Mohan Bhagwat’s RSS lecture series seeks to mainstream majoritarianism.
I asked a BJP-affiliated RSS activist to explain to me Mohan Bhagwat’s three-day lecture series at Vigyan Bhawan in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi.
“Virodhi ko neutral,” the activist explained, “Neutral ko supporter aur supporter ko karyakarta. That’s how we go about persuading people about the RSS.”
Persuade your opponents to at least become neutral. Those who are neutral are turned into supporters and the supporters soon become activists. Among the big success stories of this approach, my interlocutor explained, was Subramanian Swamy, whom Nanaji Deshmukh engaged with.
The RSS seeks to persuade everyone about its ideology, and forge a consensus about its cause in every manner possible. It has an electoral wing, a youth wing, a farmers’ wing, a Muslim wing… there is no space the RSS wants to leave. It goes about its work, sometimes with violence that it conveniently denies participating in even as it justifies it. But violence is a small part of it.
For the most part, the RSS wants to persuade, like any missionary organisation. Individuals and organisations alike must change with the times if they want to flourish. The 93-year-old RSS does not only run all-male morning assemblies. It has been simultaneously working with IT professionals and government servants – finding ways to engage with anyone and everyone.
For example, my interlocutor explained, the RSS has been engaging with former chief justice of India R.C. Lahoti for a long time. But it couldn’t find a way of using him in a manner that befits a former CJI. So, the RSS created a new forum, Nyaya Chaupal, to help resolve civil disputes.
The RSS has been trying for some time to make a mark on the centre-Left dominated world of Delhi’s intellectual and cultural elite, which has come to be described by the name of a British architect, (Edwin) Lutyens. Before he joined the BJP, Ram Madhav was a big part of the Operation Lutyens. Two think-tanks, Vivekananda International Foundation and the India Foundation, were set up as part of this effort.
With the rise of the BJP in the Modi era, curiosity about the RSS has increased. So has the criticism. Some say RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s three-day long sermon is a response to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s statement comparing the RSS to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Frequently Asked Questions
Day one of Bhagwat’s sermon was like a pre-emptive FAQ – frequently asked questions. Addressing the “well-known and influential” figures of Delhi, Bhagwat answered some of the objections that liberals have regarding the RSS. These include the RSS’ absence from the Indian freedom struggle, its alleged hostility to the Indian tricolour, its opposition to the Congress party and its ideology, the male-dominated character of its organisation. He also tried responding to the accusations that the RSS is undemocratic, dictatorial, and wants to dominate society and make it homogenous.
Bhagwat gave reconciliatory sounding answers to all these questions: whether or not you were convinced is your problem. The answers showed the RSS is willing to be flexible and malleable. Such malleability has a purpose: the RSS wants you to just accept one thing, the central idea, that India is first and foremost a Hindu nation.
Who says RSS wants to homogenise India? The RSS is not against diversity – after all, it has had only one non-Brahmin sarsanghchalak in 93 years. There’s so much diversity within the Hindu society that the word ‘Hindu’ is the glue needed to unite India. You see the clever play of words – those who don’t call themselves Hindu remain outside the spectrum of the RSS’ vision for the “future of Bharat”.
To make you accept the equation Hindu = Hindutva = India, the RSS is willing to accept all your demands. Nehru was great, the Congress waged the freedom struggle, women must be given more space in society, we salute the Indian flag, and we quietly drop our opposition to homosexuality but let’s not talk about that.
If you are willing to accept India as a Hindu nation, the RSS can do anything for it. Very soon the RSS will be holding pop concerts, pracharaks will post Insta stories, there will be a new wing for woke millennials, stand-up comedy will be promoted by the Bajrang Dal and so on. All you have to say is India is for Hindus.