The RSS move to invoke national heroes outside its familiar pantheon of idols appears to be part of an attempt to help the BJP gain acceptance across all sections of society and initiate corrections in recorded history that supporters of the Hindu outfit believe have been misrepresented over the years by “agnostic socialists and historians”.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s Vijayadashami address is a clear indication of this strategy after Prime Minister Nare-ndra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi two days earlier.
While Modi had made his admiration for another icon Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel clear long before he became the PM, his reference to Congress icons Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had raised eyebrows in political circles.
In his speech, Bhagwat had said the new policymakers should take “advantage of the vision and experience of great Bharatiya leaders right from the tradition of Swami Vivekananda, Yogi Arvind, Swami Ramtirth, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Lokmanya Tilak to Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Swatantrya Veer Sav-arkar, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, the second sarsanghachalak (chief) of RSS Shri “Guruji” Madhav Sadashiv Golvalkar, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayprakash Narayan and Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay.”
He added, “It is high time that Bharat should now evolve a new and suitable development model that incorporates the vision of such leaders in fields like education, culture, economics, sociology and security.” Pointing out that every political party tries to create “idols” in its pursuit to earn acceptance among voters, Badri Narayan, a political analyst based in UP, said, “It’s always symbols that evoke memory and link a political party with a particular community. BJP and the RSS have been trying to expand each other’s base,” Narayan said.
Seshadri Chari, a former editor of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, said there is nothing unusual in Bhagwat’s invoking the names of national leaders. “Every swayamsevak invokes the names of several national leaders including Gandhiji in his ‘Pratah Smaran’ or the morning prayers,” Chari said. An RSS leader, however, agreed it will help the BJP expand its base among the communities where these leaders are rev-ered. “The RSS is also increasing its footprint. Just like a satellite, the higher you go, wider the area you get to co-ver. Now the BJP and the RSS will start projecting these personalities collectively,” he said.
But he added that invoking them does not always mean using them for electoral gains. “For example, Gandhi as an icon will not fetch any votes for the BJP, but it will stop the Congress from fetching votes in Gandhi’s name.” BJP general secretary P Murlidhar Rao said there was nothing exceptional in Bhagwat invoking the names of leaders such as Ram Mano-har Lohia or Ambedkar or Jayprakash Narayan. “Lohia had a great respect for the RSS; in fact, Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Lohia issued a joint statement on Akhand Bharat. Gandhiji was ideologically closer to the RSS. Can the Congress stand with Gandhiji on the issue of cow slaughter, his love for the prayer “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” and his idea of Gram Swaraj?” Rao asked.
The BJP leader, who has been active in the RSS since his school days, alleged that Indian history had been misrepresented. “RSS always tried to take along other leaders. But it is not necessarily a part of the political strategy. But one thing is sure, history as we have it today will be corrected. There will be corrections and rebalancing,” Rao said. “This is not only done by the RSS or the BJP. It (corrections and re balancing) has been happening in different communities.” According to Rao, such developments “are being noticed by the media and others only because the BJP is in power now”.