RSS Public Diplomacy


Ram Madhav, “official spokesman” of the RSS, its “national spokesman,” appeared at a small gathering sponsored by CASI at the Penn Political Science Department today, October 4, 2004.  The audience came by CASI invitation only; there were no demonstrations or shouting. About twenty-five people sat on couches and chairs around a well-lit room with high ceiling, listening to Madhav talk for 30 minutes and then asked questions, to which he responded for about 40 minutes. A complete transcript of the meeting will be made available soon on the CASI website.

CASI director Francine Frankel introduced the RSS lecture with about ten minutes of analysis that acknowledged broad, trenchant criticism of CASI (and SAIS) for sponsoring this lecture.  [Here are some protest letters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; and her response.] She said that CASI recognized the role of the RSS as a participant in mass violence, to which questioners returned several times. Her introductory analysis seems to have drawn from her research for a forthcoming new edition of her India’s Political Economy, which includes a long chapter on Hindutva. She pointed specifically to political choices the RSS faces today: (1) a choice between “hard” and “soft” Hindutva in BJP politics, (2) its adherence to the terms of India’s constitutional secularism, (3) propagation of communal violence, and (4) RSS proposal for a new framework for Indian elections, based on Panchayat electorates without multi-party participation. She ended by saying she hoped the speaker would address these issues.

Ram Madhav addressed none of them directly. Instead, he presented well-known RSS positions beginning and ending with its insistence that Hindurashtra is a cultural and not political concept.  He said “Indians are not history conscious” and that Indians see the Ramayana not as historical text but as statement of Indian “values” and “psyche” – as compared to Christians and Muslims who use history in their faith. He went on, however, to lay great stress on history as “a source of lessons for the future.”  He thus in effect clarified the logic behind the RSS-BJP rewriting of history under the NDA government by saying that using history to elaborate Hindu civilization was the Indian way, that is, the RSS way, and thus BJP policy when in government. 

His very next statement was this: “India was divided in 1947.”  This is a hard fact for Hindutva.  He did not directly say that Jinnah forced partition, but rather, “Gandhi made fifteen attempts to convince Jinnah not to partition India, but failed.” Then he said of people in India and Pakistan, “We all belong to the same blood,” and of Muslims and Hindus he later said, “They are blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh.” But, “you see,” he said, “we have theocracies on both sides of India,” and in Pakistan they could not even realize Jinnah’s ideals of secularism; while “we have a secular democracy in India.” He repeated later again that “we have theocracies on both sides of us … so we need a strong, secular, democratic India.”

“What bothers us [the RSS],” he said, “is the concept of minority and majority.… there is no majority and majority .. and we do not accept appeasement of anyone.”  This is not unsecular, he said. “A Hindu by nature is secular.” For “a Hindu believes in the separation of church and state”; for the Hindu, “religion is a matter of personal faith.” “We have come across no [Hindu] king in history who tried to mess up religion and state.” “We are secular,” he insisted, “but we inherited certain flaws in secularism.”  These the RSS is trying to correct. Hindutva is all inclusive, not sectarian: he said this in various ways many times. “We support a uniform civil code … not a Hindu code .. but one code for all Indians.”

Madhav reported a recent high-level meeting between the RSS and Jamaat-i-Islami. After two and one half hours, he said, “we had made clear” to them that “our whole thesis is that pluralism shall be respected and all religions are equal.” But, “this was not acceptable to them.”  They said Muslims cannot accept the idea that “all paths [to god] are true.”  “We embrace all … all are true.” So you see, this is the true Indian culture, all embracing, all accepting, all inclusive.  Those kinds of Muslims are the ones who refuse to accept that other paths are equal to theirs; they are not Indian, because this exclusivity is not the true Indian culture. With this he returned to the 5,000 year Indian culture, the essence of India, “the soul of India,” Hindu civilization, which is what Hindutva stands for.

 He referred to recent official RSS policy statements [which I could not find on the website], but avoided absolutely and quite noticeably in his lecture and in answers to questions any mention whatever of BJP-RSS politicians, most notably Narendra Modi and L.K.Advani, whose names Francine Frankel and several questioners put in front of him to discuss.  He stressed throughout the cultural rather than political character of the RSS and its claim to represent the real India, all Hindus, and a “5,000 year old Hindu civilization and culture.”

Referring obliquely to Francine Frankel’s quoting VDSavarkar’s Hindutva as the basic Hindutva text, Madhav said that to find authoritative Hindutva ideas, one should quote Deendayal Upadhyaya's (Integral Humanism) and MSGolwalkar (A Bunch of Thoughts) instead.  Francine later pointed out to me that Advani often cites Savarkar, but it seems Ram Madhav has other preferences; this may be official RSS line of the moment. He is helping to get people to understand authentic Hindutva.

He began wrapping up his talk by saying that “BJP and RSS have differences,” but that “the RSS has people in any place where people accept our ideology,” not just the BJP.  He told a tale of one longstanding RSS-BJP politician in Bihar, who being denied a ticket by the BJP, shifted parties, won his seat, and now sits in the Lok Sabha opposing BJP; but he is still 100% true blue RSS. In 1992, he said, a “major development” occurred when “the Babri structure was torn down” – note he noticeably did not say “mosque” or “masjid” – and after that, Hindutva has flourished. “Winning power and losing power,” now and then up and down go elections; we win some here and lose some there, but “we interpret these as we like.” People may say the 2004 elections marked a set-back for Hindutva, but he disagrees. The BJP did better than people think and the Congress did not do as well: only winning in Andhra “for development issues … tipped the balance for Congress.”

“The BJP lost not because of a rejection of Hindutva but for lack of it.”  That is the main political headline for his talk. Then he went back to the basics to end: “Hindutva is not exclusivist or sectarian but all inclusive, secular and democratic … the soul of India. … “We have full faith in the wisdom of the people of India. Rafiq Zakaria has apparently provided grist for the RSS by saying something like, “the more Muslims India has, the more poverty, illiteracy, and disease it has,” and Madhav says the RSS agrees 100% with Rafiq Zakaria on the need to reduce the Muslim population by birth control. “Hindu trandition is inherited by Hindus and Muslims.” We are all Indians and “all Indians should have respect for Indian traditions.”

The Q&A was sedate, as Atul Kohli complained to me later.  But some additional facts of importance came out. 

·        Officially the RSS rejects violence and tries to restrain members who provoke it by “cautioning them.”  There are no official means, strong or week, apparently, for censoring or disciplining RSS members or affiliates for engaging in violence.

·        The RSS now loves Gandhi and invokes his name in their prayers; and of course reject the idea that Godse was RSS, because the record shows he quit the RSS in 1937.

·        The RSS officially accepts all freedom of religion and free speech in the name of religion but opposes “conversion as an institutional activity … by outside forces  … telling Hindus that their religion is wrong and [another religion] is right.” Justifying violence against Christians – like Muslims – the RSS views it as a defensive reaction by aggrieved Hindus. Thus citations of violence by Christians. He cited a recent Sarvodya account, which he says reported that Christian converts engaged in violence in the Dangs in Gujarat attacking Hindus.