In this Idea Exchange, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat speaks about the RSS’s relevance in modern times, its relationship with the BJP and swadeshi in the age of globalisation. This session was moderated by Loksatta Executive Editor Girish Kuber
Courtesy: The New Indian Express
Girish Kuber: In the changing, modern world, what relevance does the RSS hold? How do you view problems such as the recent violence in Assam or the long-standing Kashmir dispute?
Mohan Bhagwat: In 1925, Dr K B Hedgewar started the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and finally in December 1939, the Sangh’s style of functioning was defined. A country’s future does not depend on its leaders, political parties, government or establishments. It depends on the quality and merit of the society and the extent to which it is organised. For a society to organise itself and progress, people have to come together on the basic principle of ‘self’. Even while learning from different people and cultures, the individual should realise his own nature and create a vision for society. While doing so, if merit has to be brought into society, the mind, heart and body must work together. The Sangh’s functioning has been based on these principles.
As far as the violence in Assam or Kashmir is concerned, such incidents never happen in any other country that achieved independence 65 years ago. This happens not only because we have ended up making enemies on all sides of the border, but also because the common man in this country is still not completely aware about his freedom and independence. The absence of national and personal integrity reflects in various parts of our country today.
Girish Kuber: Unlike the Left, the RSS has never entered active politics. Would it have been better to not have tried to hide the Sangh’s political leanings and the political ambitions of some of its members?
Mohan Bhagwat: The Sangh does not hide anything because it has always maintained that it has never wanted to enter politics. The poor state of our polity is not something the Sangh can change. That will only happen when society changes. Politics, today, is all about breaking and dividing the society into vote-banks. If we were to get into this mess, how would we work towards our goal of organising the society?
We have always allowed swayamsevaks to be a part of political movements and agitations, temporarily. We do not try to hide this. If there are issues pertaining to national interest that are political in nature, we have raised our voice and done what we could. It is true that there are a large number of swayamsevaks in the BJP but there are other parties too where swayamsevaks are active workers.
Girish Kuber: It is said that after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, the Sangh went out of its way to support the Congress.
Mohan Bhagwat: The Sangh never helped anyone or any party directly during elections. Swayamsevaks follow a mandate on how to work as per their own wisdom. There comes a time when we propagate a particular national issue because the need of the hour is for an organisation with strength such as ours to get people together. Out of the 14 general elections held so far, we have been associated with only four where our members participated in the process on their own accord. The first was during the Emergency where our support was not for just one party but for all. On the second occasion, BJP reaped direct benefits from our participation and on the third and fourth occasions, it was the NDA comprising BJP and other parties that benefited. In Bihar, we once worked for Samata Party’s Digvijay Singh. But all these instances of support were not for a party but for the issues they stood for.
Mukund Sangoram: Dr Hedgewar tagged the RSS as an ‘organisation for the Hindus’, a term the Sangh does not deny even today. Over the years, the public perception of the Sangh has been that of an organisation which sees Muslims as its enemy.
Mohan Bhagwat: When we use the word ‘Hindu’, we refer to everyone in the Indian society—be it Hindus, Muslims or Christians—since it is a word that gives us our identity and nationalism. There are no non-Hindus in this country, according to us, since we are all children of Bharat Mata. Our ancestors were Hindu and did not belong to European-Christian or Arab-Turkish lineage. Through my career, I have met a number of Muslims who have been working with the Sangh. Once in Khiratpur, Punjab, I came across a gentleman named Ibrahim who identified himself as an RSS shakha swayamsevak for the past 46 years. We do not look at people as Muslims, Brahmins or Harijans. There are many Hindus today who are not fit to be called Hindus and many non-Hindus who have all the values that are required.
Sandeep Acharya: Has the Sangh tried to be more inclusive?
Our aim is to spread the Sangh’s outreach geographically and we welcome all those who are willing to join us. My family driver is a practising Muslim and yet a swayamsevak. An emerging group of Muslims are joining us and embracing our principles. People should study the structure of the organisation to get rid of misconceptions about the Sangh.
Prashant Dixit: Do you think that the youth of today is not attracted to the Sangh and that the organisation now largely consists of members who are in their 40s and 50s?
Mohan Bhagwat: You will realise that your perception is wrong when you attend one of our gatherings and notice that the number of people with black hair will outnumber those with grey hair. A majority of Sangh work requires physical exertion that people in their 50s and 60s cannot do. I am 60 plus but being the RSS chief, I have many luxuries. There are barely 200 sixty-plus swayamsevaks who are active members and are not expected to put in physically strenuous work. We have between 60,000 and a lakh young members who are joining the Sangh every year. Most of them are between the ages of 20 and 25.
Madhu Kamble: Considering the many sects and divisions in society, is it possible to organise society the way you desire?
Mohan Bhagwat: The structure of society has to change with times. If people still follow the caste system, it works against organising our society. We do not support divisions based on caste and creed. We have been trying to change the basic mindset of our people and unite them as Hindus. Removing these separatist emotions by imparting values is our constant pursuit.
Madhu Kamble: What is your stand on reservations?
Mohan Bhagwat: As long as certain people continue to be discriminated against, the need for reservation will remain. The makers of our Constitution hoped that reservation for the first 10 years after Independence would create equal opportunities for all. But we misused it for narrow, political ends and created vote banks. We think that an apolitical committee of experts, social workers, teachers and a few politicians of good character should be constituted. This committee should draw up a list of communities that actually need reservation on the basis of their social and economic status. Then, a 30-year programme should be charted out by the end of which there will not be any need for further reservation.
