Why has the language of the RSS chief seemingly changed from his 2018 speeches at Vigyan Bhavan? There may be many reasons for Bhagwat to be more forthright than sugarcoating his agenda earlier. Many state elections are due in 2023 and general elections are due in 2024. The polarization around identity issues seems to be the main instrument in its hands.
In a series of lectures in Vigyan Bhavan, in New Delhi, in 2018, Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), spoke in a language due to which many insiders and many commentators outside the Sangh (the Hindu nationalist fraternity) felt that the RSS was on the cusp of change. The RSS supremo, who upholds the concept of the "Hindu Nation", went to the extent of reciting the preamble of the Indian Constitution upholding secularism and socialism.
However, In a recent interview to its mouthpieces (Panchjanya and Organiser January 2023) it is a changed language to what can be said to be ‘Golwlakar 2.0’.
The book by M S Golwalkar - the second chief of RSS who was known to give ideological direction to not just his organisation but the Hindutva believers - 'Bunch of Thoughts', which is not much quoted by the Sangh ideologues these days, argues that Muslims, Christians and Communists are an internal threat to the "Hindu Nation". In his other book, ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, he asserts that we are a Hindu nation from times immemorial and that minorities should be given the same treatment that Germans gave to the Jews and other weaker sections of society in Germany.
Now when Bhagwat says that the threat is not from outside but from inside, he is repeating Golwalkar’s formulation. In his earlier pronouncements, he had been trying to gain legitimacy by saying that a section of the Muslim elite want to have a dialogue with him. Now it seems Bhagwat wants to outline the RSS agenda in its blunt form. So he states that ‘Hindu’ has been at war for the last thousand years and now ‘Hindu’ has woken up.
Assurances and reality
According to him, no harm will come to the Muslims living in India If they wish to stick to their faith, but they should not demonstrate their superiority or aggression. He covers a wide range of topics from cruel Muslim invasion to illegal immigrants, to accommodating transgender and LGBTQs among others.
According to him, there is nothing to fear for Muslims. One may add only they should become used to occasional beatings in trains like Asim Hussain (a trader who was brutally beaten up in a train on flimsy charges); they should become used to boycotts (Shaheen bagh, Haldwani) or UPSC jihad among others. Just a reminder, during Covid 19 epidemic the blame of this was put on a Muslim organization, Tablighi Jamaat. This was called as "Corona Jihad" and Muslim hawkers were prohibited from areas where Hindus lived. Shaheen Bagh was a massive protest by Muslim women, to begin with in Delhi and then all over in the aftermath of the government bringing in a law to give shelter to persecuted people of neighboring countries, except to Muslims. In Haldwani attempt was made to evacuate thousands of people, the majority Muslims, on the pretext of illegal occupation, while there are government schools and hospitals in the same area.
There is a consistent theme in his pronouncements and that reasserts the RSS's understanding of the "Hindu Nation from times immemorial". The question is was Hindu the identity and religion of the people living here all through? Was the South Asian community a homogenous mass living under one republic or monarch? The present concept of the nation-state is a just few centuries old and earlier there were pastoral groups, followed by kingdoms, which were at loggerheads with each other. It was not Hindu versus others.
Reviving identity politics
Just a small example will suffice Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, a Hindu Maratha King, for establishing his kingdom had to defeat Chandra Rao More another Hindu king. His armies plundered Surat and Bengal. In Bengal the Maratha (Hindu) army plundered recklessly, including the property of rich Hindu trader Jagat Seth.
In his battle against Aurangzeb, the Muslim emperor, Shivaji had Muslim generals like Ibrahim Gardi and Daulat Khan. Aurangzeb had sent his top officer Raja Jaisingh, a Hindu, along with Hindu soldiers to contain Shivaji. So what is this, "Hindu is at war from 1000 years"? It is basically history related to diverse kingdoms and not people. Again a single example, it was Rana Sanga, a Hindu king from Rajasthan, who invited Babar, the Mughals, to come to join him in the battle against Ibrahim Lodi who was ruling Delhi area at that time. In the Bhima Koregaon (Maharashtra) battle the Peshwas army (Hindu) had Arab Muslim mercenaries; in another instance, Rana Pratap (a Hindu King from Mewar in Rajasthan) had a thousand Pathan soldiers (Muslim) in his army which took on Akbar, the celebrated Mughal Muslim emperor, in the Haldighati battle in Rajasthan.
The real struggle had been at the social level, the upper caste domination and atrocities against the lower caste, so very well pointed out by Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu saint. Kings’ administrations were mixed with people of both religions and people interacted at a social level giving rise to our culture, which had an admixture of the best of the traditions irrespective of from which religion they came. The whole edifice of RSS ideology is to hide the caste/varna atrocities of the elite in our history and to deflect the narrative to the battle of kings along religious lines and the rule of different Muslim kings, particularly the Mughals. These Muslim kings are presented as if they have created all the evils prevalent here. They are also projected as tormentors of Hindus. So in their projection on one side, there are Muslim aggressors and on another side Hindu. A totally illogical way of presenting history!
Superiority or pushback?
The RSS sees itself as a flagbearer and protector of Hindu reawakening and unity. This ‘waking up’ has resulted in the stepping up of the violence against Muslim-Christian minorities. This woken-up Hindu is represented by the likes of Dara Singh, (killer 0f Pastor Stains, a missionary working among leprosy patients in Odishan); or Shambhulal Regar who killed Afrazul (A Bengali Muslim labourer); or those who have been indulging in the lynching of Muslims on the pretext of cow slaughter and beef consumption. Even as Bhagwat is stating that Muslims have nothing to fear, bulldozers are delivering 'justice' to Muslims in particular, while another set is intimidating Christian missionaries and Adivasi areas.
Human Rights Watch Report 2022 points out that home demolitions are being used more and more brutally against Muslims of India. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen states that the CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) exercise is weakening the Muslim minority and strengthening Hindu majoritarianism. As far as Muslim superiority is concerned, some communal thinkers amongst Muslims did try to insidiously propagate the ‘We Muslims were the rulers’ line; this was counter to the ‘This has been a Hindu Rashtra’ dogma. The atrocities, beef lynchings, love jihad intimidations are not due to the "superiority" feeling among Muslims. It is the pushback to the agenda of hate propagated by Hindu majoritarianism.
Why has the language of the RSS chief seemingly changed from his 2018 speeches at Vigyan Bhavan? There may be many reasons for Bhagwat to be more forthright than sugarcoating his agenda earlier. Many state elections are due in 2023 and general elections are due in 2024. The polarization around identity issues seems to be the main instrument in its hands. Amit Shah, BJP leader, has already blown the conch shell for the next elections by saying that Ram Temple will be ready by January 2024. Bhagawat is operating on the same wavelength. The massive response to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra may be another factor. It seems Rahul Gandhi's trans-India march has caught the imagination of a large number of people cutting across all sections of society with its message of peace and harmony; so RSS-BJP wants to consolidate their own position by highlighting their communal agenda, the one based on identity issues.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)