Engaging Sangh Pariwar: Bhagwat gives Opportunity, Any Takers?

“Such crimes hardly take place in ‘Bharat’, but they occur frequently in ‘India’. You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang-rape or sex crimes. They are prevalent in some urban belts. Besides new legislation, Indian ethos and attitude towards women should be revisited in the context of ancient Indian values. (4 January 2013)
“कुछ लोग बोल रहे है की पार्टीको सफलता मिली. कुछ लोग बोल रहे है की कोई व्यक्तिके (Narendra Modi/Amit Shah) लिए जीत मिली. कोई व्यक्ति, पार्टी, या संघटन की वजहसे यह परिवर्तन नहीं हुआ. आम आदमीने परिवर्तन चाहा. (some people say the success was due to the party. Some others say it was because of some individuals. Fact is the common man wanted change).(11 August 2014)”.
“All those who live here in Hindusthan are Hindus. Our style of worshipping may differ, some may not even worship at all, we may speak different languages, we may belong to various parts of this land, our eating habits may differ, yet we all are ONE. We are one nation. We are Hindus. Just as those who stay in England are English, those who stay in Germany are German, and those in US are Americans, all those who stay in Hindusthan are Hindus. (11 August 2014)” 
All the three statements, made at different times, were attributed to one person, Mohan Bhagwat, who is the present Sar Sangh Chalak of RSS. The first was a poor, ill-informed and patently false attempt to blame the influence of “Western Culture” for rapes, particularly gang-rapes that routinely occur in India; while claiming such things are alien to ancient Hindu values. This statement received the widespread flak that it roundly deserved for both its ignorance and parochialism. Gerda Lenner showed in The Creation of Patriarchy that violence against women pre-dates even “accumulation” and “private property” (era of so called primitive Communism) as posited by Marx to the time when tribes of humans began to come in violent contact with each other over hunting territory. Forcibly impregnating enslaved women of the conquered rival group to ensure their loyalty and relative immobility (from running away) was de rigueur. Later, a more “non-violent solution” to such recurring conflicts that extracted unacceptable toll on all was sought in the practise of exogamy whereby women were exchanged among rival groups (tribes) like commodities to secure truce. The widespread acceptance of exogamy even today testifies to its efficacy in the past in reducing “internecine violence” at the cost of gender violence.
The next statement had more to do with the internal dynamics within Sangh pariwar, though personally I find it unexceptionable. Charisma of Modi, Organizing skills of Shah, and the games played by BJP and other parties in Uttar Pradesh to polarize communities, undoubtedly played their part; but there is no denying that the determining factor was the freedom from crushing inflation and corroding corruption that people yearned. Yet, Corporates and their main stream media [MSM] did not take kindly to any perceived devaluation of Brand-Modi in which they are heavily invested. The proponents of Swadeshi (self-reliance) within Sangh pariwar [Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS)]  are opposed to genetically engineered foods and have stymied the clearance given to open field trials of 13 GM crops. Monsanto (US) holds lion share in GM patents and technology with Syngenta (Swiss) a distant second. Modi is pro Globalisation and Foreign Investments (FDI) that Indian corporates sorely want; and that makes business distinctly uncomfortable with this successful assertiveness of “Swadeshi” as witnessed here. Remember, in the run up to elections, agribusiness experts were full of praise of CM Modi’s Gujarat Model where GM Cotton “thrived” and naturally expected its unhindered replication in the country under PM Modi. Surprisingly, the Left and the NGOs, who clamoured for GM Food bans not too long ago when Jayram Ramesh was the environment minister, held studied silence on this visible and welcome intervention from these outfits. May be because they were “tainted” by RSS.
