January 13, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the ideology of the RSS is changing according to the times. We also look at the proposed investments by Adani in Madhya Pradesh, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
The different faces of the RSS: Is their ideology changing?
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) head, Mohan Bhagwat, gave an interview with the RSS’ mouthpieces Panchjanya and Organizer, where he spoke about the organisation’s stance on the BJP, the position of minorities and communists in India, the LGBTQ community, population control, and the issues of being in the political spotlight.
Two opinions that have caught public attention are his seemingly progressive views on homosexuality and an apparent sanctioning of rising communal tensions in the country. People are so taken aback by the former that they’re wondering if the RSS is changing its core beliefs. The latter comment, too, has knocked some socks off because of its apparent double standards. So how do we understand Bhagwat’s one-step-forward and two-step-back argument? Is it genuinely prescient of a changing model?
The RSS Sarsanghchalak stands at the helm of a 5,85,000-member (and counting) right-wing paramilitary organisation. The composition of RSS workers is heavily upper-caste Hindus, and its support base is composed similarly. This group serves as ideological fodder for our incumbent government, so it is no surprise that when, on the rare occasion, RSS speaks of its ideology publicly, people are interested.
In 2020, it was reported that 48% of the BJP’s MPs in the Lok Sabha were RSS affiliated, while the percentage was 41% in the Rajya Sabha. Organizationally too, the RSS and BJP are pretty tight. Both belong to the Sangh Parivar, a consortium of various Hindu nationalist groups created by the cadre-based RSS. The BJP was set up as the RSS’ political wing, so the latter could isolate itself from politics.
Let’s get into the RSS ideology and the subtext of Bhagwat’s interview. Since its founding in 1925, the non-political organisation has worked towards fanning a grassroots-level revolution to promote the idea of a Hindu Rashtra socio-culturally. To this end, it operates through shakhas and other organisations that target almost all social, economic, religious, and political interest groups in the country. The idea is to first effect change in the hearts and minds of people.
After India’s independence, though, the RSS realised it couldn’t really stay away from politics. However, its role has mainly been limited to advising the organisation’s affiliates (like the VHP and ABVP) and the states. Think of its role as that of CBSE for English literature exams. You can exhaust all creative possibilities but only score 100 if you reproduce CBSE-generated keywords.
So what are these keywords? Heavily drawn from Golwalkar and Savarkar, the Hindutva movement is a militant son of the soil movement that regards only Hindu culture as genuinely Indian. It reads the story of the Indian nation as one would of a living organism rather than a social contract. Other ethnicities, influences, and religions are considered invasive and infiltrating the Hindu’s racial purity. This doesn’t mean others cannot live in the RSS’s imagined nation. They can, if they accept the magnanimity of Hindus.
In the latest interview, Bhagwat highlights the RSS’ long-held conservatism against immigrants. He suggests that in India, no national policy will curb birth rates. Instead, government policies should centre around eliminating large-scale conversions and infiltration. So, he says that in a Hindu Rashtra, Muslims are welcome to retain their faith, or they may “go back” to the faith of their ancestors. Remember, we are not talking about facts here, in the realm of ideology.
Some claim that these comments are made in light of the 2024 elections. Only last year, the chief had turned heads for initiating outreach programs in mosques and with Muslim leaders. He had described dialogue as the need of the hour. The same man had also censured attempts to take down mosques. “[W]hy look for Shivling in every mosque?,” he said, over the Gyanvapi dispute.
Secondly, in the interview, he explains the militaristic operations of the RSS. He argues that the RSS lends support to the cause of the Hindu Rashtra, which has been at war for 1,000 years. According to him, the present communal tensions are because Hindus are finally awake.
Finally, Bhagwat presents a similar relationship of benevolence and magnanimity toward the LGBTQ community. He acknowledges the minority community’s right to live as a natural and inalienable phenomenon. His approval is evidently contingent on the acceptance of homosexuality within the Hindu tradition.
VIEW: Yes, in some ways
First off, Bhagwat’s inclusion of the LGBTQ community within the RSS’ understanding of a Hindu Rashtra is a reflection of change within the organisation’s ideological stance. Before 2014, the RSS vehemently opposed homosexuality, deeming it unnatural and even criminal. However, with the BJP in power and the spotlight that accompanied it, RSS workers have been hard at work trying to project a softer stance on the issue.
Another evident change has been within the composition of its supporters. While upper-caste Hindus constitute the traditional support bank of the right-wing group, its political wing has attracted lower-caste groups too. Since 2014, the RSS has targeted rural expansion and the support of people from backward castes. The BJP, too, has been able to unite OBCs and Dalits under the Hindu cause.
Another change to note within the RSS is its distance from politics, which has reduced significantly. Initially, the Jan Sangh or the BJP was formed so that RSS could maintain its distance from politics, as the latter believed politics to be an inferior mode of initiating the change it seeks. However, Bhagwat’s interview echoes the gradual closing of this gap, where he talks about the accountability that the RSS holds due to its close relationship with the party in power.
