NEW DELHI — On the third and final day of his lecture series, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat responded to questions ranging from the construction of the Ram Temple and the RSS's relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to its stand on homosexuality.
Of the 22 questions posed to him in the packed plenary hall of Vigyan Bhawan on Wednesday, there was only one that Bhagwat avoided: what is the RSS stand on inter-faith marriage?
The question of marriage was in the first set of questions posed to Bhagwat: how does the RSS feel about inter-dining and inter-marriage, what does the RSS think about inter-caste and inter-faith marriage, is it possible to eliminate caste from Hindu society?
While the RSS chief spoke in favour of and at great length about inter-caste marriage, he did not say anything about inter-faith marriages. After vehemently advocating for a casteless society, he moved to the next set of questions.
His silence on the issue of inter-faith marriage comes a day after he declared 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 on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, posters denouncing inter-faith marriages as "love jihad" were spotted at the World Hindu Congress in Chicago, an international conference which is meant to celebrate Hinduism, where Bhagwat was the keynote speaker. The posters appeared under the heading "Interfaith Marriages: Silent Holocaust of Hindus".
Ticking off Narendra Modi?
In a first-of-its-kind outreach event from 17-19 September in New Delhi, Bhagwat sought to cast Hindutva as inclusive of all religious communities (as long as they consider themselves Hindus first). Bhagwat returned several times to the topic of the Indian Constitution. The RSS, he said, believed the Constitution was a document of "consensus", which had to be respected. The RSS chief has also made it a point to highlight the Sangh's separation from politics.
In fact, on Wednesday, the RSS chief appeared to tick off the BJP, regarded as the political wing of the RSS, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he condemned the politics of "shamshaan, kabristan, bhagwa aatankwad". This kind of politics, he said, was done by those who wanted to stay in power, not for the welfare of the people.
It was Modi who, while campaigning for the UP Assembly election in 2017, said, "If you build a kabristaan in a village, then a shamshaan should be built."
RSS sources said Bhagwat was responding to concerted efforts by the "so-called secular parties," 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.
Bhagwat responds to questions from the public
On Day 3, in response to the questions, Bhagwat tackled other topics including women's security, cow vigilantism, "demographic imbalance", reservations, uniform civil code, Kashmir, and even the option of NOTA (none of the above) in elections.
On inter-caste marriage, Bhagwat said, "We support inter-caste marriage", adding that the coming together of a man and woman was first and foremost about compatibility. "If there was a census, I think you would find the most inter-caste marriages within the Sangh."
On the issue of language, Bhagwat said that India needed one strong unifying language like Hindi. He added that if citizens were to learn Hindi, it was up to Hindu speakers to learn at least one of the many languages spoken in the country.
On the issue of women's security, Bhagwat said it was incumbent on everyone to create a safe environment for women. He also said that men would have to view women like the RSS viewed women: "With the exception of your wife, you must see every woman as your mother."
On the issue of cow vigilantism, Bhagwat said that mob violence and lynchings in the name of cow protection was unacceptable. The RSS chief added, however, that there was a double standard when it came to condemning cow vigilantes, on the one hand, and those engaging in cow smuggling and slaughter. He also said that cow vigilantism had nothing to do with gau raksha.
On the issue of reservations, Bhagwat said that the RSS was for it. The RSS chief also said that it was up to the marginalised communities to decide how long they wanted reservations. "It can take 100-200 years to cure a disease that has existed for 1,000 years," he said. He also said, "Reservation is not the problem. The politics around reservation is the problem."
On the issue of the Ram Temple, Bhagwat said that it should be constructed at the earliest. "If the Ram Temple is constructed, one big source of hostility between Hindus and Muslims would be resolved," he said. Ram, he said, is regarded as "Imam e Hind", and not just by Hindus.
On the issue of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which grant special status and privilege to Jammu and Kashmir and its people, Bhagwat said the Sangh believed these provisions to be unnecessary.
On the issue of religious conversions, Bhagwat said the Sangh was against conversions done with the lure of money. "It should not happen that someone is offering people money to join the church," he said.
On the issue of the minorities, Bhagwat said that Sangh was not in favour of using the word. He invited Muslims who felt scared of the Sangh to visit Muslim communities settled near RSS shakhas ."They feel safer," he said.
On the issue of communal politics, Bhagwat said the politics of shamshaan, kabristan, bhagwa aatankwad is done only by those who want to be in power. Politics, he said, should be for the welfare of the people.
On MS Golwalkar's book Bunch of Thoughts, Bhagwat said that things are written in a particular context and it was not an eternal document. He also said that RSS was an evolving organisation that changed with the times. "RSS is not a closed organisation. Our thoughts and how we express ourselves change with the times," he said.
On the issue of Section 377, Bhagwat said that society had to figure out how to tackle it in a way that the "health of our society" was maintained but homosexuals did not feel isolated. "The times have changed," he said.
On the issue of population, Bhagwat said that a policy should be prepared to check demographic imbalance. "Everyone needs to be under the same policy," he said.
On the issue of NOTA, Bhagwat said the RSS was against it because instead of choosing the "available best", this option led to voters helping the "available worst".
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