“It is the responsibility of the government to keep check on the tendency of visual and print media to offer such programs and advertisements which degrade morality in society.”– Mohan Rao Bhagwat
Clearly after such words of caution or threat, however you might choose to interpret Bhagwat’s speech, an article on the RSS Chief’s address to the nation (or should I say the ‘Bharatiya’ part of the nation that India is) will probably be considered risquÃ©. But I am willing to take my chance.
I am from Calcutta. Durga Pujo is the lifeline of my city, I acknowledge. But the number of bhadraloks queuing outside Shiraz or Arsalan during Eid for biryani and kebabs is remarkable. Also remarkable is how the ubiquitous Didi of West Bengal has ensured that Park Street shines like a crazy diamond during Christmas every year. In the pre-Didi days too, Calcutta was never complete without a mention of Nahoum’s or D’Gama’s cakes and its Anglo-Indian community in Bow Barracks. Whatever Bengal might be, it is distinctly secular in nature. People are as passionate about Ramzaan, Diwali and Good Friday as they are about trade unions, football, strikes and bandhs. The bastion of Left politics for three decades, my state underwent the much talked about change with the Trinamool Congress out-rooting the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the last State Election. The RSS has found a way, or so the speech spelled out, of breaking into the fool-proof fortress that Didi thought she had created in Bengal. Bhagwat hit where the wound is most sore. In his speech to the nation, surprisingly telecast live by Doordarshan on Vijayadashami he said —
“There is a serious upsurge in the jihadi activities in the southern parts of Bharat, especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. …In states like West Bengal and Assam, the population imbalance has been caused by illegal migration of a particular community from across the national borders.”
The issue of Bangladeshi migrants coming into Bengal has plagued the policy makers of the State for a while. Modi mentioned it during his election campaign. Bhagwat by raising the same point is clearly indicating to a situation that one needs to be wary of — the BJP is slowly ousting the CPI (M) and Congress from Bengal and turning out to be the primary face of opposition in Didi’s State. With the RSS Chief talking about illegal infiltration and Bangladeshi immigration which has always been a sensitive issue among Bengalis, I suspect the sevaks to be infiltrating into the camps secured by Ms. Banerjee. And that is what I am frankly a little worried about.
One fine morning I was subject to the speech of Mohan Bhagwat – on Vijayadashami which happens to be the foundation day of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization that proclaims that it is a right-wing Hindu nationalist group. And this speech was telecast, live, by Doordarshan. How such a thing was even allowed is inconceivable. But allowed it was. And that is why we should be worried. Since the Sangh was founded — in 1923 — such exceptions have never been made, but this year, under the Modi government, it was. To telecast a speech of this magnitude, one has to follow procedure. Whether the protocol was maintained is something that one needs to seriously probe into. I have heard my grandparents talk about a time when the Congress government had monopoly over air-waves. Brinda Karat, Politburo member of the CPI (M), alludes to this time when Doordarshan was called “His/Her Master’s Voice” because it gave conspicuous coverage to the government and the ruling party. Bhagwat’s speech being telecast by DD was slightly different. Karat points out, “in this case, under the Modi dispensation, DD has gone a step further, and given live coverage not to the Government at the expense of the opposition, as it was earlier, but to an extra-constitutional authority.” And that is what we should be wary of. Is this Mr. Modi showing his gratitude to the Sangh Parivar by making allowances for unprecedented things?
Bhagwat talks about very noble things in this speech — far too noble. We have mention of a long, illustrious list of seers and visionaries, starting from Swami Vivekananda to Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi to Lokmanya Tilak, Netaji to Vinoba Bhave and Ambedkar to the second Sarsanghachalak of RSS Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. That itself should make us a little suspicious. And then of course we have Bhagwat’s words to scrutinize —
“Its special characteristic [Hindutva’s] is that despite the natural plurality of languages, geography, faiths and sects, castes and sub castes, food habits, traditions etc., it assimilates and accepts all of them with full respect and takes them along in the direction of welfare of the entire world. … Neither any questions are raised against one’s faith being different, nor campaigns are run to destroy other idols of worship … Full freedom of unrestricted debates on opinions about faith and beliefs intellectually, at the same time respect and acceptance of each other’s faith, harmony and cooperation is the hall mark of Hindu Culture.”
The hall-mark of Hindu culture this might well be, and perhaps indeed is, but with the tradition that the RSS has set, can its Chief really hope to sway the people with this hollow rhetoric? On this day of Bakra-Eid, can the Chief swear to kill that fanaticism that has been a history of the organization? As I had written in an earlier article, in India one can hope to win a ready audience by talking about rape, atrocities against women and women-centric issues. Bhagwat plays the card beautifully. In fact, whatever Bhagwat says sounds beautiful — far too beautiful to be true, and therefore one must be vigilant. This, after all, is the ranting of a leader of a sectarian organization that has challenged the secular outlook of the nation since its inception. Turning India into a “Vishwa-Guru” (a world leader, I presume) is Bhagwat’s dream, but can this elusive dream be a reality if there is a continuous assault on the secular nature of our democracy? Bhagwat, and I refuse to think that he was benign in this case, harps on the Hindu national identity of India. What about the Muslim national identity of the country? Or the Sikh? Or the Christian? Or the Jain? India will become that “model nation” that Bhagwat talks of, the nation that “runs on principles of happiness, peace and harmony” when the nation’s political, religious and ideological leaders are willing to and capable of sacrificing their narrow partisan politics for the sake of the greater good.
“Humanity”, opines Bhagwat, can live a “happy, peaceful and beautiful life only when we understand and follow the principles of loving and respectfully accepting the plurality inherent in nature.” Indeed! Only when there are no Godhra riots! Only when there is no fire being set to Sabarmati expresses! Only when fanatics are not busy fighting over the geographical land that Ayodhya is and overseeing the demolition of Masjids! Only when all of us, including you, Mr. Bhagwat and I remember that it is one thing to preach from a pulpit like a pontiff; it is quite another to practice what one preaches. But then of course, you know that only too well, don’t you? Your meta-commentary on that speech was brilliant —
“Everyone knows this at the thinking level [that one needs to adopt the path of non-violence instead of propagating unilateral fanaticism]. But these noble thoughts though preached regularly in discourses have no backing of practice. What we observe is nothing less than arrogance, egoism, selfishness and utter rigidity when it comes to individual or national behaviour.”
You have urged the citizens of this hallowed nation to have faith in the new government that has been elected into power — the government that was “open-hearted” in providing relief to the Kashmiris after their flood, and I still wonder why this is a question of magnanimity and not a question of duty since Kashmir is as much a part of the Indian national territory as let’s say, Vridavan or Sanchi or Cochin or Panaji. Even as I conclude this article I am going to school my heart to show that same faith in you because you clearly seem to understand what Hindutva truly means — an unquestioned acceptance (and not tolerance) of all differences — and you also seem to comprehend that “exploitation, suppression, violence and fanaticism” are exactly what will lead to the downfall of your Bharat. The medium you chose to deliver your speech, or were given the leave to choose, was brilliant. As was your message. Here’s hoping you pay heed to your own words now.