By Harihar Swarup
If the 92-year-old RSS is seeking an image makeover, it is a welcome sign. The wind of change is blowing all over the world, and it is time the RSS, should also bring about reforms and shed its image of an obscurantist organization. Those who have not reformed with times, like our Communist parties, particularly the Marxist, have withered with times. The first indication of “Glasnost” within the monolith organisation came from the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat in a lecture series to invited audience in Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan.
In his lecture series, the Sar Sangh Sanchalak seems keen to steer the RSS towards a centrist political space and pitch it above divisive realm of power politics. Coming ahead of the general election, his elaboration, on the RSS vision of India hold new possibilities for rightwing politics, which in certain times has become strident in tone and polarization in action. While aggressive Hindu politics has been electorally rewarding, it forecloses the possibility of becoming an ideology acceptable to different sections of the society, a matter Bhagwat seems to be concerned about.
On the inaugural day of the lecture series, Bhagwat said the RSS stands for “yukt” (inclusive) and not “mukt” (exclusive) Bharat and acknowledged the role of the leadership of the Congress in the freedom movement. His remarks are a stark contrast to the BJP’s campaign for a Congress-mukt Bharat. The next day he went a step further to announce that the RSS endorsed the Indian Constitution: The RSS, he said, believes that “the Indian Constitution is the consensus of the country. This is a departure from the widely held view that the RSS has issues with the founding document of the Republic, particularly its emphasis on secularism. Bhagwat clarified that the Hindu Rashtra does not deny space to Muslims and said “The day it is said that Muslims are unwanted here, the concept of Hindutva will cease to exit”. Bhagwat also said that the RSS will “respect” the sentiments of those who wish to be called “Bharatiya” and not Hindu.
Bhagwat’s exposition of the RSS vision will be tested on the ground since the RSS is a cadre-outfit deeply embedded in grass roots politics. What would his message be to the radical activist, who target innocent Muslims in the name of cow protection and other such agendas? A religious minority is not an abstraction but people with clear preference of faith, diet, dress, social relations and so on. The Constitution recognizes it as such and has provided for special rights to protect minorities from being subdued by the cultural preference of the majority.
Critics of the RSS wonder, if the RSS under Mohan Bhagwat, has been changing its position on critical matters of Hindu Rashtra, treatment of minorities, Constitution and other matters. If RSS is really changing its position on these matters, they ask, “can we accept what Bhagwat has said on its face value or do we need proof that he also means to practice what he preaches?” If RSS chief believes what he has said it is a path breaking development. We have to wait and watch, the critics say.
However, Bhagwat’s views are radically different from that of his immediate predecessor, K S Sudarshan.
In an interview to Karan Thapar for the BBC programme “Hard Talk” in August 2000, Sudharshan refused to stand by the Indian Constitution as it stood then. He believed it needed to be reviewed completely.
Karan Thapar: “Mr MS Golwakar in his book Bunch of Thoughts said there is nothing in the Constitution which we call our own.”
Sudarshan: “True so. The whole Constitution is based on the Government of India Act, 1935. Some of the things from other Constitutions have been added to it. Our Constitution should reflect our national ethos.”
Sudarshan’s views about minorities was very different. For a start he refused to accept the concept of minority. Consequently, he did not believe the Constitution needed to grant them special rights. He felt we should evolve our own Constitution. He said: “Constitution cannot be imposed on us. Since 1909 (the Minto-Morley reforms) the whole Constitution has been imposed on us. It has not evolved. It must evolve.”
Clearly, Bhagwat’s lecture series, where he readily repeated the Preamble of the Constitution including his commitment to secularism and socialism, is a significant shift from his immediate predecessor’s thinking. It is a welcome U-turn. (IPA Service)
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