedient…. the partition should disappear. Let us hope that this comes naturally, through a growing recognition of the need not only for peace and concord, but for common action, by the practice of common action and the creation of means to that end…by n any way, any way, the division must go; unity must and will be achieved, as it is necessary for the greatness of India’s future.
This is another example of the RSS attempting to appropriate another leading nationalist, who later veered into spiritualism, by twisting his words. At no time did Aurobindo approve of the idea of Akhand Bharat, which had already been put forward by Hindu nationalists. Yet Bhagwat attempts to present it as their own.
Why should RSS make such an effort? In the context of this attempt, how serious are its efforts to engage in dialogue with Muslims?
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Moreover, Bhagwat resorted to the old tropes used to spread prejudice and much more against Muslims. For decades, the Sangh Parivar has signaled the rise of India the population as a concern and argued that the disproportionate birth rate among Muslims was part of an Islamist plot to “reduce Hindus into a minority in their own country”.
Ingeniously, Bhagwat in his speech called for a new population policy, which “should be applicable to all”. No one will object to this formulation. But the Sarsanghchalak then used language about “…demographic imbalances. Seventy-five years ago, we experienced this in our country. This claim brings those who listen to him to the old Sangh Parivar tale – that of “deliberate differences in birth rate, conversions by force, attraction or greed, and infiltration”.
Concluding his arguments in this section, Bhagwat said, “Population control and demographic balance based on religion is an important topic that can no longer be ignored.
He also postulated that East Timor, South Sudan, and Kosovo were split off from Indonesia, Sudan, and Serbia, respectively, due to “religious communal imbalances.”
Veiled call for social vigilance
Not just on issues that deepen the schism between Hindus and India’s largest religious minority, but the Sarsanghchalak recalled the old theme of “impediments by forces that are hostile to the unity and progress of Bharat” .
The indication is similar to the standard BJP-Government-RSS campaign since 2014. It has been claimed that there is a cohort of groups that “pit different sections of society against each other on the basis of self-interest and hatred, and increase chasms and enmities…”
The RSS leader makes no apologies for asking people “to help the government and administration’s efforts to control and bring such forces to heel.” Only our company’s strong and proactive cooperation can ensure our overall security and unity.
This veiled call for social vigilance is disturbing in the context of similar attacks in recent years, and it also glosses over the accusation that this regime has abused draconian laws in an unprecedented way to stifle dissent in the name of action against disruptive elements.
(Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is an author and journalist based at NCR. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. His other books include The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin)
(The Fed seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. Any information, ideas or opinions contained in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fed)