It was anticipated that the three day lecture series by Dr Mohanji Bhagwat would trigger conversation and debate. Most people welcomed this unique outreach. However some people expressed doubts on the sincerity of the program, others wondered if these ideals would filter down to the ground level.
The Sarsanghchalak’s lectures were perceived as something ground breaking even revolutionary by some people. In fact one journalist commented that it was surprising to note that the Sarsanghchalak answered so many diverse questions with candour.
However I found nothing “new” about it. No views expressed here were such which were not discussed at some level in Sangh.
Along with the Sarsanghchalak, national office bearers tour the country extensively and engage with all sections of society, routinely addressing their curiosities and questions about the RSS. Sangh has been targeted with negative propaganda for decades, so it was but natural for people outside the parivaar to assume that there is no room for open debate in the organisation, and this outreach was a “new” way. That these ideas were welcomed by the general public and the lecture series was received with positivity has led others to declare that this is a “Glasnost” moment. The lexicon of foreign thinking used by opponents can be so consuming that some of us may also mistakenly use these words to emphasise a point. One such word is Glasnost. Glasnost and Perestroika are two Russian words that are related to an openness with regards to social and economic issues. These words gained currency at the time of the downfall of the oppressive communist regime in the former Soviet Union. These two words articulated a freedom from the harsh, violent and closed regime of the communists and ushered in an open social and economic era that had survived the oppression.
Semitic thought processes are unique in their stance of imposing the “principle” that, “thinking is the work of a chosen few”. For the rest, complete submission to that view point is mandated, any diversion is considered “blasphemy”, which is punishable. The Communists borrowed extensively from this playbook. The Church was the progenitor of this iron clad system of thoughts, drawing legitimacy in the name of the Christian faith. Bruno was burnt alive, Galileo was persecuted because they spoke in contradiction to the Church’s position by stating that earth revolves around the sun.
In Communist Russia and China, too many people have lost their lives and subjected to unspeakable brutality for rejecting or merely questioning the ruling ideology, yet others had to flee to be alive. In these countries, where there was no right to free speech and even thought, Glasnost was an awakening – the emergence of a new dawn which was a landmark for these societies that had spent decades in darkness of oppression.
However the oppression brought on by rigid ideologies was never an issue for Bharat. Our history has been witness to great philosophers, saints and social reformers, as will our future. This is what makes Bharat truly unique. In the modern era, people are familiar with Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Ramakrishn Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Narayana Guru and many. Bharatiya society has always acknowledged and respected social reformers. It is for this reason that a woman of European origin and the daughter of a Christian Priest, Swami Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita has written that had Bruno been in India, he would not have been burnt alive. Hence in countries where Semitic ideologies dominate, “Glasnost” must be welcomed.
The foundation of the Sangh philosophy is rooted in the Bharatiya thought, and hence has always kept the doors open for lively and engaged debate.
I was born in the Sangh Pariwar. My father, at the age of 18, in 1941, took the vow to dedicate his life to the Sangh. Today at the age of 95 he still continues to live out that vow. From my childhood I have been a regular at the shakha, and have never heard of any negativity towards Muslims and Christians. However anti national elements are robustly opposed (not hated). In 1971, I was given the responsibility of conducting a local Shakha in Nagpur (near Ajani Station). One day about a dozen children came to join the shakha, when introductions were made, two brothers introduced themselves as Amil Khan and Feroz Khan, from the seventh and fifth grade respectively. It was the first time, I was interacting with Muslims. A couple of days later I went to their home, to meet their father Bashir Khan, who was an ambulance driver at the nearby government hospital. It is practice in Sangh to meet and be in touch with the family of swayamsevaks. I introduced myself and informed him that his two sons had been visiting the shakha for the last two days. Bashir Khan offered me a cup of tea, at the time I was not a tea drinker, but felt that if I refused, it may give the wrong impression, that I was refusing his offer of hospitality because he was a Muslim. Hence I drank half a cup of tea, this was my first taste of tea! The two brothers were regular attendees at the shakha till class ten. In fact Amil was a very good kabaddi player, a popular shakha game. It is nothing but false propaganda and a targeted defamation campaign run by those who peddle in hate, that falsifies the Sangh stance on Muslims.
I was a Prant Pracharak from 1996 to 2006 and had the opportunity to attend many national level meets. I was always encouraged to participate in discussion and put forth different view points by the General Secretary at the time Sheshadri ji and the Sarsanghchalak Pujaneey Rajju Bhaiya. Not only was my participation encouraged but I was asked to put forth new ideas, the only time I faced any censure was when I was asked to communicate in a calmer fashion in one instance.
I recall another incident that elucidates the Sangh’s stance on free speech. Once a Vibhag Pracharak was given a responsibility in the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, (HSS) the overseas work to organise Hindus (outside Bharat) . The HSS and the RSS conduct the same activities, however whilst there the Pracharak realised that the regular prayer at HSS Shakha did not include two important aspects that were rendered in the RSS prayer in India. He brought this oversight to the notice of a senior functionary in the Sangh, and suggested that they be included. However he was informed that the said prayer had been penned by Bhideji and approved by Shri Guruji and had been in circulation for many years. However the Pracharak was not satisfied with this explanation and felt that it didn’t reflect the Sangh’s approach to such matters. When he raised this matter with Dattopant Thengdi ji, the veteran Pracharak and thinker responded that if this was the case, then the prayer needs to be amended by adding these important aspects to the prayer. Emboldened by Thegdi Ji’s response, when he brought this matter to the notice of national RSS office bearers, they discussed the matter and decided to include the relevant sections in the prayer. After 50 years in use the Sangh decided in 2000 that the prayer should be amended. The fact that a Vibhag Pracharak’s observation was taken seriously and raised at the highest level, is indicative of the open flow of feedback in the organisation.
The Sangh is a living organisation, and by temperament and tradition is given to change and encourages it. Hence there is no need for a Galsnost moment in the RSS. However, it is true that being a large organisation, the letter and spirit of any change has to be communicated and understood by the rank and file in the organisation, this process takes effort and time.
Post 1990 the Sewa, Sampark and Prachar Vibhags of the Sangh were created to outreach, communicate and transform the society at large. This took as long as five to ten years to communicate and convince the ranks. There is no opposition to new ideas, however there is discussion and questions are answered, which is the way of the Sangh. In 2015, when after 85 years the uniform of RSS was changed from shorts to full trousers, the decision came after five years of debate and discussion, and was subsequently accepted and followed by all.
Hence in Semitic traditions where new ideas are not discussed and blasphemy is a tool used to enforce conformity, Glasnost and Perestroika are necessary processes and landmark moments for those societies. However in an organisation, where the essential processes facilitate new thought and feedback, there is no need for Glasnost or Perestroika.
I am reminded of a few lines from a poem penned by the famous Gujarati poet, Shri Dhruv Bhatt.
It is the earth, that experiences the darkness of the night
But for the Sun, the night and subsequent darkness never occurs.
In the same vein:
For Semitic ideologies, Glasnost is a reckoner
However where openness of thought is routine, inventions and innovations are welcome