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Perceptions versus reality: The tale of two RSSs

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The competing claims of political parties to ensure Dalit empowerment is a deductive product of colonial rule. Both the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have been treated as ‘clients’ of the political system. It is this presumption that turns them into an ‘object’ for either ‘philanthropy’ or ‘progressive’ actions. This also sets in ‘patron-client’ relationship. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar doggedly confronted this logic and Jyotiba Phule argued in his work Gulamgiri (1873), that piecemeal changes would least likely resolve deep-rooted malady. Except for Mahatma Gandhi’s anti-untouchability campaign in 1933-34, known as Harijan tour, there has not been any centralised effort to root out this social crime. Gandhi toured 12,500 miles, engaging thousands of workers, which yielded optimism for change. Colonial forces unfailingly used this social dichotomy to divide Hindus. EA Gait, the census commissioner of India, had issued a circular containing 10 questions relating to the behaviour with Dalits in public domain, like, use of well, temples and mortuaries, etc. It led to a huge protest all over the country. Col UN Mukherji very aptly contested the divisive design in his work “Hinduism and the Coming Census” (1910). Finally, the circular was withdrawn. After more than a century, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat revivified the similar vow in 2015 of social egalitarianism, ‘one well, one temple and one mortuary’. It is truism that society has moved far ahead than what it had been in the era of Gait and Mukherji. However, it is not fictitious to state that Hindu reformers and the state failed in their undertaking due to a presumptuous vision that political democracy would herald social egalitarianism. Ironically, the Dalit question ensues nauseating political debates and pseudo-secular parties blame the RSS for the brutalities perpetrated on Dalits. However, they have failed in their objective to estrange Dalits from the RSS by exacting on perceptions rather than empiricism. This happened in the Una incident and also in the case of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (prevention of cruelties) Act.

Hypocrisy of anti-RSS forces is often self-exposed. For instance, CPI (Marxist) in its report referred to vast works done by the RSS affiliates as the reason for increasing expansion of its social base among the downtrodden, particularly the Dalits and the tribals. There are two facets of RSS that pseudo-secular forces either fail to envisage or deliberately ignore them. One, the RSS which unswervingly remains in the intellectual discourse and gets huge space in media for political reasons. For its engagement with nationalist discourse and political democracy. It is true that politics does not form its core but it understands the importance of politics in the life of a nation and concomitantly intervenes whenever its imperative is felt. This is a genesis of anti-RSSism. This is the tale of the second RSS which is less than one-fourth of the RSS worldview.

There is another dimension which forms the core of RSS that is mirrored in the social, cultural and educational life of the nation. Although it occupies three-fourths of the organisation’s space and energy, nevertheless, it finds little or no space in media or intellectual discourse. Seva Bharti, an RSS organ, has been running more than one lakh seventy thousand socio-economic projects, benefitting lakhs of Dalits and other poor people. Similarly, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been running schools, health centres and creating sustained economic reliance among tribals. Its hegemony even deters the Naxals from using violence against them. Vidya Bharati has more than forty thousand schools across the nation. Another spectacular work of the organization is of running more than fifty-five thousand Ekal Vidyalaya to spread literacy. This is the tale of the first RSS.

The second RSS invites abhorrence due to the competitive nature of politics, the first adds social affections and community’s attachment towards it. Dr Ambedkar differentiated the RSS with contemporary Hindutva outfits. While he critiqued Hindu Mahasabha along with the Congress and Socialists, he didn’t utter or write a single word against the RSS. He perceived Brahmin-Mahar togetherness in the RSS camp as its intrinsic creed rather than for transitory public posture. The impact of the second RSS is more visible due to the noisy character of politics but the tale of the first RSS remains a silent affair.

The RSS tryst with religious leaders resulted in Udupi (1969) declaration against untouchability. It could not cut much ice. RSS expanded its strategy. RSS chief Bala Sahab Deoras unequivocally declared in 1974, “Untouchability must be thrown out lock, stock, and barrel.” It was an acceptance of the challenge to fight the vestiges of feudalism and the anti-Dalit mindset. These microscopic elements are the real enemies of Hindutva and constitute an internal threat. Mohan Bhagwat’s call is another paradigmatic, progressive expansion of the RSS objective from welfarism to a larger aggressive campaign to give the death blow to feudalism. Being a dominant Hindu organisation, it owes ethical conscientiousness to fight reactionary and orthodox forces. Abraham Lincoln gave a death blow to slavery; Bhagwat has to do a Lincoln on untouchability. This transformative narrative remains suppressed under political chorus. As Walter Cronkite wrote: “In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story”. So, the tale of two RSS needs to be told equally earnestly to fathom its stand on the Dalit question.

By Rakesh Sinha

The author is founding Honorary Director of India Policy Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank. Views expressed are personal.

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