So why did I spend three evenings last week listening to Mohan Bhagwat? Two reasons. I have always felt real contempt for the RSS. I will explain why. And, I wanted to see if this organisation, frozen so long in the stale aspic of a time warp, has finally discovered the need to change. Since I am no fan of the RSS I have also never been invited to any of its events, so I was intrigued to suddenly be invited to three days of lectures by the big boss.
Before going further let me explain my contempt for the RSS. In my reporting days I was a sort of pal of an earlier sarsanghchalak, Rajju Bhaiya, and on slow mornings often trotted off to chat with him at the RSS headquarters in Delhi. I found him to be a gentle, learned man bursting with an earnest desire for India to become a better country. But, after the morning shakha (I attended a few) I would go off to eat greasy Punjabi breakfasts with small groups of your average Sanghi and their hatred for Muslims horrified me. They openly admitted that they wanted them driven out of India because they were ‘breeding like rabbits’ and would soon outnumber Hindus. It was useless pointing out that India was their home or that they had shown faith in this country by choosing it over the Islamic republic in 1947.
Then there is the fact that the RSS has spawned despicable outfits like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad, which thrive on hatred. I have covered many Hindu-Muslim riots and nearly always on the Hindu side the participants in the violence have been linked, in one way or the other, to these spawns of the RSS. In the past four years the lynch mobs have nearly always had members of these outfits in them. And, speaking of lynchings, I can report that after Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched, I had a most disturbing conversation with a senior RSS leader. He said, “At least the Hindus have learned to fight back.” I tried pointing out that real warriors die defending their country, they do not form mobs to beat old men to death. It was of no use.
So when I heard the RSS chief say clearly last week that there could be no Hindutva without the Muslims, I was stunned. He explained that to the RSS the meaning of Hindutva was being Indian. “If you don’t like the word Hindu use Bharatiya instead.” In answer to a question about Guru Golwalkar having advised India to deal with Muslims the way Hitler dealt with the Nazis, he said clearly that they had brought out a new edition of Golwalkar’s ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ and this comment was not in this bunch. Times change, he said, and the RSS changes with them. So the RSS today has no problem respecting the Indian Constitution, inter-caste marriage or westernisation as long as this means taking what is good from the West and using it to improve India.
So, am I convinced that the RSS has genuinely changed for the better? To tell you the truth I am not absolutely sure, but what I am sure about is that it wants to change. This will take time because decades of hyper-nationalism mixed with a hatred of Muslims has given birth to a generation of Indians who spend their time hysterically venting their rage against Islam and Pakistan on social media. The RSS should encourage them towards doing more constructive things for Bharat Mata.
The RSS could itself do much towards bringing about that elusive Indian renaissance. They are on the right track when they say that the Indian system of education needs change, but wrong when they confine this change to exalting some heroes and diminishing others. Indian children grow up without ever hearing the names of Sushrut or Bhaskaracharya. In our best schools they grow up with more knowledge of western literature than our own. Modern Indian writers of excellent quality exist but their books remain confined to the languages in which they are written. It is shameful that all our major literary festivals exalt mostly Indian writers writing in English. The RSS chief is absolutely right when he says Indian children must learn to speak English well but they must also learn their mother tongue and at least one other Indian language.
The ugly truth is that the colonisation of India has continued with greater success after the British left, mostly because they left behind a colonised Indian elite. So there is much that the RSS can do if it wants to bring about real change. If Mr Bhagwat is sincere, he should be applauded. But, the RSS has a bad image and continues to draw more brickbats than applause. This will take a while to change.