COUNTERVIEW: It’s the times that are a-changin’
The major ideological tenets of the RSS have only calcified. The ideology that Golwalkar had inscribed for the organisation continues to be paramount for its sustenance and expansion. Without the rhetoric of Hindus under threat, the organisation would have difficulty garnering a support base.
True to its vision, the RSS and its affiliate organisations like the VHP, ABVP, and Bajrang Dal have been directly involved in violence against India’s religious minorities, their places of worship, and Dalits. The RSS has also set up schools and curricula that disseminate a highly skewed interpretation of history. The right-wing groups have organised protests against movies and OTT web shows that challenge its version of history. Moreover, they act as gatekeepers of the Hindu religion and Hindu mythology.
Lastly, the RSS and BJP have indeed expanded their support base. But this is not attributable to changes within the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. The BJP came to power when the inegalitarian effects of 1991 liberalisation were being felt across castes and classes. The BJP projected itself as a leader of the masses and was able to make good use of internal divisions amongst the Dalits. Thus, the Hindu identity was harnessed with the promise of mobility and political representation.
- Homosexuality not a crime, but against nature: RSS – The Hindu
- RSS in Modi govt in numbers — 3 of 4 ministers are rooted in the Sangh – The Print
- ‘Not Hindu Nationalism, But Society That Has Changed’: Christophe Jaffrelot – The Wire
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The ideological core of the RSS is changing.
b) The ideological core of the RSS is unchanging.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Hard work to invite Harvard: Why UGC’s plan for foreign university campuses in India rings hollow
For the Left:
An open letter to Rahul Gandhi
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Common land ownership rights (Haryana) – Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced the state would introduce a law to give people ownership rights of common land on revenue records. He said a committee had been formed to study the old laws and frame new ones. A bill will soon be introduced in the Vidhan Sabha. He met with members of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, who wanted a permanent solution.
Why it matters: Last year, the Haryana government issued fresh clarifications on the law in the wake of orders from Punjab and Haryana High Court. A Supreme Court bench ruled that the common village land shouldn’t be re-partitioned amongst the proprietors nor sold. It stated the entire land reserved for common purposes by applying a pro-rata cut should be used by the gram panchayats.
Food safety (Kerala) – To prevent food poisoning, owners of food joints have agreed to mention the use-by dates on food parcels. They’ve also agreed to use only pasteurised eggs. The decision was taken at a meeting called by Health Minister Veena George with representatives of hotels, bakeries, and street food vendors. She said people shouldn’t consume food past the use-by date. She asked owners to have hygiene ratings directed by the food safety department.
Why it matters: The move comes in the wake of several food poisoning incidents due to unhygienic conditions in several food joints. Last week, the department continued its inspection of restaurants and eateries across the state and raided more than 400 locations. 26 were ordered to close down due to low hygiene standards and not operating with a license.
5-star youth training facility (Chhattisgarh) – The Vedanta Skill School in the state has become the first 5-star school under the Skill Management & Accreditation of Training Centers (SMART) program. It’s a one-of-a-kind institute that provides technical education and vocational training to local youngsters. It provides free training in six trades, including sewing machines, welding, etc.
Why it matters: The school is the product of Bharat Aluminium Company Limited’s (BALCO) CSR initiative. It began in 2010, with more than 10,000 students graduating so far. Abhijit Pati, CEO of BALCO, said the school has helped to transform the region and provide youngsters with unique employment opportunities in the state and across the country.
Adani’s investment in various sectors (Madhya Pradesh) – The Adani Group is all set to invest ₹60,000 crores across different sectors in the state. Among them are mineral exploration, energy, agriculture, and renewable energy. Pranav Adani held a meeting with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the Global Investors Summit in the state. Chouhan stressed the need to provide local youngsters with employment opportunities.
Why it matters: At the ongoing MP Investors Meet, the first day saw ₹75,000 crores worth of investment for the state. Another company looking to invest in the state is the Birla Group, with ₹15,000 crores. Chouhan also interacted with leaders from Tata, the Accenture Group, and Reliance. Despite the large amounts of investment, the government will only sign MoUs when the actual investment is realised.
Myanmar strikes along border (Mizoram) – The Myanmar military has carried out strikes against insurgent camps along the border with Mizoram, causing panic in the state’s Champhai district. Media reports suggest at least one shell landed on the Indian side. Local officials said there were no deaths though a truck near the river bank was damaged. The military began strikes on Camp Victoria in Chin State.
Why it matters: The strikes are part of the unrest due to the two-year-old long coup in Myanmar. There has also been tension with Bangladesh and Thailand due to similar strikes. The Chin National Army is an armed ethnic group with its headquarters at the camp. They were inactive for a while. After the coup, they teamed up with pro-democracy civilian militias to fight the junta.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$588 million – The US imported oil products worth $588 million in November. It has emerged as the top destination for refined petroleum products from India for that month.