Consistency has never been a virtue in the RSS. From VD Savarkar to Dr Hedgewar to 'Guru-ji' Golwalkar to Balasaheb Deoras to Mohan Bhagwat, opportunism has marked the politics of the RSS even though they have ever cleaved to a 'Hindu Rashtra' as their ideological goal. In working towards that goal, they have always favoured tactically adjusting their vocabulary and position to suit evolving situations. Bhagwat himself admitted to this when he said at the recent three-day convention of the RSS that situations evolve and the RSS' stated positions have to be adjusted to changing circumstance. At the World Hindu Congress in Chicago earlier this month, he was blunter: "Politics must be fought like politics, but do it without changing yourself".
Thus it was that having got two of his chelas to actually fire the bullets that killed two Englishmen, Savarkar then found himself caught in conspiracy charges in London and was recaptured at Marseilles, where he had escaped from the ship carrying him to trial and sentencing in India, and transported for life to the Cellular Jail in Port Blair in the Andamans. Within months, he was writing the most cringing, debasing letters to the Viceroy, declaring his loyalty to the British and begging to be released so that he could deploy his many talents on mobilizing the youth of India in the cause of the Empire. The Hindu right wing has always justified this craven submission to the colonial power as a tactic employed by Savarkar to return to the mainland, opportunism prevailing over principle.
The Brits relented and just about a decade after his incarceration, allowed him to be transferred to house arrest in Ratnagiri on condition that he abjured political activism, a condition to which he swore fealty and unflinchingly adhered to until his release in 1937 by the first elected provincial government of the composite Bombay province. Further evidence, this, of the chameleon nature of the Hindu right wing.
Savarkar was almost immediately elected President of the Hindu Mahasabha, having, technically speaking, never been a member of the RSS. But the founder of the RSS, Dr Hedgewar, credited Savarkar with being the inspiration for the adoption by the RSS of 'Hindutva', a term coined by Savarkar, as the overarching goal of his Sangh. Savarakar translated this new word into 'Hindudom' (modeled on 'Christendom') identifying 'pitrubhu' (birthplace) and 'punyabhu' (land of faith) as the defining parameters of nationality, thus excluding Muslims and followers of other Semitic faiths from equal citizenship in the 'Hindu Rashtra' he sought to promote. None of this mumbo-jumbo, however, came in the way of his joining hands with Muslim separatists to form governments with the Muslim League and its allies in NWFP and Bengal when the Congress withdrew from provincial governments in 1939. Yet another example of the sheer opportunism that Bhagwat tries to cover up in arguing for adjusting to changing circumstance without giving up on fundamental goals and the fundamentalist reasons for pursuing those goals.
Following from his denunciation of Muslims and Christians as anti-national, Savarkar openly embraced Jinnah's two-nation theory. It was a theory that had not emanated initially from Muslim communalism but from Savarkar's own maiden Presidential Address to the Hindu Mahasabha in 1938. In that sense, Savarkar could claim parentage to both Hindu communalism and Muslim separatism.
Savarkar, having set the example, the floundering RSS of the early days was given a shot in the arm by the grand reception accorded in Rome to Hedgewar's closest friend and comrade, BS Moonje, by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Moonje returned to India fascinated by fascism and persuaded Hedgewar to reorganize the RSS by giving it a distinctive uniform - the khaki shorts and black cap of the RSS came straight from the Black Shirts of Mussolini's army of fascist goons (very similar to Yogi Adityanath's Hindu Yuva Vahini).
Yet, as soon as Mussolini's dominance in authoritarian European regimes was overtaken by Hitler, MS Golwalkar, the upcoming future successor to Hedgewar, became an avid fan of the German dictator. In extended conversations with a German acolyte, Golwalkar moved from undying admiration of Mussolini to undiluted praise for Nazi racism, particularly commending the principle of "racial purity" on which Hitler's philosophy was founded. The conversations were published in 1938 as "We or Our Nationhood Defined" and became the defining text of RSS propaganda after 1940 when Golwalkar succeeded Hedgewar as the head of the organization (sarsanghchalak). But after Hitler came to be detested universally as the most vicious mass murderer in history, the RSS found Golwalkar's fulsome remarks most damaging, and so conveniently dismissed the long published book, assiduously propagated by the RSS for the better part of a decade in the '40s, as "not authentic".
