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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 40, New Delhi, September 26, 2015

RSS Vision of Hindu Rashtra and Modi’s Governance

Monday 28 September 2015

by Arun Srivastava

There is no more ambiguity. The Modi Government is accomplishing the task of the RSS to change the secular character of India and convert it into a Hindu Rashtra. The RSS is in a hurry but does not intend to show the urgency. It has been treading quite cautiously. It is aware that rushing through the agenda would alienate the huge population of India which is basically Centrist in character, if not secular, and jeopardise the functioning of the Modi Government, even mar its chances of coming back to power in 2019. The BJP must continue to function firmly but carefully to implement the RSS agenda.

The process, which started with presenting the Hindu model of education system, has travelled a long distance. The dream of banning the sale of meat has not suddenly come to the Chief Ministers of eight BJP-rules States. The governments of these States experimented with imposing the ban on the plea that it was an expression of compassion to animals and a practice of the principle of ahimsa. The BJP Government of Maharashtra had taken the lead by banning the sale of beef. To avoid any public controversy they cleverly brought the sale of meat of other animals also under the ambit of the ban. There is little doubt that this is a mendacious argument. It would be naive not to believe that these bans violate fundamental liberties, erode the secular character of the state, harm the causes of vegetarianism and non-violence.

The real intention has to be understood: this is the first major step to alter the secular character of India. This is also a statement of its intent. This is ostensibly designed to encourage deep disrespect for all religions other than Hinduism. Meat is being sold for decades in Mumbai. But this is the first time that the Jain community organisation, Shree Tapagarhiya Atma Kamal Labdhisuriswarji Gyanmandir Trust, went to the Supreme Court to ban the sale of meat. The Apex Court refused the plea to set aside the stay order issued by the Bombay High Court on a State Government notification banning the sale of meat and slaughter in Mumbai during the Paryurshan festival. It noted that meat bans cannot be “shoved down someone’s throat”. Dismissing the plea the Bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and Kurian Joseph said that “compassion is not something that should be reserved only for festival periods”.

Justice Thakur quipped: “The poet Kabir said ‘why do you peek into the homes of those who use meat, let them do what they do, but why are you so bothered about them, brother’... You see, there should be an amount of tolerance and sensitivity to other communities also. Meat ban is not the way to inculcate ahimsaAhimsa cannot be forced. It has to be appealed to in a different manner at another level. Please inculcate the spirit of tolerance within.”

The RSS leadership knows that by gagging individual liberty the essence of genuine secularism could be finished forever. After the coming of the Modi Government into power, the RSS has formed a separate body for the protection of the cow. That the States ruled by the BJP are seeking to impose the ban on meat is not lost on anyone. After Maharashtra, the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Haryana followed suit, raising the suspicion that the idea of a ban was meant to further the BJP’s political agenda. In Maharashtra, the government had already introduced a ban on beef; the ban on all meat varieties was therefore seen as an extension of the same Hindutva agenda. The ban on beef and meat is a sort of a direct warning to the Muslims. A look at the incidents of the past riots would unravel that the slaughter of the cow was at the centre of the violent clashes for enforcing the politics of supremacy.

The communal riots taking place in a country which adopted a secular ideology are not only reprehensible but also disconcerting. Secular forces are to be blamed for their failure to inculcate secular values in the minds of the people. The situation is getting worse. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets instructions from the RSS. The minorities live in fear. The Modi Government has done enough damage to the country’s social and cultural ethics and ethos. The BJP, under the leadership of A.B. Vajpayee, did not try to change the country’s ethos. This was the primary reason for the RSS turning hostile to Vajpayee and his government. Vajpayee, though he was once an RSS pracharak, was conscious of the fact that the diversity of India was its strength and any one religion’s pre-eminence would destroy the soul of the country. Unfortunately, Modi remains tied to the RSS philosophy.

Just after the Modi Government come to power, the RSS started the process of testing the waters. Projection of Dinanath Batra as the reformer of education was a significant step of the RSS. He has been heading the RSS outfits, Shiksha Bachao Abhiyan Samiti and Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) that is affiliated to the Sangh. To the astonishment of the secular forces, he succeeded in forcing Penguin, the world’s largest publisher, to pulp Wendy Doniger’s scholarly book, The Hindus: An Alternate History. The history she has focused on goes against the hierarchical mind-set of the RSS combine and so pressure was put to pulp it.

