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Fifth Column: Crusaders in a time warp

It is true that in elections past, the RSS helped the BJP win, but it is not true of the last general election.

Written by Tavleen Singh |
February 22, 2015 3:16:45 am
Hindu unity, Relious freedom RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Kanpur on Sunday. (Source: Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

My contempt for the RSS has been articulated clearly and often in this column. But, because of the Prime Minister’s assurance on religious freedom last week I have had occasion to express this contempt on national television more than once in recent days. This has caused a backlash. Virulent blogs have appeared on the Internet charging me with all manner of moral turpitude and personal prejudice, and my Twitter timeline has been poisoned with spiteful, unrepeatable tweets. This gives me yet another chance to reiterate that the vote for Narendra Modi was not a vote for the RSS. It is true that in elections past, the RSS helped the BJP win, but it is not true of the last general election. It is my considered view that if Mohan Bhagwat had been spotted lurking in Modi’s shadow, there would have been no full majority.

So here is some gratuitous advice. Please Mr Bhagwat, get back into your khaki knickers and return to Nagpur as soon as possible. You have already caused grievous harm to the Modi government, desist from doing any more. There can only be more harm if you continue to hog national headlines, because you are stuck in a time warp. Proof of this comes from something I wrote in April 1999 when the Fifth Column had moved temporarily to India Today. ‘Vajpayee’s government has taken a long time getting into governance mode… There was the problem of the BJP’s lunatic fringe trying to push its agenda. Conversions became more important than governance and swadeshi nearly succeeded in reversing the process of economic liberalisation.’

Is any further proof needed that the RSS has remained exactly where it was 15 years ago? This is why it became almost defunct until it crawled slyly on the back of the Modi government. And it will lapse back into obscurity if Modi fails to show that he is a prime minister who can live up to his slogan of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’. So if there are serious thinkers in the inner circle of Mr Bhagwat they must spend some time in deep introspection.

Had this exercise taken place earlier, the RSS could today have played a constructive role instead of a negative one. It could have discovered that there was always more to India’s ancient civilisation than religion, and that as a ‘cultural’ organisation, it can help recover some of the things that have been lost. Great literature, rich languages, scientific knowledge, precise and spectacular understanding of astronomy and astonishing mathematical achievements. Having said this, let me add that if the RSS does start examining this magnificent heritage, it will need to employ the services of real scholars. So far, whenever it has entered this arena it has gone in with pamphleteers whose main purpose has been to use this heritage as a weapon against Muslims.

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So time for some fundamental ‘parivartan’ here. There is no point in attacking Islam in today’s age because the repulsive murderers who lead the Islamic State are doing such a good job of it. Between ISIS, Boko Haram and Pakistan’s multi-tasking jihadi groups, Islam has become the most reviled religion in the world. It is to India’s credit that it remains one of the few countries in the world where Islamism has not so far reared its repugnant head in the way it has in our neighbourhood. Has anyone in Nagpur noticed?

My contempt for the RSS comes from having observed this organisation closely for many years. There was a time when I regularly went to the morning ‘shakha’ in Delhi’s middle-class residential colonies. I went with the idea of researching Hindutva’s mysteries and discovered from my empirical studies that the average attendee at the RSS version of morning PT (physical training) was usually a fanatic with a gigantic chip on his shoulder. His motivation for waking at dawn to participate in very primitive martial exercises was a deep, deep hatred of Muslims.

Many of the people I met over delicious post-shakha Punjabi breakfasts were people whose families had suffered because of Partition and their wounds had never healed.

None of the people I met had an understanding of Indian civilisation that went beyond religion. This was more than 30 years ago and the sad truth is that nothing has changed. So it is no surprise that the only thing the RSS has done in the past eight months by way of Hindu revivalism is the farcical ‘ghar wapsi’ programme. This has done more damage to the Modi government than anything that the Congress party or any other opposition party has come up with. Is this what the RSS wants? Does it want to cripple the Modi government by binding it down in irrelevant things? If so, it is doing very well.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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