India Today - - UPFRONT - —Uday Mahurkar

RSS chief Mo­han Bhag­wat has over the last week been the talk of Delhi. In his or­gan­i­sa­tion’s 93-year his­tory, it has ar­guably never en­joyed such na­tional promi­nence. Bhag­wat’s three-day lec­ture series in the na­tional cap­i­tal was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s con­fi­dence, a sig­nal that it is will­ing to stake its claim to the fu­ture of In­dia. In­deed, the series was ti­tled ‘Fu­ture of Bharat: An RSS Per­spec­tive’, a kind of RSS com­ing out party after decades in the na­tional shad­ows.

De­spite Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi liken­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion to the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, the RSS’s new­found place at the cen­tre of na­tional life was ar­guably first in­di­cated by for­mer pres­i­dent and Con­gress­man Pranab Mukher­jee’s ac­cep­tance of an in­vi­ta­tion to its head­quar­ters in Nag­pur in June where he de­scribed RSS found­ing Sarsanghch­a­lak K.B. Hedge­war as a “pa­triot”. Bhag­wat and Mukher­jee have met twice more since.

The lec­tures in Delhi were made in the con­cil­ia­tory spirit of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that knows its time has come, that it is the new main­stream. It is the cul­mi­na­tion of a process RSS joint gen­eral sec­re­tary Man­mo­han Vaidya traces back to the Emer­gency, when RSS lead­ers min­gled with politi­cians and even Mus­lim lead­ers in jail. But the

RSS has shied away from the na­tional lime­light, con­tent to build its cadre strength, un­will­ing to ap­pear too am­bi­tious, un­til now when the na­tional mood is con­ducive. In the past, says Ram Mad­hav, a for­mer mem­ber of the RSS na­tional ex­ec­u­tive and cur­rent BJP gen­eral sec­re­tary, the “RSS has been too ret­i­cent. But it is open to chang­ing along­side chang­ing times”.

In the con­tent of Bhag­wat’s lec­tures over all three days, he por­trayed the

RSS as all-en­com­pass­ing and Hin­dutva as an in­clu­sive ide­ol­ogy. He main­tained the RSS view that all In­di­ans are Hin­dus, but ac­cepted that not ev­ery­one was ready to ac­knowl­edge this, for him, self-ev­i­dent truth. And so the RSS is flex­i­ble enough to re­spect the wishes of those who would rather be re­ferred to as Bharatiya than Hindu. Bhag­wat stressed the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s com­mit­ment to na­tion­al­ism over re­li­gion (in part be­cause Hin­duism tran­scends re­li­gion) and to the Con­sti­tu­tion. Bhag­wat ar­gued that the RSS had lit­tle po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence over the BJP, prais­ing the Congress’s role in the in­de­pen­dence strug­gle and draw­ing a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the BJP’s de­sire for a Congress-mukt Bharat and the RSS’s in­clu­siv­ity, its co-op­tion even of ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­nents. The RSS has sup­ported the Congress in the past, join­ing hands with Indira Gandhi in 1982, both con­cerned by the de­ci­sion of 200 Dal­its to con­vert to Is­lam, to set up the Vi­rat Hindu Par­ishad led by Congress’s Dr Karan Singh.

To un­der­line his open­ness, Bhag­wat also quoted the Mus­lim founder of what be­came Ali­garh Mus­lim Uni­ver­sity, be­moan­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of In­di­ans into Mus­lim and Hindu, as if they were not all chil­dren of Bharat Mata. An­other sig­nif­i­cant state­ment Bhag­wat made was on for­mer RSS chief Guru M.S. Gol­walkar’s views on Mus­lims as ex­pressed in his book, Bunch of Thoughts. The RSS’s out­look has changed with the pas­sage of time and cir­cum­stances, Bhag­wat said about Gol­walkar’s views.

Over three days, it was an as­sured per­for­mance de­signed to al­lay fears, to present the RSS as n uni­fy­ing rather than di­vi­sive force.

Bhag­wat stressed the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s com­mit­ment to na­tion­al­ism over re­li­gion and to the Con­sti­tu­tion

TAK­ING CEN­TRESTAGE: Bhag­wat pre­sent­ing the RSS as a main­stream, uni­fy­ing rather than di­vi­sive force

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