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Listen to Mohan Bhagwat’s Dussehra speech. You won’t say RSS lacks intellectual bandwidth

Mainstream Indian media used to denigrate and ridicule RSS. But it is now publishing its chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statements as front-page news.

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This morning’s newspapers front-paged Mohan Rao Bhagwat’s Vijayadashami address. This was not only unprecedented, but also an extremely significant milestone. Mainstream media, so used to denigrating and ridiculing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was now publishing the statements of its Sarsanghchalak as headline news.

How did this transformation come about? The answer is the RSS saga of unwavering determination, tyaga (sacrifice), and tapascharya (askesis) in the service of the nation. The RSS celebrated its 95th anniversary on Vijayadashami, 25 October 2020. Founded by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in Nagpur in 1925, the RSS, after decades of calumny and opposition, occupies centre-stage in Indian society and polity today.

Bhagwat’s one-hour speech was wide-ranging, deeply thought-out, and covered a variety of issues of national importance including the Covid-19 pandemic, economic crisis, internal and external security, agriculture, the Chinese threat, in addition to Hindutva, and the future of India. After hearing him out, no one would say that the RSS lacks in either intellectual or political bandwidth. More than his predecessors, Bhagwat has succeeded in mainstreaming and broad-basing the RSS. Though this year’s celebrations were much muted, with an audience of just 50 on account of Covid-19, Bhagwat’s speech was stellar and statesmanlike.

With an estimated membership upward of 8 million, not only is the RSS the world’s largest voluntary association, but has germinated, nurtured, and established hundreds of subsidiary and ancillary organisations. Besides the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), India’s largest labour union, it is also the progenitor of the student union, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Lakhs of Ekal Vidyalayas (single-teacher learning centres), Saraswati Shishu Mandirs (primary schools), and full-scale Vidya Bharati schools have been sponsored and supported by the RSS.

But its most visible success is, of course, the current ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Like its predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the BJP was inspired, seeded, and promoted by the RSS. Even today, most of the BJP’s top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, began as RSS volunteers.

Reviewing the major national developments since the last Dussehra, Bhagwat spoke approvingly of the changes in Article 370, the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict, and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), all brought about through due legislative process. He deplored those who “misled our Muslim brothers by propagating a false notion” and regretted the damage to “communal harmony” by the agitators.

Also read: Hindutva, China, Covid & agriculture — Breaking down Mohan Bhagwat’s Dussehra speech

The social construct

Bhagwat focussed on the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic. He claimed that it unexpectedly reinforced simple and age-old Indian values such as removing footwear before entering one’s home, washing hands and feet on returning indoors, and, most importantly, helping those whose needs are greater than ours.

According to Bhagwat, although Covid-19 had shrunk the economy, resulting in job losses and privation for millions, India had the social and political resilience to come out triumphant. He lauded our doctors, government officials, police, health workers, and municipal cleaners, for their service to the nation during this calamity.

He also reminded us of the tireless services of voluntary organisations, including his own, in spreading awareness and helping the people tide over their day-to-day difficulties. The entire Bharatiya samaj (society) rose up to the task by setting an ‘example of unity and sensitivity.’

The Covid-19 pandemic, Bhagwat reminded us, also posed a challenge to our lifestyles and values. It was time to reduce consumption, shed inessential customs and practices, and respect nature. He urged each household to adopt healthier and more eco-friendly habits. The pandemic required greater service, cooperation, and mutuality among all sections of society. Especially, we would need to compensate for job losses, school and college closures, and shrinkages of opportunities lest these lead to depression, hopelessness, or even crime.

Also read: Hindutva essence of nation’s selfhood, India needs to stay ‘alert’ of China — Mohan Bhagwat

The shift from globalisation to self-reliance

Bhagwat spoke of an inward and introspective turn that the little-understood virus had induced. From rampant globalisation, each country was now speaking of being more and more self-reliant. The unexpected benefits of lockdowns and travel restrictions were better air and water all over the world. For the first time in years, birds and animals hitherto forgotten were now visible. In the post-Covid-19 era, would the world learn and remember or return to its old reckless and self-destructive ways?

Bhagwat spent quite some time focussing on China and its not so peaceful rise. He called the country belligerent and aggressive, not only on our borders, but the world over, trying to force its will and assert its might over less powerful states. India’s standing up to China was an important signal. India’s tendency, as per its civilisational values, was not to fight, but have friendly relations with all nations. But that didn’t mean we could be bullied or trampled underfoot. India had to develop itself in all fields of endeavour, not just economic and military, to counter China effectively.

