Fraternal Sins

The deceptions behind the Sangh’s concept of social harmony

The BJP leaders Amit Shah and Devendra Fadnavis pay homage to BR Ambedkar at Deeksha Bhoomi, in Nagpur. The Sangh Parivar has sought to appropriate Ambedkar, in order to appeal to Bahujan voters, but often distorts his views to suit its own agenda. Sunny Shende / Hindustan Times
31 May, 2023

At its annual Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, held at Panipat from 12 to 14 March, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh adopted a resolution asking its cadre to work towards the resurgence of the nation based on the concept of swa—selfhood. Addressing the media during the ABPS, which is the Sangh’s highest decision-making body, Dattatreya Hosabale, the sarkaryavah—general secretary—of the RSS, defined swa as the “spiritual social cultural identity of the nation.” He said that, over the next year, the RSS would work towards this resurgence on five fronts: samajik samrasta (social harmony), parivar prabodhan (family exhortation), paryavaran samrakshan (environmental protection), swadeshi acharan (nativist conduct) and nagarik kartavya (civic discipline).

The RSS has spent decades exploring these avenues for social change. At its public events, the Sangh often exhorts Hindu families to follow dharma in their daily lives. It pays lip service to environmentalism because it is wary about Adivasis, whom it considers Hindus who live in forests, rather than indigenous communities with distinct histories and cultures, forming rights-based movements instead of mobilising for the Hindutva cause. Even though its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has championed the liberalisation of the Indian economy, its trade union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, and its Swadeshi Jagaran Manch have maintained a protectionist attitude—at times opposing the economic policies of BJP-led governments. The Sangh also advocates for civic discipline in order to make Indians subservient to scriptural prohibitions. However, despite the establishment of the Samajik Samrasta Manch in 1983, inculcating “social harmony” among Hindus remains the biggest challenge for the RSS in its goal of a swa-based nation.

Dattopant Thengadi, the RSS ideologue who founded the SSM, posited samajik samrasta as a precondition for organising Hindu society. This was an attempt at addressing a fundamental contradiction in the Sangh’s politics: uniting and mobilising Hindus despite the graded inequality of the caste system. In essence, the Sangh’s concept of social harmony is a strategy to get oppressed communities to accept that the caste system is for their own good and to not seek their welfare through sociopolitical assertions or constitutional safeguards.

It is instructive to examine what constitutes the Sangh’s ideal society. In his book Bunch of Thoughts, the former RSS sarsanghchalak—supreme leader—MS Golwalkar writes that a “main feature that distinguished our society was the Varna Vyavastha,” referring to the fourfold division of society sanctioned by the Rigveda. This, he adds, “is the very core of our concept of ‘nation’ and has permeated our thinking and given rise to various unique concepts of our cultural heritage.” Swa, on the basis of which the RSS now seeks to remake India, is tied into this division. The Sangh ideologue MA Venkat Rao, who wrote the foreword to Bunch of Thoughts, defines swadharma as “the duties and rights of different vocational groups,” referring to the four varnas. “It is only when a nation, just as an individual, sticks to its roots of swadharma that it grows and blossoms forth in all-round glory and achievement,” Golwalkar writes. “Pulling out one’s roots of swadharma and transplanting something else in place will only result in utter chaos and degeneration.”