The present statement of the RSS supremo reinforces the belief that Islam was spread by aggressors. This again is a superficial and selective projection of history
The RSS, India’s foremost Hindu nationalist group, has hundreds of affiliates. The most well-known may be the BJP, VHP, ABVP and Bajrang Dal but its myriad groups are spread practically all over the country. Even in states where the BJP is not in power, its affiliates and RSS itself are hyper-dynamic, more so in the last eight years or so. It is logical that what RSS chief states become gospel for allied outfits, which follow the ‘Sarsanghchalak’ (RSS chief) in their own areas of work.
It is in this light that we must see the statement of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on June 3. He ruled out launching any mass movement to build temples at the site of mosques in Kashi or Mathura. They will get these through the courts of law, he said. His statement was seen as a sign of hope by those who desire peace and harmony in the society at a time when claims are made by hardline Hindus over scores of mosques.
This was best exemplified by Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister K.S. Iswarappa who said that 36,000 mosques have been built on temples and that these will be reclaimed by legal means. There is a 1991 ‘Places of Religious Worship Act’, according to which they will retain their character as on August 15, 1947. There is also a law of adverse possession. Most mosques in question are hundreds of years old. So, surely these worthies know that with present laws in force, changing the character of the shrines is ruled out.
What about Bhagwat's claims that “Hindus are not opposed to Muslims. Issues have only been raised over places in which Hindus have special devotion…” This is a mere construct. One recalls that Hindus have hundreds of places of worship: Kedarnath, Haridwar, Dwarka, Jagganath Puri and Rameshwaram to name a few. In my growing up years, when my grandfather wanted to take us for pilgrimage, he took us to Haridwar and Prayagraj (Allahabad) and promised the next trip to Kurukshetra.
Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura are very sacred; the RSS chose them as disputes could be potentially built around the places of worship there. To think that Bhagwat and RSS are changing track amounts to being off the mark. The RSS ideology remains the same -- target the Muslim minority and glorify the golden past. His appeal that one should not look for a Shivling (icon of Lord Shiva) in thousands of mosques reinforces the propaganda of temple destructions by Muslim kings. Scholars like Richard Eaton tell us that the number of temples destroyed is too exaggerated and that even Hindu kings destroyed temples of rival Hindu kings.
The present statement of the RSS supremo reinforces the belief that Islam was spread by aggressors. This again is a superficial and selective projection of history. We know that Islam came to India through Arab traders; many took to Islam to escape the Hindu caste tyranny. Swami Vivekananda clarifies the real cause of religious conversions in two of his letters - one to Pundit Shankarlal of Khetri (September 20, 1892) and to Haridas Vithaldas Desai (November 1894). In these letters he points out that religious conversions among Hindus have not taken place due to atrocities of the Christians and Muslims but because of atrocities of upper castes.
Hate sparks hate
As per Bhagwat, “in the attacks (by Muslim invaders), hundreds of Devasthans (temples) were demolished to crush the morale of those who wanted independence. The Hindu society places a special emphasis on them…” This is the core of Bhagwat’s understanding, which through various layers goes on to spread hate; because of this, the likes of (the now suspended BJP spokesperson) Nupur Sharma spew hate through TV or the likes of (now sacked BJP spokesperson) Naveen Kumar Jindal further go on to demonize Islam and Muslims.
It is a matter of shame that BJP did not take any action against them till the Gulf countries started reprimanding our diplomatic representatives there.
Many see this as a signal of change in the RSS. It is true that this statement may put some brakes on the RSS cadre and they may put their activities on hold for some time. The additional factor which has emerged due to the politics of hate is that many elements not controlled by RSS are mushrooming as they know that the ruling government is on their side. The hateful speeches of Dharma Sansads (Hindu religious parliaments) are very damaging to our sense of fraternity. These speeches went on merrily and the hate mongers are still continuing with their work.
BJP MP Tejswi Surya is another star who acts like a Hindu hawk all the time. Recently, programmes in Australia to which he was invited were cancelled due to protests from local people. Do the protests from Gulf countries give hope that the likes of Nupur Sharma and Tejaswi Surya will be reined in? If at all that happens, it will be a temporary phenomenon.
RSS won’t change
Earlier, after a lecture series by Bhagwat in 2018 in New Delhi, some felt that there was a basic change in the direction of RSS. That understanding proved totally wrong. Now the genie is totally out of the bottle. Bhagwat made his latest statement in a bid to restore some sanity. But it is a superficial attempt as the core training module of RSS continues to be based on "foreign aggressors destroying our temples and spreading Islam by the sword".
The efforts to put forward a rational understanding of the destruction of holy places and the spread of different religions in the country remain too small in front of the tsunami of propaganda that constructed the feeling of hurt in a section of Hindu society. Mercifully, the destruction of Buddhist viharas remains in the dusty hidden pages of our history books; else, another chapter in the demolition projects will get added.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)