RSS Public Diplomacy
“official spokesman” of the RSS, its “national spokesman,” appeared at a small
gathering sponsored by CASI at the Penn Political Science Department today,
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
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.
next statement was this: “
“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
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
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
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