With the three-day lecture series, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has made the first move to engage with intellectuals of every hue and all communities on its vision for and of India. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat put forth the Sangh line of thought on a host of issues from Hindutva to caste-based reservations in jobs and education institutions and the minorities. Frank discourse notwithstanding, doubting Thomases took to social media networks to derail RSS, the ultra-nationalist right wing Hindu organisation with roots in the majority Hindu population.
Where, Bhagwat drew attention was in his assertion that Muslims were integral to its idea of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. With that he appeared to have sought a redrawing of RSS image, which was seen as anti-Muslim, anti-Christian and generally as a reactionary organisation that was anti-minority. His call to Muslims to embrace the RSS “with an open mind” also marks a paradigm shift in the Sangh’s approach towards minorities from the days of MS Golwalkar, the second chief, who headed the organisation for 33 years. In fact, Bhagwat conceded that the Sangh’s approach to Muslims needed to be altered against the backdrop of the changed socio-economic context.
Even on lynching incidents, the RSS chief minced no words in condemning violence in the name of cow vigilantism. His call for bringing the perpetrators of violence to book ought to silence the Sangh’s worst critics on the issue. On a common civil code, Bhagwat rightly sought national consensus. This too marks a softened approach towards the minorities that harbour genuine apprehensions over the Sangh’s intent and their position in an environment where Hindu majoritarianism is gaining ground.
Bhagwat’s assertion that it was not in “power and partisan politics” is a basic reiteration of the organisation’s stated position. His open admission to “trying and influencing the government on policy issues” in the interest of the nation (read Hindus) serves as a word of caution for ruling BJP-led NDA to heed its advice on key issues like ‘Hindu-content’ based new education policy. His observations on “demographic balancing” through a new population policy may also be part of this narrative even though it may not go down well with Muslims.
Though he emphasised on the village-centric economic development model, for the first time the Sangh openly articulated its flexible position on foreign investments, products and services. On the Ram mandir issue, Bhagawat demanded ‘early construction’ of a grand edifice that would put an end to murky politics around a sensitive religious tiff between Hindus and Muslims. However, he kept the door open for negotiations between all stakeholders on achieving this at the earliest.
Bhagwat’s tenure has been marked by an ambitious outreach that has brought the RSS from being regarded as something of a shadowy organisation to the centre of India’s political discourse. No doubt this has something to do with his personality. Even before he became RSS chief, he would often be seen in public. This continued after he became RSS Sarsanghchalak. The three-day discourse is an extension of that effort to bring the Sangh in close proximity with public issues rather than stay in background as a remote organisation that was only known as the power behind the Bharatiya Janata Party.