Is the RSS opening up?

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Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam

When RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat made certain observations during a three-day lecture series at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan, a lot of people sat up and watched in sheer amazement. It seemed as if the traditionally taciturn and secretive RSS had begun to suddenly open up before their dazed eyes.
The points that he made showed a departure from its traditional position on vital issues like the validity of the august Constitution of India and the position of Indian religious minorities, particularly Indian Muslims, in the society, polity and public life of the country. Bhagwat’s lectures were followed by a round of lively questions and answers.
The entire exercise looked like a massive course correction that would reshape the RSS into an inclusive organisation over the years. The participants included high-profile, reputed and influential invitees.
That the RSS head had come prepared to face difficult questions was evident when someone asked him where he stood on the most influential sarsanghchalak (the second after the RSS founder Masterji Keshav Baliram Hedgewar), Guruji Madhav Sadasiv Golwalkar’s suggestion in his book A Bunch of Thoughts about Muslims.

Nazi Extermination
Golwalkar had written appreciatively about the Nazi extermination of Jews in Germany and said that Hindus could learn from it profitably and apply it to Indian Muslims. Bhagwat said that the time had passed and RSS had moved ahead. It had also deleted those remarks from the new edition of Guruji’s Complete Works.
In a clear break from the past, Bhagwat said there could be no Hindutva without Indian Muslims, and Hindutva (Hinduness) was not denominational. It only meant Indianness. It was a move towards acceptance of India’s religious and cultural diversity. To quite a few of us it looked like a mere tactical move, but, the fact is that a huge organisation like RSS, which is barely a few years short of being a centenarian, change is a crucial issue. It needs to change to remain relevant and meaningful.

Stance on India’s Constitution.
A particularly noticeable feature of the event was the organisation’s well-known stance on India’s Constitution. For decades RSS had refused to recognise the Constitution of India and wanted it be replaced with an RSS Constitution. During NDA regimes the clamour for a review or rewriting of the Constitution has always intensified. However, when Bhagwat said India’s Constitution was sacred and inviolable, many people were reassured and took a sigh of relief. This is a far-reaching change when we consider Guruji Golwalkar’s opinion about the Constitution.
When the Constitution was promulgated in 1952, Guruji famously rejected it as an unworthy facsimile of Western Constitutions, written without regard to Indian (Hindu) values. He went on to declare that the Manusmirti was any day a far better Constitution. Needless to say, it would have been a dreaded prospect for Dalits, tribals and other marginalised groups. From Guruji’s untenable position to Bhagwat’s progressive stand RSS has travelled a long way.
Instead of doubting his bona fides, we should give Bhagwat cheers and co-operate with him for the common cause of India’s wellbeing and prosperity as the motherland belongs to all of us, a fact the sarsanghchalak has acknowledge publicly.
Finally, a word of caution. We should not expect that riots and lynchings, hate speech and hate crimes, communal polarisation before elections and denial of political space and political representations to Muslims by the RSS political front, BJP, would stop immediately. However, a time may come when such dangerous gimmickry would become unprofitable and unsustainable. That will be the time for such viciousness to be dropped like hot bricks. Till then we can expect to see the unpleasant spectacle of hate-driven politics and violence in some measure.
The author is the Chairman of the Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi.