New Delhi: Ever since he suggested that Hindus and Muslims share a similar DNA, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has been facing the ire of the Hindu Right.
Bhagwat had first offered what the Right sees as an olive branch to Muslims during an event organised by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch in Ghaziabad on 4 July.
“Hindu-Muslim unity is misleading as they’re not different, but one. DNA of all Indians is the same, irrespective of religion,” Bhagwat had then said, while urging Muslims not to get “trapped in the cycle of fear” that Islam is in danger in India.
Then on 21 July, while speaking at a book launch in Guwahati, Bhagwat reiterated his point, saying Indians have been “living together for centuries despite different religions and food habits as our culture is one”.
He did, however, temper the ‘outreach’ by claiming that some (read Muslims) were looking to dominate and that there had been a strategy in 1930 to increase the Muslim population in the country.
It has done little to assuage the anger against the RSS chief.
Bhagwat has been at the receiving end of some concerted criticism from prominent backers of the RSS and the BJP, Right-wing portals, and a number of ‘Hindutva supporters’ on social media.
‘Appeasement of Muslims’
The crux of the criticism has been that Bhagwat is looking to “appease Muslims”.
Among the first to react was the Manushi magazine founder and now a vocal Right-wing ideologue Madhu Kishwar.
“The expiry date of Shri Mohan Bhagwatji predates his becoming head of RSS!,” she tweeted on 4 July, a day after the DNA remarks.
The Expiry Date of Shri Mohan Bhagwat ji predates his becoming head of RSS! https://t.co/I86Mt3wx4a
— Madhu Purnima Kishwar (@madhukishwar) July 4, 2021
Kishwar told ThePrint that even the Congress party is more honest than the RSS.
“RSS has nothing to do with propagating Hindu ideology; they are more Gandhian than Gandhi,” she said. “They have not protected our own people and ideology. They want to be seen as the good guys. All of us who are not from the RSS background supported them but later found that they are not sincere in protecting Hindus. The Congress is more honest than them.”
Retired IPS officer M. Nageswara Rao, a known Hindutva backer, chimed in following Bhagwat’s Guwahati remarks.
“Advani was unceremoniously removed as BJP National President for merely praising Jinnah. But what about those who do a million times more damage to H-society by starting MRM; [CRM?]; Sarva Dharma Samabhav/Samadar; Same DNA Scheme; Roti-Beti Sampark; etc?” he tweeted on 25 July.
Advani was unceremoniously removed as BJP National President for merely praising Jinnah.
But what about those who do a million times more damage to H-society by starting MRM; [CRM?]; Sarva Dharma Samabhav/Samadar; Same DNA Scheme; Roti-Beti Sampark; etc?
— M. Nageswara Rao IPS(R) (@MNageswarRaoIPS) July 25, 2021
Then there have been the Right-wing portals that have taken on the RSS chief over the matter.
OpIndia ran an opinion piece on 9 July in which it termed the DNA remarks as a “Gandhian flaw” of the RSS. Titled ‘RSS, Mohan Bhagwat and recent comment about shared DNA of Hindus and Muslims: The Gandhian flaw of an org whose contribution is unparalleled’, the piece said “merely sharing DNA doesn’t mean sharing a common vision for a nation”.
“Innumerable wars have been fought by people who share the same language, religion, and ethnicity. India’s history and even present-day circumstances make it clear that sharing the same DNA does not result in a common people,” it said.
The piece concludes by stating that while the RSS “is a much-respected institution…, it risks alienating the common Hindu who has awakened to the lie of ‘secularism’”.
Hindi columnist Shanker Sharan, writing in the Naya India newspaper, brought up the “appeasement” argument. “RSS founder Hedgewar established it as a Hindu organisation that was not for Muslims,” he wrote. “Guru Golwalkar even advocated denying Muslims and Christians voting rights. He made it clear that Muslims are separate from Hindus. These are newly-developed thoughts on Muslims.”
Predictably, fringe groups haven’t reacted kindly either. The controversial priest of the Dasna Devi Temple in Ghaziabad, Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, was among those who lashed out against the RSS chief. “Bhagwat is not thekedar (custodian) of everyone. He is free to talk about his DNA,” he said. “He may be sharing the DNA of Aurangzeb but that is not true for all.”
His views were echoed by VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi, who said the DNA of “those who eat cow meat can never be found among us”.
The RSS chief, however, does have his backers.
Ratan Sharda, who has written books such as RSS 360: Demystifying Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, told ThePrint that there has been no deviation on the organisation’s stand towards Muslims.
“Bhagwatji’s DNA statement cannot be viewed in isolation but has to be seen with his speech in Guwahati where he articulated that we share the same culture despite differences in food habits and worship but that dominance will not work for assimilation,” he said.
“We have to live together. Even earlier RSS chiefs have articulated the same ideology for Hindu-Muslim unity. During Sudarshanji’s tenure (2000-2009), the Muslim manch was created for larger assimilation.
“After Hindus, Muslims are numerically a big chunk,” he added. “If many among Muslims want to join the mainstream for prosperity and nation-building, they should be welcomed. This was Sudarshanji’s thought.”
Writing in ThePrint, Arun Anand, research director with Delhi-based think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra, argued that Bhagwat’s comments were, in fact, “a reiteration of the RSS’ stand, which it has consistently followed since its inception in 1925, that whatever religion one may follow in India, no one should be seen from the prism of ‘majority’ or ‘minority’”.
“The RSS has always believed that categorising society based on the way of worship is the root cause of ‘Muslim appeasement and ‘vote-bank politics’, which has done great harm to society, and hence the Sangh has always opposed it,” he wrote.
Analysts say that it is neither but a compulsion brought on by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image taking a hit across the globe.
“These statements have nothing to do with politics. They know Muslims will not vote for them,” Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for Developing Studies said. “But the RSS and the Prime Minister are aware of the fact that in the recent past, the PM has lost his image globally due to recurring incidents of intolerance, lynching, and the Delhi riots. As the chief of a Hindu organisation, Bhagwat has a duty to do course correction. This statement is for image building.”
Prof. Aftab Alam of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) backed the assessment. “There is churn going on globally. The Taliban is acquiring space in Afghanistan, Trump is no longer in America and China is creating disturbances,” he said. “India is required to show its plurality to the world and rein in belligerent Hindu groups while convincing domestic Muslims to not look at other countries.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)