RSS Outreach Programme Will Succeed Only if it Eschews Hindu Rashtra
A majoritarian outlook and Hindu Rashtra are negations of secularism which is the law of the land
The attempts of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its chief Mohan Bhagwat to interact with persons and organisations of different political affiliations and ideological pursuits sounds utterly unconvincing. The RSS worldview defines India exclusively based on Hindutva, and looks at everything about our country from the narrow frame of one homogenised religion.
Bhagwat's pronouncement (a few months before elections to the Tripura assembly) that all those who reside in India are Hindus smacks of a theocratic approach which can never be the basis of any outreach programme to build bridges with other associations and organisations.
His unacceptable statement that the Muslims of India are also Hindus, and his assertion that Hindus should be organised and trained at RSS 'shakhas' as these are the only places where one can prepare for nation-building and self-development, run contrary to the scope of the constitutionally ordained scheme of government which recognises diversities and upholds safeguards for minorities, women and underprivileged sections of society.
None can forget Bhagwat's statement in 2015 that the policy of reservation should be reviewed because it has been used for political ends. It lays bare a perspective devoid of sympathy or empathy for the underprivileged, whose social and economic upliftment has been prescribed by the framers of the Constitution based on affirmative action.
Such regressive and reactionary stands taken by the RSS on issues crucial for nation building hardly make it acceptable to others for forging a common cause, or reaching out to the larger civil society which is informed as much by our civilisational values as by the values enshrined in the Constitution.
Any organisation reaching out to others should share and celebrate its solidarity with them, based on values and vision. Organisations such as the RSS seem to be acting against such a shared vision, deliberately as is evident from many of Bhagwat's statements.
In 2013, in the context of the rising incidence of rape in India, Bhagwat bizarrely declared that rapes happen in India and not in Bharat, because there are western influences in India.
His statement, also in 2013, that in a marriage women should be confined to household work and men should earn for the family brings out his vision based on patriarchy and male domination. This runs counter to the Constitution and the current emerging trend across the world to unburden women of the weight of household work so they can participate in manifold areas of collective life.
Swami Vivekananda is often quoted by the RSS chief. Recently the 125th anniversary of Vivekananda’s Chicago address at the World Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893 was celebrated, and Bhagwat addressed a meeting in Chicago. Vivekananda attributed America's success to the freedom women enjoyed in that country, writing from American soil on December 28, 1893 that “Few women are married before twenty or twenty-five, and they are as free as the birds in the air. They go to market, school and college, earn money, and do all kinds of work... And what are we doing?... We are very regular in marrying our girls at eleven years of age lest they should become corrupt and immoral.”
He then put the question, “Can you better the condition of your women? Then there will be hope for your well being. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now”.
It is instructive that 125 years after Vivekananda’s historic Chicago address the RSS chief instead of invoking his progressive vision used extremely derogatory and demeaning words and idioms. Bhagwat’s exhortations in his Chicago speech for Hindu unity and consolidation, and his narrative that even a lion no matter how strong could be attacked by wild dogs and killed, consign those pursuing faiths other than Hinduism to a contemptuous position equal to the position of dogs.
In the same Chicago in 1893 Vivekananda presented a paper on Hinduism and invoked the eternal message of the Upanishads, that human beings are the children of immortal bliss and are not to be considered sinners. His eloquent words were, “Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter.”
Vivekananda’s invocation of the lion stands in sharp contrast to Bhagwat's derogatory usage. Vivekananda's bold assertions outlining the nobility of human nature beyond any narrow category underline the self esteem and dignity of all human beings irrespective of their faith or identity.
It is important to remain attuned to Vivekananda's larger vision which went beyond finite dimensions. In his paper on Hinduism he forcefully stated that to call human beings as sinners is a libel on human nature. Applying the same logic one can say that to call human beings wild dogs means heaping insult and humiliation upon them and identifying them as the enemy.
If the outreach of the RSS is to be effective it has to be broad based, eschewing the idea of Hindu Rashtra which presupposes privileging Hindus over those professing other faiths, and establishing a theocratic State. The RSS must shun the majoritarian outlook completely and affirm its commitment to the Constitution unconditionally.
In the Bommai judgement a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court declared secularism part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Such pronouncements of the apex court are the law of the land, and have to be respected by every citizen and every entity.
A majoritarian outlook and Hindu Rashtra are negations of secularism which is the law of the land. The RSS should be mindful of the ban imposed on it by none other than Sardar Patel who wrote that the RSS celebrated the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by bursting firecrackers and distributing sweets. Patel described the RSS as a secret organisation, and to its assertion that it served Hindu cause he responded that it was one thing to serve the Hindu cause and another to spread hatred in the name of Hinduism.
Mahatma Gandhi never trusted the RSS even after addressing its meetings as he found fascist attributes in it. Any outreach the RSS engages in must be based on corrective measures to rectify those past blunders, and act as per the Constitution and the idea of India defined by plurality, diversity and secularism, not Hindutva.
(S.N. Sahu was officer on special duty and press secretary to President of India late K.R. Narayanan)