Around the time liberals, secularists, the Congress and Leftist parties are trying to build a narrative around the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh – alleging that BJP and RSS have created an atmosphere of hatred, intolerance and violence – Mohan Bhagwat took an unusual initiative to interact with diplomats from across the globe.
The diplomats had an opportunity to engage with the RSS chief and ask anything that they wanted to know. For the diplomats, it was an opportunity to form an opinion about the person (Bhagwat), who runs the biggest “social” organisation in the world.
Since the chances to interact directly with the RSS chief or any of the organisation’s top functionaries are very limited, the opinions they and people in authority in their respective countries had formed were based either on media reports or briefings made by second-rung persons in the outfit or even by RSS’ critics and rivals.
That obviously was not a very healthy situation for the RSS. More so, since the time Narendra Modi, an erstwhile Sangh pracharak, led BJP to a full-majority government at the Centre, there was a realisation among the leading lights of the RSS that they needed to open up.
It had for long been charged by its critics, political or otherwise, of being a closed secretive organisation. Though the organisation has been trying to correct that situation over the last several years, with increased interaction with media and people outside the Sangh Parivar – even starting a media wing and designating official spokespersons – Bhagwat engaging directly with foreign diplomats is something different, and is open to varied interpretations.
Around 50 high-ranking diplomats, drawn from all parts of the globe, including those from Western and Islamic nations, were keen to meet and know him, and the organisation he leads.
Here, it would be interesting to draw an analogy. Way back in July 2005, when LK Advani had visited Pakistan and drew sizeable numbers from the media and other sections of society during his interactions, someone in a position of authority had remarked, “they all are coming to see whether Advani has horns… I don’t know whether they are disappointed or happy to see that he does not”.
The other issue here is of acceptance of the RSS. In September 2000, during a trip to the United States, the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had famously remarked “I too am a Swayamsewak” but the fact remains that his tenure in the government did have occasions when relations between him, his government and the RSS were strained. So much so that in a rare media interview, the then RSS chief KS Sudarshan had made some harsh remarks about his government.
Though Modi has never made an “I too am a Swayamsewak” kind of remark, his persona is taken as a moving embodiment of the Sangh philosophy. It’s also a fact that his approach to dealing with a situation is based on realpolitik and governance needs than looking at it from an ideological straight-jacket perspective. That notwithstanding, the BJP and RSS coordination at all levels today is far greater and smoother than what it used to be during six years of Vajpayee regime. That adds to the importance of the current RSS chief.
At the ‘breakfast briefing’ with foreign diplomats, Bhagwat made brief opening remarks detailing the organisational structure of the RSS and the work it does. He then invited the audience to ask questions. For a change, the news of the meeting and selective details didn’t initially originate from source but from the twitter handles of Ram Madhav and A Surya Prakash.
This is what some of the tweets had to say: “Sangh doesn’t run BJP; BJP doesn’t run Sangh. As Swayamsevaks v consult n exchange notes bt independent in functioning-Bhagwatji to diplomats.”
What would interest many across the world was Bhagwat’s opinion on trolling, an issue over which liberals and secularists keep on blasting “nationalists” and Sangh Parivar sympathisers.
Then he spoke about the alleged discrimination against Muslims:
He also covered various health, education, rural development projects:
Now consider some of the headlines in various dailies:
‘Hinduness’ isn’t about what one wears or eats: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’
‘RSS bound by Supreme Court order on Ayodhya: Mohan Bhagwat’
Bhagwat’s free and frank interaction with foreign diplomats suggests the kind of confidence and acceptance that he now has. Former President Pranab Mukherjee hosting him for lunch in his last days at the Rashtrapati Bhawan was another such occasion.
But his problems lie elsewhere – convincing Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and a CPM government in Kerala to allow him to hold his public functions.