In September, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke before an invited audience in New Delhi to project his vision of the Sangh. Reviewing the Sangh’s long-held position on the founding document of the Republic, Bhagwat held that the “Indian Constitution is the consensus of the country”. Straining to explain that Hindutva was not an exclusionary philosophy at variance with the Constitution, he held that the RSS stood for a “yukt” (inclusive), not a “mukt”, Bharat.
Bhagwat’s words were hailed as a “glasnost” moment by some and many read the Sarsanghchalak’s perspective as a radical departure from the narrow cultural nationalism espoused by his predecessors. A month later, Bhagwat seems to be going back on his promise.
In the Sarsanghchalak’s Vijayadashami speech at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on Thursday, Bhagwat spoke about the Sangh’s Ram temple agenda. Ram, he said, was “the personification of the life energy of the nation and an icon of upholding Dharma” and claimed that “the construction of the temple is necessary from the self-esteem point of view”. He said it was a “matter of national interest”, which was “being obstructed by some fundamentalist elements and forces that play communal politics for selfish gains”. Bhagwat then demanded that the “government should clear the path for construction of the grand temple through appropriate and requisite law”. The speech acquired almost the tone of a threat when he said “it is in nobody’s interest to test the patience of the society without any reason” and the construction of the temple was essential for “an atmosphere of goodwill and oneness in the country”. These words do injustice to constitutional values. The national consensus reflected in the Constitution imagines India as a liberal democratic republic that does not privilege any particular religion while protecting and celebrating its diversity of faith and plural ethos. If as Prime Minister Narendra Modi once said, the Constitution is the government’s “holy book”, the nation’s self-esteem cannot be tied to a political project that has proved to be divisive and polarising.
The Ram Janmabhoomi issue, a complex legal matter with enormous political consequence, is being heard by the Supreme Court. Bhagwat must realise that exhorting the government to supercede the legal process by invoking the spectre of a restive Hindu population is tantamount to disrespecting due process. In his recent speeches, Bhagwat has tried to portray the RSS as an organisation that stands above the compulsions of electoral politics and stands for nation-building in accordance with constitutional principles. His Vijayadashami speech is a let-down. It militates against the essentially generous and inclusive spirit of the Constitution he had at long last begun to invoke.