There are several theories about what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) believes in, and they are variously employed to interpret the actions and intentions of the Sangh and its affiliate bodies across the country. A proper assessment of its ideas is important not only because it is a massive organization that arguably holds sway over right-wing thought in India but also because of its increasing prominence in social and public life.
In an interview, Manmohan Vaidya talks about the Sangh’s vision for the country and its views on secularism, minorities and some of the fissures in society it is accused of widening.
Vaidya is from Nagpur, where the Sangh is headquartered. His father, M.G. Vaidya, has been one of RSS’s foremost ideologues. Manmohan Vaidya became an RSS pracharak in 1983 and has since looked after HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) work in the US and the West Indies, worked as prant pracharak of Gujarat, been inducted into the all-India team of the RSS, where he currently serves as all-India prachar pramukh.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
The RSS has been sceptical about the use of the word secularism in the context of India—why is that?
Secularism is the most misused word in Bharat and is invoked mostly to pamper communal forces. Secondly, the way it was introduced in the preamble of our Constitution creates doubts. During constitutional debates, inclusion of the word secularism was discussed, debated and it was decided against. Dr Ambedkar also thought it was not necessary.
Our Constitution already has all the provisions giving equal rights to all religious groups, including all minorities, to practice, preach and propagate their faith. Still secularism was included in our Constitution, in 1976, during the Emergency, without any need, demand or debate—when many opposition leaders had been put behind bars by the Indira Gandhi government.
Secularism is irrelevant in Bharat. It originated in Europe as a response to theocratic states. In Bharat, we never had a theocratic state. Here, all religions have been treated equally for centuries. Look at the Parsis, the Jews, the Syrian Christians, all came from outside and settled in various parts, making Bharat their home and practicing their religion freely, without any persecution and discrimination.
Like Swami Vivekananda said in the Parliament of World Religions in 1893, “we go beyond tolerance and we accept all ways of worship to be true”. The essence of Hindutva is spiritual democracy.
But what is the harm in the word being included in the Constitution?
We haven’t got anything against the grammatical meaning of the term but due to bad intent and usage it has become synonymous with anti-Hindutva /anti-national ethos. In practice, secularism is being used to further a communal agenda—to favour one particular community over others.
Saying that Muslims have the first right on national resources, as Manmohan Singh did, is that a secular statement? Why should our state provide funds for Haj or any religious pilgrimage? Even Muslim countries don’t give grants for Haj. I am told that Haj is fulfilled only if you do it with your own means.
Temples are subjected to government scrutiny and intervention, but minority places of worship are not. Is this secularism? The likes of (Asaduddin) Owaisi are not communal but very secular!
This minority-ism is fostering separatism and harming the unity of this ancient, great country. The idea of secularism has been misused by these so-called secular political parties to further their own interests. Moreover, any discussion about misuse of secularism is dubbed as opposition to secularism and favouring theocratic state. This is a blatant lie and falsification of facts.
The RSS seems unconvinced about the idea of minority rights. Why is that?
In Bharat, traditionally, we believe that all religions lead to the same destination and hence are equal. Ninety-nine per cent of Muslims and Christians in India are converted, having origin in Bharat. Then how can a mere change of faith make them qualify as minorities?
In Bharat, Parsis and Jews are the actual minorities, because they have come from outside with their own religion. But they have refused to be tagged as “minority” and never asked for any special privilege. The talk of minority interests is nothing but vote bank politics.
If everybody is equal before the law why should we have a minority commission? A single human rights commission can address any injustice done to anyone.
But in light of communal violence such as the 2002 riots and the Sachar Committee report it can be argued that minority rights need protection.
The reason behind the poor state of Muslims as highlighted by the Sachar Committee is that the majority of them (65-70%) live in Bihar, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh—states that had been economically backward. These states were ruled by so-called secular parties for most of the time since Independence. According to Sachar Committee, the economic condition of Muslims in Gujarat is much better than in West Bengal.
As for riots, they have been happening before 2002 too. Let’s not forget Bhagalpur, Maliana (Meerut), Kokrajhar. Who was ruling the concerned states when these riots happened?
Instead of blaming the ruling party, it is important to try and understand why these riots happen. If you look at the communally sensitive spots in riot-prone cities you will notice that they are invariably in Muslim majority areas.
Why don’t riots happen in Hindu majority areas? I have never seen riots in Nagpur where I grew up but when I moved to Gujarat, in 1983, I noticed communal riots invariably happening during Hindu festivals in these sensitive areas. Riots are bad and must be avoided but talking only about 2002 riots is wrong.
Other instances of communal violence based on accusations of love jihad and cow slaughter are on the rise. How would you explain them?
They are separate issues. Sangh did not coin the phrase “love jihad”. It was used for the first time by justice K.T. Sankaran in a Kerala high court judgment. He saw a pattern of people hiding their real identities while getting into relationships. We are not opposed to bonafide inter-religious marriages, but if it is a part of some kind of design then it is a serious matter that should be discussed and rebuffed.
As for cow slaughter, it is not a religious issue but an economic one. Importance of cows grew as we became an agrarian society. It is observed that excessive use of chemical fertilizers is impacting our soil and affecting the food we eat. Importance of organic farming is increasing. The Indian breed of cow is important for organic farming. Medicinal properties of cow products helps everyone (people of all religions), not just vegetarians.
From Gandhi to Bahadur Shah Zafar, everyone has spoken about the protection of cows. Cow slaughter is already banned in J&K, a Muslim-majority state.