Bhagwat is now doing exactly the same thing by bowdlerizing Golwalkar's "Bunch of Thoughts" (published 1966) to exorcise the embarrassing bits and circulate the new edition as the true 'Thoughts' of the 'Guru-ji'!
Hypocrisy on this scale is breath-taking. They won't repudiate Golwalkar 1938 and 1966 but think that "circumstances" require them to deny what might now be conveniently erased. Such 'lipa-poti' on Bhagwat's part is nothing new; it is part and parcel of the RSS' tool bag of deception, deceit and denial.
Nor is Bhagwat's revisionism new. He began giving the RSS a new image from his Vijayadashami address last year when he and the RSS saw Modi's support slipping both because he was failing to fulfil the many bogus pledges he had made during the 2014 election campaign (which he and Amit Shah tried to dismiss as mere election 'jumlas') even as demonetization and the hopelessly botched implementation of GST were transforming Modi from the Sangh Parivar's greatest asset to their greatest liability. Moreover, while the excesses unleashed on minorities and Dalits were galvanizing their cadre, they were alienating that large segment of Hindu 'fence-sitters' who had decided in 2014 to give the BJP a chance.
Indeed, Walter Anderson and Shridhar Damle in their most recent book "The RSS: A View to the Inside" (published by Penguin/Viking only last month), firmly place Bhagwat's drift from Modi-Shah in the context of the massive BJP losses in the 2018 Lok Sabha by-elections in Alwar, Ajmer, Araria, Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana, and the results of the poll undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (May 2018) that show BJP core support to have declined "from 39 per cent in May 2017 to 32 percent in May 2017", while "Dalit support" has declined over the same period "from 33 per cent to 22 per cent" and "Christians and Muslims are reportedly opposed to the BJP government" because they "remain deeply suspicious of both the BJP and the RSS". The authors add, perceptively, "The Opposition in 2018, meanwhile, shows signs of coalescing" even as the BJP's 'favourability rating' declines (pp.240-243. The India Today poll published in their August 27, 2018 edition substantially reflects these trends).
This is the setting that has led to sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat mouthing a few sentences that he hopes will change public perception of the RSS as a communal organization dedicated to the replacement of our secular order by a majoritarian scheme of things. What Bhagwat has not taken into account is that for close on a century, an overwhelming majority of Indian Hindus (NRIs are a different breed) have rejected the RSS view of Hinduism and the role of religion in our polity. True, to again quote Anderson and Damle, a "large part" of the BJP's "success" in 2014 "can be attributed to the help extended by tens of thousands of swayamsevaks", especially as "never before had the RSS membership worked so hard - and so enthusiastically - on behalf of its political affiliate" but now "there are signs" that "support for the BJP might be flagging somewhat".
It follows that Bhagwat's recent speech is no more than a continuation of the Hindu right-wing's century-long tradition of political opportunism. It is yet another attempt at shoring up voter support for the BJP and, therefore, not to be read as defining a revolution in the ideology of the RSS. "Bhagwat," say Anderson/Damle, "has often reiterated that all Indians are culturally Hindu, which is likely to remain the RSS's stand on Hindu nationalism". That accounts for why just weeks earlier, as Smita Gupta points out in her editorial page article in The Hindu of September 21, Bhagwat at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's World Hindu Congress in Chicago, speaking in English, described his opponents as "dogs". The full sentence reads: "even a lion or a Royal Bengal Tiger, who is the King of the Jungle, if he is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy him. Our opponents know this."
To take the wild life analogy further, may I remind the Hon'ble Sarsanghchalak that a snake may slough its skin but never drains the poison from its fangs?
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a senior Congress leader and former MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)
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