The three-day meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) of the RSS has ended with a message from its sarkaryawah, Suresh “Bhayyaji” Joshi, that the acceptability of the organisation in society has increased. This observation cannot be interpreted either in terms of the influence the RSS has been exerting on governance or the growing number of shakhas.
For the first time in modern India, ideologically-indoctrinated cadres of the RSS are at the helm at the Centre as well as in 24 states. The annual report also indicated the horizontal and vertical growth of the Sangh Parivar. In vertical terms, the RSS has an active presence in 37,190 locations, with 59,000 daily shakhas attended by millions. And horizontally, more than three dozen of its mass organisations have made significant advances, including in literature, art and cinema.
However, Bhayyaji’s observation also needs to be decoded within the panorama of India’s ideological discourse. The most palpable feature of this discourse is the continuation of colonial intellectualism, of course, with corrections and changes. But the foundation of the discourse in how it views cardinal issues has remained unchanged.
Fundamentally, there is no difference between colonial intellectuals and left-liberals in how they define secularism, nationalism or India’s past. The RSS espouses definitions of Indian-ness which contest the left-liberal paradigm. Both colonial intellectuals and left liberals used coercion and international camaraderie to suppress indigenous thought. Therefore, the continuation of left-liberal intellectual hegemony is not due to its moral superiority but rather the continuing imbalance in intellectual output.
It is for this reason that the Modi government faces stout resistance by a class of intellectuals who acted in the past as a tool of legitimacy. Those who blame the BJP-RSS for still behaving as the Opposition fail to understand the persisting dichotomy between political power and the dominant intellectualism.
The RSS has transcended the limits of intellectual resistance by silently working for the ideological revival and decolonisation of the Indian mind. There is great commonality between the RSS and thinkers like Frantz Fanon, an Algerian Marxist, and African novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Both of them argued for the overthrow of colonial intellectual legacies.
The RSS’s definition of secularism, nationalism and India’s past is not an exclusive narrative, but shares much with social reformers, cultural movements and thinkers from the pre-RSS era, including B C Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh, Rabindranath Tagore, Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Any dynamic movement which commits to national regeneration needs to be free from a sectarian approach or claim to exclusive authorship of definitions. Unlike other Hindu movements of the past, the RSS has been hyper-inclusive in evolving ideas and programmes. The RSS’s influence in the Northeast has proved the propaganda unleashed against it — that it was trying to end cultural and linguistic diversities — is incorrect.
It is pertinent to mention my dialogue with an eminent Marxist intellectual from Bihar. He narrated his meeting with the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat during his recent tour of the state. The meeting was hardly an exception. Bhagwat has met more than 1,200 eminent intellectuals and social workers in 2017-18. Most of them are not directly linked with the RSS and many belong to camps that oppose it.
Can anyone imagine an RSS man being invited to the CPM headquarters to present his critique? At least on two occasions in recent history, RSS cadres joined hands with leaders of the other side without inhibition. In 1989, the anti-corruption crusade led by V P Singh had the support of the saffron cadre and so did Anna Hazare’s Lokpal movement. The consistent psychological indoctrination of RSS cadres allows them to accommodate forces with opposing ideologies.
Another feature of the organisation is that the marginalised and discriminated get the highest priority and their daily needs are addressed. It has the biggest chain of schools and more than 1,50,000 social projects. The repeated allegation that majoritarianism is central to the RSS worldview has eroded, at least among a majority of Hindus in the country.
Incidents of unnatural violence in the recent past have been used to resurrect anti-RSS polarisation by the left-liberals and anti-BJP forces. However, the exaggerated allegations and campaigns have not worked. The pseudo-secular parties realised the limitation of anti-RSSism and are incrementally shifting their politics and philosophy from pro-minorityism to pro-Hindu stances by drawing a distinction between RSS’s Hindutva and Hinduism.
This indicates a change in the meta-narrative of Indian politics, which is coming closer to social and cultural realities. However, the political opportunism with regard to Hinduism becomes obvious when these forces ally with international forces who abhor cultural nationalism. Their objective is to create a legitimacy deficit for the RSS.
The RSS, both as an organisation and an idea, is not static. Therefore, bracketing it with the Indian right or Hindu Mahasabha does not serve any purpose. What pseudo-secular forces who oppose the RSS due to its support for the BJP fail to understand is that they themselves are responsible for the reasons for this support. The RSS commands the support of the marginalised more than socialists and communists.
Its founding principle of egalitarianism deters the onslaught of the rightist traits. In the coming era, the RSS has to battle diverse forces to become a ruling force in the realm of ideas. We have to match our socio-cultural activities with rigorous intellectualism. As the sarkaryawah’s report says: “All of us are experiencing that with the growing trust in our work, there are also growing expectations throughout the country.”
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