RALLYING FOR A ‘HINDU RASHTRA’
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh brass gathered en masse in Jammu recently for a week-long talking shop. Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and other leaders such as Bhaiyyaji Joshi and Dattatreya Hosabale, arrived in Jammu a few days before the conference, held from July 18-20, to brainstorm future strategy and set the agenda for the meeting. Over 200 pracharaks attended. According to RSS national executive member Indresh Kumar, this particular meeting is “an annual opportunity to discuss organisational work, no resolutions are passed”. It is also held behind closed doors, with no press invited to attend.
Speaking after the event, the RSS communications chief Aniruddha Deshpande said the RSS had plans to reach out to every section of society in time for its centenary in 2025. The central agenda of the Jammu meeting, he said, was to bring the RSS to the basti, defined as any area with 10,000 residents. In each basti, the focus will be, Deshpande explains, on social work, social integration, family enlightenment, rural development and cow protection. Though the RSS has no official membership tally, it is claiming a noticeable rise
in participation in its daily shakhas, the morning meetings for volunteers. It claims that daily shakhas are a feature of life in 60,000 towns across the country, up from about 45,000 in 2010. In January, 2018, the RSS will hold a Hindu Chetana Sangam event comprising simultaneous gatherings of up to 1,000 people in 267 venues across Mumbai, coastal Maharashtra and Goa.
Back in Jammu, RSS leader Manmohan Vaidya, the Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh, told the assembled pracharaks that the “identity of this country is Hindutva”. He made the claim amidst broader remarks about the RSS not supporting violence and urging people, the media in particular, to separate incidents of violence related to gau rakshaks and the cow protection movement itself. “The Sangh,” he said, “does not support any kind of violence,” and urged “action to be taken” against offenders instead of spurious connections being drawn with the RSS. The issue of gau rakshak violence has become a lightning rod for Opposition protests in the current parliamentary session.
Indeed, the gau raksha movement and the RSS’s approach to ‘kutumb prabodhan’ or family enlightenment have been the subject of vociferous criticism. Volunteers see both programmes as opportunities to impose RSS values and assert their beliefs. Some families told of how Sangh workers have lectured them on ‘family values’ and sermonise at length about ‘correct attire’ and the ‘Indian way to celebrate festivals’. These speeches, some complained, were “unnecessary and intrusive”. But, says Vaidya, “we are not imposing a code of conduct on people, just appealing to them to follow the actual morals and values of Indian culture.”
Deshpande too conflates India and the RSS’s version of Hinduism. He insists that the Sangh’s concept of a Hindu rashtra is inclusive. “For us,” he argues, “a person who puts the interests of Bharat first is a Hindu. Someone who is born Hindu but works against the country’s interest is not a Hindu. A non-Hindu, on the other hand, dedicated to the country’s progress is a Hindu to us.” Many find this approach, this insistence on ‘Hindu’ and ‘India’ as synonymous, coercive and threatening but to Deshpande, there is no contradiction. Vaidya, in Jammu, said Hindutva “is not against any other religion. We believe in the philosophy of well-being for everyone”.
Whether everyone believes the RSS is concerned about their “well-being” is, however, the question. In Jammu, Bhagwat cautioned the gathering not to “embarrass the government” with their criticisms, to bear in mind that they and the government share the same ideology. In recent public comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bhagwat has been effusive. The RSS knows it has never had a better moment to achieve its goals. Two months ago, senior functionaries invited journalists known to be anti-RSS for a discussion. Other RSS grandees looked on with contempt, describing the meeting as “appeasement”. “In today’s time,” said one prominent figure, “those who consider the Sangh as their enemy should feel isolated, not welcome.”
A non-Hindu dedicated to the country’s progress is a Hindu to us, says the RSS’s Aniruddha Deshpande
SHOW OF STRENGTH At a previous Sangh brainstorming meet