Hindus, Muslims and RSS Chief Bhagwat — Prof Ram Puniyani

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Saying that this land belongs to Hindus is an over-simplification. One should remember that the barometer of who is an Indian is the Indian Constitution.

PROF RAM PUNIYANI | Caravan Daily

RSS is one of the only organisations, which claims to be cultural and yet controls the political agenda of the ruling party. Over the years, it has been working towards furthering its agenda of establishing a Hindu Rashtra in India. It has grown and is now the largest ‘cultural’ organisation in the country. Its Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Dictator) not only controls the RSS, but indirectly exercises authority over all the affiliate organisations, including the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal and ABVP.

There are many other such outfits which seek to impose the RSS agenda in most of our social and political life. Its Sarsanghchalak spells out this agenda on several occasions, the latest being the Rashtroday Samagam held at Agra (National Awakening Conclave) on February 24, 2018). Many of the formulations presented by Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat may sound very bizarre, but these are the subtle expressions of the deeper agenda of this organisation.

Bhagwat said that Hindus should unite, and not fight along caste lines, as Hindustan is the country of Hindus, and they have no other place to go. What he is describing as ‘fight along caste lines’, include the many movements for social justice in the country. Struggle against the caste structure of Hinduism goes back centuries, as far back as Lord Gautama Buddha. Later saints such as Kabir, Tukaram and Namdeo articulated anti-caste sentiments in their works. What is being called as a fight along caste lines began during the colonial period due to efforts from Jyotirao Phule, who ensured that education reached the ‘untouchables’. BR Ambedkar took the struggle for caste equality much further.

It is at this point of time that the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, who were upset due to such social changes running parallel to the freedom movement, started talking of Hindu unity. They stood for social status quo, while Ambedkar wanted annihilation of caste. So Ambedkar burnt Manusmriti and later became the Chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution, which gave us equality. This lofty principle of equality was also backed by affirmative action from the state to ensure that equality does not remain on paper, but state is the agent to bring in substantive equality.

Hindu nationalist politics, as it is for status quo in terms of caste inequality, opposed reservations and affirmative action. On the pretext of merit, it launched ‘Youth for Equality’. One understands those who are on the side of social equality have been talking of measures to eradicate structural inequality and work towards social justice. So what Bhagwat says may sound innocuous, but it hides the deeper agenda of his organisation, and that is also manifest when different leaders from this stable call for changing the Indian Constitution, and when their ideologues like Golwalkar praised Manusmriti as they feel uncomfortable with Indian Constitution.

Saying that this land belongs to Hindus is an over-simplification. One should remember that the barometer of who is an Indian is the Indian Constitution. Who came to constitute India becomes clear from the composition of freedom movement in which people from all religions participated in equal measure. Earlier too, this land has been thriving with diversity when nomadic tribes and kings of different dynasties such as Shaaks, Huns, and Muslims came as invaders in the North, while Zoroastrians came through sea route and Islam and Christianity came to the Malabar Coast in Kerala. Even word Hindu initially began as a geographical category, and Hindu as religion, came to be constructed much later.

It is true that India is multi-religious, but to say that all those living here are Hindus is a travesty of truth. Hindutva ideologue Savarkar went on to define Hindu as one who regards this land as Holy land and father land. Golwalkar focused on the greatness of scriptures, so where do Muslims and Christians stand in this scheme of things? Even large sections of Sikhs, Buddhist and Jains will also not like to be labeled as Hindus. As far the diversity, he is right that large section of Hindus, in the mould of Gandhi, respect other religions and diversity emerging from that. But the agenda of the RSS combine is based on sectarianism and narrowness. The central agenda of their politics is not about economic betterment, social and gender justice but is structured around divisive issues which lead to intolerance. Their major issues Ram temple, mother cow, Love Jihad, Vande Mataram and Ghar Wapsi are constructed by them around rejecting diversity.

Most of the utterances of this combine are far away from what the Indian Constitution says. Constitution tells us we are India, that is Bharat. To bring in ‘Bharat mata ki Jai’, which people from some religions may not be comfortable with, is a deliberate ploy to bring narrowness and intolerance in our political life. To say that Muslims are also Hindus, is an intimidating statement. First to say they are Hindus and then to insist that as Hindus they have to respect scriptures like Manusmriti, to worship lord Ram and cow, seems to be a clever move.

Bhagwat calls Rana Pratap’s battles a part of the freedom struggle. This is not innocuous, Rana Pratap fought for his Mansabdari (status) against Akbar, not for India against British. As per Bhagwat, any battle against a Muslim king automatically makes you part of the freedom movement. He says this not knowing that even Akbar was represented by Raja Mansingh in the same battle he is referring to!

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Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai

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