Home >Opinion >Columns >Let’s celebrate what the RSS chief said about new India

In 1992, Pope John Paul II admitted that the Earth goes around the Sun. Thus, 350 years after the Church punished Galileo Galilei for saying the same thing, it stated that he had a point after all and that if only his evidence were not so shoddy, the Vatican of his times would not have so inconvenienced him. Whether John Paul II really believed the Earth goes around the Sun is not the most important thing about the event; it is that he chose to say it.

A few days ago, one of the most influential men in India said something just as obvious. Some people said they did not think he meant a word of it; they missed the most significant aspect of the event—that he said what he said.

Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said, “Those who lynch go against Hindutva." In a nation where mobs have lynched Muslims, usually on allegations of ferrying cows for slaughter, and a perception has grown across the world that the BJP condones crimes against Muslims, here was the church of Hindu nationalism deeming the act a crime.

His speech was largely ignored by the media. Instead, it should have been celebrated. One reason why it got little attention has something to with the corrupt nature of storytelling—good news, hope and happiness do not travel as far as bad things. Also, even considering the idea that the RSS is humane will rob many self-diagnosed humanitarians of material and purpose. But some reasons why his speech was not widely admired by gatekeepers of the Indian conscience have substance. He was speaking to a tactical outreach wing of the RSS, Muslim Rashtriya Manch. As Bhagwat himself said, everytime the RSS has said sensible things about Muslims, “we are not trusted". And similar statements in the past did not appreciably reduce the abuse and threats faced by Muslims.

Even so, it is extraordinary that he said Indians who harm Muslims should not be considered Hindu. The head of a powerful Hindu nationalistic organization excommunicating, even if only metaphorically, murderous Hindus deserves praise from anyone who loves people, India and sanity. As in the case of the Pope, it does not matter what Bhagwat believes. I do think, though, that the Pope was certain the Earth goes around the Sun, and Bhagwat considers Muslim-killers abhorrent and useless to his Hindu cause. Like the Church, the RSS is stepping into modernity. But unlike the Church of 1992, which feared becoming obsolete if it did not start making sense, the RSS of 2021 is speaking common sense because it is more self-assured than ever. Some battle has been won, and it does not require the language of lament.

That anyone who kills a Muslim is a criminal is not the only obvious but extraordinary statement in Bhagwat’s speech. In anticipation of how the speech will be received, he said, “This is not an image makeover… We don’t have to morph to do anything in this country." He said the RSS was not a political organization. “Yes, we do have some thoughts about how to run the nation, and we do exert pressure, and we do use our heft during the elections to push our ideas…" You could sense a ‘but’ coming. “There are some important things politics cannot achieve…Uniting people is beyond the capacity of politics." He said this without sanctimony, in a matter-of-fact way. Some Hindus, he said, “who may actually be very good people will say I have become naive". But, he said, he had complete faith in the co-existence of Hindus and Muslims.

To douse “the fear in Muslims that the Sangh wants to finish them off", he argued that a majority of Hindus do not wish them harm. “A man can appear menacing and deliver a pugnacious speech to Hindus about violent Hindu nationalism, but Hindus will not accept it." If this is true, it would seem many speeches of BJP politicians have been useless.

Bhagwat then meanders a bit to build an esoteric image of the typical Hindu as a very nice guy. But for this small detour into magic realism, his speech is the finest on the idea of India that I have heard in recent times. And, because of who he is, it was also the most convincing. Here I list some of the other points he made:

“It takes time for everyone (Hindus) to get wise."

“Dialogue (between Hindus and Muslims) is the only solution."

“People who wish to defile any religion have no place in Indian society."

“Some people argue that those who conquered them once deserve to be lorded over now. No. This is the age of democracy. Hindu Rashtra is not a Hindu-only nation."

That this speech was not celebrated by the usual lamenters of Hindu nationalism points to a form of narrow-minded intellectualism that results in miserly praise for anyone who is different from them. Many crusaders who appear to seek solutions are often in the business of preserving problems.

But then, we did not see ecstatic responses from temple-going Hindus either. They are not cultural orphans, and many of them hold the RSS in high regard. That also points to something.

The difference between the influential and ‘influencers’ is that the influential are public figures with real power, like Bhagwat. But both the influential and influencers today exist in a world where influence is over. They are mere corroborators. When they articulate a destructive thought that millions have thought, they are amplified. When they make sense that stirs no mojo, they are ignored.

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