Imagine the Pope criticising Jesus Christ. If that is too ecclesiastical, imagine Sitaram Yechury rewriting Karl Marx. Actually we cannot imagine either because the Catholic church and the Communist Party are rule-bound doctrinaire establishments that do not brook deviations. So is the RSS. Therefore, technically, we cannot imagine Mohan Bhagwat going against the tenets of M S Golwalkar, as sacrosanct in the RSS universe as K B Hedgewar.
Yet it happened. In his eleventh year as the acclaimed supremo of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat said that Bunch of Thoughts, the Golwalkar book that has been the Gita-Bible-Koran of RSS cadres, was not to be taken seriously today. Those thoughts pertained to a particular context and need not be considered as eternally valid. Times change and, accordingly, our thoughts, too, must change. Hedgewar himself had said, Bhagwat reminded his people, that we are free to adapt to times as they change.
Bhagwat did not stop with Golwalkar. In the course of a three-day lecture series in Delhi, he decimated many Holy Cows of the RSS. When Hindutvavadis had been declaring that they would re-write the Constitution to fit into Deendayal Upadhyaya’s vision of Dharmarajya, Bhagwat said: “The Sangh works after accepting the primacy of the Constitution and we respect it fully.” No reference here to the BJP’s standing objections to the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the Constitution.
Bhagwat also rejected a view expressed by BJP boss Amit Shah, whose capacity to make coarse statements has been harming the country internally and internationally. Shah’s call for a “Congress-mukt Bharat” had become notorious because it actually meant an Opposition-mukt Bharat lying at the feet of a monopolistic BJP. Bhagwat said: “We are for all-inclusive Bharat, we are not about mukt”. He even complimented the Congress, which had “many great personalities who sacrificed their lives and who still inspire us”.
The concept of Hindutva, too, was revised by Bhagwat. Savarkar, who had coined the word Hindutva, was clear that Hindu Rashtra should be peopled by only those who descended from Hindu culture. Bhagwat turned that theory on its head and said: “Hindu Rashtra does not mean that there is no place for Muslims. If it is said that Muslims cannot stay in India, it won’t be Hindutva any more.” From the same chair Bhagwat now occupies, Golwalkar had referred to the “hostility and murderous mood” of Muslims and declared: “Foreign races must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race. Otherwise they may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, deserving no privileges.”
What is going on? How can the RSS head move so far away from the positions his predecessors had taken? Bhagwat is by no means a lesser RSS ideologue. Therefore there must be a reason for him to discard old orthodoxies and embark on a course that looks reasonable, fair, progressive and populist.
The explanation most people will accept is that Mohan Bhagwat is merely softening the RSS-BJP’s image at election time. Fringe groups like Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sene run amok hurting BJP’s voter appeal. Although the RSS helped the VHP to create Bajrang Dal as a bunch of street fighters in the run-up to the Ayodhya movement, Bajrangis had become an embarrassment and the RSS’s attempt to wrest back control of VHP and Bajrang Dal did not really succeed. Is Bhagwat giving a message that these groups must be checked, that steps must be taken to remove the impression that lynchers have tacit government backing?
It may be too much to hope that Bhagwat also wanted to send a signal to Amit Shah. For all his excesses, Shah is building a grass-roots network the RSS always wanted the BJP to do.So, is Bhagwat’s new stance a genuine attempt to discard the RSS’s image as a hidebound, overly religious, intolerant and ultimately cold-blooded ideological outfit and recast it in a more acceptable garb suited to the modern age?
The farce of India’s HRD minister rejecting Darwin’s theory and the science minister saying that Vedic theory was superior to E = mc2 has made India a laughing stock among educated people. That such Neanderthals, unknown to the public before, became ministers of the Republic of India did no good to either the Modi Government or the RSS. If the RSS chief is making an attempt to save his flock from the fossilised minds wearing the Hindu cap, it would be a service to the nation. But can even Mohan Bhagwat get rid of the medievalists in his camp?