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Bhagwat's Ram temple comments: 'Politically win-win'

By Utkarsh Mishra
October 25, 2018 10:20 IST

'On the one hand it will appeal to pan-Hindu sentiment and on the other opposition to it could well strengthen support for the BJP among Hindu voters.'

IMAGE: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat addresses the RSS's annual Vijayadashami event in Nagpur, October 18, 2018. Photograph: PTI Photo

Barely a month after his all-inclusive addresses at the three-day event ;Future of Bharat: An RSS perspective', Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat renewed the demand for a Ram temple in Ayodhya in his annual Vijayadashami speech last week.

'Temple construction is necessary from the self-esteem point of view; it will also pave the way for an atmosphere of goodwill and oneness,' Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat also made a strong electoral pitch for the Bharatiya Janata Party in his Vijayadashami address, indicating that other political parties support 'Urban Maoists'.

Professor Walter K Andersen, co-author of two acclaimed books on the RSS, "expected a somewhat sharper tone on some economic issues" from Bhagwat.

In an earlier interview with

However, he was not surprised by this "generally supportive stance on the BJP in this electoral season".

"The RSS, despite its various complaints about the government, wants the BJP to win and this speech was somewhat of a rallying cry to the faithful to vote and to vote for the BJP," Dr Andersen tells's Utkarsh Mishra.


What do you think about Mohan Bhagwat's Vijayadashami speech? Was it on expected lines?

I had expected a somewhat sharper tone on some economic issues though the generally supportive stance on the BJP in this electoral season is not surprising.

The RSS, despite its various complaints about the government, wants the BJP to win and this speech was somewhat of a rallying cry to the faithful to vote and to vote for the BJP.

Does the RSS chief's speech negate all what he said during the 'Future of Bharat' event in September? How does it affect the RSS's 'image makeover' efforts?

No, the two had different objectives.

That earlier one spoke to a larger Indian audience while this one, though technically to a larger audience, is really directed to the RSS faithful.

That one focused on the greater inclusiveness of the RSS and, more subtly, on the evolution of the RSS on a range of issues, such as Islam's role in India.

Hence, the virtual silence on the more hardline (the RSS's second Sarsanghchalak Madhav Sadashiv) Golwalkar.

Perhaps this is best explained by (BJP General Secretary) Ram Madhav, who, in a widely read article, portrayed the evolutionary change of the RSS to relate better to changes in India.

While there is something of an internal RSS debate on what Madhav says (and I personally think he is right on where RSS thinking at the top layers is headed), the point is there is a debate while in the past there was either no debate or a very guarded one -- and one sees that in so many other areas as well -- and one of the major purposes of our book is to analyse that debate in various areas.

Is the Ram temple issue taking the front seat for purely electoral purposes? Or was it a warning to the government about what the RSS would want in case of an unfavourable verdict from the Supreme Court?

I believe the comments on the Ram temple have an electoral purpose -- in favour of the BJP.

There is a certain frustration in the inability of the Supreme Court to come to a definite decision and constantly to delay a decision -- after almost a decade of delaying.

Given the Sabarimala decision, there is clearly a suspicion that the Supreme Court could well rule in a way negative to the long-term goal of a Ram temple.

So the idea of a bill or a regulation that allows planning for construction to begin.

I say 'planning' as any such law or decision will be worded, I think, in a way that tries to get all concerned bodies on board and gives time for the idea to take hold -- and minimises the chances of violence.

In a way, this is a politically win-win situation as one the one hand it will appeal to a pan-Hindu sentiment and on the other opposition to it could well strengthen support for the BJP among Hindu voters.

The risk, of course, is any violence resulting from the decision and Bhagwat seems to say this will not happen.

Much depends on how the idea is formulated. Much may also depend on the outcome in the five state elections, which will provide a preview of how this will be used.

Contrary to anticipation, the speech was not very critical of the government. How do you see that?

Elections are approaching and the RSS wants the BJP to win.

There may be differences with it (and there ARE differences), but not so major for it to turn against what is after all its political affiliate.

Bhagwat spoke against the Supreme Court order permitting women's entry to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. It is in sharp contrast to his earlier statement saying the RSS is a law-abiding organisation.

This issue is a very significant one as it addresses widely held religious tradition and the extent the courts/government can act on those traditional practices.

Note that the dissenting judge noted this in her opinion and cautioned that the courts needed to be more circumspect in handling such questions.

This was the point Bhagwat made in his speech.

Need to keep in mind that the major Opposition party in Kerala (the Congress) has also questioned the Supreme Court's action.

This is clearly going to be a political issue in the forthcoming elections.

Bhagwat's added point was that the decision fosters social discord and that it would be better to let Hindus work out how to handle the intersection of gender and faith.

There are now petitions to review the decision and it will be interesting to note the argumentation of the various parties.

He did not name the BJP, but his appeal to seek votes for the party was disguised as statements like 'Voters should keep national interest supreme'. Using the phrase 'Urban Naxals', he targeted the Opposition as being 'anti-India'. Clearly the narrative the BJP propagates.

Yes, this was clearly BJP friendly. No one in the BJP will be unhappy with this.

Last year the speech critical of the government was economic populism and a kind of advice.

This year was rally the troops.

In light of all this, how do you now see the RSS's role in the Lok Sabha elections?

It will not be the 'do or die' of 2014 (and 1977) when the future of the RSS seemed at stake.

Swayamsevaks will, as in the past, work for the BJP in their individual capacity and will get more heavily engaged in areas where the party organisation is weak.

But Amit Shah is working to build up a robust booth-level organisation that could result in less need for swayamsevak help in such areas as identifying candidates and issues with popular appeal.

Utkarsh Mishra /