The BJP won a second term with a larger mandate, its government is putting in motion its core ideological projects, Article 370 has been abrogated — and yet. A summary of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s Dussehra speech this year would have to begin with the “parantu (but)” he inserts into his address after acknowledging, and owning, the Modi-BJP’s triumph. “Parantu is sukhad vatavaran mein alsa kar hum apni sajagta va apni tatparta ko bhula dein… aisa samay nahin hai”, this is not the time to be lulled into complacence, he says. The rest of the speech is mostly a bristling statement of the dangers and spectres that ostensibly afflict and confront Hindutva and the “Hindu Rashtra”, as the RSS and its chief have always defined, and continue to define, the nation. “Hamaare saamne kuch sankat hain jinka upaay hamein karna hai”, we are faced with dangers we must resolve. These, in Bhagwat’s telling, are visible but also hidden, more internal than external — “kuch sankat saamne dikhayee dete hain, kuch kuch baad mein saamne aate hain”. They are born of India’s diversities, which, he says, are manipulated to widen cleavages and fault lines. They come from attempts to defame Hindus, as in the case of lynchings, which, he says, are communal problems that are not one-sided, “dono taraf se aarop-pratyarop chalte hain” (there are allegations and counter-allegations).
In a speech that paints a state of siege, from family to nation, Bhagwat’s description of lynchings stands out for its stark denial of a brutal reality. That these incidents of violence, most often in the name of the cow, have seen the targeting of poor and vulnerable Muslims, is documented in the videos shot and publicised by the perpetrators themselves. That such mob violence and vigilantism is emboldened by a mix of religious passion and cold calculation of impunity, a majoritarian triumphalism, is there to see. For Bhagwat to suggest otherwise may be predictable, but it is still chilling.
The RSS chief’s inward-looking tone on the economy is disquieting. Even as he acknowledges the economic slowdown, albeit by attributing it to global currents, and while defending the Modi government’s efforts to find a way out of it, he returns to the RSS’s pet themes of “swadeshi”, “swavalamban” and “swanirbharta” (self-reliance). In times when the BJP government is faced with the challenge of reviving the economy by resuscitating trade and investment, Bhagwat’s articulation is a worrying reminder of the pressures an insular RSS vision can bring to bear on a government it calls its own. Bhagwat takes this theme forward — “swa bhasha (indigenous language)”, “swa bhoosha (indigenous attire)”, “swa sanskriti (indigenous culture)”. These formulations — purveying spectres, imposing sameness — are, of course, ill fitting in a diverse democracy. They are also a retreat from what seemed to be the RSS chief’s own breakthrough moment a year ago. During a chintan shivir in September 2018, Bhagwat had suggested that the RSS may be rethinking its certitudes and prejudices — most notably, by urging that Golwalkar’s anti-Muslim formulations be seen in the context of their time. This harking back puts a question mark on that step forward.