Sitaram Yechury, in an interview, (IE, April 19) accused the RSS of possessing fascist traits. This is not the first time such an allegation has been levelled. It is one of the four rival, parallel narratives on the RSS, which originated due to its interplay with, and decisive impact on, socio-economic forces and the political system. For the Communist Party of India (CPI), RSS was not fascist in 1967 when they joined with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh but became so in 1976 when the CPI had camaraderie with Indira Gandhi. Similarly, CPM leader A K Gopalan praised the RSS for its role in the restoration of democracy in 1977. But Yechury repeatedly discovers fascist trends in it.
The second narrative defines RSS’s vision as a theocratic Hindu state. This ignores the organisation’s self-definition, which considers obvious the distinction between nation and state, and the superiority of the former. The state is a political entity, the nation is historic and cultural. Israel was a nation even without territory and sovereignty. Theocratic politics thrives by appropriating religious traditions. The diversities of Hindu philosophies ensure spiritual pluralism. The Hindu nation is, therefore, a civilisational-cultural idea of India. The RSS has vouched that identities are not non-negotiable and mutual symbiosis marks the dynamism of Hindutva. The pseudo-secular narrative values inclusion but does not answer, included into what?
The third narrative equates the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha (HMS) (‘Foreign hand in the RSS’, Parnal Chirmuley, IE, March 30). B S Moonje of the HMS, who met Mussolini after the Second Round Table Conference (RTC) in 1931, is projected as the chief architect of the RSS. Moonje and the RSS differed on vital issues and the RSS did not hide this. After attending the RTC in London, Moonje addressed a rally in Nagpur on February 14, 1932, and said that in case of a transfer of power, were Hindus “confident of being able to retain the power in their own hands and of resisting the aggression of Islam?” He argued, “If not, what will Hindus gain by the transfer?” The RSS reacted against his hypothesis. In his dairy, Moonje gives a detailed description: “In the morning, Dr Hedgewar and Martand Jog turned up. Jog took me to task for yesterday’s speech.” He quoted them as saying, “People blame us and our Sangh… They say it is the Sangh that provides [a] platform to Dr Moonje in Nagpur. I was disillusioned; the cat was out of the bag… this protest from Jog, which assumes that I want to have a platform for myself at the cost of the prestige and reputation of the Sangh and that I can not get such a platform without their help and support, opened my eyes. I wish the Sangh all prosperity and good luck but henceforward I will cease to take a personal interest in it…” Differences between the RSS and HMS became sharper. On June 2, 1938, Moonje wrote, “The RSS and Dr Hedgewar are developing a mentality of isolation and separateness from Hindu Mahasabha and its activities and becoming almost an actual opposition.”
The ambiguity of Moonje being a spirit behind the RSS had been settled in a debate on the organisation in the Central Provinces Legislative Council in March 1934. V D Kolte said, “So far as I know, Dr Moonje is neither the founder nor the moving spirit of the RSS.” Moreover, The Maharashtra, a Marathi daily, in its editorial on March 7, 1934, mocked the government, “From where has Home Minister (Raghvendra) Rao acquired this information (that Moonje is commander-in-chief of the RSS)? We declare… on the basis of the information that we have and we collected that Dr Moonje does not have any remotest relation with the formation, activates or the leadership of the RSS.” Is it academically and intellectually moral to use Moonje to ridicule the RSS?
The fourth narrative underlines the differences between the RSS and conventional Hindutva organisations. This is evident from a letter written by Bindhu Madhav Puranik, Nathuram Godse and M C Joglekar to V D Savarkar in 1939. It said, “Many thinking people in the Mahasabha are now deliberating on how to combat this menace (RSS).” This entailed the formation of organisations, besides the Ram Sena and Hindu Militia by an official HMS resolution. Dattatraya Parchure, secretary of the Gwalior HMS, formed Hindu Rashtra Sena. The RSS refused to be swayed by aggressive and polemical debates by a section of Hindu activists. It is true that there is a space for such elements, though microscopic in numbers. Earlier, the HMS subsumed them but with its decline, these elements increasingly got identified with the Hindutva movement. In a way, the RSS precluded the emergence of a reactionary organisation among the Hindus. However, the pseudo-secular media deliberately projected them as true representatives Hindutva. They underplayed RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s distancing of Hindutva from some violent incidents in the name of cow protection.
Moreover, the HMS’ young Turks’ letter also found traits of socialism in the RSS due to their economic puritanism, austerity and concerned for the lower strata. This feature helped the RSS to solicit as well as extend support to people from different ideologies — for example, Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave. Hedgewar refused help from capitalists and even sympathisers — including Jugal Kishore Birla and Madan Mohan Malaviya — in order to maintain the autonomy of the organisation. This helped the RSS guard against the ills of big capital and outside influence. Bhagwat’s recent speech in the BSE shows the RSS is free from economic fundamentalism and endorses a narrative of egalitarian transformation. Its 1,70,000 projects for the poor show its organic link with welfarist ideas.
The RSS’s narrative of “India First” resonates with the masses. Cataloguing it with either HMS/Moonje or rightist forces hardly serves the purpose of creative dialogue.