Many regular morning walkers must have spotted a group of middle-aged men playing kho-kho, doing light exercises and performing acrobats with bamboo sticks in a particular corner of the neighbourhood parks. A saffron flag flutters in the middle of the ground, just above their head-level as this all-men assembly huddles for a conversation and exchange of ideas before leaving for home. This is a typical scene at one of about 57,000 shakhas (branches) of the Rashtriya Syawmsevak Sangh (RSS) that seeks to unite Hindus against their ‘enemies’ and make India a ‘Hindu Rashtra.’
The 92-year old outfit has spawned about 40 political, social and militant organisations including India’s ruling party the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the latest national nuisance Karni Sena, to push its goal of a Hindu nation where minorities would have no place. Now, its chief Mohan Bhagwat had proposed that his kho-kho playing cadres can be made battle-ready in three days while it takes the Indian army to do the same in seven months and with permission of the Constitution (meaning, it be amended) can be sent to the battlefield.
Bhagwat, the Hindu nation ideologue, must have been speaking through his hat in comparing the RSS cadres with the valiant jawans, who are ready to make ultimate sacrifice for their nation. The jawans and officers of Army, who come from all faiths, religions and ethnicities of India, are today engaged in a low key war with Pakistan on the line of control in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, while Bhagwat’s brigade is busy spreading hate between Hindus and rest of the religious groups. Or, is it his bluster to which Bhagwat is given to and has flaunted often in the past?
Bhagwat and his kho-kho Army consider the state of J&K a major challenge in their scheme of things and ideological battle; they believe Muslims are hatching a conspiracy to convert Hindus for an eventual takeover of India. For them, Hinduism is in danger of getting obliterated and all Hindus would be converted to either Islam or Christianity if they don’t raise the alarm and united the Hindus now. Their paranoia is likened to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS, Islamic outfits that want the world bereft of other religions and Islam to rule the world.
In its hate-filled campaign, the RSS chief is even losing the sight of a reality that Army, para-military forces and even local police –many of them Muslims – are sacrificing their lives in Kashmir while battling terrorists and their supporters. These martyrs lay down their lives so that J&K remains a part of the secular and multi-faith India. Now Bhagwat dares to call the Army a sloth, even indirectly, and feels soldiers are replaceable by the hatemongering RSS cadres!
Bhagwat’s remarks are the worst example of anti-nationalism given the fact that Army alone has lost largest number of soldiers to cross LOC firing and in counterterrorism operations in Kashmir, last year and yet its morale remains an all-time high. Indian army is one of the front-ranking forces in the world where jawans and officers volunteer to lead in the face of a hail of bullets from the enemy. The international TV channel National Geographic is currently playing a serial on this aspect of Indian army to a global audience. Bhagwat seems to have missed it conveniently.
Bhagwat surely has no idea of the army’s training to think of sending his lathi-wielding khakhi shorts wearing men to the frontier.
The army, a disciplined force that has hate only for a declared enemy, aggressors and anti-national, and none else remains unaffected by the utterances of most political leaders, including Bhagwat. However, Bhagwat’s bluster hasn’t gone down well with leaders and common man alike as it came close to Army camp at Sunjuwan in Jammu being attacked by Pakistani terrorists in which seven soldiers lost their lives. The northern Army commander General D Anbu recently took exception to the statements and said the Army knows very well how to deal with anyone picking arms against the nation. Retired army General have trashed his statement as a ridiculous bluster, some daring Bhagwat to stand for one minute in the glacial heights of Saichen leave alone fight on the world’s highest and coldest battlefield.
Echoing the sentiments of the majority of Indians, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “The RSS Chief’s speech is an insult to every Indian, because it disrespects those who have died for our nation. It is an insult to our flag because it insults every soldier who ever saluted it. Shame on you Mr Bhagwat, for disrespecting our martyrs and our Army.”
To be fair to the RSS, its spokesperson did come up with a ‘rejoinder-cum-clarification’ following a national outrage over his remarks; it turned out to be a rather poor damage control exercise. He said: “Bhagwat ji had said that if situation arises and the Constitution permits, Indian Army would take six months to prepare the society whereas Sangh Swayamsevaks can be trained in three days, as Swayamsevaks practise discipline regularly…”
Bhagwat’s statement raises suspicions about the Sangh Parivar’s real intentions, for there have been instances in the world history where socio-cultural organizations with extremist ideologies have been given a formal role in the state’s affairs by fascists like Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy. In the outlook Magazine, Bharat Bhushan, a strategic affairs expert, writes that RSS chief statement conjures up sinister images of the past. He points out that the Stormtrooper (Strum Abteilung) popularly called Brownshirts of Hitler and the Militia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN) or Voluntary Militia for national security popularly called Blackshirts in Mussolini’s Italy were socio-political outfits with similar ambitions that were turned into ruthless armies by their mentors to enforce ideology and to unleash hate against particular communities.
If we juxtapose Bhagwat’s statement with the actions of its various offshoots like Gau Raksha Samitis, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and VHP, the Indian secularism is likely to come under frequent attacks. Remember how the BJP government had cleverly dropped the “secular and socialist’ from an advertisement on occasion of Republic day in 2015 and defended it; how Shiv Sena had wanted the BJP to amend the constitution to make this deletion permanent. Later a BJP minister spoke about BJP’s plans to delete the world secular from the preamble of the Constitution. Though he apologised to parliament, the cat was out of the Hindutva bag.
The reality is that Hindutva brigade’s ambitions are only growing under BJP rule. RSS’s website clearly identifies Muslims and Christians as enemies (of Hindus) who need to be tackled for making India a Hindu Rashtra. Seeing this with Bhagwat’s remarks against the army, it does not augur well for our nation.
(The author is a Delhi based senior journalist from Kashmir)