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Thursday, August 05, 2021

Why Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on Muslims amount to little

It is a general homily with no real intention to stop hatred or violence

Written by Milind Murugkar |
July 8, 2021 8:02:02 pm
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (File Photo)

Should we find solace in Mohan Bhagwat’s new definition of “true Hindus” and Hindutva? Those who support lynching or ask Muslims to leave India are not true Hindus, according to this definition. This statement could be welcomed but for some uncomfortable facts.

The phenomenon of mob lynching of Muslims began as a pattern post-May 2014. This also saw increasing diatribes against Muslims on social media which continues even today. Hindus and Muslims have had a complex relationship. There are areas of beautiful syncretism and of tension and conflict and extreme prejudice. But with the regime change in 2014, the top leadership of the BJP-RSS appeared to signal approval for the wild and indecent expression of these prejudices. And then all hell broke loose. Physical violence was then inevitable.

The problem with the RSS chief’s statement is that the RSS never distanced itself from, let alone condemn, such signals. For example, it was silent when the Prime Minister looked the other away when a member of his cabinet felicitated convicts in a lynching case. The RSS felt no need to condemn the obnoxious statement of another central cabinet minister after Mohammad Akhlaq’s lynching. It never expressed its disapproval of the fact that the Prime Minister follows some hate-mongers on his Twitter account. Against this backdrop, one cannot but conclude that Bhagwat’s recent statement could be a mere tactic. It is a general homily with no real intention to stop hatred or violence.

But it is not only the silence of BJP and RSS leaders that should worry anyone who cares about the basic norms of decency in public life. One rarely sees a protest by anyone from among the millions of RSS sympathisers and swayamsevaks, when a lynching happens or a communal statement is issued by a Hindutva leader.

Thousands and thousands of socially-minded Hindus continue to be drawn towards RSS’s social work. Some devote a significant part of their life to work in remote areas. During one-on-one conversations, many of them would refuse to endorse violence or communal statements. And they are not being dishonest. Why then don’t they speak out against it? Not even a remark of disapproval or distancing on Facebook or Twitter? Why can’t they afford to do that?

Once you define nationhood on the basis of a culture or religion, it follows that everyone outside that well-defined culture cannot be an equal citizen of that nation. That has been the fate of every culturally-defined nation; Islamic states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Jewish state of Israel, Nazi Germany and so on. Citizens living outside the ambit of the national culture never hoped to receive equal treatment there. Cultural nationalism, by its very definition, is not compatible with a multicultural society.

India was a unique and bold experiment to set up a multicultural, multireligious and multilingual modern state with an attempt to create equal rights across all groups. The RSS was created explicitly to base its nationhood on Hindu culture. That is its appeal. It gives people clarity on what it believes the national ethos should be, which is certainly not the one spelt out by the constitution. RSS leaders have tried all sorts of intellectual acrobatics to differentiate Muslims from other minorities like Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, etc. but since 2014, other communities too have started to feel uncomfortable.

The sporadic violence against Muslims does not move the conscience of an RSS member because such a thing is inconsistent with the core of the ideology that this is a Hindu nation and “others” should live here at the mercy of Hindus. A few random incidents are bound to occur, but they are insignificant compared to the hundreds of years of conquest and plunder by “outsiders”, they argue. Bhagwat’s words to soften the image of the RSS fall on the deaf ears of both — RSS members and the general public. It is the tragedy of India that the party and its mighty parent organisation that have such a powerful sway over politics today cannot unequivocally endorse the values of basic decency and human dignity. And no amount of “rashtra seva” of the RSS can compensate for this tragedy.

(Murugkar writes on economic and social issues)

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