Mohan Bhagwat, RSS chief, has been unloading an extensive "Mann Ki Baat" on what the 92-year-old RSS stands for; embedded in his three-day lecture series in Delhi are strident message for Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, with whom Bhagwat has an uneasy equation.
From saying that the RSS dream project of a "Hindu Rashtra" does not envision the exclusion of Muslims and quoting from the Constitution to emphasize that the RSS does not want to change the framework of the Indian republic, Bhagwat's lectures, just ahead of crucial elections, are politically loaded.
In a sharp recrimination for Modi-Shah who call for a "Congress-Mukt Bharat", Bhagwat underlined that the RSS stands for a "yukt" (inclusive) Bharat not "mukt" (without) Bharat. "Those who oppose us are also ours," he said, snubbing Shah.
Bhagwat had more balm for the Congress much to the chagrin of the BJP. Addressing the motley crew of celebrities and attentive cabinet ministers, he praised the Congress's role in the freedom movement. "There were many great people who sacrificed a lot and continue to inspire us today. That ideology placed the country on the road to freedom," he said. The RSS praising the Congress. After all the accusations of rewriting and saffronising history. The "saffronistas" present in Vigyan Bhavan where the three-day lecture series is being held must have found it hard to keep it together.
Significantly, Bhagwat said that the Sangh believed in an approach that unites and invites everyone, while stating that the RSS and the larger Saffron Parivar have limited influence on the BJP's politics and policies.
Sources say that while the RSS is happy that the BJP is making huge electoral gains and its own resulting increased stature, it is concerned about the imagery in the slogans used by Shah and Modi. Says a senior Sangh functionary present during yesterday's lecture by Bhagwat, "We don't believe in intemperate language. Words like 'mukt' or stating 'The BJP will uproot opposition leaders' often used by Shah is not the Sangh culture. The Sarsanghchalak (RSS chief) is just making sure that the country gets the message."
The RSS's makeover which began by shedding its traditional khaki shorts for trousers has staked a claim to the center-stage of ideology. The power lecture that Bhagwat delivered was preceded by the daring invite to former President Pranab Mukherjee who addressed the RSS in its Nagpur headquarters in June. Post the Mukherjee outreach, Bhagwat held a similar lecture in Mumbai and then headed to Chicago to address the World Hindu Conference. That speech was incongruous with Project Kinder Gentler RSS since Bhagwat said that Hindus must stick together since otherwise, "wild dogs can attack (even) a lion."
That misstep apart, the RSS seems to have decided to win friends and influence people by extending an invitation to ideological opponents such as Rahul Gandhi Congress president and Akhilesh Yadav to its lecture series in Delhi. While Gandhi fumbled in his response, Yadav suavely wriggled out by saying that all he knew about the RSS was from Sardar Patel who banned the organisation and he did not think it appropriate to attend. The Sangh was happy that it has captured headlines, if not opposition hearts, with this event.
Opposition leaders at the receiving end of the RSS outreach say that they would have engaged as equals if they could debate with Bhagwat but they certainly were not interested in being mute spectators to a talk.
The Sangh believes that its new initiative is key to winning the ideological battle and remaking India as a "Hindu Pradhan Desh" (Hindu-first country).
This new confidence is also based on the fact that parties today seem to be falling in line and being cautious about avoiding anything that could be derided as "minority appeasement." Rahul Gandhi's soft Hindutva and his recent trek to Kailash Mansarovar has given the RSS great satisfaction. So have the multiple high-decibel pujas with which the Congress kicked off its campaign for Madhya Pradesh and the gaushalas promised by Kamal Nath.
"If society and politics mirrors our views, what is the problem? We have evolved. Shed our shyness and silence. Our interventions over the years are bearing fruit. Nobody can practise electoral politics by upsetting Hindus today. If Gandhi is going to temples, we are happy, just as we are happy to see Modi go to Kashi Vishwanath on his birthday,"says a top Sangh functionary.
But how will Bhagwat ensure that this new avatar of the RSS gets the message across to cadres? From the National Citizens Register (NCR) in Assam where Shah has belligerently said that the BJP would ensure each "ghuspetia" (interloper) is identified and driven out to the intense drive to create new enemies like the "urban naxal", the BJP's electoral campaign is all about hard Hindutva and a majoritarian agenda.
What should concern Modi-Shah is Bhagwat stating that the RSS does not tell workers to support any particular political party, not exactly reassuring in a big election year. Know that you need us as much as we need you - the message is not subtle.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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