But the conversation about the importance of cows to our economy and society can no longer be separated from incidents in Dadri and Una.
We are opposed to violence in this matter and any other, but laws that exist should be enforced. Also, there has been a lot of false information circulated about Dadri and Una. Now the truth is emerging in the case of Dadri. As far as Una is concerned, the emerging facts indicate that it was stage-managed.
It is often said that the RSS has reservations about the Indian flag. Is that true?
The Indian flag as it was adopted by our Constitution must be respected by all. There have been people from the Sangh who have given up their lives to protect the flag so there is no question of us not accepting the flag. We are not interested in changing it.
Was there no objection to the flag when it was adopted?
The tricolour flag emerged in political scenario in 1921. It was Gandhiji’s idea to have a flag representing all major communities. Hence a tricolour flag with red (not saffron) at the bottom, green in middle and white at the top representing Hindus, Muslims and Christians.
Then itself, lot of people objected, calling it a communal flag. The very idea of identifying each community separately and trying to forge unity among them was termed as communal thinking. They demanded to have a non-communal, national flag.
This demand was so strong that All India Congress Working Committee appointed a seven member committee (popularly known as flag committee) to look into the matter. After hearing both the sides, the flag committee came to a unanimous conclusion.
The flag committee report published in 931 says, “It was decided that our flag should be artistic, distinct and non-communal. It was decided unanimously that it should be of one single colour. And if there is a colour that is more distinct that another, one that is more acceptable to the Indians as a whole and one that is associated with this ancient country by long tradition it is the saffron kesari colour.”
The flag committee recommended a rectangular saffron-colour flag with a blue charkha on top corner. The communalization of the colour saffron has happened post-Independence—particularly post the insertion of the word secular in the Constitution, when the definition of what is communal and what is secular began to get distorted.
Both the RSS prayer and oath feature a pledge to Hindu rashtra. How does the RSS define that phrase?
Rashtra is often equated with nation in English. But the evolution of nation in Europe is a phenomenon of 15th century, as a reaction to the theocratic state. This was never the situation in Bharat. Here the concept of rashtra (nation) has existed since Vedic times, based on a shared view of life by all people living in Bharat, evolving into a unique way of life, Sanskriti.
There is a distinction between nation and state. State is a political association, nation means the people. Well-known French philosopher Ernest Renan had this to say about “What is a nation”:
“The soil provides the substratum, the field for struggle and labour, man provides the soul.Man is everything in the formation of this sacred thing that we call a people. Nothing that is material suffices here. A nation is a spiritual principle, the result of the intricate working of history, a spiritual family and not a group determined by the configuration of the earth.
“Two things which are really one go to make this soul or spiritual principle. One of these things lies in the past, the other in the present. The one is the possession in common of a rich heritage of memories and the other is actual agreement, the desire to live together and the will to continue to make the most of the joint in heritance.
“Man cannot be improvised. The nation like the individual, is the fruit of long past spent in toil, sacrifice and devotion. Ancestor worship is of all the forms the most justifiable. Since our ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past, great men and glory, I mean real glory—these should be capital of our company when we come to found a national idea.”
So, Hindu rashtra is an adjective of rashtra (people of Bharat) and stands for the way of life that people practise in India. The Hindu-ness of our society lies in recognizing the divinity within each human being but also in accepting that religion is a personal matter.
You can choose any path you like to your spiritual goals. Hindutva is the same as Bharatiya values. The confusion also arises because dharma is wrongly translated as religion in English.
So there is no contradiction between a Hindu rashtra and a secular nation?
No. The best way to understand this is through a quotation by Tagore about Bharat in his essay “Swadeshi Samaj”:
“To feel unity in diversity, to establish unity amidst variety—this is the underlying dharma of Bharat. Bharat does not regard difference as hostility, she does not regard the other as enemy. That is why without sacrifice or destruction she wants to accommodate everybody within one great system. That is why she accepts all ways and sees the greatness of each in his own sphere.
“Because of this virtue, in Bharat, by seeing others we wouldn’t get frightened as we don’t consider any society or people as our enemy. Each fresh conflict will enable us to expand ourselves. The Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim and the Christian will not fight each other and die in Bharat—here they will find a meeting point. That meeting point will not be non-Hindu, but very specifically Hindu.”
Dr Radhakrishnan has observed that Hindutva (Hinduism) is not a religion: it is a commonwealth of many religions. If you accept the Hindu way of life you are free to follow any religion you like.
In that case, where does the impulse for initiatives like ‘ghar wapsi’ come from?
As Hindus we do not believe in conversions. There are many Muslims and Christians who attend RSS shakhas but we do not seek to convert them. They keep following their own faith. A senior ideologue of the RSS, M.G. Vaidya, was professor of Sanskrit in a college run by Scottish Church in Nagpur.
Once, one of his colleagues, a Christian, asked him if he can join the RSS. Mr Vaidya replied, “Oh! Sure! For that you need not leave your faith. Only you have to accept that there is salvation outside Church also.” On this the Christian professor quipped that he cannot accept this as he will lose his zeal to convert people.
The great Sarvodaya leader, Acharya Vinoba Bhave said, “Salvation through this way only is non-Hindu and salvation through this way also is Hindu.
However, it is commonly known that a lot of people were converted en masse here and there is a growing urge among them to reconnect to their roots. Facilitating this urge to reconnect to roots is ghar wapsi or home coming. It can be seen as a process of de-conversion.
Pragya Tiwari is a Delhi based journalist and is pursuing an executive master’s in public administration from the London School Of Economics.