The most important undercurrent of RSS Sarsanghachalak’s Vijayadashmi speech this year was the paradigmatic shift in the RSS approach towards the question of caste discrimination and untouchability, says Rakesh Sinha
RSS chief Shri Mohan Bhagwat’s customary address on Vajayadashami day in Nagpur assumes significance due to more than one reason. He reminded the stakeholders in the India’s statecraft the value of democracy and federalism in overcoming challenges the nation has been facing. The nation has been witnessing an imposed debate on multiculturalism and diversities as a part of the Western intellectual project. Shri Bhagwat without referring to it, made an eloquent narration of India’s
culture of diversities and scholarship when he reminded the nation two of the great sons. Born millennium ago, Abhinavagupta from Kashmir and Ramanujacharya from South, representing Shaiv and Vaishnav sects respectively, they represent the rich tradition of debate. Even after the Independence, political and social discourse exhibited rich content till late 60’s. However in the past few decades it has been increasingly dispossessed both in terms of content and moral ingredients. ‘Look-West intellectuals’ who have been
tirelessly reiterating ‘idea of India’ merely as a phrase to protect their own narrow political and cultural
philosophy, find no worth in knowing or making known to the present and posterity about the undying contributions of intellectual leaders like Abhinavagupta and Ramanujacharya. Shri Bhagwat contextualised them and his speech touched both hearts and mind of Indians. In his last Vijayadashami speech in 2015, he had paid a rich tribute to glorious role of Rani Gaidinliu a tribal revolutionary freedom fighter on her centenary celebration. The core of his speech revolved around realising ‘idea of Swaraj’ with an unambiguous message that our discourse cannot be based on perennial conflicts and comparisons.
Unfortunately media missed to discuss the message constructively, and remained pleased with discussing change in the uniform of the RSS. When any organisation occupies larger public space, due to both moral and physical clout, comes under microscopic public scrutiny. Even small changes create curiosity and concomitantly become a national issue. In 20’s media and intelligentsia discussed Gandhi cap, now RSS trousers. This is an indicative of shift in center of gravity from old narrative on conceptual and intellectual
legacies, with special reference to culture, secularism and nationalism etc, in the last hundred years. RSS as an organisation is not big not only in terms of numbers but also by its ability to transform its members and their identification with the cause, goals and commitment beyond
narrow interests and structures of social, political and cultural life. That magnifies and multiplies the impact of the organisation. That is a reason RSS in its early decades of its formation 30 to 60’s acquired centrality of debate in Indian politics and society.
However, the most important undercurrent of his speech was the paradigmatic shift in the RSS approach towards the question of caste discrimination and untouchability. His unequivocal call to present the “organised, mighty, non-exploitative, equitable, complete and rich national life” before the world is revolutionary indeed. The radical posturing on critical social issues particularly status of the scheduled castes in our society needs to be underscored here. RSS has been incessantly working to remove the evil of untouchability and caste based discrimination. Dr Hedgewar knew that individuals and
organisational efforts could not prove to be sufficient to end this malady. Works decay with the death of reformers or decline of organisation. There are umpteen examples from Natayan Guru to to Harijan Sevak Sangh in this regard. Therefore, he did not make castelessness and anti-untouchability a programme or ideology but a creed, both at individual and collective levels. Practitioner of caste discrimination or even narrow caste feeling in social, cultural or spiritual realm cannot be called a Swayamsevak.
The second Sarsanghachalak expanded the gains of the
organisation and established the normative position of the Sangh on this issue, i.e. goal of an ideal society free from caste discriminations and untouchability. In his letter to a senior RSS Pracharak Shri Suryanarayan Rao just after famous Udupi (in Karnataka) conference of religious leaders, organised under the aegis of VHP, on January 14, 1970 he unraveled the social goal of the Sangh. He wrote, “We have to completely eliminate untouchability and distinction of higher and lower castes. We have to do away with them so that the entire Hindu society moves on, unified by the ideals of brotherhood.” Udupi conference (1969) under his guidance was a melting pot of social reformers and thinking conservatives to reach to a normative position.
The third Sarsanghachalak Shri Balasaheb Deoras inaugurated a new era in the history of RSS by fighting the evil through social programmes. He declared in 1974 “if untouchability is not a sin than nothing is sin.” And in the late 80’s on the occasion of Dr Hedgewar’s birth anniversary RSS initiated huge socio-economic
constructive programmes for empowerment of the marginalised sections of Indian society in general and the scheduled castes in particular which intended to solidify the
After the tryst with philanthropy centered constructive works for more than two and half decades aiming to
create positive social awareness and atmosphere for ideal goal of egalitarianism, RSS has made a paradigmatic shift from normative to empirical position. Shri Bhagwat’s speech is self evident and subtle. He regrettably said, “We have not been able to fully eliminate the differences,
divisions and the parochial feelings from our social life”. When social and political problems stand before the nation the question we face ‘what to be done?’ Shri Bhagwat answers the unasked question. RSS considers itself to be historically responsible and morally bound to safeguard the nation from hidden animosities and chasms. His speech carries shocking information based on the social mapping by the RSS through surveys. He reveals that a
survey conducted by RSS in Madhya Bharat where out of 9,000 villages, in 40 per cent villages discrimination
prevails on the issue of temple entry; in 30 per cent villages discrimination prevails in the matter of sources of water; and in 35 per cent villages discrimination prevails on the use of crematorium. He was seeking truth based on facts.
The surveys conducted in academics and among policy makers, are done with limited purpose of analysis. The results of these surveys also become tools for reactionary forces for creating divide, bitterness and social chasm. For the first time survey is being conducted by those who have already been experimenting their normative position without any State aid. Therefore, this survey presages social democratic actions to achieve a real ‘Pareto Improvement’, under which all better off, none worse. Shri Bhagwat is critical of both practitioners of ancient regime (In india’s case caste based orthodoxies and untouchability) and radicals who wanted to go too far and too fast for their own narrow political ends. Shri Bhagwat attacks feudal feelings and behaviour that still treat social equality as their ‘paradise lost’. He says, “It will certainly be a shame on the 21st century Bharat, if one’s own innocent kin have to bear insults and physical onslaughts, because of one’s wrath over a trivial issue or one’s superiority complex, which also facilitate the divisive forces to take benefit out of it to tarnish Bharat’s image”. While RSS actions reject ritualism of progressive patchworks to end social discriminations, Bhagwat also roars RSS is ‘capable of thwarting their (reactionaries) evil designs’ and declares “there is an urgent need to take necessary protective steps to guard against walking into the trap of their deceit and subterfuges, aimed at creating an atmosphere of division and antagonism in the society.” A new social action afoot combines four elements: ideology, experiences, reasons and emotions. Explosions of change always raise the question who would be its harbinger and where do they come from? He declares, “Sangh Swayamsevaks have stepped up their efforts in this direction. In many states survey of existing condition with regard to social equality is in progress and efforts are also on to prepare people’s minds to find a solution to this problem through the Sangha Shakhas”. Shakha will be an instrument and center of social transformation and definitely the eradication of social evils cannot be task for unlimited period. It has to go as slavery was given up by the United States. RSS is prepared for social democratic action and Shri Bhagwat’s speech is a
manifesto of social revolution.
(The writer is Professor at Delhi University and honourary Director IPF)