The last statement predictably raised the hackles of all opposition parties, while RSS and BJP went into “explanatory” and “provide spin” mode. Congress: *Bhagwat would be well-advised to read the Constitution which very specifically states that India is Bharat, a union of state, and the word “Hindustan” is nowhere mentioned*; CPM: *He should make it clear if he believes in it. In our Constitution, the country is Bharat not Hindustan*; JD(U): *India has come so far since Independence by keeping its faith in the Constitution and its future lies in following the same course*; and of course, BSP: *When Ambedkar ji (Bhimrao Ambedkar) wrote the Constitution he kept in mind that our country comprises various religions and people follow them. So the name Bharat was given, the word Hindustan was not used. The RSS chief does not have proper knowledge of the Constitution. He should learn that and then comment*. Even religious leaders commented: Archdiocese of Delhi– *Our nation is great and known for unity and diversity… Now you (RSS) are trying to make one nation, one religion, one culture, trying to put everybody under one umbrella which is not right*. The defence had its own talking points. BJP: *“what he(Bhagwat)meant by ‘Hindu’ was ‘Hindustani’. He never spoke about interfering in religious practices of people.”*; Goa’s Dy Chief Minister presciently anticipated: *“India is a Hindu country. It is Hindustan. All Indians in Hindustan are Hindus, including I – I am a Christian Hindu,”*. Bhagwat had followed up his remark made in Cuttack by another in Mumbai: *“Hindustan is a Hindu nation…Hindutva is the identity of our nation and it (Hinduism) can incorporate others (religions) in itself.”*. Whether rest of Bhagwat’s speech justifies the paraphrasing done by Hindu Business Line in the preceding sentence I do not know. But, even if it was, there was a clear attempt to separate Modi from Bhagwat, like this attempt by Goa-BJP’s Christian legislator: *”I don’t think the Government of India, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji, has consented to that. The statement was made in his (Bhagwat’s) personal capacity”*.
Since when did सर् संघ चालक begin to have “personal capacity”? Would Congress say it is Sonia Gandhi’s personal opinion, or BJP Modi’s? Moot points in the acrimonious debates are overlooked and lost as is usually the case. For one, “India” / “Hindu” have same roots in “Indus”/ “Sindhu”. For another, even Government entities duly established by “law” like Hindustan Aeronautics, Hindustan Petroleum, would be all unconstitutional if word “Hindustan” were repugnant to Constitution. Third, the endearing term of RSS for हिंदुराष्ट्र is भारतवर्ष (अखंड भारत), and abandoning it for Hindustan (which tacitly accepts the fact of partition) makes it pari passu with Pakistan, would have been sacrilege had someone else dared. What a comi-tragic mix-up with “secularist” pumping for Bharat and “Hindutva-vadi” for Hindustan. 
Behaviour of political parties across the spectrum was sans out of the box thinking and followed the same  clichéd rut, except a “promising spark” wasted by a seasoned politician to which we would come later. What was surprising is that even political pundits missed a welcome opening.  It has frequently been posited: *It is interesting to note that till 8th century the scriptures called as Hindu scriptures do not have the word Hindu in them. This word Hindu as such came into being with the Arabs and Middle East Muslims coming to this side of the continent. They called the land on east side of Sindhu as Hindu. Thus the word Hindu began as a geographical category. So even today in some parts of the World, especially in West Asia, India is referred to as Hindustan. Mr. Bhagwat is wrong to say that we are referred to as Hindustan all over. It is only in Saudi Arabia and West Asia, that the word Hindustan is prevalent. In Saudi even today the Muslims going for Hajj are referred to as Hindi and In Saudi Arabia the discipline of arithmetic in their language is called Hindsa (Coming from Hind).*Thus “Hindu” was not a “religious” term, but started off more like a Geographical Indicator. If so, that is precisely what Bhagwat “seems to say” today. This should have met with approval of those opposed to “Hindu as religious term”. But instead those opposed to RSS seem now to have bought into the definition and vision of Hindu nationalists (including RSS), who made Hindu into a religion-indicator. That too an indicator of a singular, monolithic vision of Hindu religion, which denies a diverse range of religious practices that go under the rubric Hindu. What a breadth-taking reversal of positions that has been caused by what is known to ontology as “Category Error“. However, there is a reason to be wary of RSS/Sangh Pariwar. Category Error has been a potent tool in the hands of RSS for long to seed confusion and to weaken resistance to its world view and make it more palatable to wider audience; and “Hindutva” is its product. A superbly malleable term that can be made to have any desired meaning. That is why Bhagwat’s pronouncements invoke among ‘”secular” a fear that seizes one  on seeing snake in the dark.
