Bhagwat's Speech And RSS Ideology: A Closer Look

MOHAN Bhagwat’s recent speeches were rather convoluted attempts at double-speak, in which he tried to give a ‘liberal’ spin to well-established elements of Sangh ideology.

On closer look, Bhagwat did not deviate from the Sangh’s ideology at all. It is the Indian media (or most of it) which failed in its duty to closely examine his speech: lazily repeating his catch phrases instead of reading them critically.

Opposition to Caste-Based Quotas

For instance, Bhagwat is reported to have said that society needs to get ahead without the caste system, adding that “The decision regarding reservation continuity has to be taken by those to whom reservation has been granted.” This statement rings a warning bell: will the RSS begin pressurising SC/STs and OBCs to give up reservations much as the Modi Government now asks people to give up subsidies? (Bhagwat’s statement reminded one of a 2016 television advertisement for Havells fans. With the slogan ‘Hawa badlegi’ (winds of change), the ad showed a young woman refusing to fill up a form marked “quota” that her father brings her, suggesting giving up reservations made her more “meritorious” and morally worthy. Havells had to withdraw the ad in the face of protest. But Bhagwat’s statement suggests that the RSS might try to wed its traditional anti-reservation bigotry with the corporate-sponsored anti-quota propaganda to shame beneficiaries of quotas into giving them up.)

Bhagwat followed this statement by blaming caste-based reservations for perpetuating caste divisions, saying, “As long as there is quota and reservation, we will continue to be divided along caste.” In 2015, too, on the eve of the Bihar Assembly elections, Bhagwat had opposed caste-based reservations.

Blaming caste divisions on caste-based reservations rather than on Brahminism is a defining, stable element of Sangh ideology. In his Bunch of Thoughts (First published 1966, Republished Sahitya Sindhu Prakashan, 2000), RSS ‘Guru’ Golwalkar wrote that demanding or continuing caste-based reservations was “divisive talk”, insisting: “We must cry a complete halt to forming groups based on caste, creed, etc., and demanding exclusive rights and privileges in services, financial aids, admission in educational institutions and all such other fields. To talk and think in terms of “minorities” and “communities” should be totally put an end to.” (p 351) In the worldview of the RSS, peace and ‘social harmony’ (samajik samrasta) can be maintained only if social hierarchies are left unchallenged. If Dalits or Backward Castes or women challenge caste and gender hierarchies, they are the ‘divisive’ ones: the Brahminical patriarchs can call themselves ‘nationalist’ and claim to uphold ‘unity’ simply by denying the very existence of those hierarchies.

Regressive Patriarchal Views

Likewise, mainstream media with few exceptions, obediently reported that Bhagwat wanted Indian society to move with the times, and even accept LGBTQ orientations and identities. In fact, Bhagwat, replying to the question about homosexuality, had added the ambiguous line that “society’s health” must “also” be considered. The homophobic implication was quite clear: Bhagwat believes homosexuality is not “healthy” for society.

When it came to women’s rights, Bhagwat did not even attempt to deviate from the regressive arguments of the RSS founding father Hedgewar. Asked why there were no women in the RSS, he quoted Hedgewar’s reply to a similar question asked by a woman in 1931: “Hedgewar said that the society is not such where men can work with women. That would give room for rumours.” The thing is, Hedgewar’s view was reactionary and regressive not only in 21st century India but even back in 1931. Since the 1920s, Indian women were not only part of the industrial workforce, working alongside men, but also an active part of a range of political groups fighting for India’s freedom. In 1857 itself, Lakshmibai, Hazrat Mahal, Jhalkari Bai, Uda Devi, and Azizan Bai battled the British alongside men. In 1931, Kalpana Dutta joined the “Indian Republican Army, Chattagram branch” - the armed resistance group led by Surya Sen, and Pritilata Waddedar joined the same group and was martyred in 1932. Durgavati Devi (Durga Bhabhi) was an active member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA) formed in 1928 and led by Bhagat Singh. Thousands of women across India had marched alongside men in the Dandi March and Civil Disobedience movement of 1930. The idea that women  should constantly have to worry about “rumours” about their sexual/moral character at the workplace as well as in political organisations, while men are free to concentrate on the work at hand, free from worries about “rumours”, is deeply regressive.

RSS ‘Guru’ Golwalkar had ridiculed the idea of equality or emancipation of women: “There is now a clamour for ‘equality for women’ and their ‘emancipation from man’s domination’! Reservation of seats in various positions of power is being claimed on the basis of their separate sex, thus adding one more ‘ism’-’sexism!’- to the array of casteism, communalism, linguism, etc. (Bunch of Thoughts p 253)

“Accepting Muslims”?

What exactly does Bhagwat mean when he says “If Muslims are unwanted, then there is no Hindutva”?

