Annoyed by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s so-called gestures for Muslim appeasement, former CBI head M Nageswara Rao described the RSS as “pseudo-Hindutva fraud” and asked Hindus to work for a “RSS Mukt Bharat” (RSS free India). Bhagwat was also criticised for saying that Hindus and Muslims have the same DNA.
During an interview with the Organiser and Panchajanya, the RSS chief was pointedly asked if Hindutva has abandoned its “aggressive stance”. This context is important for a critical analysis of his replies. The first sentence of his reply was that Hindu society has been at war for 1,000 years against foreign aggressors, foreign influences, and foreign conspiracies. In their latest meeting with Muslim intellectuals and ulema, senior RSS functionaries did say that the interview was not correctly translated, and the statement must be understood in the right context.
In fact, the most crucial statement in the interview was not about Muslims but about the accountability of swayamsevaks in government. Bhagwat said that “whatever swayamsevaks do in politics, the Sangh is held accountable for the same”. His statement on sexual minorities is reassuring. In contrast, the government is still not willing to recognise the validity of same-sex marriages.
Let us now look at the statement on Muslims more closely. The RSS chief had also asked Muslims to abandon their “rhetoric of religious supremacy” and stop claiming that they had once been rulers of this country. Opposition leaders and liberal intellectuals are up in arms against Bhagwat ignoring this author’s advice of having patience with the process of perestroika in Hindutva. After all, Bhagwat is the same person who had urged Muslims not to get “trapped in the cycle of fear” about Islam being in danger. He had asserted that nowhere does the Constitution say that only Hindus will have a say in this country and assured Muslims that it was impossible to imagine Hindutva without them. Ridiculing the efforts of Hindu-Muslim unity, Bhagwat reiterated that such initiatives are misleading because Hindus and Muslims “are not different, but one”. His latest statement is inconsistent with such assurances.
In the past, the RSS chief has gone against the oft-repeated Hindutva theory of Muslim rule being exclusively Muslim by citing the example of the battle of Haldighati (1576) between Mughals and Rajputs. He said that a large number of Muslims fought on the side of Maharana Pratap Singh against the Mughal army led by another Rajput, Raja Man Singh. Raja Jai Singh similarly, was the most trusted commander of the bigoted Aurangzeb. It was Rana Sanga who invited Babur to India. Akbar was born in the Rajputana fort at Amarkot and such was the trust between Mughals and Rajputs that the newborn prince was left in the care of Hindus when Humayun was in exile in Iran. Shivaji’s army had Muslim generals. Similarly, Tipu Sultan had a Hindu prime minister. Many Mughal rulers had Hindu mothers. Thus, it was the Muslim elite, a minority, that was ruling over poor Hindus and Muslims with the help of the Hindu elite, another minority. To say that ordinary Hindus have been at war with Muslims at large for over a thousand years is historically incorrect.
Neither society nor religions fight wars. In ancient and medieval times, rulers fought wars and used religion for political purposes. Hindu rulers fought against each other. So did Muslim rulers. Who can forget the Kalinga war (the RSS chief has called it a local war) or the First Battle of Panipat in 1526 between Babur and Ibrahim Lodhi? Christian kings too fought against each other. The idea of Ashvamedha Yagna was to determine territorial boundaries of Hindu Kings.
Religions, in contrast, oppose bloodshed and wars except against persecution, oppression and injustices. The Ramayana and Mahabharat wars tell us that Hindus must take up arms against Hindus for the cause of justice. Lord Ram fought against Ravan, a great Shiv bhakt. Lord Krishna had urged Arjun to fight against his own brothers, teachers, and elders.
The other part of the RSS chief’s statement — “we talk of war (against others) What about us” — seems to have been ignored. Bhagwat wants Hindus to wage war against themselves for self-purification. The best jihad too is said to be against oneself.
Our national movement was not called a war against Christians or even the British. Lord Mountbatten was independent India’s first Governor-General. The RSS chief has said that the Ram Temple movement was not a war. V D Savarkar did title his book the First War of Independence. But in this war against foreigners, Hindus and Muslims jointly fought. Savarkar said that Bahadur Shah Zafar was the popular choice of all Indians to be proclaimed as India’s emperor. The RSS chief has blamed the British for their divide and rule policy.
At the same time, every religion does have a sense of superiority and claims to possess the complete truth. A deeper study of religions tells us that religions, including Islam (though it discourages), do not consider slavery illegal. Brahminical superiority is a feature of Hinduism — though the varna system was not as rigid as its later perversion into the caste system.
Modern and liberal constitutions guarantee equality. But even our constitutional equality is not absolute, and it does permit reasonable classification. The Constitution demands that no citizen should consider anyone inferior or outcast or untouchable. But the reality is often different. In the first week of January, a Dalit woman was thrown out of a temple in Karnataka. Matrimonial advertisements suggest that a significant section of people in the country are against inter-faith marriages.
The RSS chief himself seems to be against war. Contradicting himself in the interview, he said that “staying perpetually in the fighting mode will do us no good. In the national life, it does not happen this way”. Prime Minister Modi too does not favour war rhetoric. At the BJP national executive’s meeting last week, he urged his partymen to reach out to Muslims — not just the Pasmandas, but also professionals and educated Muslims — without expecting their votes. His slogan after taking over presidency of G20 — “One earth, one family and one future” — does not fit well with the war rhetoric between religions within the country. Let us talk of peace, not war.
The writer is a constitutional law expert. Views are personal