Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has an unusual interpretation of Mohandas Gandhi’s Three Monkeys. For example, to most people “speak no evil” is an admonition to not utter hate speech or hurtful things. In Bhagwat’s thinking, however, it seems to mean that, even if you have spotted something going wrong, don’t talk about it – and things will automatically get better.
“Lynching is not a word from Indian ethos, its origin is from a story in a separate religious text,” said Bhagwat at his annual Vijaydashami speech on Tuesday. “We Indians trust in brotherhood. Don’t impose such terms on Indians.”
Although Bhagwat also insisted that Indians should work towards harmony and (laughably) claimed that people from the RSS were not involved in mob violence, he took particular issue with the term “lynching”. He suggested that the word comes from the Bible, and should not be used in India because it gives the country a bad name.
Despite Bhagwat’s lip-service towards non-violence, his real concern was the reputational cost of talking about India’s many mob lynching incidents – which frequently involved Hindutva activists attacking Muslims on various pretexts. Even if the killings are happening, Bhagwat seemed to say, don’t tell the world about them.
The RSS chief seemed to make a similar point about the slowing economy: nobody should be talking about it.
“An economist told me that you call it recession only when you report growth rate of below zero,” Bhagwat said. “But we are having a growth rate of around 5%. One can show concern towards it, but there is no need to discuss it. Discussion over it leads to creation of an atmosphere, which affects [people’s] behaviour.”
Again, Bhagwat’s chief concern is what people are saying, not the underlying reality. In this world view, Indians should simply trust the government – which, let us not forget, has been in power for more than five years now and so has full responsibility for the current economic crisis.
As a few people pointed out, this demand to avoid discussing the failures of the government or label the hateful actions of those connected to the RSS sits neatly against a famous quote by John Stuart Mill about democracy that economist-philosopher Amartya Sen brought up in a recent interview: “The big thing that we know from John Stuart Mill is that democracy is government by discussion, and, if you make discussion fearful, you are not going to get a democracy, no matter how you count the votes.”
Democracy and dissent
Bhagwat’s approach is a useful reminder of the RSS worldview, in which the enlightened elders will take care of everything, and everyone else should just go about their lives without raising any questions or even discussing the state of things. This, as the Mill quote makes clear, is incompatible with a democracy.
Discussion, debate and dissent are the lifeblood of an open society, one that allows ideas and criticism to thrive and as a result is more likely to be ward off the dangers of despotism. Unfortunately, in today’s India, dissent and criticism of the government are seen as seditious actions and now Bhagwat – whose organisation guides the thinking of India’s ruling party – is calling for an end to discussion and even description of the country’s problems.
Members of the RSS would no doubt applaud an India that turns towards tyranny propogating a single worldview. The secular, liberal, democratic republic that was built after Independence never sat well with the Hindutva organisation. Those Indians who value a country built on liberties and fundamental rights would do well to recognise the implicit threat in Bhagwat’s words, and speak out before it is too late.