Why is Mohan Bhagwat suddenly allergic to Modi’s pet slogan?

The RSS chief said it doesn’t endorse slogans like Congress-mukt India. He said those who use such phrases aren’t useful in the nation-building process. Is he rebuking Modi or is something else afoot?

Photo by Sonali Pal Chaudhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo by Sonali Pal Chaudhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Raman Swamy

Mohan Bhagwat’s clear-cut denunciation of the idea of Congress-mukt Bharat has caused political ears to prick up. What was the RSS sarsanghchalak driving at? What did he actually say? Is something going on inside the Sangh Parivar that the rest of us are not fully aware of?

Here’s the gist of what the RSS chief said in Pune last week: The RSS does not endorse slogans like Congress-mukt India. The RSS does not believe in excluding anyone. Those who use such phrases have negative thinking that only leads to conflicts and divisions. Such a person is not at all useful in the process of nation-building,

Now here are some of his exact words, as widely reported in the vernacular and regional press. At a book launch in Pune’s Balgandharva Rangmandir, Bhagwat is quoted as saying: “Nation-building cannot be the work of one man. It has to be inclusive, requiring the contributions of both the ruling and the Opposition parties”.

“These phrases like Congress-mukt Bharat are political slogans. It is not in the parlance of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The word ‘Congress-mukt’ is used in politics and is not part of the Sangh’s lexicon. We never use the language of excluding anyone”.

This categorical statement directly contradicts Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s objective of getting rid of the Congress party from Indian politics. This has been Modi’s clarion call ever since he was chosen as a prime ministerial candidate and he has continued to reiterate it all through the last four years, including on the floor of Parliament, where he declared as recently as this February that he was “pursuing the dream of a Congress-mukt Bharat”.

When Mohan Bhagwat says such slogans like ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ reflect “negative thinking” and that anyone with such “negative thinking” cannot be useful in the process of nation-building, it is bound to make everyone within the Sangh Parivar and in the political fraternity at large sit up and take notice

For Prime Minister Modi, and for BJP president Amit Shah, 'Congress-mukt Bharat’ is not just a political slogan or empty election rhetoric. It is the strategic objective of the BJP’s quest for power throughout the country.

Hence, when Bhagwat says such slogans reflect “negative thinking”, can only lead to conflicts and divisions and that anyone with such “negative thinking” cannot be useful in the process of nation-building, it is bound to make everyone within the Sangh Parivar and in the political fraternity at large sit up and take notice.

It needs to be kept in mind that the RSS chief is widely regarded as currently the most influential extra-constitutional figure in India today. As many as ten Chief Ministers are RSS protégés and so are several Union Ministers and MPs, including Narendra Modi himself. The RSS has more than 20 very active affiliates or front outfits and the parent organisation has expanded rapidly in the last four years, boasting of more than 58,000 shakhas and six lakh members.

It is evident that Bhagwat’s new thesis was carefully though-out and not just off-the-cuff. Nor is he being quoted out of context. Elaborating on his ideas, he has even said that in the West, Europeans had mastered the art of taking the Opposition along with them. “We have to take everyone along in the process of nation-building even if our thoughts do not agree. We need persons with a positive approach to bring about change, or else we will fall prey to conflicts and divisions”. The essence of Hindutva was having faith in everyone – faith in oneself, one’s family and the country.

So, what is one to make of Mohan Bhagwat’s unambiguous denunciation of Congress-mukt Bharat? As a veiled rebuke to Modi and Amit Shah? Is it a reaction to recent political developments in which regional parties are seeming to forge an anti-BJP front? Does it signify a radical u-turn in the BJP-Sangh electoral strategy? Is it just a devious ploy to lull the resurgent Congress into a sense of complacency? Does it reflect a serious and growing rift within the Sangh parivar? Or is there some deeper game afoot?

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