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Is Mohan Bhagwat trying to be relevant in times of Modi and Shah?

By Abid Shah
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Is Mohan Bhagwat trying to be relevant in times of Modi and Shah?

Strangely, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor his BJP point-man Amit Shah were to be seen at the three-day discourse of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that concluded on Wednesday, September 19, in New Delhi. The Sangh patriarch preferred a distance with the two greatest founts of power and influence in Delhi though he dealt with several crucial aspects of public affairs under the firm rule of the two.

So the question that arises is what does this signify despite the fact that of late the dividing lines between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parents that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is have been badly blurred? Another significant point that comes to the mind is the fact that Bhagwat decided to share his thoughts with a select audience available to public also through widespread broadcast only months before the next general elections.

And like the last nationwide polls held in 2014 the electioneering this time too is going to be like a presidential battle where Modi is likely to loom all over with his already larger than life image. Thus, it was in this backdrop that Bhagwat spoke about myriad issues for three days at Delhi’s plush Vigyan Bhavan which is normally reserved for official or State functions to be addressed by Prime Minister. So, indeed, the unlikely speaker at the hallowed venue for once virtually overshadowed the Prime Minister of the country as Modi preferred to be in far off Varanasi which is his constituency for the first two days of Bhagwat’s lecture and on the third day the PM did not show up as Bhagwat took questions from his audience.

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What unfolded during the RSS chief’s long monologues was a measured and calculated take at the country’s political journey that finally brought the BJP to power on its own strength for the first time over four years ago from now with Modi as Prime Minister. Bhagwat tried to be different from his other Sangh and BJP cohorts vis-à-vis a host of issues like the role of minorities or mainly Muslims in future, the need for them to be included in the national fabric or a possible Hindu Rashtra, the great role of Congress in the freedom struggle that produced some of the stellar personalities or national figures, essentiality of the constitution including its principled guarantee for secularism, and the necessity of job reservations for the underprivileged classes till the time they felt themselves to be needy.

Besides, these Bhagwat made his disapproval to sectarian politics known. More so when this happens to be with an eye on votes through the use of images like Kabristan (cemetery) and Shamshan (crematorium) as has once been the case in the past when Modi himself brought these in one of his election speeches in Uttar Pradesh.

Bhagwat also answered questions raised on issues like mob lynching of often poor Muslim cattle herders by cow protectors on suspicion of being cow smugglers and possible slaughterers. He decried incidents of lynching and while doing so he pointed out what he called to be a selective approach of some who blamed cow protectors alone for lynching without saying anything about the violence on the part of cow smugglers. This is how Bhagwat showed his staunch belief in sacred nature of cow and the need to protect them though without endorsing lynching for the sake of cow.

So at a time when the Government and more so Modi and his peers in the ruling dispensation have been silent on these issues Bhagwat at least tried to break the ice and put a point of view forward on important issues that otherwise had cried for answers for years from the higher ups running the Government. And why he did so must only be known to him. Yet, it is a fact that after nearly five years or so when the issues raised by Bhagwat are also going to be before the electorate the RSS chief took them up in a manner where a debate of sorts could be generated on these issues. He also said that the organisation led by him is more bothered about policies than the Government or who runs it. For him the issues also take precedent over parties and, according to him, the RSS was more concerned about the society than politics.

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So far so good yet the question that still begs for answer is: Why is RSS trying to state its views openly though without relenting on its core ideology centring on Hindutva when its own Government with several of its former Pracharaks, or evangelists, including Prime Minister Modi is in saddle heading the Central and many State Governments? And is it because the Modi Government has surpassed RSS in flaunting Hindutva unmindful of a moral gap that has risen in its pursuit of the ideology where groups like Muslims look to be worst victims alongside their already underprivileged counterparts like Dalits and backwards on the side of the Hindu majority?

The answer is perhaps yes. Bhagwat tried to find an ethical foot or base for his larger ideological fraternity through his three-day talk dealing with the issues that have cropped up alongside the rise of Hindutva to power. And amid this both Modi and Shah have been put as bystanders by Bhagwat on virtual poll eve just because of the glitches that have been becoming apparent through Hindutva’s further push to become even more consequential than what is the case now.

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So much so that the great strides made by the two top leaders of the BJP have prompted Opposition parties to come together and close ranks. Perhaps this is how Bhagwat thought of inviting some of the main Opposition parties’ leaders to listen to his lengthy discourse to convey his somewhat different thoughts than those of the Government. Bhagwat was able to make his point through the wide publicity of his talk though the Opposition leaders did not turn up at Vigyan Bhavan during any of the three days when Bhagwat spoke.

Thus, virtually left alone Bhagwat tried or did his bit to find his relevance and that of the RSS through his latest sojourn to Delhi in times when Modi and Shah are undisputedly ruling the roost and also fervently hope to sail through the next elections.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.