Not content with his crusade against the secular and objective forces, Batra turned into a writer and wrote a set of nine books endorsing the RSS views on education. True enough, senior BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu on June 23, 2013 had said that “it (the BJP) will change textbook syllabi, if it returns to power”. Batra also reiterated the same line: “a nationalistic education system has to be developed to address the requirements and through this we have to develop a young generation that is committed to Hindutva and nationalism”.

While the Modi Government has ruthlessly cut the funding for education which is a critical area of concern, its overall approach has been quite negative to the autonomy, creativity and diversity of education. During the last one-and-a-half year of Modi rule the education system has become the guinea-pig for the government. The averseness of the Narendra Modi Govern-ment towards education could well be gauged from the fact that it has not addressed the crisis faced by higher education. The Prime Minister deciding to entrust the Education Ministry to a person who even does not have the basic qualification and is not aware of the educational developments simply underlines his and the BJP-RSS’ scant regard for education notwith-standing the Sangh Parivar speaking of modern education.

The government has been pushing the new national education policy. Major changes are being initiated and pushed without actually consulting the professionals involved even though there is growing unease and opposition within the Central universities to the new education policy and the manner in which the exercise is being conducted.

If at all the government had been serious about education, it would not have slashed its share in the Union Budget. The fact is that the Modi Government, in its Budget, has not delivered achhe din for higher education in the country. The Union Budget for 2015-16 has reduced funds for higher education to the tune of Rs 3900 crores in its Revised Budget estimates for the financial year 2014-15. The government has revised the figure to Rs 13,000 crores, as against Rs 16,900 crores in the Plan allocation. The overall education budget of the Modi Government is down from Rs 82,771 crores to Rs 69,074 crores. The government has also revised allocation for the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) launched in 2013 that aims at providing strategic funding to the eligible higher educational institutions of the States, to Rs 397 crores as against Rs 2200 crores in the original Budget.

The Modi Government’s overall approach to education is destructive of autonomy, creativity and diversity. The manner in which the state is intervening in higher education is causing concern among both teachers and students. The government is pursuing the saffron reform agenda aggressively leaving little scope for dissent and disagreement. For this the HRD Minister is pushing the idea of a Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS), first mooted by her predecessor, Murli Manohar Joshi, during the term of NDA-I, which would have a serious impact on the country’s education system.

The common syllabi system has to be seen in the context of attempts to saffronise the education sector. Within weeks of forming the government, the RSS held a meeting with the HRD Minister where it pushed for introduction of moral education, correcting distorted history being taught in educational institutions and giving proper representation to forgotten idols of the country from the pre- and post-independence era. The Sangh agenda includes substantive changes both in the content of education and appointments of academics belonging to the RSS in key educational and academic institutions.

The RSS has been trying to bring about the change in education to influence and alter the thinking process and pattern of the next generation. It is really unfortunate that the Indian urban middle class is so obsessed with its selfish gains and privileges that it has not bothered to look at the changes being incorporated by the Sangh Parivar. The goal is to promote an orthodox medieval mind-set and to undermine the scientific temper. The first NDA Government had tried to bring about changes in the history and social science books, where the divisive history taught in the RSS shakhas, the communal history, the history where the kings are looked at through the prism of religion, was introduced.

The RSS has already set up a consultative body called the Bharatiya Shiksha Niti Ayog (BSNA) to put pressure on the Modis Government to “correct or Indianise” the national education system. The appointment of RSS ideologue Prof Y. Sudarshan Rao as the chief of the ICHR clearly manifests this. This national body guides research into Indian history. Prof Rao is not much known in the circles of academic history. Through this the BJP is testing the waters. Once it finds that its hidden programme of introducing the Hindutva philosophy does not create the furore which it did earlier, the party will go full speed to implement it. It’s really sad that the liberal forces have failed to comprehend the dangers of these moves and were busy with their petty agendas leaving the field open to the parochial forces. Even though the real intentions of the Modi Government have been exposed, these elements remain inactive.