Speaking of Atmanirbhar Bharat, Bhagwat said that he had often advocated Swadeshi. But have we reflected on the ‘swa’—the self—in Swadeshi? That ‘swa’ had to embody higher values of Indian civilisation, both social and spiritual. According to Bhagwat, that was the meaning of Hindutva. Whenever we were ashamed to call ourselves Hindus, he said, India suffered enormously. But Hindu was not a sectarian term. Citing Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, and Sri Aurobindo, he said it meant an integrated and self-reliant society working for the common good.

He also spent time talking of agriculture, especially how indigenous farming methods and hardy local varieties of food grains could be encouraged. Farmers had to be protected from the greed of multinational corporations and supported so that they were not driven to despair.

Also read: What is stopping Narendra Modi from sending a Hindu Rashtra postcard to the world

The political dialogue

Turning to politics, he said that competition was a part of democracy. Opposition parties would try to oust ruling parties. That was natural. But how far could we stoop in this power-play? It was one thing to have a fair fight, he said, a competition of ideas and ideologies in which the people passed the verdict in the form of election results.

But it was a totally different thing to exploit and magnify differences till they became intractable conflicts and fractured society. ‘Anti-national’ elements deliberately magnified differences to sow discord and dissension. They wanted internal conflicts, which would weaken India. Invoking Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s opposition to the ‘grammar of anarchy,’ he exhorted citizens to beware of ‘Break India’ forces. Eternal vigilance was the price of democracy.

Calling on “open dialogue with all, drawing consensus through discussion, ensuring cooperation and resultant trust” at both family and community levels, he quoted a Sanskrit verse:

समानो मन्त्रः सममम: समानी समानं मनः सहमित्तमेषाम् |

समानं मन्त्रममिमन्त्रये वः समानेन वो हमवषा जहोमम ||

(Let our speech be one; united our voices. May our minds be in union with the thoughts of the wise. Sharing a common purpose; we worship as one.)

Overall, Bhagwat carefully addressed two important constituencies. He reassured RSS members and Hindutva followers that the Sangh’s ideology and orientation were intact and effective, despite the changing times and new challenges such as Covid-19. To the populace at large, he portrayed the Sangh as a responsible and engaged organisation, which was working tirelessly for the unity, stability, prosperity, and above all, the ever-brighter future of new India.

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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  1. Bhagwat’s message for us to improve ties with neighbours was a timely and wise one. However he is mistaken if he thinks that this is the first time the Army and nation has stood firm against an aggressor. He has conveniently forgotten Rezang La 1962, Kashmir 1947 , Khem Karan 1965 and later Sumdorong Chu .

  2. I liked parts of the speech like the ending reference to small acts leading to collective consciousness and the need for dialogue in family and in society to get to better decisions and willing-actions. But that is not seen in the way this Govt is behaving. Witness the spate of ordinances, the lack of adequate parliamentary debate before laws are pushed through, the lack of genuine willingness to understand the concerns of CAA, the intimidation and often invalid incarceration of dissenters (eg Dr Kafeel Khan, Anand Teltumde), the prolonged clampdown of media and politicians in Kashmir, etc. These are examples of the opposite of dialogue, debate and arriving at a common will. This needed to be called out as Shri Bhagwat may have done if a non-BJP Govt was in power.
    The point about Atmanirbharta and “Sva”- I do believe in “Sva” in many ways, but also in interdependence with confidence.
    I’m glad that he talked about our language in debate on social issues becoming very rough and overly aggressive….but that applies again also to the BJP-sponsored media and social media. The need to understand each other with empathy, to debate without prompting seperate-ness and hatred is for all Indians.
    I felt two very important aspects that was missed (or not really focused on?) were the tragedy of the exodus of “guest-workers” or migrants from cities during the lockdown and the continuing inequality due to caste-ism. While it’s true that society rose up to help each other in many ways, what happened with guest-workers during the lockdown must leave us to think about how we must ensure that such situations don’t arise again. Similarly, the repeated manifestation of caste issues and the in-practice prevalence of caste-behaviour and caste violence could have been condemned.

  3. Looks like the prof is selling rss membership. Well, good for him, he gets to be a director of an Institute. Will mr. bhagwat ever talk about caste based atrocities like hathras. No, i don’t think so, thats an inconvenient topic. Lets talk about topics out of our domain. People like that, probably will get endorsed by profs.

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