His own speech held the clue. He said “usko aap, hum jaisa kehte hain usko, Hindu mat kaho… aap usko Bharatiya kaho… hum aap ke kehne ka samman karte hain (If you do not want to call your identity Hindu, as we do, call it Bharatiya. We will respect what you say). So, the RSS which beats people up to demand that they say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, actually prefer the term “Hindu” to “Bhartiya,” and think they are doing Muslims a favour by “letting” them call themselves “Bhartiya”! Bhagwat is also, of course, equating “Hindu” and “Bhartiya/Indian” here.

Bhagwat, however, went on to say: “Like an examination in which we solve the easy questions first and then pick the hard ones later… we will organise those first who admit they are Hindus…” This statement makes it clear that he expects Muslims, Christians, and other minorities to eventually “admit they are Hindus”! Here, again, what Bhagwat says is nothing different from what Golwalkar or Teen Dayal Upadhyay have said.

In a work that expressed admiration for Nazi Germany’s purge of Jews, Golwalkar wrote in 1939, “… the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.” (MS Golwalkar, We Or Our Nationhood Defined, Bharat Prakashan, 1939, 104-105)

Golwalkar made it clear that in the RSS view, Hindu majoritarian identity politics is the only acceptable nationalism, and any politics of asserting an identity separate from the Hindu identity is ‘anti-national’ and ‘divisive.’ He wrote: “Let us remember that this oneness is ingrained in our blood from our very birth, because we are all born as Hindus.” (Bunch of Thoughts, p 255) He attacked the slogan of ‘Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai’ (Hindus and Muslims are brothers) and deplored that “The real and positive concept of Hindu Nationalism is being dubbed as communal, reactionary, narrow-minded”. (ibid p 317)

Golwalkar wrote: “The Hindu in Bharat can never be termed “communal”….The national life-values of Bharat are indeed derived from the life of Hindus. As such he is the “national” here, and never “communal”. (ibid p 344)

Who, then, was communal in the RSS view? Golwalkar listed seven forms of communalism, including the communalism of groups that held on to a non-Hindu identity - i.e the Muslims and Christians. He also identified Sikhs and Neo-Buddhists as communal because, according to him, they had once belonged to Hindu society but later “began to consider themselves as being different from Hindu samaj and dharma, and who on that premise demand separate and exclusive political and economic privileges…”

Likewise he identified Tamil parties like the Dravida Kazhagam and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as communal because they asserted the linguistic and cultural distinctness of the Tamil people and the backward castes. Most notably, he also counted as ‘communal’, “those who rouse controversies in the name of “touchability” and “untouchability”, “Brahmin” and “non-Brahmin” and fan hatred, enmity, selfishness, and demands for special privileges” - i.e the Dalits and backward castes. (ibid p 346-47)

Addressing the BJP National Council on 25 September 2016, Modi had quoted Jan Sangh founder Deen Dayal Upadhyay to exhort BJP cadres to “treat Muslims as your own”. These remarks - so similar to Bhagwat’s remarks about “accepting Muslims,” had widely been interpreted by the media as a chastisement of anti-Muslim hate-speech by BJP leaders. Modi’s actual words, and the writings of Deendayal which they referenced, however conveyed a very different message to his knowing audience.

Modi said, “Fifty years ago, Pandit Upadhyaya said ‘do not reward/appease (puraskrit) Muslims, do not shun (tiraskrit) them but purify (parishkrit) them’. Do not treat Muslims like vote ki mandi ka maal (vote banks) or ghrina ki vastu (object of hatred). Unhe apna samjho (regard them as your own).”

What Modi meant by referencing Deendayal is made clearer by Deendayal’s article titled ‘Akhand Bharat’ (Undivided India) Panchjanya, 24 August 1953:

“...the separatist and anti-national attitude of the Muslim community is the greatest obstruction to Akhand Bharat (Undivided India). …Those who have doubts about Akhand Bharat feel that the Muslim will not change his policy. If this is so, then the continuance of six crore Muslims in India would be highly detrimental to the interest of India. Would any Congressman say that Muslims should be driven out of India? If not, then they will have to be assimilated into the national life of this country. If this assimilation is possible (of Muslims) within geographically divided India then it won’t take long for the rest of the geographical territory to assimilate with India. But apart from making Muslims Indian, we must also change the 30-year old policy of Hindu Muslim unity, which Congress adopted on a wrong basis.... If we want unity, we must display Indian nationalism which is Hindu nationalism, and Indian culture which is Hindu culture. We must adopt it as our guiding principle.”

It is clear here that Deen Dayal, like Golwalkar before him and Modi and Bhagwat long after him, equates Indian nationalism with Hindu nationalism, and expects Muslims to “assimilate” and identify themselves with Hindu nationalism. Bhagwat was careful not to speak of the need for ‘Hindu-Muslim unity’ (which would imply a unity between equals) but of Hindutva’s “acceptance” of Muslims. Read together with Bhagwat’s remarks that the RSS “will organise those first who admit they are Hindus”, “acceptance” here is simply Orwellian newspeak for Hindutva efforts to “assimilate” Muslims and persuade them to “admit they are Hindus.”

