We may be on the cusp of an en­light­ened Hindu con­sen­sus

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - ALL THAT MATTERS - SWAPAN DAS­GUPTA

Po­lit­i­cal de­bates cen­tred on ideas, if not ide­ol­ogy, are rel­a­tively un­com­mon in In­dia. There are im­por­tant in­ter­ven­tions on tac­tics — par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to elec­toral pol­i­tics — but when it comes to re­flect­ing on is­sues of core be­lief, the post-In­de­pen­dence ex­pe­ri­ence has been found want­ing. This is not to sug­gest that there have been no im­por­tant in­no­va­tions. But like the change of eco­nomic di­rec­tion in 1992, the shifts have been un­der­taken by stealth. This may be a rea­son why the Congress, for ex­am­ple, wa­vers un­easily be­tween the Nehru­vian con­sen­sus and the ide­o­log­i­cal upgra­da­tion that was sought to be in­tro­duced by that great un­sung re­former, P V Narasimha Rao. In the case of the Left, change has of­ten fol­lowed de­vel­op­ments in other so­ci­eties and even the col­lapse of the com­mu­nist cen­tre — whether in Moscow or Bei­jing — has not led to a bout of na­tional cre­ativ­ity.

It is in this con­text that RSS chief Mo­han Bhag­wat’s three-part ad­dress in Delhi last week as­sumes ex­cep­tional im­por­tance. As a net­work that strad­dles three cru­cial strands in In­dia — pol­i­tics, so­cial in­sti­tu­tions and Hindu sa­maj — its in­flu­ence over na­tional life is sig­nif­i­cant. It may be said to be at the core of an In­dia that is wed­ded to both in­her­i­tance and moder­nity, the prover­bial Mid­dle In­dia. There is no com­monly un­der­stood ex­pres­sion for con­ser­vatism in In­dian lan­guages. If there was, the RSS could be said to broadly re­flect and shape those im­pulses. Much more than a guide to peo­ple’s vot­ing in­ten­tions, the RSS has played the role of a moral cen­tre, com­pet­ing with other points of in­flu­ence.

In the re­cent past, the RSS has been dis­pro­por­tion­ately pre­oc­cu­pied with ex­tend­ing its so­cial and ge­o­graph­i­cal reach through or­gan­i­sa­tional means. Ever since the body was for­mally launched in 1925, it has worked on the as­sump­tion that a true resur­gence of In­dia could come about if there were enough cit­i­zens who com­bined the right val­ues (sam­skaras) with pa­tri­o­tism and no­bil­ity of pur­pose. That it has shed its ini­tial stand of com­plete de­tach­ment from pol­i­tics is un­de­ni­able and, at the same time, it has tried to main­tain an awk­ward arm’s-length sep­a­ra­tion of the par­ent body with the BJP. It has been par­tic­u­larly un­easy over con­tro­ver­sies that in­vari­ably ac­com­pa­nied its highly com­plex re­la­tion­ship with the BJP. The dis­tinc- tion it has sought to make over in­ter­ven­ing in ‘na­tional’ is­sues and de­tach­ment from purely par­ti­san con­cerns has of­ten been er­ratic and de­pen­dant on in­di­vid­ual sarsanghch­a­laks.

Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee’s re­la­tion­ship with the RSS, for ex­am­ple, went through var­i­ous ups and downs. He was the poster boy of the Jana Sangh but fell from grace dur­ing the stew­ard­ship of Balasa­heb De­o­ras. He main­tained a level of ma­ture un­der­stand­ing with Ra­jen­dra Singh but the re­la­tion­ship be­came ex­tremely strained dur­ing the ten­ure of K S Su­dar­shan, a pe­riod that co­in­cided with Va­j­payee’s term as PM.

De­spite ini­tial strains when he was CM of Gu­jarat, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has es­tab­lished a happy equi­lib­rium in his re­la­tions with Bhag­wat. Yet, there are po­ten­tial points of fric­tion be­tween the com­pul­sions of gov­er­nance and the ide­alised pic­ture of Bharat that drives the RSS. More­over, far from be­ing on the fringes, the BJP is to­day the prin­ci­pal party in In­dia, its in­flu­ence hav­ing un­der­gone a phe­nom­e­nal ex­pan­sion since the late 1980s. The sheer di­ver­sity and so­cial com­plex­i­ties of In­dia has meant that many of the as­sump­tions that shaped the RSS in the past needed a re­view if the RSS-BJP re­la­tion­ship could re­main on an even keel for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

It is to the credit of Bhag­wat that he had the sagac­ity and the self-con­fi­dence to be the much-needed re­vi­sion­ist and clar­ify the terms of the RSS en­gage­ment with 21st cen­tury In­dia. That he im­plic­itly re­pu­di­ated Veer Savarkar’s def­i­ni­tion of Hin­dutva and M S Gol­walkar’s view of na­tion­hood is ap­par­ent. Hin­dutva as an ideal has been main­tained but made non-doc­tri­naire to em­brace three un­ex­cep­tion­able prin­ci­ples: pa­tri­o­tism, re­spect for the past and an­ces­try, and cul­tural pride. This, cou­pled with cat­e­gor­i­cal as­ser­tions that dif­fer­ent modes of wor­ship and dif­fer­ent life­styles does not ex­clude peo­ple from the Hindu Rash­tra, is im­por­tant in re­forg­ing the RSS to con­front the chal­lenges of an In­dia more ex­posed to eco­nomic growth and global in­flu­ences than ever be­fore. There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween con­ser­va­tive and re­ac­tionary and Bhag­wat spelt it out bluntly.

Bhag­wat has, in ef­fect, tried to con­vert Hindu na­tion­al­ism from be­ing a con­tested ide­o­log­i­cal pre­oc­cu­pa­tion to be­com­ing In­dia’s new com­mon sense. De­pend­ing on how the mes­sage is di­gested by the RSS, BJP and so­ci­ety, In­dia could well be on the cusp of defin­ing an en­light­ened Hindu con­sen­sus.

CHANG­ING TRACK: Mo­han Bhag­wat has seen the need to clar­ify the terms of RSS en­gage­ment with 21st cen­tury In­dia

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