Madhu Kamble: There are two types of reservation—one is in politics and the other for education and employment. Are you for or against political reservation?
Mohan Bhagwat: Our belief is that the motive behind reservation should be to enable everyone to avail of equal benefits. But this change has to be accompanied by a change in the mindset that discriminates against people on the basis of their caste.
Reshma Shivdekar: Should reservations be based on caste or religion?
Mohan Bhagwat: Our country has a history of discrimination on the basis of caste, not religion. A person belonging to any religion can and has achieved great heights in this country, to the extent of being President of the country. Hence, reservation is required where societal discrimination is high. Worldwide, reservation has been for the weaker sections of society. Hence, it is most pertinent for the poor. Economic reservation will enable everyone to have an equal chance to stand in the queue. Each person will then progress in accordance to his merit and ability. To bring about this parity, you need economic reservation.
Girish Kuber: Do you think swadeshi works in the current age of globalisation?
Mohan Bhagwat: Actually, our stand on swadeshi has been strengthened. Our stand is that each country has its resources, its people and their aspirations. The purpose of development is to make individuals independent and self-reliant. If I can make something at home, I will not buy it. I will only bring from outside that which is not available in my country and not possible to make, yet is necessary for life. But on my conditions. In business, there are conditions from both sides. We should take knowledge and technology from everywhere. Russia, China and USA became superpowers but how did the world benefit from it? If we want to run the country efficiently and remain corruption-free, we have to decentralise our economic policy. Our country should not just be a consumer, but a producer and seller. We have to promote indigenous business.
Prashant Dixit: Does the RSS agree with the current economic policies?
Mohan Bhagwat: You are seeing the consequences of such policies. An advisor in the Central government told me that nothing is moving. Despite having the capability and skill in many sectors, we are only assembling, not manufacturing. Take, for example, thorium. We have huge reserves. Can we not research and use it? Basic research is not getting encouragement—it is not as if everything has gone wrong, but all is not well either.
Suhas Gangal: The RSS vehemently opposed Enron but changed its stand when the Sena-BJP combine came to power.
Mohan Bhagwat: I was not there so I will not answer this. But one thing is sure. The basis on which we opposed Enron, if there is a need to do so again, we will.
Suhas Gangal: Does the stance of RSS change when BJP comes to power?
Mohan Bhagwat: No, this never happens. In BJP-ruled states, we have protested on various issues.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: In Maharashtra, the Hindu concept of RSS is further narrowed down to that of the Marathi manoos, where political parties term Biharis as infiltrators. Don’t you think these region-based concepts are divisive?
Mohan Bhagwat: Hindutva is an expandable concept. Narrow thinking is always divisive. Hinduism and issues of language, region, caste cannot come together.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: What about such politics then?
Mohan Bhagwat: Our stand is ‘Saara Bharat, Saare Bharatiyon ka’.
Prashant Dixit: There is talk of RSS giving political backing to the Anna Hazare movement?
Mohan Bhagwat: Anna Hazare has a standing of his own, and his own a personality. Why should the Sangh take credit for his planning and organisation? We passed a resolution to oppose corruption through any movement. Are Sangh members not part of society? If there are agitations, will they stay at home?
Prashant Dixit: Why is RSS considered a liability by some political parties?
Mohan Bhagwat: I am not sure who thinks so, but where have we forced ourselves on anyone? All organisations are independent and free. They can take their own decisions.
Sandeep Acharya: Doesn’t the Sangh remote-control these organisations?
Mohan Bhagwat: There is no remote control. Love, friendship and teachings of the Sangh are the only basis of support.
Girish Kuber: Both Narendra Modi and Sanjay Joshi are members of the Sangh. Sangh is considered as the HR manager of the BJP.
Mohan Bhagwat: We are not the HR manager for BJP. Everyone has to run their own organisation. Sangh is different from them and we are independent organisations. The basis is thinking, teachings and relationships.
Nishant Sarvankar: Some people take an extreme stand. Does that lead to Hindu terrorism?
Mohan Bhagwat: Some things are against Hinduism. They cannot be Hindu. We cannot connect Hindu and terrorism. Hinduism treads the middle path, never extremism. There have been allegations only against some people. Till their role is established, one cannot declare them guilty.
Vinayak Parab: What is your stand regarding new trends like live-in relationships?
Mohan Bhagwat: New things need not be accepted as they are. We have to take into consideration the impact on our society and the long-term effect. We will oppose such behaviour.
Swanand Oak: What are the Sangh’s views on IT, technology?
Mohan Bhagwat: We have accepted different thoughts which are suited to our basic ideals. We use websites and portals for the Sangh.
Girish Kuber: What is the day like in the life of an RSS chief?
Mohan Bhagwat: Usually starts very early. In my case, it starts at 5 and ends at 12. With meetings and interactions all day long.
Ravi Amle: Which is the last movie you have seen? Who are your favourite writers?
Mohan Bhagwat: There are times when theatre owners take us out. The last movie I saw was Hey Ram. Among writers, I like Marathi writers like V S Khandekar, Arun Sadhu. I also liked the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I also read fiction.
Vaidehi Thakker: Will women ever be admitted as members of the RSS?
Mohan Bhagwat: In 1938, we started the Rashtriya Sevika. They have 7,000 shakhas. They work as a parallel organisation. We share a close rapport. If both bodies are ready, we can think about merging.
Translated and transcribed by Swatee Kher and Stuti Shukla