RSS is still search­ing for greater le­git­i­macy

Deccan Chronicle - - EDIT - Ni­lan­jan Mukhopad­hyay

The defama­tion case against Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi for his Bhi­wandi speech back in 2014 is para­dox­i­cal be­cause the RSS func­tionary who filed the case dis­played im­mense loy­alty to­wards Ma­hamta Gandhi, al­though in their life­time most con­tem­po­raries in the Sangh and other Hindu na­tion­al­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions were crit­i­cal and dis­mis­sive of the Ma­hatma and his pur­suit of the free­dom strug­gle. In Bunch of Thoughts, a col­lec­tion of Madhav Sadashiv Gol­walkar’s speeches, talks, dis­cus­sions and in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tions, the sec­ond sarsanghcha­lak, also called Gu­ruji de­not­ing his revered sta­tus, stated his pri­mary di­ver­gence with Gandhi: The “phi­los­o­phy and his­tory” that the RSS “em­bod­ied… be­long to the more pos­i­tive, con­crete in­spi­ra­tion that was so lack­ing in the more dom­i­nant Gand­hian move­ment that cap­tured the head­lines on ac­count of its im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est and the ur­gency of na­tional lib­er­a­tion”.

Ev­i­dently, the RSS was not plagued by “ur­gency” or the urge to lib­er­ate the na­tion from the for­eign yoke, and Gandhi, be­cause he per­sisted with the idea of in­clu­sive na­tion­al­ism, earned the ire of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and its fol­low­ers. In the en­tirety of the pe­riod since its for­ma­tion in 1925 till In­de­pen­dence in 1947, the RSS in­sti­tu­tion­ally stayed aloof from the na­tional move­ment, re­main­ing ob­sessed on its ob­jec­tive of strength­en­ing Hindu so­ci­ety. It must be noted that RSS founder K.B. Hedge­war and Gol­walkar, who took over the reins from him, failed to pre­vent their cadre from dis­play­ing keen­ness to par­tic­i­pate in the two ma­jor mass move­ments, the civil disobedience move­ment in the 1930s and the Quit In­dia Move­ment in 1942. Con­se­quently, they per­mit­ted swayam­se­vaks to join these protest move­ments, but in their per­sonal ca­pac­i­ties.

V.D. Savarkar, whose trea­tise “Hin­dutva! Who is a Hindu” in­spired the for­ma­tion of the RSS, was more crit­i­cal of the free­dom strug­gle and Ma­hatma Gandhi. Al­though he did not join the RSS af­ter be­ing fi­nally al­lowed to freely move around the coun­try and en­gage in po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, Savarkar and the RSS shared a pri­mary world­view. Their dis­agree­ments were nu­anced or on tac­ti­cal mat­ters — while Savarkar wanted to be part of elec­toral pol­i­tics, the RSS lead­er­ship pri­ori­tised long-term ob­jec­tives. Savarkar as­sumed the Hindu Ma­hasabha’s lead­er­ship on re­lease in 1937 and of­ten im­me­di­ately it was dif­fi­cult to make out how many of his cadre were for­mer or cur­rent swayam­se­vaks. Nathu­ram Godse, one of these young men, went through all the sta­bles; as a teenager deter­min­ing goals his was a reg­u­lar pres­ence at Savarkar’s Rat­na­giri res­i­dence lis­ten­ing to the­o­ries of Hin­dutva and how Mus­lims and Chris­tians were con­vert­ing Hin­dus, how they were hu­mil­i­ated in their own land for more than a mil­len­nium. Later, he spent six years as sec­re­tary of the RSS unit in San­gli and later, af­ter Savarkar’s dis­charge, he joined the Ma­hasabha and re­mained with it for some years be­fore plot­ting his in­di­vid­ual course.