Yet another programme has been the RSS’ ghar wapsi. The Sangh Parivar’s programme to convert members of minority communities to Hinduism is basically driven by anxieties of Hindus being lured away in droves from the faith of their ancestors. Defending the controversial ghar wapsi programme, Manmohan Vaidya, the Akhil Bhartiya Rashtriya Prachar Pramukh of the RSS, said ‘conversion’ is a wrong term to be used for ‘home-coming’. This is not conversion. This is a home-coming for those who have the natural urge to reconnect with their roots. The RSS has been concerned of the decline in the Hindu population. All other religions except Hinduism are growing in population. The Hindu population has declined by 78 per cent. It can be forced or voluntary conversion but still in a Hindu-majority country the Hindu religion is itself declining. Even some of the Sangh leaders have been suggesting to reproduce 10 kids! They do not appreciate that the Hihdu middle class has been practising population control in their own economic interest.

Like their meat ban agenda, this is also aimed at Muslims. No doubt in the past, especially during partition, the Hindus were forced to convert to Islam. But the conversions which took place in later years were primarily due to the ill-treatment and atrocities by the upper-caste Hindus on the Dalits and backward-caste people. A prominent example is the Meenakshipuram conversions of 1981, when more than a 1000 Dalits in a Tamil Nadu village converted to Islam as a means to escape oppression from the landed Marava caste. After this, Tamil Nadu enacted an anti-conversion law. Though the law was later repealed, five other States—Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh—still have similar provisions on their books.

In 2002, in Jhajjar, Haryana, after a mob beat five Dalits to death hundreds of Dalits converted to Buddhism, Islam and Christianity as a protest. In September 2014, four Dalits converted to Islam in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh as a reaction to caste discrimination. However, they reverted to Hinduism after the police booked them under the State’s draconian anti-conversion law and Sangh Parivar organisations, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, threatened to punish them by destroying their crops and dispossess them of their land.

The first and largest conversion of Dalits took place in 1956 in Nagpur. It was led by Babasaheb Ambedkar. Almost four lakh Dalits converted to Buddhism along with Ambedkar. It was this act that started the process of Dalits employing conversion as a tool to gain more rights within the Indian society. Ambedkar was very clear that conversion was vital for Dalits to improve their lot. In 1935, he declared that he would not die a Hindu.

That Narendra Modi is acting at the instruction and direction of the RSS is explicit from the recent incident of Modi presenting himself and his Cabinet colleagues before the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, and other senior Sangh leaders and complying to their scrutiny. This is certainly a slur on the democratic functioning of the polity and governance. Modi asked them to provide information on the working of their Ministries. That the Prime Minister was not at all bothered of the fact that he was violating the constitutional oath and the tenets of governance was clearly evident from the fact that the entire presentation was aired on news channels. He has been a pracharak of the RSS before joining its political wing, the BJP.

In the existing situation the RSS aims to speak out more openly on the policy-issues of importance, rather than just being a mediator of differences and a supplier of workers. This comfort between the RSS and the Modi Government is an important change from the previous relationship between the Sangh (RSS) and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government. When the Modi Government was first sworn in, there was widespread talk of how the RSS had given it a free pass for at least a year to get things into shape. It has been 15 months of filial endorsement by the RSS.

It is worth recalling that it was the issue of dual membership that led to the fall of the Janata Party Government headed by Morarji Desai. Though the leaders of the then Jana Sangh, the old avatar of the BJP, had promised to sever their links with the RSS, they did not keep their promise. In fact the Jana Sangh leaders had given this undertaking to Jayaprakash Narayan, the architect of the Janata Party and its government. This was literally an act of betrayal. JP had confessed that he was “ let down by the Jana Sangh leadership”.

Yes, there is one difference between the leaders of the first NDA, who were the key players of the Jana Sangh then, and the present NDA Government. Atal Behari Vajpayee refused to toe the diktats of the RSS bosses and chose to follow the secular political line, notwithstanding L.K. Advani’s jibes at his opponents of being pseudo-secularists. But the present PM is not concerned of public criticism and, above all, violating the constitutional spirit and norms. It is absolutely clear that Modi is implementing the RSS agenda slowly but relentlessly. For him Muslims do not matter.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com