NEW DELHI — In the second of his three-day lecture series, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said that not only does the RSS believe in "unity in diversity", but that there can be no Hindutva without Muslims.
"Hindu Rashtra does not mean there's no place for Muslims. It is not at all so. The day it is said that we don't want Muslims, it won't be Hindutva," Bhagwat said to a packed hall in Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on Tuesday.
"The day we say that only Vedas will be followed, we don't want Buddhists because they don't follow Vedas, it won't be Hindutva," he said.
The Sangh, he said, believes in the principle of "maximum good of maximum people".
In a first-of-its-kind public outreach event, the RSS is explaining its stand on issues ranging from politics and Hindutva to women and the national flag. On Day 1, Bhagwat sought to cast the RSS as having played a significant role during the independence movement (a subject of much debate), and focusing on social change in the 21st century, rather than an organisation determined to build an upper-caste Hindu nation at the cost of India's diversity.
On Day 2, Bhagwat sought to cast Hindutva as inclusive and embracing of all religious communities (as long as they consider themselves Hindus first). The two other key points he made in his 80-minute speech focused on the primacy of the Indian Constitution even for the RSS and the Sangh's separation from politics.
Even as he spoke of how Hindutva epitomised "unity in diversity," Bhagwat reiterated the RSS's stand that everyone who lives in India is Hindu.
"They have the freedom to not call themselves (Hindu) but they have one national identity. We call it Hindu. Some people proudly say they are Hindu. Some people know but they don't have so much pride about it. That's okay," he said. "Some people won't say it because of material consideration and political correctness. Some people say it privately. Others have forgotten or have been made to forget. But all these people are ours. In our view, together we are a Hindu community."
Hindutva, he added, had three facets: desh bhakti, poorvaj gaurav and sanskriti.
'Socialist and secular'
On the Constitution, Bhagwat said, "Our Constitution is our country's consensus. The Sangh has always believed that it is the duty of every person to respect the Constitution... There is not a single example of us acting against the Constitution."
BJP's opponents have warned of the RSS and the BJP trying to change the Constitution, and establish a "Hindutvadi caste-based system". Last year, Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde said, "Some people say the Constitution says secular and you must accept it... We are here to change the Constitution and we'll change it."
Bhagwat read out the preamble of the Indian constitution during his speech: "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic..."
"This socialist and secular has come later, everyone knows that, but it is there and I have read it," he said.
RSS sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Bhagwat was responding to concerted efforts by the "so-called secular parties," especially the Congress, to characterise the RSS as a dangerous and divisive organisation, while linking it with the BJP.
The RSS fears these attacks will only increase in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, which would be detrimental to both the RSS and the BJP.
While speaking in London last month, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had compared RSS with the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The RSS is trying to change the nature of India. There is no other organisation in India that wants to capture India's institutions... It is similar to the idea that exists in the Arab world of the Muslim Brotherhood. The idea is that one ideology should run through every institution and one idea should crush all other ideas," he said.
Bhagwat said on Tuesday, "The Sangh wants universal brotherhood and unity and diversity is at the centre of this brotherhood. This comes from our culture, Hindutva. That is why we call it Hindu rashtra."
Another reason for the lecture, a source said, was that the RSS wanted to promote the idea of nationalism to take precedence over religion. "Nationalism is even bigger than Hindutva. Everyone should be a nationalist," the source said, adding, "but one could also argue that nationalism is Hindutva."
'Allergic to politics'
For the second time in two days, Bhagwat said that his organisation steered clear of politics.
On Tuesday, Bhagwat even said that Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS, did not advise the Modi government in New Delhi.
"People speculate that a call must have come from Nagpur. This is completely wrong. Those working in the government are senior and have more experience in politics. The Sangh does not have any influence on government policy," he said. "The Constitution is the source of power for the centre. We regard any other outside source as wrong."
The BJP is the political wing of the RSS. It is well-known that RSS cadres campaign for the BJP during elections.
One of the RSS sources cited earlier said, "The RSS provided moral support to the BJP, but it does not want to show any kind of direct involvement. Even when RSS officials attend a BJP programme, they will never sit on the stage. It will always be in the audience."
On the question of RSS campaigning for the BJP during election, the source said, "The RSS workers never carry the BJP flag or pamphlets. It is never direct campaigning, but it is understood."
Bhagwat, however, spoke about how the Sangh does have an opinion on national policies but it does not get involved in the day-to-day politics.
"From its birth, the Sangh decided to stay away from politics. We won't fight elections. No RSS official can hold a position in a political party. The Sangh decided we won't be involved in day-to-day politics," he said, adding, "But just because the Sangh is allergic to politics does not mean that it won't talk about infiltrators."
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