RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (@RajivMessage/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s reference to Golwalkar demonstrates how a liberal should think about his conservative or illiberal past or heritage.

    Bhagwat said plainly, that some things said by Golwalkar in the context of partition and Hindu-Muslim violence were not relevant today.

In just three days, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has not just redefined the Sangh, but shown up the “liberalism” of his critics as largely fake. While it is perfectly fair to point out that there is a gap between the Sangh’s new words and old deeds, the point is that all change emerges from a new articulation, and to that extent Bhagwat’s speech represents the promise of change.

His reference to Golwalkar yesterday (19 September) is particularly telling, and demonstrates how a liberal should think about his conservative or illiberal past or heritage. The past, and statements made by eminent personalities in that unique context, cannot be wished away; the right thing to do is to take only those parts of our heritage that make sense in the current context, and discard or de-emphasise the rest.

Today, it is easy to use the quotes of Guru Golwalkar, the second RSS Sarsanghchalak, to beat the Bharatiya Janata Party and Sangh with. But Bhagwat faced the question head on. He said plainly, that some things said by Golwalkar in the context of partition and Hindu-Muslim violence were not relevant today.

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The most quoted references of Golwalkar (by his critics) are his ideas on how minorities should be treated. He clearly took the position that Muslims (and Christians) should be treated as second class citizens, subservient to the interests of the majority Hindus. His statements on the minority question figured in a Sangh publication, Bunch of Thoughts, which is essentially a compilation of Golwalkar’s speeches over the years. You can read some of what his critics had to say about his thoughts here.

Now consider what Bhagwat said about Golwalkar in Delhi yesterday: “Rahi baat ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ ki, batein jo boli jaati hain woh paristithi vishesh, prasang vishesh ke sandarbh mein boli jaati hain. Woh shashwat nahin rehti hai. Ek baat toh yeh hai ki, Guruji ke jo shashwat vichar hain unka ek sankalan prasiddh hua hai ‘Sri Guruji: Vision and Mission’ usme tatkalik sandarbh se aane waali saari batein humne hatakar usme jo sada kaal ke liye upyukt vichar hain woh rakhe hain. Usko aap padhiye. Usme aapko aisi baatein nahin milengi.

(Translation: As far as Bunch of Thoughts goes, every statement carries a context of time and circumstance…his enduring thoughts are in a popular edition in which we have removed all remarks that have a temporary context and retained those that will endure for ages. You won’t find the (Muslim-is-an-enemy) remark there.)

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Critics can say that making harsh words disappear from a new, edited version of Guruji’s thoughts is not the same as the Sangh abandoning its old approach to minorities, but this remains to be seen. We can at least wait and watch to see if the words match deeds.

What critics refuse to see is that Golwalkar’s formulations on the treatment of minorities are no different from the what the Koran prescribes for the treatment of non-Muslims (or Dhimmies) in Islamic states (restricted political rights, payment of Jiziya, etc). The Koran, in verse 9:29, has this to say:

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jiziya willingly while they are humbled.”

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So, the Dhimmi, a so-called “protected minority”, has to pay jiziya and stay “humbled” in an Islamic state. He cannot critique Islam or say anything against it. A liberal Muslim today cannot rewrite the Koran and the Hadith to suit the new realities, but he can at least assert that words said by the Prophet (or his later interpreters) in another context need not be emphasised today.

A liberal Christian today cannot disown parts of the Bible that are homophobic and bloodthirsty, but he can focus on those aspects that still make sense; a liberal Hindu cannot subscribe to some of the casteism embedded in Manu Smriti. He can at best leave it alone and focus on those parts of other scriptures, from the Vedas to the Upanishads, that include the highest ideals known to humans of that era.

BR Ambedkar, for example, made appalling suggestions for a complete exchange of Hindu and Muslim populations at the time of partition, when this could have caused horrendous misery all around. Ambedkar even said that the exit of Muslims out of post-partition India was “good riddance” – no different from the “go to Pakistan” jibes of some Hindu bigots today. But one doubts Ambedkar would have talked similarly about Muslims in India today. He, too, would have changed his words in the changed context.

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This, in a sense, is what Bhagwat is doing. Not everything Guruji said was bigoted or retrograde; even some of the controversial statements he made (including praise for Hitler’s Germany) were contextual. But a large part of Golwalkar’s speeches may still be valid for today’s generation.

The problem is not with Bhagwat or Golwalkar, but how we want to see them. If we think RSS is, by definition, evil, nothing Bhagwat said matters. If we think he is capable of change, we can choose to think so.

This divergence in attitudes is encapsulated in two headlines today (20 September), one by The Times of India and the other by The Indian Express. The TOI, in its Mumbai edition, headlined the Bhagwat comments on Bunch of Thoughts thus: RSS has discarded chunks of Golwalkar’s thoughts: Bhagwat. The Express headlined the same speech more negatively: Bhagwat’s silence on Golwalkar telling: Edits anti-Muslim remark”.

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The Express clearly believes that the RSS can never change, and every act of distancing itself from some of Guruji’s controversial statements is an act of denial.

The same goes for those opposition parties who would like to believe that the RSS is merely doing this for political reasons, and hence not sincere.

Clearly, our “liberals” have fixed views on people and issues – which means they are essentially illiberal.

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