If Rahul Gandhi participates in the meeting called by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to discuss the country's future, he can take the opportunity to seek clarifications on the organisation's worldview. The replies by the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, to the Congress president's questions cannot but have an impact on the outfit's future in case a clear picture emerges about its attitude towards the various communities.
For instance, did K.B. Hedgewar, who founded the RSS in 1925, call the Muslims "yavan-snakes"? If so, is this still the view of the organisation or has there been a change? A related question can be on Hedgewar's successor, M.S. Golwalkar's categorisation of the Muslims as "Internal Enemies No.1".
It is possible to link these uncharitable assessments of India's largest minority community to V.D. Savarkar's thesis that the only true sons of the soil are the Hindus since India is both their "pitribhu" (fatherland) and "punyabhu" (holy land).
In contrast, such organic and emotive connections cannot be ascribed to the minorities whose pitribhu may be India, but their punyabhu is in Makkah or Rome. It is presumably because of this reason that Golwalkar described Christians as "Internal Enemies No.2".
At one stroke, the two Maharashtrian Brahmins had relegated the Muslims and Christians to the status of being "aliens" because of their religious affiliations to foreign lands. It goes without saying that this perception persists among the rank and file of the saffron brotherhood to whom the patriotism of these two communities are forever in doubt.
Hence, the observation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, Vinay Katiyar, that Muslims have no place in India because their natural "homes" are Pakistan and Bangladesh, while another BJP MP, Roopa Ganguly, has said that West Bengal's partition in 1947 meant that only Hindus would live in the state and that the Muslims should go to East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh. If both these statements deny legitimacy to the Muslim citizens of India, the reason can be traced to Savarkar's views.
It is obvious that the RSS cannot claim to be abiding by the Indian Constitution if it subscribes to such opinions. Yet, disowning the two Hindutva luminaries will cut the ground from under its feet because these beliefs constitute the core of its philosophy.
At a time, however, when the RSS is reaching out to eminent people outside its fold, it cannot be long before some among the invited guests question the basis of the organisation's belief system. Otherwise, it will seem that they have all been taken for a ride.
Up until now, the RSS has been cautious in its outreach. The most prominent among those (apart from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who was the BJP's choice for the President) who have been called to deliver a lecture to the RSS cadres is former President Pranab Mukherjee. Ratan Tata was next, but he chose not to speak.
Reports that the RSS is now thinking of inviting Rahul Gandhi and the communist leader, Sitaram Yechury, suggest that it is gaining in confidence about the exposure to diverse and contrary views. It is also considering holding "vaicharik kumbh" sessions with intellectuals in various cities with non-RSS individuals.
Perhaps the interaction with Pranab Mukherjee has told the RSS that it can successfully conduct its programme of interactions. There is little doubt that the former President hedged his bets while speaking in Nagpur lest his hosts be offended.
For instance, while ranging over Indian history, he made no mention of the Indus Valley Civilisation, presumably because it would have raised questions about whether it was Aryan, as the Hindutva group claims, or pre-Aryan which is the generally accepted view.
Similarly, he skipped over the entire Muslim period after referring to the Muslims as "invaders", which would have gladdened saffron hearts, and made no mention of Akbar, whose title of "the Great" given by "secular" historians is contested by the present dispensation.
It will not serve any purpose, either for the RSS or its opponents, if everyone plays safe to keep the hosts in good humour. Instead, a reference will be perfectly in order by a guest to Hedgewar, who warned "others" not to "infringe on the rights of Hindus" since they must remember that "they are living in Hindusthan of Hindus", and to Golwalkar and Savarkar.
The latest initiatives of the RSS are obviously intended to secure acceptance among a wider section of hoi polloi by demonstrating that it is not quite the ogre that its critics allege. But as in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's case, the flaunting of a gentler, kinder face may be construed as a mask unless the RSS formally dissociates itself from the anti-minority observations of its guiding lights like Hedgewar, Golwalkar and Savarkar.
There have been several occasions in history where a party has initiated major changes in its outlook. One of these was the British Labour Party's decision to drop Clause IV of its constitution calling for the "common ownership" of the means of production. The communists, too, have done away with the concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Will the RSS follow suit by amending its basic ideology ?
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