This oft-re­peated as­so­ci­a­tion needs retelling be­cause at the time of Gandhi’s as­sas­si­na­tion, al­though Godse was not as­so­ci­ated with ei­ther the RSS or the Ma­hasabha, he re­mained sym­bi­ot­i­cally con­nected with ideas of the two. The views which mo­ti­vated him into tak­ing the ex­treme de­ci­sion were shaped in the two ide­o­log­i­cal nurs­eries. There also ex­ists suf­fi­cient grounds to be­lieve that his as­so­ci­a­tion with Savarkar, and con­se­quent knowl­edge about the plot, was deeper than could be legally es­tab­lished. Savarkar’s icon­i­sa­tion by the BJP in the Atal Be­hari Va­j­payee and Naren­dra Modi pe­riod un­der­scores the in­ter­twined nature of their po­lit­i­cal view­point. More im­por­tant, Godse’s self-de­fence in court pro­vided the frame­work for Hindu na­tion­al­ists’ dis­agree­ment with Gandhi. A state­ment by Vishnu Karkare, a co-con­spir­a­tor who was sen­tenced to a life term, pro­vides a key to Godse’s de­ci­sion to per­son­ally take on the task of as­sas­si­nat­ing Gandhi and not to de­pute any­one else: “He was an or­a­tor and writer and would be in a po­si­tion to im­press upon the gov­ern­ment and the court as to why he killed Gandhi.” With­out doubt, the as­sas­si­na­tion was a po­lit­i­cal act, com­mit­ted with the aim of broad­cast­ing the view that Gand­hian tac­tics in the free­dom strug­gle had caused griev­ous dam­age to Hindu pride.

Godse re­mains an “awk­ward” icon for the saf­fron fold — un­am­bigu­ous con­dem­na­tion would alien­ate sup­port­ers who re­tain sneak­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for Godse. On the other hand, for­mal adop­tion or em­brace of Godse’s mem­ory will be “po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect” both na­tion­ally and glob­ally. The RSS, de­spite the BJP’s cur­rent pre-em­i­nence, re­mains in search for greater le­git­i­macy and a for­mal as­so­ci­a­tion with Godse and his legacy ham­pers this quest. Ac­tions like invit­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee to or­gan­i­sa­tional func­tions are aimed at main­stream­ing the RSS. The for­mer Pres­i­dent pub­licly ad­vo­cated a view of na­tion­al­ism that is con­trary to the RSS’ world­view, but his mere pres­ence un­der­scored that de­spite its past, the Sangh Pari­var can­not be ig­nored. In re­cent years, the RSS un­der Mo­han Bhag­wat has been rel­a­tively more sub­tle while cri­tiquing con­sti­tu­tional and in­sti­tu­tional struc­tures. How­ever, it has been un­able to sur­mount the chal­lenge posed by the fringe forces which un­der­mine its search for greater ac­cep­tance.

Whether they wanted to im­me­di­ately be­gin con­struct­ing tem­ples for Godse af­ter Naren­dra Modi’s elec­tion or at­tempted en­forc­ing di­etary re­stric­tions on Mus­lims, Mr Bhag­wat’s con­dem­na­tion has been am­biva­lent due to com­pul­sions of realpoli­tik. In 1998, when the first NDA gov­ern­ment was formed, the BJP’s three core is­sues — build­ing of the Ram tem­ple, ab­ro­ga­tion of Article 370 and in­tro­duc­tion of a Uni­form Civil Code — were miss­ing from the Na­tional Agenda for Gover­nance. It was ex­plained that this was pos­si­ble only af­ter BJP se­cured a twothirds ma­jor­ity in both Houses of Par­lia­ment. The RSS has a fun­da­men­tal di­ver­gence with the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion, which de­fines the ter­ri­tory as the na­tion, whereas the or­gan­i­sa­tion con­sid­ers peo­ple as the na­tion. Amend­ing the defin­ing prin­ci­ple of who “we the peo­ple” are will just be the start of a larger re­work­ing of our tenets, and to reach that point the RSS will have to stride the mid­dle path. The se­ri­ous­ness with which the case against Rahul Gandhi is backed by the lead­er­ship is ev­i­dence of this tac­ti­cal ploy. The rea­sons Godse pro­vided in his de­fence state­ment for as­sas­si­nat­ing Gandhi were not just his own. The writer is the au­thor of Naren­dra Modi: The Man, the Times and Sikhs: The Un­told Agony of 1984

Amend­ing the defin­ing prin­ci­ple of who ‘we the peo­ple’ are will just be the start of a larger re­work­ing of our tenets, and to reach that point the RSS will have to stride the mid­dle path

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