Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 13, Dated Apr 04, 2009
‘Rss Members Are Present
Even In The Congress Party’
The election of 58-year-old Mohan Bhagwat
as the Sarsanghchalak, or chief, of
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)
has signaled a generational change in the
controversial Hindu supremacist organisation.
The youngest-ever RSS chief, Bhagwat,
a bachelor and a full-time RSS
activist for decades, has his social and
political agenda cut out. The RSS General
Secretary since 2000, one of Bhagwat’s
key goals is to expand his organisation’s
base. Ram Madhav, 43, a key Bhagwat
aide and the RSS’ national spokesperson,
talks to AJIT SAHI about his
new boss and the challenges
the RSS now faces.
|New era Ram Madhav says new RSS chief Bhagwat will herald more openness
In his first public speech
after he was named the RSS chief,
Mohan Bhagwat said the RSS should
evolve along modern lines. What
does that mean?
Bhagwatji always says everything is
changeable in the RSS except our core belief
in the Hindutva ideology: that Hindustan
is a Hindu rashtra [nation].
Contrary to what people think, we are
not fixated on anything — not even on
our uniform; even that will change
whenever our cadres want. But our core
ideology cannot change.
What are the key challenges before
One of the challenges is that we are identified
too closely with one political party,
whereas the appeal of Hindutva cuts
across all political parties. We took a
major decision in 2005 — the Chitrakoot
resolution — to completely abstain from
electoral politics. Earlier, during elections,
the RSS cadres would run parallel
campaigns, such as the Jan Jagrans. Now,
we want to promote the Hindu
social agenda without being seen as an
appendage of any political party. Our challenge is to maintain this fine
balance between pursuing the Hindu
agenda and keeping a distance from dayto-
Bhagwat is said to support LK Advani
but not BJP President Rajnath Singh.
This campaign that he is Advani’s man
does not hold water. He is everybody’s
man. He is the man of the organisation
and the ideology that it represents.
The general impression always was
that the RSS leads and the BJP follows.
But now it is said that Bhagwat is a
supporter of Advani’s.
As I said, this is a spin given by
a section of the media. In fact,
he was on the dais when
Advaniji’s book was released
last year, and there he had said clearly
that he didn’t know Advaniji well enough
until he became the Sarkaryavah [General
Secretary] in 2000.
Why doesn’t the RSS help the BJP sort
issues, such as the one between
Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley?
The BJP should have an internal mechanism
to sort issues between two senior
leaders. Why should the Sangh step in?
The Sangh refused to intervene in the
trouble between these two. Not a word
about it was spoken during the Akhil
Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, though senior
BJP leaders were present there.
What are the other challenges that
the RSS faces?
We face an image problem. There is a
huge gap between our image and reality,
accentuated by incidents like [last year’s Christian killings in] Kandhamal in
Orissa and the 2002 [anti-Muslim] violence
in Gujarat. To some extent, these
incidents have created an image for the
organisation that does not bode well. We
know the reality is different. A large section
of the Hindu society that has seen us
directly understands the reality. But the
wrong image persists in some sections.
Under Bhagwatji’s guidance, we know we
would be able to address this issue.
What do you mean that the RSS has
an image problem?
After the post-Godhra violence, there
was propaganda the world over that the
RSS is anti-Muslim and a violent organisation.
The whole case was presented
wrongly by a section of the media as if
Hindus were butchering Christians and
Muslims, which is not the reality. The
ground situation is totally different, both
in Gujarat as well as in Kandhamal.
A report telecast on a reputed English
TV channel had sound-bites from some
people accusing the RSS and the Hindu
groups of the violence against Christians.
Later, I saw a documentary by a
filmmaker in Kolkata in which the same
people were speaking against the Christians!
Last week, a story on [Gujarat
Chief Minister] Narendra Modi in The
Atlantic magazine of the US devoted
one full paragraph to abusing us.
How do you propose to resolve this?
The image and the reality are 180 degrees
apart. We have thought of making
a major documentary on this question of
our image and the reality. See, many
things that are said about the RSS are not
true. For example, it is said that only
Brahmins can hold positions in the RSS.
But half our pracharaks are not even
from the so-called forward castes. People
say this just because the RSS head
may be from a so-called forward caste.
What is Bhagwat’s approach to this
He is a great pragmatic leader. Today, if
I can discuss with you so many things,
that is because of the new visionary leadership.
He believes we should be open
and communicate with society. Earlier,
we spoke only to our cadres. Now we
plan to meet opinion-makers to put forward
our points of view.
What kind of opinion-makers?
A huge spectrum: academicians, eminent
citizens such as a doctor who could be a
member of the Rotary or Lion’s club…
Within the RSS, too, we have challenges.
Three years ago, we had 50,000 shakhas
[branches]. In 2007-08, we got busy with
celebrating the birth centenary of the second
RSS chief, Guru Golwalkarji. Our
shakhas were cut down to 44,000. We
now aim to take it back to 50,000.
We plan to focus in a big way on reviving
and protecting tribal culture. The
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram runs regular centres
in 14,000 of the country’s 30,000
tribal villages. We go through education,
healthcare and literacy campaigns.
A prominent saint from Karnataka is
undertaking a Gau Gram Sanrakshan
Yatra [Cow-Village Protection March],
which will touch at least 300,000 villages.
The Yatra will collect 10 crore signatures
to ask the government to revive the rural
economy. The protection of our cattle
wealth, rural industry and agriculture
has to be the focus of any development.
What about groups like the Sri Ram
Sene and their attacks on the women
visiting pubs in Mangalore?
The Congress leaders spoke more than
us against the women going to the pubs.
What did [Rajasthan Chief Minister]
Ashok Gehlot say about the pub culture?
When a TV journalist was killed in New
Delhi last year, didn’t [Delhi Chief Minister]
Sheila Dixit ask what she was doing
alone at 3 am, the time she was killed?
Groups like Sri Ram Sene have no
connection with the RSS. We don’t support
vandalism. But we have views on
many social issues. For example, we don’t
approve of Valentine’s Day celebrations.
You say the RSS realises that the appeal
of Hindutva cuts across political
parties. The Communists must be out
of the question, but which other
political parties have RSS members?
We have our members in several political
parties, including the Congress. We interact
with them regularly. But this does not
mean that we oppose the BJP. The BJP is
closest to us in terms of ideology. Someone
is 10 feet away from us; someone else
is 1 km away — that’s the difference.
Bhagwat is said to have been
hands-on as General Secretary. How
different will he be in his new role?
Nothing changes with position in the RSS.
His work will continue as before. The RSS
is not personality-oriented. Rather, the
leaders take decisions collectively
The outgoing RSS chief KR Sudarshan
is 79 years old. Bhagwat is 58. Does
being young have any significance?
Bhagwatji’s rapport with the entire cadres
is much stronger as he has the advantage
of age. He is a patient listener. Anyone can
walk up to him and share his thoughts and
ideas. He is very open-minded and transparent.
The cadres at all levels feel comfortable
talking to him. He answers his
e-mails personally as much as possible.
He has an excellent grounding in our
ancient knowledge and wisdom, while
he also has a scientific temper. In his
speech after taking over last week he
quoted from a magazine of the Ramakrishna
Mission, which he regularly reads.
Incidentally, Bhagwatji is also a regular
reader of Reader’s Digest and extensively
quotes from it in his speeches.