RAL­LY­ING FOR A ‘HINDU RASH­TRA’

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Ki­ran D. Tare

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

PANKAJ TI­WARI

SHOW OF STRENGTH At a pre­vi­ous Sangh brain­storm­ing meet

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