Chapter 26: With time we evolve, adapt to new challenges. Flowing water never goes stable!
It was in 1998, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and other Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliate organisations were protesting against the screening of Fire, a Hindi film portraying a lesbian relationship between its two protagonists. The protesters argued that the film sought to legitimise and glorify lesbianism.
The Sangh Parivar – interestingly the termed coined by the media houses, not by the Sangh itself – since then, has modified its stand on homosexuality and sexual preferences.
In an RSS meeting, the joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale had taken a stand on the topic saying that sexual preferences should be considered a matter of personal choice and that references of homosexuality and acceptance of it by the society could be found in ancient Indian history.
The issue came full circle on October 1 this year when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat took a similar stand on the subject of LGBT, citing the examples of Shikhandi and that of some of the generals in the army of Jarasandha, Krishna’s biggest enemy.
He was speaking on the launch of The RSS: Roadmaps for the 21st century, a book written by ABVP’s national organising secretary Sunil Ambekar.
In one section of his book, the author writes about the media event in which Hosabale had spoken in support of transgender people and against the criminalisation of homosexuality. “If there are differences on such issues in the society, they should be resolved peacefully and through dialogue. There is no need to make such issues flashpoints,” Bhagwat said at the book launch.
In his 10 years as the leader World’s Largest Volunteer Organisation, the RSS chief has been celebrated for taking the organisation forward on many fronts and moving away from many stated and unstated RSS positions of the past in keeping with the new era.
He has often said that the RSS isn’t guided by any book and that it can change its position with the changing times.
A year ago, while speaking at another event, Bhagwat had surprised many with his response to a question about the RSS moving away from its former assessment of the Muslim community and how the organisation now saw Muslims as an important part of the society.
Bhagwat’s response was in keeping with his earlier statement that Hindutva will cease to exist if it doesn’t consider Muslims or any other set of people as part of this country because Hinduism doesn’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of religious and other distinctions.
However, he had also stressed on how the RSS’s permanent belief is that Bharat is a Hindu Rashtra and all those who consider Bharat to be their motherland, are Hindus by culture, if not by religion.
Bhagwat’s tenure, first as an RSS general secretary and then as the RSS Sarsanghchalak, has, in some senses, been a period of change for the organisation. His father, senior RSS leaders Madhukar Rao Bhagwat, had played a key role in bringing about an acceptance for Mahatma Gandhi in the Sangh Parivar by explaining that the economic and swadeshi principles talked about by Gandhhi were actually the same as that of the RSS and that it was possible for two ideologies to co-exist when the differences were few and similarities many.
After Bhagwat became RSS general secretary about 20 years ago, Gandhi’s acceptability within the Sangh further increased and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated espousal of Gandhian principles has only helped.
Some in RSS still support the idea of having an honest debate on Gandhi and to bring the “real Gandhi” before the nation. They also feel that Gandhi’s principle of complete non-violence and his brand of Sarva Dharma Sambhav (all religions are the same), was responsible for the Muslim appeasement in the country that India has seen after independence.
As a matter of fact it is true too… If Mahatma had not supported mobilization in name of islam, many disaster could have been easily evaded. Mahatma stood in support of murdered of Swami Shraddhananda yet his contribution in freedom struggle was iconic and it will remain unquestioned for years to come.
Walter Andersen, a professor of South Asia studies, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, and Shridhar Damle, a freelance journalist in the US, have become foremost scholars of the right-wing outfit. But, Andersen, is quick to correct the definition for the Sangh. “The use of the Western term ‘right’ reflects a kind of orientalism and is therefore, misleading. On economic issues, RSS is to the left of centre and on cultural, to the right of centre. On Muslims, there is an effort to bring Muslims into what the RSS considers the national mainstream. Its leaders often point to the cultural Hindu activities of the Muslim majority Indonesia as a model of what should exist in India,” he says.
Their book RSS: a view to the inside also explains how Contrary to the popular notion of the RSS being anti-Muslim and doggedly pushing the Hindutva ideology with the BJP, Andersen and Damle talk of how the Sangh, bringing Muslims into their fold. The Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), which describes itself as an organisation, established with the support of the RSS, to bridge the gap between the Hindus and Muslims, is one such effort, the authors state in the book.
It is brave of Mohan Bhagwat ji to now subject the organisation to more public scrutiny. Perhaps for the first time ever, the Sangh now sees direct communication with citizens as vital to its existence and future.
Most significantly, he claimed that Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra were not about excluding Muslims and minorities.
Do all these statements and observations by Bhagwat suggest that the Sangh is shedding its old clothes – it did so literally when it abandoned khakhi shorts for trousers a few years ago, and emerging as a more modern entity in the 21st century?!!! Some of the change is real, for the Sangh’s social structure has changed; it is less Brahmanical than in the past, with OBCs and Dalits adding significantly to diversity in the cadres; it even has Muslim and Christian wings. It has changed its stance on Section 377, and is no longer in favour of criminalising gay relationships.
As rightly said by R Jagannath,
“In a world of hyper-media coverage, allowing others — whether authorised or not — to speak on your behalf means giving away half the communication advantage. With fanatical organisations like the Sanatan Sanstha, suspected to be involved in some violent activities, now assumed to be another front of the Sangh, the RSS probably thought it better to define itself formally to the nation instead of allowing its critics to do so”.
Sangh will keep growing and the changes indicate that it is open to changes and adaptations. As commonly said, flowing water never goes stale, Sangh will continue to flow incorporating fresh ideas.
Source: article by R Jagannath on Mohan Bhagawat ji’s address of October 1st
Dr Sindhu Prashanth