When Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat addressed a three-day conclave in the Capital last month to explain the organisation’s philosophy to a select high-profile audience, his observations were widely interpreted as a snub to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a dilution of the Sangh’s core agenda.

Bhagwat had said that the RSS promotes inclusivity, supports unity in diversity, and believes that accepting Muslims is part of Hindutva. He also made a special reference to the role played by the Congress in the freedom struggle, making it clear that unlike Modi, the BJP’s ideological mentor does not believe in his promise to deliver a “Congress-mukt” India. Bhagwat also spoke disapprovingly of the increasing incidents of lynching in the name of cow protection and stressed that no one had a right to take the life of another person.

With Modi and BJP president Amit Shah adopting a far more aggressive stand on Hindutva and looking at every issue through the prism of cultural nationalism, Bhagwat was seen to be giving the two BJP leaders a proverbial rap on their knuckles.

But Bhagwat’s three-day “discourse” was at best a smokescreen and an attempt to expand its footprint and find greater acceptability among the urban intelligentsia which has always shunned the RSS for pushing a divisive and majoritarian agenda.

Ideological moorings

Bhagwat used his annual address on the occasion of Vijayadashami at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on Thursday to dispel any doubts among its faithful followers that the organisation has strayed from its “ideological moorings”. The RSS chief made it a point of reiterating that the Sangh has not turned its back on uniting the country’s Hindus. Stressing the need for uniting Hindu society, he said, “The Sangh wants to establish a strong, invincible, organised Hindu society and will comprehensively achieve this goal.”

At the same time, he provided sufficient evidence in his speech to prove that the RSS and the Modi government are not taking divergent positions on key issues and are not pulling in different directions. It has often been whispered over the past four years that the Modi government and the RSS are at loggerheads and the Sangh was not happy with the Prime Minister’s centralised style of functioning. Undoubtedly, the RSS does not believe in a personality cult or any individual acquiring a higher profile than the party or the Sangh but its relations with the BJP have never reached a point of no return. The BJP and the RSS share a symbiotic bond, which is difficult to break. Sound internal mechanisms are in place to resolve their differences.

In his Vijaydashami address, Bhagwat spoke approvingly of the Modi government’s firm handling of national security issues while dwelling at length on the dangers of ”Urban Naxalism”. Stating that “urban Maoism” spread hatred in society and drew strength from the country’s enemies, the RSS chief warned darkly, “To establish a new, unfamiliar, uncontrolled, outrightly biased Naxal leadership with blind followers solely committed to them is the ‘neo-Left’ doctrine of these Naxals.” Bhagwat’s exhaustive comments left no one in doubt that the RSS chief and the government are one on this issue.

Lok Sabha 2019

While sidestepping contentious matters, Bhagwat also flagged subjects aimed primarily to help the BJP and set the tone for next year’s general election. He upped the ante on the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya, even urging the government to bring a law in this regard. Though the construction of a Ram temple is a constant on the RSS agenda, the renewed vigour with which it was brought up, and that, too, before the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, was a clear indication that Bhagwat will be happy if this serves the BJP’s purpose of coming back to power.

In fact, Bhagwat made a strong pitch for voting back the BJP. Though he reiterated that the RSS stays away from party politics, he nevertheless, advised people to vote wisely and specifically urged them not to exercise the None of the Above or NOTA option as it helps undeserving candidates. Asking swayamsevaks to fulfil their duty as citizens, he said: “The voters will have to ponder dispassionately on the sincerity and capability of the candidate, the commitment of the party to issues of national interest and integrity, and the past and present actions of the candidate and party.”

It is evident that the RSS is convinced that the positives of having a BJP government in power and Modi at the helm far outweigh the negatives. After all, Modi’s image as a hardline mascot of Hinduism has provided a platform to popularise and propagate the Sangh’s core agenda whether it is cow protection, religious conversions or establishing Hindu supremacy. At the same time, the government has given the RSS greater visibility and provided it an opportunity to end its earlier isolation and reach out to a larger audience.