A small but telling example of this is necessary. At a seminar held by RSS in August last year: *Shrirang Godbole, a homeopathic doctor from Maharashtra who serves as an Islam pundit within the Sangh, explained that the Muslim community is not monolithic, but is riven by divisions just like Hindus are by caste. He then expounded on how even “benign” sects such as Sufism have a violent past. “Some of our leaders pay homage to Sufi saints without proper understanding of history,” Godbole told them, as a slide showing the BJP leader LK Advani at the dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, popped up on a screen. The swayamsevak-journalist said it generated a lot of laughter—even from Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS sarsanghchalak, or supreme commander, who was present throughout the workshop. “The problem is Hindus have started thinking about themselves as minorities,” Bhagwat later told the group. “Hindus should have an aggressive, nationalistic stand.”*. The reference to “violent past” of Sufism is deliberate but egregious because copious references to Sufism’s syncretic tradition are made in defence when all Muslims are denigrated as vile and murderous by pointing to the brutal violence perpetrated by Salafi/Wahabi Islamists. The point Godbole was obviously labouring is that if so called pacifist Sufis were violent, then what to say of other Muslims. What is the truth? Philip Jenkins writing from US perspective finds Sufis a formidable ally in the US “War on Terror“: *..For the Islamists — for hard-line fundamentalists like the Saudi Wahhabis and the Taliban — the Sufis are deadly enemies, who draw on practices alien to the Quran. Where Islamists rise to power, Sufis are persecuted or driven underground; but where Sufis remain in the ascendant, it is the radical Islamist groups who must fight to survive..Emerging around the year 800, they were originally pious devotees, whose poor woollen-clothes showed their humility: “Sufi” comes from the Arabic word for wool. Above all, the Sufis sought the divine reality or ultimate truth that stands above all the illusions and deceptions of the material world. In order to achieve ecstatic union with God, they incorporated techniques of sound and movement — chanting and music, swaying and dance..Sufi orders led the armies that conquered lands in Central and South Asia, and in Southeastern Europe; through their piety and their mysticism, the brotherhoods then won the local populations over to Islam. They presented an Islam that incorporated local traditions and worship styles, including Christian saints and Hindu gods..Sufi orders led anti-colonial movements from Morocco to Indonesia..Sufis certainly have fought Western forces through the years, and Sufi-founded movements have on occasion engaged in terrorist actions — witness the Chechens. But in the vast majority of cases, such militancy has been essentially defensive, resisting brutal colonial occupations. This is very different from the aggressive global confrontation pursued by groups such as Al Qaeda.
That is why what Bhagwat or RSS or BJP say cannot be taken on face value; just as one cannot in case of other political formations. But should that be an obstacle to engage constructively with RSS/ BJP? I think not. Unlike in the past, BJP led NDA has not only got a thumping majority in last general elections, but BJP alone enjoys a simple majority in Lok Sabha. It is now the elephant in the room that no one can pretend to ignore except those with suicidal tendencies. Instead of treating Sangh Pariwar as a pariah, whose charge of minority-vote bank politics against the “secular” parties holds truth,  I believe, it is time to engage with it in a serious dialogue. The “inclusive” definition of “Hindu”, which shows open-hearted acceptance, not just tolerance, of other faiths including Islam and Christianity, should now be demonstrated through day to day  events and actions of RSS/BJP, one should demand, rather than using it as a clever tactic of sowing confusion or dissensions. Ditto, similar demands must be made of other parties to stop using the minority or caste cards. Now that BJP at the moment at least is firmly in saddle, the days of pretending “holier than thou” are over. It is time to have serious and constructive engagement amongst all. Would this work? Would it be allowed to work? That time only will tell. It is a far better risk rather than persisting with failed strategies of the past. Remember, just like Islam, even Sangh Pariwar is not monolithic as we have seen with opposition to trials of GM-seeds. Many more such openings will come if others have an open mind.
An opportunity for precisely such an engagement was opened when a twitter-obsessed Congress politician asked: *“A question to Mohan Bhagwat — is Hindutva a religious identity? What is its relationship with Sanatan Dharma…Is a person who believes in Islam, Christianity, Sikh, Buddhism, Jainism or any other religion also a Hindu? Would Mohan Bhagwatji please clarify?*. But immediately shot himself in the foot and with it an opening for new beginning with a “wise” crack: *“I thought we had one Hitler in making but it seems now we have Two! God save India!”*.
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