Bigotry As Nationalism

The RSS ideology - alone among other political ideologies in India - rejects definitions of Indian nationalism as the unity of diverse people in resistance to colonial rule and defines the nation in ways that exclude minority communities as well as ideas of social emancipation and equality.

Golwalkar, writing in 1966 in Bunch of Thoughts, is clearly aware that in the decade and a half since Independence, in spite of the scars of partition, the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity was still an attractive and popular one. So he cites instances of anti-Muslim bigotry by ‘ordinary Indians’ to prove that Muslims did not belong in India. Golwalkar tells a story about RSS leader BS Moonje being mistaken for a Muslim by a ticket-conductor with whom he was having an argument while accompanied by RSS founder Hedgewar. (Both Moonje and Hedgewar were medical doctors and were therefore referred to as ‘Doctor’). “Finding the Ticket Inspector obstinate, he (Moonje) snapped angrily, “Well, do you not believe me? I am the master of the Railway because I pay the fare. You are after all a servant. You get out.” The ticket Inspector also got infuriated and said, “Who are you to tell me? This is no Muslim country, you get out.” Hearing that, both the Doctors had a hearty laugh! Why did he say so? Because, Dr Moonje had a long beard and the Ticket Inspector mistook him to be a Muslim. Even an ordinary average man spontaneously feels that this is not a Muslim country.” (Bunch of Thoughts, 324-325)

Bhagwat in his latest utterances reportedly said that the RSS was distancing itself from certain parts of Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts, and instead was publishing his “enduring thoughts” in a “popular edition in which we have removed all remarks that have a temporary context and retained those that will endure for ages. You won’t find the (Muslim-is-an-enemy) remark there.” But, as we have seen, Golwalkar’s bigotry was not a stray remark - it is the essence of his ideology and writings, repeated in every page and paragraph of Bunch of Thoughts! The key “thought” expressed in every page of Bunch of Thoughts is that India is Hindu not secular, and that all those - including Dalits, Sikhs, Neo-Buddhists, and Muslims - who refuse to identify as Hindus, as well as those who call for “Hindu-Muslim unity,” are “communal” and anti-national.

The RSS has already had to claim “distance” from Golwalkar’s We because of its unabashed admiration for fascism and anti-Semitism. Now they are editing another RSS Bible - Bunch of Thoughts. Instead of telling us we have been reading RSS literature all wrong, would it not be more honest of Bhagwat to admit that he is having to disguise and obfuscate RSS ideology because in its undisguised form, it is rather unpalatable for a large section of democratic and progressive Indians?

Can Bhagwat admit Hedgewar, Golwalkar, and Moonje were bigots and repudiate them? The answer is No. Instead he attempts to “sanitise” Golwalkar and create a liberal “mukhauta” (mask) for the RSS. This is an attempt to make fascism respectable and acceptable - to put sheep’s clothing on a wolf. 

The Communal Attacks Continue

Even as Bhagwat claims the RSS is liberal and accepts Muslims, the attacks on the civil liberties and lives of Muslims in India continue with frightening intensity.

A village Titoli in Rohtak, Haryana, in a gathering where the police was present, has told Muslims to keep Hindu names and to not offer namaz in the open or display visible identity markers such as skull caps and long beards. The village also declared that it would not allow Yameen - a Muslim man who had been attacked and charged with cow slaughter in August - into the village. The Chief Minister of Haryana - ML Khattar of the BJP and RSS - is of course silent and unmoved by such blatant contempt for the Constitution.

Meanwhile on August 29, Shahrukh, a tailor in in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district was lynched on suspicion that he had stolen a buffalo. Farooque Khan, a management student from Thoubal district of Manipur, was lynched to death in West Imphal on suspicion that he had stolen a two-wheeler - the mob lynched him in the presence of four policemen.

Bhagwat, of course, formally distances the Sangh and ‘cow protection’ from such lynchings. But he is silent on the fact that BJP and Sangh leaders hail the lynchers as heroes. VHP leader Naval Kishor recently hailed the killers of Rakbar Khan of Alwar, comparing them to freedom fighter and revolutionary Bhagat Singh! Modi’s Cabinet Minister Jayant Sinha garlanded lynch mob accused and gave them sweets when they were released on bail.

In UP, ruled by Yogi Adityanath, it is not only lynch mobs but the police that victimise, harass and even kill Muslims in cold blood. After communal clashes where it was RSS groups which were the aggressors against the Muslim minorities, scores of Muslim men are arrested under the draconian National Security Act (a law which is notorious for having ‘no vakeel/no appeal/ no daleel - no lawyer, no appeal, no argument’). Scores have also been murdered in staged ‘encounters.’ The UP police is now not even bothering to pretend the ‘encounter’ is genuine: in Aligarh recently they invited media to witness an ‘encounter’ in which two Muslim men were killed. The media invitation made it clear that the whole thing was staged and the shooting was in cold blood.