Mohan Bhagwat’s visit to New Delhi has provided another opportunity to analysts who want to spice up debates on television. People may arrive at their own conclusions, but the truth is that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) now wants to bring discussions that were hitherto carried out behind closed doors into the open and to the people. There is a sound logic to this newfound confidence.
For the first time in India’s history, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the RSS’s political arm, is leading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that has governments in 18 states. You may choose to perceive it as a political victory of the RSS and the BJP or a result of the failures of the Congress and regional parties. Whichever way you choose to interpret it, the months leading up to May 2019 are of great significance. Five assembly elections slated to be held during this period are likely to influence elections to the 17th Lok Sabha. Still, Bhagwat’s outreach programme in Delhi hasn’t been organized only with the elections in mind. The RSS led by him harbours greater ambitions.
Let me explain the reasons behind this.
The dream that Keshav Baliram Hedgewar first nurtured in Nagpur on 27 September 1925, has today reached a point where the RSS has to search for new horizons. In the journey to this point, the organization has experienced a number of highs and lows. If you recall, allegations were made after 30 January 1948, that Nathuram Godse was a member of the RSS. As a result, Sarsanghachalak M.S. Golwalkar was arrested and legal restrictions were placed on the organization.
After a turbulent period of one-and-a-half years, Golwalkar managed to convince the government that the RSS was a social and cultural organization. Many years later, on 25 June 1975, the RSS was again banned after Indira Gandhi declared a national emergency. Its activists and leaders from across the country were imprisoned. The Emergency compelled the country’s non-Congress powers to unite and take on the establishment in New Delhi. The coming together of non-Congress parties against the government’s oppressive ways proved too much for Indira Gandhi and she lost the general elections of 1977.
The events that followed were dramatic. After a lot of frenetic political manoeuvring, Morarji Desai took oath as the prime minister. If swayamsevaks such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani became part of his council of ministers, so did socialists such as Madhu Dandavate and George Fernandes. Their government may not have lasted for long, but it was clear that in three decades the RSS had laid such a deep foundation in Indian society that it couldn’t be ignored any longer. By the end of the 1980s, the country’s powerful elite also began to realise this.
For many years, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, its affiliate organization, had been stoking the fires of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. By 1989, its flames began to spread. Groups of karsevaks began heading to Ayodhya and preventing them from reaching the Babri Masjid was becoming difficult for the security forces every passing day. The incident on 6 December 1992 was a culmination of these events. Innumerable karsevaks razed the Babri Masjid that day. A furious Narasimha Rao banned the RSS again, but this ban lasted just six months.
If you look carefully you will realise that every time the organization was banned, it emerged even more powerful. So it isn’t an aberration that Bhagwat now wants to take the national discourse in a new direction. A three-day conference in the capital’s largest convention hall was part of this strategy. On the first two days, he explained his point of view. On the third, he answered people’s questions without inhibitions. The Sangh chief realises that he cannot completely control the thought waves of the people in such a short time but he knows that ideological give and take is essential to evolve a new understanding.
Here, it is essential to know that the RSS doesn’t take up any task suddenly. Over the last five years, Bhagwat has been gradually opening his windows to adversarial ideologies. During this time, he personally met a number of English language and Urdu editors along with leading intellectuals from minority communities.
Why do this? Although Bhagwat has given a formal reply to this question, if someone were to ask me, my brief reply will be this: the Sangh chief knows his word is taken very seriously, so this time he has chosen to say it in Delhi, the political capital. Let us see whether it reaches the desired destination or not.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin